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How Genrefication Makes School Libraries More Like Bookstores

For 12 years Jennifer Taylor watched kids come into the library at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, California and struggle: “We’d have rows and rows of books, and they don’t know what to pick.” Students would just wander, she said, sliding out a random spine and, if they found the book’s cover appealing, reading the blurb on the back—usually to their disappointment. After a while, they’d ask her something like, “Where are the scary books?”

On the front lines with Suzanne Rofe

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Suzanne Rofe is the Young Peoples Service Team Leader at the City of Perth Library.

Hello Suzanne! Tell us a little about your library…

Sure! The City of Perth Library moved to its new building in March 2016. In that three months we moved house, doubled our staffing body (we now have 54 full and part time staff) and changed library systems. I think we’re still unpacking things!

The library was built by Kerry Hill Architects, is circular and seven floors high, and features a ceiling mural by local artist Andrew Nicholls and a weeping fig planted on the Childrens Floor. The poor thing had a bit of a rough journey – they had to crane it in through the ceiling before the glass went on – but it’s thriving now. The stone and timber for the interior is all sourced from Western Australian locations.

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What does your average working day involve?

My desk is out in the public on the children’s floor. It’s a very vibrant and noisy environment, so we have to get a bit creative regarding getting certain tasks done. My work day involves customer service, a Rhyme Time session, and collection development – I look after the junior and young adult collections, in addition to about five staff that I’m directly responsible for. There’s a lot of paperwork, a lot of liaising with local booksellers, a lot of event planning, cataloguing and problem-solving. And a surprising amount of extracting sandwiches from our very pretty and exotically shaped shelving.

How did you end up being a librarian?

The stereotypical way – I love books. I ended up a Children’s Librarian in part because my first degree was a Performance Studies degree and being used to making a fool of yourself in front of a crowd is very helpful. I also have a very vivid memory of my teenage years and the huge role books played in getting me through high school, and being able to facilitate that for my current YAs is very satisfying.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

We have a bit of a unique corner in terms of demographic. We don’t have any primary schools in our immediate area, but we do have high schools. That – plus our dedicated young adult floor – has given us a far stronger focus on YA lit and programming. One of my favourite projects is the Carpe Librum subscription service for young adults – YAs can sign up for the program with a list of preferences and will receive a collection of library books chosen for them by the staff. There are prizes and extra information for enthusiastic readers and we’ve built a really nice relationship with the patrons who’ve signed up. Having a thrilled fifteen year old tell you that you’ve just given them their new favourite book is a pretty special feeling.

What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust, which was everything I hoped it would be! Michael Sheen’s audiobook adaption is especially good. I’ve got Brian K Vaughan’s Paper Girls and Binti by Nnedi Okorafor on standby.

 Finish this sentence… libraries are awesome because…

They are the last public space that is truly free and open to all.

ON THE FRONT LINES WITH DR JULIET O’CONOR

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Dr. Juliet O’Conor is the Subject Librarian for the Children’s Collection at the State Library of Victoria.

1. Hello Juliet! Tell us a little about your Library Service

I work as part of the The History of the Book Team, one of the Library’s special collections.

The State Library Victoria’s Children’s Collection covers 5 centuries of literature from the 16th to the 21st Century and is available to anyone pursuing research. This collection has over 100,000 children’s books that form a collection of primary sources for children’s literature researchers and researchers in other disciplines. A recent request that came through for books on the representation of refugeeism. Using the collection I was able to suggest Dancing the Boom cha cha Boogie written and illustrated by Narelle Oliver. Narelle’s picture book uses fantasy characters washed ashore in a strange land and subsequently locked up as a metaphor for refugeeism. During the night, some children of the captors release the visitors, share stories, games and when they find seed pods that make a wonderful rattle, they all dance the boom cha cha boogie. They find a way to share with the inhabitants of the land they arrive upon.

There is a separate collection of Children’s books available for use by families, housed in the Courtyard of the Library. This collection is maintained by the Library’s Learning Services department.

2. How did you end up being a Librarian?

I’m originally from Sydney where I studied Science and majored in Palaeontology. I moved to Melbourne to work at Museum Victoria as Assistant Curator of Palaeontology. After working there for a few years I wanted to broaden my qualifications and employment opportunities so Librarianship was a good fit. At the time I was recruited to the State Library of Victoria due to my background in Science, which was very useful for reference and research work. I volunteered for the project to maintain the Children’s collection which consisted of about 12,000 items. When I realised the incredible depth of that collection I decided I needed to gain a better background in children’s literature and went onto do further study at Deakin University. At first I completed a Graduate Diploma in Children’s Literature and ultimately a PHD in this field.

I believe that Library qualifications give individuals the capacity to pursue any research, thus enabling and releasing information held within collections.

3. What is one of the most awesome parts of your job?

Apart from the Awesome collection that covers 5 Centuries of books, the part I most enjoy is giving presentations. I ask the audience to give me an idea on what they’re interested in, and then undertake comprehensive research utilising my research skills. I then collect the information needed to make the presentation and identify items I can use from the collection to illustrate the presentations.

