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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Show Me the Awesome: Children’s Librarians Can Do Anything

ShowMeAwesome Show Me the Awesome: Childrens Librarians Can Do AnythingIf 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.

HipTot1 500x333 Show Me the Awesome: Childrens Librarians Can Do Anything

Thanks to Dawid Parus for the image.

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.

HipTot2 Show Me the Awesome: Childrens Librarians Can Do Anything

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.

HipTot3 Show Me the Awesome: Childrens Librarians Can Do Anything

Thanks to Dawid Parus for the image.

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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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. 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 NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. ChrisinNY says:

    I so called that the book was Strega Nona from the kid’s description…..

    Sounds like a fun time was had. (Oh and we had a dog. But it died.)

  2. I am here to second. Flexibility is actually the ability to turn on a dime. Flexibility is the number one quality in a children’s librarian. That and the lightning reflexes that enable to step out of the range of a vomiting child.

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oh, vomit avoidance speed is a definite plus. Librarians should have to go through obstacle courses to receive their MLIS degrees for this very reason.

    • Deb says:

      or lightning reflexes to reach out and grab the toddler who has just pulled down her diaper pants and squatted on the carpet right in front of you…

  3. tanita says:

    *snorty laughter*
    That Strega Nona thing? Is EXACTLY how the nephew asks for books. You’re like, “WHA???”
    Yep, just gotta roll with it. And try not to laugh in their tiny, exquisite faces.

  4. Thanks so much for the kind words about the Hip Tot project. The audience and the musicians and everyone else thought you were fantastic and added to the charged energy of the live music concert. Here’s wishing you a GIANT success for your book.

  5. I’m not a librarian, but I’m a middle grade author, and your post made me laugh. Many of my opportunities to promote “A Smidgen of Sky,” have come through invitations from children’s librarians, and I just want to say that I so appreciate what all of you do!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Luckily, I’d already begun running schools programmes for the university and realised there was a place for my skills there, taking learning off the shelves and into more playful spaces. The first time I was asked to speak about Anne Frank to a bunch of 8-12 year olds, I brought photographic albums on the history of anti-Semitism from Vienna, but I also mimed squatting over a wastepaper bin to demonstrate how Anne’s family used the loo when they were in hiding in the attic. It was embarrassing and silly and something I did on the spur of the moment, but the kids loved it and the teachers obviously saw some seed of talent in me. Indeed, a recent post by Elizabeth Bird on the School Library Journal blog points to silliness and the abili… [...]

  2. [...] reaching out for new ‘types of work’ to define librarianship. Is it something akin to being a teacher-entertainer for children and young people? Is it about ‘maker spaces’, 3D printers, and knowledge creation? Or should the library become [...]