Monday, October 13, 2014

Peek Inside: School Librarians: Gatekeepers & Book Buying Part 1 by Kathy Halsey

I was a teacher-librarian for 15 years. Confession #1: All that time I had no IDEA I was a gatekeeper, like that fellow in The Wizard of Oz. "NO, you can't see the wizard, no way, no how." I learned of this title once I became a writer. Confession #2: School librarians are too busy to keep anybody out of their spaces. Actually, good librarians are happiest when the library bustles, books fly out, classes come in and we teach & plan with teachers. 

So when do we buy books? Off hours, before and after school, during lunch, on the weekend. We read journals, we attend review groups (much like writer critique groups), we thumb through catalogs that pile up on the desks we never use; we go to bookstores and have book reps visit us. Confession #3: I have actually read catalogs while in the bathroom. SHH, don't tell anyone. 
Librarians DO know that they practice "collection development." This is a science, a Master's level class, and a way to "buy books." It never stops. Our first mission is to "support the curriculum" and then "provide for pleasurable reading." Nonfiction writers? YOU support mission statement #1. Fiction writers? You usually fit our #2 mission. However, the library budget trumps all of this and budgets have been slashed since the early 2000's. 

So, what does this mean to you as a children's writer? 
1. Your school librarian is your partner. We love writers and author visits. It gives us a chance to look like rock stars, too. My street cred w/middle schoolers skyrockets before and after a good author visit. So, give your best and librarians will appreciate it. If possible, give us a break on honorariums (remember budget...).
2. Get to know your library partner, a lit lover, just like you. Call your local school and set up a visit to meet the librarian. Many times, you'll find him/her at several buildings because certified librarians have been cut drastically due to budgets. 
When you visit, immerse yourself in our world:
1. Offer to shelve books-you'll see what kids enjoy reading, since these are the books that circulate.
2. Take a tour and see what sections of the library are messy and have empty spots- kids decimate the areas they love. You should be writing these books. See what books are featured or displayed. Note the topics when you need a new idea.
3. Talk to the kiddos tucked into a corner reading-they are the avid readers and your personal focus group. 
4. Read a journal or flip through a catalog-see what resonates with you as a writer, a reader. Ask the librarian for what appeals to them.
6. Make a date to come back again, offer to talk to a group of avid readers on your next visit; buy the librarian a cup o'joe.
Oh, wait, the wizard will see you now...you have successful entered the library and made friends with a "gatekeeper" who will sing your praises and tell his/her colleagues about you. Best PR ever.
I'll cover more on collection development in part 2 later in October. Stay tuned.



18 comments:

  1. LOVE. THIS. Valuable information, Kathy, for a kidlit author--thanks!

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    1. Why, thank you Cathy and Cathy on a Stick.

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  2. Thanks for the peek inside, Kathy! I volunteer in my kids' K-6 library and love to see what everyone is reading, week to week.

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    1. Very smart idea, Lori. It helps to see what the kids connect to and how the whole process works. Thakns for stopping by here.

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  3. Thanks, Kathy -- your post is a nudge to get me back into the local school library as a volunteer. I loved shelving books because I had a chance to see what the kids were reading. Sometimes the books obviously related to a unit being taught, but other times you'd witness the rise in popularity of particular authors or series.

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    1. That's right, Patricia, those kids teach us so much about where their interest are.

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  4. I really appreciate this post Kathy. Helpful and informative. I had lots of contact with the school librarian as a teacher. Since retiring, I need to get back into the libraries. This is the nudge I needed.

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    1. Great, Darlene. You'll have fun and learn something new. Thanks for reading.

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  5. Great insider piece, Kathy. Thank you! :0)

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  6. Hey, Donna, thank you for reading and stopping by. Miss ya.

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  7. As a fellow school librarian of 22 years, all I can say is AMEN!

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  8. This is EXCELLENT, Kathy. Inside information into the lives of school librarians. hehe

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  9. Appreciations Kathy. I could imagine you at every step of the way, with the depleted shelves of popular topics, with the authors visiting (you didn't mention who they were...) with no spare time to think about adding new titles. Great insider perspective.

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  10. Kathy: Excellent post. A school library is such an important part of a school and is an exciting place to visit. A writer who volunteers at a library walks away with ideas and information about the world of kid lit and a sense of accomplishment knowing that you made a difference. Many librarians welcome the extra set of hands and appreciate those who volunteer. ~Suzy

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  11. As an author who happens to be a children's librarian too, this is fantastic. I agree, if authors would come to me and offer their services as you've suggested, I would welcome them with open arms and adoring students. This is a fantastic way to get a sense of what books 'need' to be written. And, a delightful way to introduce the 'outside' world to the life and times of librarians! :)

    TB

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