Journal Review: Children and Libraries – Liz Glaser
Children and Libraries: A look at topical content from Winter 2011 – Summer/Fall 2013
Children and Libraries (CAL) is published three times a year by the ALA. It is the official journal of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), one of three divisions of ALA that support children’s librarians. The ALSC focuses on public libraries and services for children from birth through age twelve. Their journal’s purpose is described as threefold: present activities and programs of the ALSC, publish new peer-reviewed research in the field of children’s library service, and provide continuing education for children’s librarians. A look at the last two years of CAL articles (Winter2011-Summer/Fall2013) reveals several trends recurring within these areas.
Possibly the biggest service done by the ALSC is the awards it bestows upon outstanding books. In addition to the well-known Newberry and Caldecott medals (for literature and illustration, respectively), there is the Batchelder, Belpré, Carnegie, Geisel, Sibert, Odyssey, Wilder, and Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Awards. These awards were established after the two keystone awards, in various years between 1954 and 2008. Each award was created to recognize a different facet in the diversity of children’s literature. They cover: works originally published internationally prior to reception in the U.S., works by a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator, video, beginner reader books, audiobooks, informational books, a life-time achievement award, and an award with an oratory component given to a notable advocate of children’s literature. This two-year retrospective study of CAL revealed four of the six volumes contained award acceptance speech (anywhere from two to eight in an issue). Of the two volumes without acceptance speeches, one was entirely devoted to the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott medal.
Obviously, recognizing exceptional work is important in the field of children’s literature. This fulfills several functions. First, it gives guidance to librarians in purchasing for collections. It also encourages the creation of great books. The artist profiles in the journal and the transcripts of their acceptance speeches really allow the librarian reading the journal to get to know the artists. It creates a familiarity, a connection, with those artists, and this intimacy is beneficial for the librarian who specifically works with children. Additionally, the feeling of positivity generated by the giving of awards and the gratitude of the award recipients is also highly beneficially for those librarians working with children as it reinforces the attitude needed for success.
An important concept in the world of children and books, storytelling, is also demonstrated through the publication of award acceptance speeches. Within the children’s library community there is a strong belief in the value of presenting ideas in story form and the acceptance speeches, as a written interpretation of an oral presentation, underline the importance of storytelling. Kendall Haven, author of Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, is interviewed in Winter2011, Vol9 Issue3. His research has found that, “human brains have been evolutionarily hardwired to think in specific story terms and to make sense and to understand by using this fixed neural story network in our brains. “That’s why stories are so profoundly powerful. The form and architecture of effective stories matches the informational needs of the neural wiring we use to understand and to make sense of the world.”” As librarians have long understood this empirically, it’s encouraging to see it validated by scientific analysis.
In addition to the many awards recognized, CAL offers peer-reviewed research articles. From one to three articles in each issue is devoted to reporting research. Topics of research presented are as varied as children’s literature itself. In Winter2011, Vol9 Issue3, Mary Elizabeth Land conducts an analysis of themes in historical children’s holiday literature. Her work was funded by an award from the ALA and involved digging into a special collection of historical children’s literature at the University of Florida. She notes the difference between pre-1800 literature – with its didacticism – and the more whimsical works of modern times. This idea is reflected again in Summer2012, Vol10 Issue2 with Alison Kaplan’s research into the origins of board books. Her work was also funded by an award from the ALA and involved materials in the special collection at UF. She notes the shift from books as a means of moral education to fun entertainment, and states “not coincidentally, by about this time, as children had better chances of surviving past the age of five and the middle class population began to grow, the attitude toward children developed from soul-saving to nurturing.” Literature, indeed, reflects the time in which it was created.
One of the oldest research method used in library research is the survey. A Summer2012, Vol10 Issue2 article looked at the extensive use of surveys in evaluated youth services from 1882-1930. The author, Kate McDowell, states, “Many children’s librarians took children’s voices seriously. In these examples, they took them seriously enough to pose questions directly to them.” In Spring2012, Vol10 Issue1, Natasha Isajlovic-Terry and Lynne McKechnie employed a form of survey – a focus-group interview – with six children in order to boost the scanty information existing on what children themselves think about censorship. Both articles show the great respect and understanding children’s librarians have for their charges. Children’s librarians recognize that kids do have opinions and awareness of their needs and children’s librarians do their best to honor their charges needs and make kids voices heard.
The majority of articles in each issue of the journal are devoted to continuing education via the presentation of different ideas for library programming. Paramount in library programming for the children’s services librarian is storytime. Many themes recur in this two year look at CAL articles. First, many programs involve early literacy/ new parent engagement, and describe ways to implement the ALSC sponsored programs of Born to Read and Ready to Read. Much is also made about incorporating play into storytime – craft activities, music, LEGO construction, etc. As Tess Prendergast explains in Winter2012, Vol10 Issue3, “The link between play and literacy appears to be a subject of renewed interest in the early childhood research sphere.”
Peppered within nearly all of the storytime articles are suggestions on how to do things affordably. Indeed, children’s librarians are often imaginative when it comes to making do with less. Fortunately, their charges are just as happy creating a castle with empty paper towel rolls as playing with the latest Baby Einstein gadgetry.
Much is mentioned regarding the importance of services to disadvantaged families. Many different outreach programs are detailed, including various bookmobiles and even a city bus outreach program, where librarians boarded city buses and gave mini-presentations with information about library services and how to get to the local library branch via public transportation (Winter2012, Vol10 Issue3). In Spring2012, Vol10 Issue1 as Sarah Mackey, Ready to Read Corps program manager for the Columbus, Ohio Metropolitan Library says, “This is the new work of the public library”, regarding their bookmobile designed to serve at-risk children and their caregivers.
This “new work of the public library” concept is another theme appearing throughout this two-year look at CAL. As Amy Graves says in Winter2012, Vol10 Issue3, “Libraries aren’t just a source of media. We have more to offer our patrons than just our collections. As we move forward to harness the latest technologies, we need to consider our roles in our communities and what we are uniquely positioned to offer.” Ideas such as having a museum within the library, using storytime as an opportunity for children to create their own stories through digital storytelling, or helping parents chose the best apps for their mobile devices were presented.
The new emerging role of the public library largely involves utilizing new digital technologies to the enhance library offerings and attempting to use the library as a bridge over the digital divide for those financially or cognitively disadvantaged patrons. Ideas for programs exploiting digital resources, such as the use of digital cameras and the use of SKYPE to conduct an author interview were described.
Prevalent throughout the journals is a tremendous enthusiasm for the work of the children’s librarian. Only in one article was there even a hint at ill will, and that was only a brief criticism of No Child Left Behind in Spring2012, Vol10 Issue1. This pervasive attitude of optimism is perhaps the most salient underlying ongoing conversation within CAL. Despite that there never seems to be enough money and the rapid expansion in digital media only seems to widen the gap between the middle class and the poor, the children’s librarian maintains a positive outlook. Children ultimately learn by example and the right attitude makes all the difference.