Librarian Spotlight #1
By Bianca Schulze, The Children’s Book Review
Published: August 17, 2012
To kick off TCBR’s new column “On the Shelf,” which shines a spotlight on brilliant children’s librarians, April Hayley, MLIS, graciously talked to us about becoming a librarian— among other great topics. Do you think you can guess which is the most checked out children’s book at San Anslemo Public Library in California? Read on!
Bianca Schulze: Why did you choose to become a librarian?
April Hayley: I was fortunate enough to discover the magic of reading at a young age, probably before I was out of the cradle. My mother, a librarian, read me stories and sang to me every night before bed and my father made up fairy tales for me. I didn’t discover my calling as a librarian until college one summer, working for the Chicago Public Library (my hometown). My job was to provide library services to children in some of the city’s most neglected and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Instead of working inside the library, I brought books and literacy activities directly to the young people who needed it most. I visited three playgrounds a day, equipped only with a trunk full of picture books and a quilt to sit on. Once the kids figured out why I was coming around, they always ran over to join me, so eager to read stories, sing songs, and learn something new.Reading opened up new worlds for the kids I met. I could see it as they linked their eyes with mine, and for me that was a powerful, life-changing experience.
Most of the precious children I met that summer had never been exposed to the pleasures of reading, and none of them had ever visited a public library. When I witnessed the joy and curiosity that reading sparked in them, I understood the transformative effect of reading on young minds and I knew I wanted to be a Children’s Librarian. Once I entered graduate school to earn my Masters in Library Science, I had the opportunity to intern in the Children’s Room of the beautiful Mill Valley Library, and I knew I was on the right path; delivering traditional library services within the walls of a suburban public library could be just as fun and rewarding as literacy outreach in the inner city.
BS: Librarians are the ultimate evangelists for reading. How do you encourage students and children to read?
AH: Now that I work at the San Anselmo Library, I am lucky that many of the kids I meet already love to read. There is a culture of reading in San Anselmo that simply does not exist in places whose inhabitants must spend their time dealing with the dispiriting effects of poverty. Of course, I do a lot of work to promote reading for the children, babies, caregivers, and teenagers of our community. I lead several weekly storytimes for toddlers and preschoolers, which are designed to nourish a love of reading that will last a lifetime. It’s important to reach out to new parents and their babies as early as possible to show them how fun reading, sharing nursery rhymes, learning fingerplays, and singing can be. I also lead a book discussion group for elementary school students called the Bookworms, and a poetry club for young poets. We also have a teen book club, which is led by the teen librarian from the Belvedere-Tiburon Library.
I meet with kids and parents every day to find just the right book for each child at the right time, which is an art form in itself. I visit the local schools and bring along new books to share with the students. Librarians call this “book-talking” and basically, the point is to lure kids into the library by bringing plot lines to life. Booktalking really works wonders, especially on middle school students, who can be a tough audience. I also hold storytelling events that encourage kids and parents to learn the art of telling stories, which is a totally different and important skill to hone.
AH: I think it will come as no surprise that the Hunger Games trilogy has been the most checked out teen series for the past couple years. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books for younger readers are the most popular books for kids in the whole world, so of course our library is no exception. Also, graphic novels like Babymouse and anything Star Wars related (George Lucas is a San Anselmo transplant after all!) are also extremely popular. Not to disparage any of these titles, but their popularity can mostly be chalked up to marketing.
Since none of my favorite children’s stories have marketing teams working to promote them, I see myself as the marketer of lesser known, but essential books, such as The All of a Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor, The Story Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting, the works of E. Nesbit and George Macdonald, and all sorts of other library gems that might otherwise sit dusty and lifeless on the shelves for years. With a little encouragement, I regularly see classics like these leave our shelves with happy children and I am always impressed by the discriminating tastes of our young patrons when they return to tell me why the books were so great, or not, as the case may be. Some of our young patrons’ favorite authors are the same as their parents and even grandparents, such as Lloyd Alexander, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
AH: I love reading In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. The parents may be a little confused or abashed by the strange storyline, but the kids really get into it, and I love to see them appreciate this oddball book. Some of my favorite stories are the ones that have the power to enchant children while simultaneously discomfit their loving parents.
AH: I’m very excited to read the latest Ivy and Bean book, Ivy and Bean Make the Rules, which is out in October. The author Annie Barrows is a San Anselmo native who recently visited the library and read a portion of the book to an enraptured audience.
BS: What steps do you take to strengthen the relationship of the library with local schools and the community?
AH: I visit the schools as often as possible to promote reading and specific library programs. In the late spring, I make class visits to inform students about the Summer Reading Program, including the Summer Reading Game where kids earn prizes by reading books (over 750 sign-ups this summer!!), and a cultural enrichment component, where we present a series of weekly performances featuring dancers, musicians, circus performers, storytellers, magicians, and more, all summer long. This fall, I hope to target all the kindergarten classes at every school to promote the power of getting your first library card. I also regularly invite local nursery schools and preschools for special storytime hours, and I welcome class visits for library orientation tours and research purposes.
BS: Could you tell us one thing about librarians or libraries that you think would be surprising?
AH: Many people still have the idea that librarians spend their days shyly siting behind a quiet desk reading books. Lady Gaga just confirmed this stereotype with the following quote I came across in the newspaper: “I live between fantasy and reality at times. In this way I am a librarian.”
In reality, our library is always full of energy, bustling with people of all ages from all walks of life, from researchers gathering information on the history of our town to senior citizens looking for the latest book in their favorite series, from toddlers and parents hunting for books about trains and dinosaurs, to job seekers and drifters who need an internet connection, and librarians are there to guide and assist each and every one of them. Yes, librarians love to read and a big part of our job is to promote books and inspire others to read, but our primary focus is on serving people. We help people, not just by finding books, but by connecting them with information, be it social services contacts, building codes, historical facts, or anything else.
Many people would also be surprised to know that children, even in this media-rich day and age, still love to read. They love to read books, real old fashioned books with pages and hard covers, and that they are not always buried in the latest iPhone app or video game. This is not surprising to me of course, but I find myself having to inform people of this fact all the time, when they ask if libraries are becoming obsolete.
BS: I’m sure that you are asked many interesting questions on a daily basis. What would you say has been the most entertaining question asked of you by a parent or a child?
AH: Children’s questions are usually quite straightforward and logical. Grown ups ask the weirdest questions, for sure. One of my best questions was, “How much does Mt. Everest weigh?” Librarians take every question very seriously, but I knew this one was going to be problematic. So I asked for clarification by responding, “With or without snow?”
Another rather common question librarians get is along the lines of, “I am looking for a book that I checked out here before. I can’t remember the title or author but it had a green cover and it cost 29.95.”As I already pointed out, a child would probably never ask such a silly question, but grown ups do all the time.
Sometimes kids have a long list of qualifications that must be met in order to meet their approval. For example, one young man told me he was looking for something good to read. It had to be over 500 pages long, it had to involve time travel, and it had to feature a male protagonist and a dog, but the dog couldn’t be a talking dog. These type of demands are always fun to work with!
BS: If you could be any fictional character from children’s literature, who would it be? Why?
I have always identified with Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables, although of course she is much more creative, quick-witted, and eloquent than I could ever hope to be. We are both romantics who appreciate the beauty and magic of nature, the satisfaction of donning a beautiful dress, and the joy of reading and learning.
“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”