Celebrating the Librarians That Work So Very Hard: A Dear Librarian Interview with Lydia Sigwarth
Releasing a new book? Well, I hate to break it to you but the bar just got raised. A lot. Like, I can only just barely make out the underside of it from here.
I am referring, you see, to the recently released Dear Libarian by Lydia M. Sigwarth, illustrated by Romina Galotta. It’s an autobiographical love story to libraries and librarians. What’s interesting about its release is that recently the publisher (Macmillan) encouraged people from around the country to nominate a librarian that had made a difference in their life. The prize? I’ll let Kristen Luby, Macmillan’s School & Library Marketing Manager explain:
“Librarians provide so many vital services to their community and truly make a difference in the lives of their patrons, just like Lydia Sigwarth’s librarian Deb Stephenson. During this difficult year, librarians have been working tirelessly to provide those services, even in the midst of library closures. To celebrate the release of Dear Librarian, we wanted readers to have the chance to show their librarian some well-deserved appreciation! We launched our Dear Librarian sweepstakes in April as part of our National Library Week celebrations. We received over 1,900 entries in just one month, filled with extraordinary stories of librarians going above and beyond for their patrons. Our grand prize winners will receive a $1,000 gift card and a collection of books for their libraries, including Dear Librarian. It is our honor to be able to show a small token of appreciation to these life-changing librarians.”
So here’s the puzzler. 2,000 or so librarians are nominated. How the heck do you choose between them? I went to the source, Lydia Sigwarth herself:
Betsy Bird: Thank you so much for joining me today! And congrats on your book DEAR LIBRARIAN. Tell me a little bit about the Dear Librarian contest launched during National Library Week?
Lydia Sigwarth: I loved the idea of the contest from the beginning. Whenever I’ve talked about my story I wanted to stress that this is what Libraries can do when properly supported and funded. My story isn’t an anomaly, libraries make a difference every day in every community and this was a perfect opportunity to show that.
BB: It sounds like finding the winners had to have been bittersweet. I know that you went through the submissions with Deb, the librarian from your book. What was your process in narrowing things down?
LS: We both decided to just pick from the heart and surprisingly our hearts were very much on the same page! We especially loved stories that reflected our own – kids whose lives had been changed by a special librarian in their life. It was also so inspiring to see all the amazing things librarians are doing all over the country. From rural communities to NYC to Alaska, librarians were making a difference in their communities and it was so, so hard to pick favorites when they all obviously deserved to be celebrated.
BB: Getting back to your own book, I understand that it has a Forward by Ira Glass of This American Life. How on earth did you wrangle that?
LS: I was first able to share my story on This American Life in 2018 which was an amazing experience because they were able to reconnect me with Deb Stephenson- my childhood librarian- after 20 years a part. Since then TAL has been very supportive of Dear Librarian and Ira Glass kindly agreed to write a foreword.
BB: Were you familiar before with the art of Romina Galotta? How did it turn out for you?
LS: I was so thrilled when FSG sent me Romina’s portfolio- I hadn’t seen her work before and she’s extremely talented. She was a joy to work with and put so much time and energy into making sure each member of my family’s personality was present on the page. With a family of 9 that’s no small feat! All of the illustrations have a magic to them while also looking amazingly true-to-life.
BB: Finally, what’s next for you after all this excitement?
LS: My Library’s Summer Reading Program! I’m a children’s librarian and this is our busiest time of year. It’s so excited to get back in the swing of things after 2020, and I’ve got storytimes and book clubs and craft days in the park all summer long!
BB: That sounds VERY familiar. Good luck!
Naturally, you may be curious. What did some of the submissions sound like? Well, here are four that do the profession proud:
“Ms. Tracey Wong is a school librarian that made a difference in my life and in the school community. She made school and reading so much fun. Library class was exciting. Everyone always looked forward to it. We got to have reading ambassadors programs with passports. If we successfully reached the criteria goals, we were recognized on the loud speaker and with special bracelets. We then supported the lower academy classes and would go in and read one to one with kids that struggled. Ms. Wong would read books about gardening and composting and then we had those projects to do. Kids would fight to be cafeteria rangers and collect apple cores and orange peels we would compost for the garden we planted. She helped us do technology projects by making digital books and posters. She brought in real authors to visit and present their work. She did parent workshops every month on health cooking. We were Anti-Bullying Ambassadors making pledges and reading about how to be kind. Everything centered in the library and Ms. Wong would read books to us with kids that we could identify with since they looked like us. She let us do yoga and brought in volunteers at Christmas that did art projects with us. We did a community day and made benches for the garden and murals for the school. There was so much we did. I never knew school and the library could be so fun until Ms. Wong came and reopened the library. She brought light and love into a closed Bronx library. some kids even entered writing contests and won money since she helped. My friend got to elevator pitch Warren Buffet since Ms. Wong helped him win a contest. When you are a kid, you don’t often realize community workers are heroes. But looking back, that was my most enjoyable experiences and helped push me to want to learn and read more.”
“I live in a rural community, there is a a nonprofit library (Read it & Reap) owned by a librarian (Barb Sell). Barb took her life savings to have a non-profit library in her town. She wanted the people in her town to be able to have access to library without having to leave town. Barb is very caring, she truly listens to your likes & dislikes . When she first met me, she wanted to know what type of books I liked, she introduced me to books I didn’t even knew that existed. I’m truly thankful for that. She has different events throughout the year for the community. Recently she had a fire lost her storage space (Barn), had damage to her library and home.”
“I am nominating Ms. Kristin (Kaz) Zirkle from Two Rivers, Alaska. Ms. Zirkle works at a small rural school serving low income families. I thought it best to nominate Ms. Zirkle using my students words. Here is what they had to say: “She is kind and shows empathy towards us. Ms. Kaz resects us and is so kind. She gives us knowledge through books. She reads us books…LOTS of really great stories that teaches how to understand others. She helps me and is caring. She always does funny jokes with us. She gives us courage to try new things. She helps us learn code.org. She thinks about others first.” So as you can see, Ms. Kaz Zirkle is a valuable and loved librarian in our little school! Please choose her! Thank you!!”
“She saw something in me that everyone else over looked. In high school I was kicked out of school half day and told to get a job. I asked a friends mother if I could work with her. She gave me a chance that changed my life around. I watched her interact with children as I fixed book bindings and put books back on the shelves. Watching her work with children inspired me. I started helping children and reading to them. It became a passion. The chance she took with me inspired me to later tutor children in bad neighborhoods, volunteer with special needs children, volunteer as a fire department education specialist and later become an elementary school teacher. It’s important that we don’t overlook a child because everyone else does. Everyone deserves a chance.”
I’d like to thank Macmillan and Morgan Rath for helping to highlight some of these submissions here today. I’d also like to thank Lydia for so patiently answering my questions. And in case you’d like to see her in person you can join Lydia M. Sigwarth on June 11 at 7pm ET as she celebrates the launch of Dear Librarian. Lydia will be joined by illustrator Romina Galotta, the team that brought her story to This American Life, Ira Glass and Stephanie Foo, and the librarian who changed her life, Deb Stephenson. Register here and have a great day.
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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