Alternatively I may pursue research in different areas and draw the collection together to create a theme. A recent example was a presentation I made on the Alice books by Lewis Carroll. The Alice books are pivotal in the historical development of children’s fiction moving from didacticism to fantasy for enjoyment. I was able to use the first edition Carroll- Tenniel combination then show how subsequent illustrators interpreted Carroll’s words. I also showed adaptations and different formats such as pop up books to make a presentation on the various ways the work has been reproduced. I enjoy both the preparation and the presentations and learn so much about a variety of subjects. It’s a two way learning experience where I learn from audience responses too.

4. What programs do you run for children and young adults?

I work in the Heritage Collections area so we provide services to mainly adult researchers. The Library’s wonderful Learning Services staff provide up to date programs that are linked to the Victorian curriculum and also age appropriate programs for visiting schools and families.

Vision 2020 is redeveloping the State Library and part of this is designed to acquire a contemporary collection of Children’s and Young Adult books together into an open access collection where they can be used by children and young adults. This collection will be available to meet the needs of that diverse and vibrant community.

A few years ago the State Library ran a Young Research Fellowship Program which focused on 12 students aged between 11 and 12 from a cluster of regional schools in the Mallee district. These students worked alongside 12 mentors from the staff of the SLV on a report based on a subject of the students’ choice that held an association with their locality. The whole process was facilitated by our Learning Services staff who liaised with the students, their teachers and the mentors. Each of the reports were then compiled and produced into 2016 Young Researcher Fellowships : tales from Mallee country. The program was about building the research skills of children in regional Victoria, and providing a learning experience that regional children are not usually exposed to.

Along the way the project exposed the Mallee students to resources from the 19th Century that used terms and attitudes that children these days find offensive. Learning Services staff drew upon their teaching skills and moderated student understanding of the nature of historical collections, reflecting the times they were written. Both the mentors and mentees learnt a lot from working together on this program and it was a unique opportunity for staff to collaborate in addressing the needs of these student researchers. A wonderful byproduct was the development of an appreciation of the considerable skill base of colleagues.

It is hoped that the Young Research Fellowship will be run again to enable regional and remote students access to our resources. Living in regional Victoria myself, I see first- hand the difference between metropolitan and regional resource allocation. This Learning Services initiative is a first step in breaching that divide.

5. What are you Reading?

I used to primarily read children’s literature but I’m now broadening that approach. I read mainly adult fiction now. I’m currently reading The Philosopher’s Dog by Raimond Gaita. It’s a collection of stories about pets owned by Raimond, his family and friends which give rise to philosophical examinations. I have a new puppy that comes in the wake of the loss of my old dog, so I’m enjoying the philosophical elements to this book. I also recently finished Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, having returned from a holiday in New York and I wanted to immerse myself in as much New York fiction as possible.
6. If you had to choose one children’s or YA book to take to a desert island what it be and why?

I thought about this a lot and I would take a pivotal book in terms of Indigenous publishing the 1964 The legends of Moonie Jarl by Wilf Reevesand illustrated by Wilf’s sister Olga Miller. Both became Elders of the Badtjala (Butchulla) people, the traditional owners of Fraser Island and part of the Fraser Coast of Queensland. This is the first children’s book written and illustrated by the owners of traditional story. It marks the emergence of an active Indigenous voice in the literary history of Australian children’s books. It is a collection of 12 traditional stories of the Badtjala people of the Fraser Island. For my doctorate I interviewed the publisher Brian Clouston at Jacaranda Press who recalled the minimal editing required, and Olga Miller’s eldest son, Glen who was 15 at the time this book was compiled by his Uncle Wilf and illustrated by his mother. It’s a book that brings back so many memories about that intense writing period required for a PhD, my pleasure in meeting two people intimately involved in the book, and the unique illustrations reflective of traditional sand drawings. On the 50th anniversary of its publication, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation republished The Legends of Moonie Jarl, acknowledging its importance in the Australian child’s literary history.

7. Libraries are awesome because…

Libraries are awesome because they offer research potential for whatever interest a person may have and Librarians advise researchers on strategies to research.

ON THE FRONT LINES WITH JULIA PETRICEVIC

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Julia Petricevic is the Head of Library and Information Services at Genazzano FCJ College in Melbourne.

Hello Julia! Tell us a little about your library…

At Genazzano FCJ College we have two libraries, one for the junior school and one for the senior school. Both are bustling with students all day, every day. The junior school library, Grange Hill, is absolutely gorgeous, has lots of bright colours and cute little nooks in the shelves in which the students can curl up and read in. They have just opened up a STEAM makerspace which is very popular with the students. I work mainly in the senior school library. We run a number of programs, ROAD – a wide reading program and ROAR – a small-group book study with Year 5 and 6, we have book clubs from Year 5 to Year 12, a chess club, we will be work with students and teachers to assist with research and inquiry. Both libraries are very busy and it wouldn’t be possible without our amazing staff in the library and multimedia teams. Everyone is very committed to working together to support the literacy and literary needs of our school community.
How did you end up being a school librarian?

