Last week, I began a series of posts about what children's librarians do all day. Very few people seem to know what the job entails, so I thought I'd shed some light on this wonderful and often misunderstood field. For the rest of the posts in this series, click here.
How are librarians like mind readers? Because we get asked questions all day long on every subject imaginable and are expected to come up with accurate answers. Here's some examples.... all are real questions I've gotten at the reference desk.
Question: What's the name of the blue book with people standing in circles on the cover? Answer: A Wrinkle in Time, first edition, cover designed by Ellen Raskin.
Question: What's that book where a chicken takes a plane? Answer: Olvina Flies by Grace Lin.
Come on, challenge me, people.
Now, here's a great question from a few days ago. All the quotes from the patron are real. I couldn't make them up if I tried.
Elementary school patron: I want that poetry book with a hippo on the cover.
Librarian: Hmmm.... okay, nothing springs to mind. A search on poetry and hippos yields nothing. Neither does a look through the covers of all the books by Allan Katz and Jack Prelutsky (if any poets would use hippos on their covers, it would be them.)
Patron: I think the hippo might be holding a lemon.
Librarian: After a catalog search, Google Image search, and intensive questioning of my colleagues, I'm still drawing a blank. Is there any other possible piece of information you remember about the book?
Patron: I think it had something to do with the number five.
The librarian does a catalog search for poetry books about the number five. The patron recognizes the picture of the book in the catalog.
And the mystery book is: Monster Goose by Judy Sierra. Here's the cover. You can't help but notice that there are no hippos, lemons, or the number five anywhere on the cover. The only reason it came up in the catalog at all is because it was described as a book of "twenty-five" poems. The fact that it was the right book was completely serendipitous. (And yes, it was the right book. I asked the patron about ten times to be sure.)
Children ask for books in different ways than adults do. One of the great parts of being a children's librarian is when you figure out what the patron is really asking for and find the right book.
Come on, Google. I dare you to find Monster Goose based on that description.
Very few people realize all the things that children's librarians do as regular parts of their jobs. My feeling is that the more you know about what a librarian does, the more they can help you. Do we spend all day reading? How about walking around and shushing people in stern voices? Not so much, no.
This post is the first in a series about what being a youth services librarian entails. I thought I'd start off with the biggest part of the job: research. Librarians don't know everything (although I firmly believe my colleagues do). Librarians are professional researchers. We may not know the answer, but we know how to find the answer.
Sometimes, the answers are easy. Questions like "what's the name of the new series by the author of Percy Jackson?" or "I need information about colonial musical instruments" or "What's that book about a fish that grows bigger and bigger until it needs a swimming pool as a tank?" can usually be answered quickly. (Answers: The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, take a look in books about colonial life or a music reference book and A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer.) Then you have the challenging ones that involve some creativity. Here's an example:
Several months ago, a 5th grader asked me for all our children's books about NATO. As it happens, NATO isn't a hugely popular topic for children's book writers and our juvenile section has exactly zero books on the subject. What to do? Use the internet, you say? No such luck. This assignment (like most elementary school assignments) specifically prohibits online sources. No problem, let's check the books on the 1940's, since NATO was founded in 1949. Nope, nothing there. How about the books about the 1950's when NATO became a larger entity? Still nothing. Let's take a look in the encyclopedia (which is still an excellent resource, by the way, even in the digital age.) Hmmm.... Dwight Eisenhower was the first supreme commander of NATO. Let's walk over to the biography section, and voila, there we find tons of information about NATO on a fifth grade reading level in biographies on Eisenhower.
Librarians can find you an answer to almost any question. Just ask.
Books are expensive. As someone who's been both a bookstore employee and a book buyer, I can attest to that. And I'm sure you know that too. As a librarian, obviously, I always recommend coming to the library where you can get as many books as you want for free.
But I also understand the importance of owning your own books. I have a huge collection (part of it is pictured here) and those books are truly special because we can return to them month after month, year after year. But how do you amass such a collection on a budget? Here's some advice: it's all about book sales. Now, I'm not talking about used bookstores. I love those too, but the books are often between $5 and $10 each.
