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.