“I Hadn’t Even Considered That!” or Why Librarians Matter

REJOICE, THE BLOG IS BACK FROM THE DEAD!!  (peeks around) I hope some people are actually still out there reading?  Hello?  Please forgive my absence, I hope some readers are still around!

ZOMG, has it really been over a month!?? I can’t believe it’s been this long between posts!  Getting back in the habit of regularly blogging has been harder than I expected!  (I kept a personal blog for years.) Part of me is still holding on to the idea that unless I have something really significant to say or to discuss in depth, I shouldn’t post.  I am working to overcome that though and trying to remember that saying something is the most important part!

Besides that, I was on blissful vacation from September 8th to September 21st, spending 11 glorious days in Toronto at the Toronto International Film Festival.  I saw 33 movies in 9 days and didn’t have a lot of energy or focus for blogging!

But! I’m going to make a post about some of the Canadian books I picked up and about the amazing promotional initiative Indigo, the Canadian version of Barnes & Noble/Borders, ran: The Teen Read Awards, where Canadian teenagers were invited to vote on their bookish favorites, like Best Hottie, Best All Time Favorite, and Best New Writer.  Just by voting, teenagers could win all sorts of prizes,  from movie tickets to eReaders and a trip to Toronto!  The voting promotion was everywhere in their bookstores and it all culminated in an awards ceremony/big party with live music, author appearances, and more prizes.  HOW AWESOME IS THIS?

In the meantime, this is something that has been in the back of my mind for a while . . .

Do you ever get not-at-work requests from your friends/family for reader’s advisory?  I get so many requests on Facebook from friends.  “I was wondering if you could make a list for me of books for my 12 year old niece/reluctant reader I tutor/9 year old niece/13 year old friend of my family who loves to read?”  I love these requests, of course, compiling these lists and is such a delight.

Of course, you start out any reader’s advisory by making sure you completely understand what the person wants.  As my newest round of this started, I asked my friend a question that I think should be standard in any reader’s advisory interview, particularly one where you can’t actually see the person you’re recommending books for.  The question?  “Should I be looking for books that feature characters of color?”

My friend’s delighted response?  “I hadn’t even considered that!  A Hispanic main character would be fantastic!” (my friend ended up buying Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez and Twelve by Lauren Myracle.  Do you know about the amazing Confetti Girl?  You should!)

I hadn’t even considered that!

But librarians have.  (Librarians should.)

Shortly after that, a teacher came into the library and asked me for books about Native Americans to read to her 3rd grade class.  “I’ve done the same books over and over,” she said wearily “can you recommend something new?”

Looking at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Jingle Dancer (illustrations by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu) and Joe Medicine Crow’s Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird (illustrations by Linda Martin) I could see her eyes light up.  “These are … different.” She said.

I had the chance to explain why it’s important to use books created by Native authors and illustrators and why they’re so different from the same books she’s always used.  She nodded the whole time, as if I was telling her something both new and that sounded familiar and right to her.  When she was checking the books out she told me, smiling, “I knew coming to ask you was the right idea!”

At the time, I just basked in the glow of a satisfying reference interview, that feeling you get when you know you’ve answered a patron’s question in the exact right way.  Later, though, I had time to consider the impact of these recommendations.  It started when I tweeted Cynthia Leitich Smith (you should follow her on Twitter already!) about this interaction.  She thanked me for recommending Jingle Dancer and then said “Expertise in an area like Native American #kidlit is yet another reason why librarians are so necessary to schools/communities!” which sent a thousand thoughts clicking in my brain.

Expertise.  I guess I wouldn’t have used that word, maybe not right away, but there it was and it suddenly made so much sense.

I started to think about all the students who would now be exposed to these titles through this teacher, the students who had maybe never heard a Native voice in their classrooms before.  I thought, too, of my friend buying a book for a young girl who would now see Spanish words, a culture of her own, reflected back in a book.

It’s our jobs to consider this, it’s our job to think about this impact.

It’s our job to be experts.

Or to at least try as hard as we fucking can.

To work at it, to be diligent about it, to consider it, to know that it matters.  It’s important to know books that feature characters of color, to think about the audiences that will read the books we recommend, to make sure our collections, services, and knowledge base are diverse wide-ranging and that we, as professionals, are prepared to use all of this to fulfill those oldest of library science laws: every reader his or her book and every book its reader.

None of this is lip service, because all of this matters.  We matter.

4 thoughts on ““I Hadn’t Even Considered That!” or Why Librarians Matter

  1. Just reading about these successes makes me smile! I want to be THAT sort of librarian when I grow up. 😉 But I really have to work on getting familiar with fiction to improve my reader’s advisory skills. As you might guess, I’m pretty good at non-fiction and academic research. We’ll see what sort of library I end up in.

  2. Oh, thank goodness, somewhere there are still librarian like the ones I had as girl. Here in Atlanta, our public librarians are the ‘gatekeepers’ of the free internet and the timekeepers for sessions so that the homeless don’t stay all day on the computers. Even the children’s librarians (we don’t even have a TEEN section, just a few kiosks!!!), spend more time on the phone answering reference questions and running the adults off the children’s computers than actually helping kids find books. And don’t even get me started on the non-existant librarian in schools. They now refer to them as ‘media specialists’ and want them to teach computers, help teachers with web page/design and ocassionally read a book to a kindergarten.
    How thankful I am that there are people like you, out there, helping people find new books, new interests, new cultures.
    Keep writing, I love your stuff.
    P.S. I was soooo Team Peeta but even that made me cry at the end. Another story.

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