Interview in Cardboard: A Talk with Dana Sheridan
Good morning, everyone, and thank you for attending yet another edition of the A Fuse #8 Production interview series. I am, as ever, your host Betsy Bird and before we go much further you might have noticed something a little different about me. Is it my hair? The fact I have my contacts in? Or could it possibly be the fact that I am a toilet paper tube wearing a cute red dress* with matching shoes? Sharp eye spotters will realize it is the last option. It’s like Michel Gondry, but even smaller!
Yes, as you see here I am appearing before you today in my toilet paper tube form, due entirely to our guest Dana Sheridan. Dana is one of those people with a life and job so amazing, that you may find you resent me slightly for introducing her to you in the first place. The quickie bio is as follows:
“Dana Sheridan received her Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Educational Psychology from the University of Virginia. While her academic work focused on how children learn in free-choice environments, her professional passion has always been the design of dynamic hands-on programs and presentations for children. She has worked in a variety of settings, including a children’s hospital, special collections libraries, a children’s museum, a science center, and a major city zoo.
Additionally, she has been a guest lecturer at literary society meetings, children’s literature classes, and education courses. She currently works at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University, and blogs about her creative literacy work at Pop Goes the Page: blogs.princeton.edu/popgoesthepage”
At which point you might say, “There’s someone at Princeton who gets to work with children’s books all the time?” Yep. And what’s more, her projects? They’re drop dead amazing. But enough lead up! Let’s talk to the woman one-on-one.
Betsy Bird: First off, your job is so incredibly interesting, but it’s not the kind that you learn about in library school. Can you tell me a bit about how you came to it?
Dana Sheridan: The short answer is a friend spotted it for me! The long answer is that my friend, Mary Maher, is childhood friends with Lila Fredenburg, the former head of HR at the Princeton University Library. The Cotsen Children’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library was looking for a new Education & Outreach Coordinator, and the job was drastically different from the other University library postings. So Lila sent the job description to Mary, who is a denizen of the children’s museum world. And Mary sent it to me. And I yelled and screamed and jumped around and had my application in a week later. I had just finished my Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. While in grad school, to counter all the dry academic reading I was doing, I started revisiting my favorite children’s chapter books. The next thing I knew, I was devouring stacks of 15-20 books a week. I was thoroughly enjoying reading for the sake of reading, not realizing I was setting myself up for the perfect job at Princeton University. When I received the offer from Princeton – and I am not kidding about this – I was so excited, my nose started bleeding.
BB: What does a typical day look like for you?
DS: My workdays vary wildly. My library offers two weekly story times that meet year-round (with the exception of August). During the academic year, we have a bi-weekly children’s literary society, a bi-weekly collections education program for local schools, Saturday events, 3 author webcast premieres, a writing program for teens, and an annual writing contest for kids ages 9-14. My creative blog, Pop Goes the Page, posts twice weekly, year-round. I also do workshops and site visits to other places…and…I am the only full-time person on staff! I have an assistant who works 20 hours a week, and I hire Princeton University students for targeted projects as well. So on any given day, I could be photographing a blog project, researching a historical program, prepping for a preschool story time, working with my assistant to develop a new program, doing the post-production on an author interview, or all five at once!
BB: Part of what I love about what you do is how you’re able to really tap into your creative side. I’m thinking not just of the projects you do with the kids but of your blog work as well. What project would you say has remained your favorite to do?
DS: Oooo not fair! That’s like asking me what my favorite children’s book is! I do so many different things, and they all have their special moments. Seeing a 3 year-old create a project they’re proud of, interviewing an author I admire, talking books with tweens, helping a University student develop a workshop (we have a whopper Harry Potter Latin one coming up), or sharing a laugh with my assistant when I’m doing something ridiculous for the blog. It’s all good.
But it you were really going to pin me down, I would probably say my favorite was a Lightning Thief event in 2011. We had 34 different tables that each featured an element of the series as hands-on project, demo, performance, activity, or something cool to take home. We had science, history, art, giant snakes in “Medusa’s lair,” Greek hoplites in full armor, a 1,200 ton ice sculpture of a Greek temple (Poseidon, of course), a Socratic method philosophy table, dyslexia and ADHD awareness tables, harp music, architecture, Mythomagic, mechanical bull “Minotaur Rides,” delicious blue chocolate chip cookies – the works! The audience was thrilled (there were about 5,000 people in attendance), everything went without a hitch, I got to spend the day draped in a comfy chiton, and it was just completely…magical. But the reason it’s my absolute, ABSOLUTE favorite event is that 6 days later, my precious baby daughter was born. She managed to wait until I had penned the last thank you note, and then off to the hospital I went the very next morning! The fact that I managed to attend the event, see all the hard work pay off, observe how delighted the attendees were, AND get to cuddle a newborn 6 days later makes it my number one.
BB: A lot of your work has examined the necessity of making reference collections and rare books accessible, in some way, to kids. How do you go about doing that sort of thing? I have kids. Their hands are remarkably sticky.
DS: Yes indeed! The Cotsen Children’s Library is actually a wing of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University. We have over 600 centuries of rare books, objects, original art, manuscripts, and games all related to children’s literature. One of my programs, Cotsen in the Classroom, takes collections education to local schools and homeschools. Each grade level has its own designated area of the collections, from Beatrix Potter to 18th century geographic games. I used reproductions of historic objects and high res photographs of collections items on display boards. There are plenty of hands-on activities built into each 45 minute presentation. If you’re interested, You can see an article I wrote about the program here: https://popgoesthepage.princeton.edu/teaching-the-untouchable/
BB: What do you have coming up in the future?
DS: Currently, my assistant and I are testing out Viking activities for a How To Train Your Dragon program and doing historic research for a Victorian tea program. Additionally, I’m crafting questions for a terrific Alice in Wonderland panel I’m moderating for the NYPL in December, and gearing up for three library workshops in Long Island in January. I just finished interviewing Tracey Baptiste (author of The Jumbies) so that’s in post-production for February. But the BIG FUN comes in April. I’ll be interviewing Norton Juster in front of a live audience (the interview will be available as a webcast too!) AND we’ll be hosting a big math literacy program called “A Day in Digitopolis” that same month. I’m also in the middle of reading Charmed Life at our story time for 6-8 year-olds (They love it! I knew they would!) and merrily planning story time projects, blogging, and having miscellaneous good times.
BB: Thanks, Dana! I appreciate your answering my questions and for giving us a sneak peek into your life. And because I figure we should give you your proper due, here’s a quick series of photos from a variety of Dana’s different programs. The first two might be my favorite. Dana conducted a tie-in craft for the book Pirate, Viking, Scientist by Jared Chapman. It was so successful that folks from Little, Brown followed her steps for the annual Halloween costume contest. See if you can figure out which ones are the publishers.
The kids were told to look fierce, by the way.
Here are more images from the Lightning Thief party she mentioned:
This is ice.
For far more of this kind of thing, Dana’s amazing Pinterest page can be found here.
Thank you, Dana, for joining me today!
[* I thank her too for putting me in a red dress. Long time readers will recall the Red Dress Incident of 2006, when I attempted to locate a red dress to wear to the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet the year Higher Power of Lucky won (you’d need to read the book to know why). My attempts met with abject failure, so this comes as a nine-years-in-the-making consolation prize. Ta.]
Filed under: Interviews
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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