Dana Skwirut is a Youth Services librarian at the Fanwood Memorial Library in Fanwood, NJ, and the Summit Free Public Library in Summit, NJ. She is active in the Tumblarian community and on Twitter, where her sass got her featured in School Library Journal. When she isn’t in Ice Cream story time, she is seeing the world, one tiny road trip at a time. You can find her on the internet at danaskwirut.com.
The Children’s Book Review: Why did you choose to be a librarian?
Dana Skwirut: Growing up, I loved reading and understood the positive impact being a child bookworm had on my life, but I never considered being a librarian until after college, where I was drawn to studying communication and focused on PR and marketing. After graduation, I realized that I was really interested in connecting people to information that they wanted to find. Thinking back on my own childhood experiences in the library and how they shaped me inspired me to return to school, get my MLIS, and help connect children and teens to subjects they wanted to explore.
TCBR: Librarians are the ultimate evangelists for reading. How do you encourage students and children to read?
DS: I like to find out what subjects a particular student or child is interested in and work from there. If a child asks me if I have a book about, for example, dogs, I’d follow up and ask if they want a story about dogs or information about dogs. If a child is reading about something they find interesting, they will want to read more. I don’t stop at subjects though, I also like to remind children that reading doesn’t stop at books. Reading magazines, e-books, comics, and even being read to also counts!
TCBR: Which kids’ or teen book is the most frequently checked-out in your library? Why do you think it is?
DS: Our Big Nate books cannot stay on the shelves. Neither can our Mo Willems titles. I think children are drawn to them not only because they are funny, but because they challenge a traditional book format. They are bound and sold as books but they are really a readily acceptable form of comics, which, while making progress as being a medium to be taken seriously, are often and unfortunately still looked down upon. Our Kate DiCamillo books have also been circulating more. Due to her recent press, the children learn about her in school then rush to the library to read whatever they can by her. One day I had four different patron requests for Mercy Watson books out of the blue!
TCBR: What is your favorite read-aloud for a preschool story-time? Why?
DS: I like anything that keeps the kids not only, and obviously, attentive, but also super engaged. We used “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” by Laura Numeroff in a storytime recently, and the children had a ton of fun trying to guess what would happen next. I am also usually partial to a book that has a rhyming element, like “Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee” by Chris Van Dusen or “The Ice Cream King” by Steve Metzger, especially for preschoolers since that tends to hold their attention.
TCBR: Which new releases are you dying to lay your hands on?
DS: I am really looking forward to “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend” by Dan Santat. I love his work and am happy it’s being featured in CSLP’s Fizz Boom Read! summer reading program this year. I also really want to read “Have You Seen My Dragon?” by Steve Light, which, while sadly is not a Game of Thrones picture book, still looks really amazing. For older readers, I’ve seen a lot of buzz about “Maybe One Day” by Melissa Kantor and plan on picking it up as soon as possible.
TCBR: What steps do you take to strengthen the relationship of the library with local schools and the community?
DS: I visit our district elementary schools in the spring to promote the summer reading program. Since I’m relatively new to the field, last year was my first year making these visits, but I saw results immediately. I also got to know the school librarians and other children’s librarians in our area who serve the same population. We have had a couple of lunchtime meetups to catch up and brainstorm more ideas for classroom visits, though admittedly it gets hard to coordinate everyone’s busy schedules. I would love to do more community outreach, like setting up a table at our local farmer’s market or our annual town street fair. I am a big believer in expanding the library’s influence beyond the physical walls of the building.
TCBR: What kinds of regular reading events or story-time sessions do you host?
DS: I work in two different libraries so I am surrounded by regular reading events and story time sessions. Besides weekly storytimes at both libraries for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, there are also weekend themed storytimes with live music and stories about once a month. We also invite school age children to read to dogs once a month. Over the summer, we’ve hosted book-of-the-week groups for elementary school aged children that were a big hit, and we are planning on hosting those again this summer.
TCBR: Could you tell us one thing about librarians or libraries that you think would be surprising?
DS: Some of us might prefer dogs to cats!
TCBR: 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?
DS: I am so used to fielding questions about books about LEGO, Star Wars, robots, and other typical fun kid stuff, that I’m most entertained by questions about subjects that are rather ordinary by comparison. Once I had a request for books about Sweden, purely on interest, not because of an assignment. But I think my most interesting request, and my biggest failure, so far, has been to find a book about boat trailers for a preschooler.
TCBR: If you could be any fictional character from children’s literature, who would it be? Why?
DS: I am pretty much the human version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar so that has to be my answer. I could really go for 1 apple, 2 pears, 3 plums, 4 strawberries, and 5 oranges right about now.
If you enjoyed this interview with librarian Dana Skwirut, please check out our other interviews in the On the Shelf series.