I'm talking about the magic sales. The ones where hardcovers are $1 and paperbacks are 50 cents. Haven't seen one? You can find them in nearly every community.
Start with your local library. Virtually every library has an ongoing book sale. There you'll find books that were removed from the library because they're not in good enough shape for the collection. You'll also see lots of books that were donated to the library but weren't needed in the collection. Most library systems also have large book sales too, usually once or twice a year. The book sales are run by the Friends of the Library, and all of the money goes directly to the library. And it's not just libraries. I've seen $1 books at sales organized by elementary schools, churches, preschools, scout troops, etc. Look around, and you'll find them. The one pictured below is from Arlington Public Library's incredible semi-annual book sale. (Keep in mind that you're only seeing a very small part of it in the picture.)
And once you find them, here are a few tips about how to make the most out of them:
-Arrive early, arrive early, arrive early. I can't stress this enough. That's when the good books are for sale. If you wait towards the end, you'll be looking at the dregs.
-Buy hardcover books. I've got nothing against paperbacks, but let's face it, they're cheaper. An average children's picture book costs between $6-$8 in paper and $15-$20 in hardcover. You get the most bang for your buck with the hardcover books, which last much longer. At a large book sale like the ones I'm describing, if you come early it is possible to get 15 hardcover books in newish condition for $15... or the same price as one hardcover picture book in a store.
-Stock up on series. Does your child have a favorite series? You'll always find these books at book sales. You can pick up a multitude of Magic Tree House or Berenstain Bear books, for example, for fifty cents each (and sometimes 25 cents!) These all come in paperbacks, which of course negates the piece of advice above.
-Buy books that are rare. I know I just told you to buy well known and popular books. But, also keep an eye out for books that you don't see everywhere. For example, Good Night Moon and the Very Hungry Caterpillar are everywhere. They're easy to find. But that book you loved as a child that's out of print now is harder to come by. Snatch it up before someone else does.
-Volunteer to help with the book sale. I've helped sort donations and organize the books for a few of these kinds of sales. It's great fun and extremely helpful to the organization running it. You don't need to know anything about books... except maybe the difference between picture books and chapter books. Plus, you're one of the very first people to see the available books.
Can't find a book sale like this anywhere near you? Organize one yourself. It's a great fundraiser for any non-profit organization. Donations are not hard to come by... everyone has a box of books or two they aren't using in their attic or basement.
Keep in mind that what you can get at a book sale varies wildly. If you're looking for a specific book, you should definitely go to a book store. If you're looking for a serendipitous find at a low price, try a book sale. Why did I write this post today? Because this weekend, at my son's elementary school I bought a stack of books that were a mixture of hardcovers, paperbacks and series, plus CDs and DVDs for $12.50. The actual retail price was over $200.
If you're ever in the DC area, be sure to make a special stop in Montgomery County, Maryland. The Montgomery County Friends of the Library run three permanent year-round bookstores where the books are a dollar and below. Don't miss the one at the Wheaton Library, the bookstore there is absolutely enormous and larger than many retail bookstores.
Have you found something incredible at one of these sales? Do you know of a great sale that you want to tell us about? Please leave a comment!
Reader, that is.
We all know that children love imitating adults. If a child sees an adult on the phone, taking pictures, using keys, etc. they want to do it too... hence the big market for toy phones, keys and cameras.
The same thing holds true for reading. If your child sees you doing it, they will want to do it too. Here's a few things to ask yourself:
Is there a stack of books on your nightstand? When you want to wind down at night, do you read books or watch television?
Do you make reading look like work? Or do you read to relax?
Do you visit the library regularly? When you go, do you get a few books or a lot? Do you check out books not only for your children, but for yourself too?
Is reading the newspaper a part of your daily routine? Or do you get your news and information from the television or radio?
Do you subscribe to magazines and take time to read them when they arrive?
Do you bring reading material with you wherever you go? If there's a long wait at the doctor's office (and your children are miraculously occupied), are you reading or talking on your cell phone?
If you let your children see that reading is important to you, it will become important to them, too.