Show Me the Awesome: Children’s Librarians Can Do Anything
If you traverse the interwebs on a regular basis then you may have spotted the catchy “Show Me the Awesome” posts that have been springing up hither and thither. Thither and yon. The initiative was started by Kelly Jensen, Sophie Brookover, and Liz Burns. Designer John LeMasney was, in turn, responsible for the kicky graphic you see here. And if you’re interested in viewing what goes on you can follow the posts on Twitter, Tumblr, Vine and Instagram with the hashtag #30awesome or you can head on over to Stacked to see a full roster of what has already taken place.
So what precisely is going on here? Typically an on-the-ball blogger comes up with original content and presents ideas in a unique and fascinating way. The lazy blogger cuts and pastes. Which do you think I’m about to do? From Kelly Jensen’s post:
While we have a lineup of official people taking part in the series, anyone is welcome to blog on the topic of self promotion. You can talk about a program you did and loved. You can talk about how you perform strong reader’s advisory with teens. You can talk about the grander idea of self promotion itself. There’s nothing off limits, as long as you’re talking about libraries and self promotion or librarianship and self promotion in some capacity.
Librarians talking librarianship. And so far we’ve seen everything from serving teen moms to promoting your own programming to using Kickstarter as a force for good and more. When I was asked to join I knew I had to talk about my librarianship in some way, but how?
As you may know I’m a Youth Materials Specialist, which means I buy books for the New York Public Library system. So when I ride the subway and see a kid reading a library book I can say, “I bought you that, kid” (not literally . . . that would be creepy). But before I was in Collections I was a children’s librarian. A job that has prepared me for life in so many different ways.
Consider my current life change. I am now an author of a picture book (something I may have mentioned once/twice/3 billion times before). And when one is a picture book author, one finds that the skills you learn as a children’s librarian have never been more important. Using a recent appearance I made at the Hip Tot Music Fest as a guide, here is a direct correlation between one job and another.
1. You must be able to command the attention of large groups of children.
The Hip Tot Music Fest is precisely what you would think it is. A Brooklyn-based monthly event where parents of toddlers and preschoolers dance and leap and scream and glide to the beat of live music from shockingly talented performers. Melanie Hope Greenberg is their resident author/illustrator and a strategic partner in the production. As such she was kind enough to invite me to read my book before one such show. In doing so I found myself using every bit of librarian-based talent I’ve ever acquired. And the first and foremost amongst these is what I learned when conducting baby or toddler or preschool storytimes. You need to be interesting.
Thanks to those years spent doing “Five Little Monkeys” and “Open, Shut Them” ad nauseam I can retain the eyeballs of most kids from 3 on up. Before that age they’re a bit wiggly. Not impossible, but you better have something better than just a reading if you want their attention.
2. You must be willing to make a fool of yourself.
Remember those days in library school where you had to conduct a mock toddler storytime for your peers, and you thought it was the most embarrassing thing you ever had to do? Baby, you had no IDEA what you were in for! Whether it’s an 18-month year old taking a bite out of your neck or a general flailing of the limbs in an effort to engage a baby, you are going to look silly.
And if you can do it wearing blue fur, all the better.
3. You must be open to a change in plans.
You’re going to have a preschool storytime on a Saturday morning but what walks in the door instead? Tiny tots. Suddenly out goes the Fortunately by Remy Charlip and in comes The Noisy Counting Book by Susan Schade. And it is the exact same thing when you perform your own book. Though library storytimes have on distinct advantage over those performed by authors. When you’re in a library, you don’t have to worry about an all adult audience. THAT is an interesting situation.
4. You must be able to handle any question, no matter how weird.
That’s a reference desk skill, pure and simple. You know when you’re sitting at the desk and a three-year-old comes up asking for, “The one with the baker and his wife and Jesus and the lady with the white hat and she is NOT a pilgrim” and after some additional questions you determine that in spite of all logical evidence to the contrary they’re asking for Strega Nona? That exact same exchange happens when you’re a children’s author. You open the book and a kid points out that they own a dog. There is no dog in the book. You did not mention a dog in your talk. Dogs have nothing to do with anything, but that’s what the kid is saying so you just have to go with it.
Long story short, the best training ground for not just picture book authorship but ANY job is children’s librarianship. I bet you could apply additional skills to additional problems. It’s just that flexible.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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