I had never considered being a school librarian until about 6 years ago. I have always deeply loved reading but didn’t really think about it being a job or something I could do. I had done an arts degree then a Dip Ed but wasn’t enthusiastic about classroom teaching, so I floated about (another story for another time) until a friend mentioned she was doing a library degree and it was a bit of a lightbulb moment. I did some research and I realised I could combine my teaching degree with a Masters in Teacher Librarianship and here we are.

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What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is working with the students. I love being able to have conversations about books all day with young people who are so enthusiastic about reading. Last year my Year 6 Book Club had around 25 students coming each week and we would only talk about Harry Potter and we are all looking forward to meeting up again and talking about Harry Potter some more. I also love being able to help readers develop their interest and confidence in reading – that moment when you can you can help them find the right book and get them hooked is totally magical.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am being naughty and just reading adult books, I need to get back into the YA and youth! I am reading The Town by Shaun Prescott. It is a fairly recent novel by a debut Australian author and it is unique, unusual and strangely beautiful. A character study of hopeful but hopeless people who live in a nondescript country town. I am really enjoying it and I have no idea where it is going, it is surprising. I have also just finished reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and I was thoroughly charmed. I read it when I was 13 and hated it so I decided to give it another shot. Now, I loved the beautifully detailed descriptions and really understood the character and the romance better.

If you could live in any book world, what would it be?

HOGWARTS HOGWARTS HOGWARTS

Finish this sentence: Libraries are awesome because... they are places in which everyone is welcome and has access to knowledge, learning and culture.

ON THE FRONT LINES WITH ALICE GODDARD

Hello Alice in Alice Springs! Tell us a little about your library…

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Werte! Hello! Alice Springs Public Library is a community hub smack bang in the centre of the township of Alice Springs in the middle of Central Australia. We like to think we are a pretty central and happening place and are always busy with visitors. The library is a popular place for locals and visitors, whether in town from out-bush, interstate or overseas. Some examples of our visitors include ‘Grey-Nomads’ charging their iPads and accessing the free wifi, home school community classes using STEAM robotics collection in the meeting room, Mormon’s emailing their families overseas, Aboriginal mob watching films on the big screen, young people accessing social media on the youth computers, families colouring-in together and people new to town printing off resumes.

About 12 regular programs happen each week, including Spoken English Meet-up, Baby Rhyme Time, Lego Club and STEAM Corps. So far in 2018 the library has had 771 programs and events! A recent program highlight was our celebrations for Harmony Day. The library hosted a series of ‘Languages at Lunch’ workshops where five different languages were shared over five days at lunchtime. We had workshop in Slovakian, Gaelic Irish, Arrernte, Filipino and Warlpiri. Language is such a great way to share and understand culture. Arrernte is the traditional local language of this region and Alice Springs is known as Mparntwe in Arrernte.

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What does your average working day involve?

 

I feel like we don’t specialise in average days here at Alice Springs Public Library! That said, I like to give the children and youth areas a spruce up first thing before the library opens. Colouring-in is popular with all ages at our library so I restock paper and sharpen pencils. I am currently collating colouring-in sheets into a little video demonstrating all the creativity our patrons get up to. We have Duplo and assorted toys in the children’s area that make their way under the shelves and need locating, and of course the books need some love and attention. I also put visual heavy non-fiction titles for the table in the youth area. Books about sneakers and baking are popular at the moment. I will generally have a Storytime or Baby Rhyme Time session to prepare and set up for. Then emails, emails, emails, planning and preparing for future events! Currently I am working on a poster art project with young people. Young people have used images from the Alice Springs Historical Photography collection and simple Photoshop-like apps to create posters that are then displayed in the youth area. The project has been super fun and it is great to have young people’s art up in the youth area. And of course I squeeze in a desk shift or two working front of house in the library greeting and assisting users.

How did you end up being a librarian?

I was hanging out at the State Library of Victoria one evening in 2010 and I walked into a presentation by SLV about how to get into the library sector. I guess all that hanging out in libraries in my teens and twenties finally paid off! I enrolled for TAFE studies with Victoria University in Diploma of Library and Information Services shortly afterwards. After one semester of study I was fortunate to get a job as a casual library officer at Maribyrnong Library Service. And it wasn’t long before I realised it was a great job fit! Working in public libraries matches my customer service skills with my passion for information and books! In 2015 I had a full time position at Stonnington Library and Information Services and I enrolled in Graduate Diploma of Information Studies at Charles Sturt. Two and a half years later, I was proud as punch to graduate. I have been living and working in Alice Springs for the last nine months.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

People! I feel very fortunate to find myself in a profession where I get to work with such a variety of people every day. Libraries can provide resources to people across the spectrums of age, gender, sexuality, culture, ability, race and more. Our library is one of the most active spaces in Alice Springs so working to ensure that libraries are as accessible and relevant as possible is fulfilling work.

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What are you reading at the moment?

At Storytime this week we read ‘If Sharks Disappeared’ by Lily Williams. At Baby Rhyme Time we squeezed in a reading of ‘I Love Me’ by Sally Morgan and Amelia Kwaymullina. I just finished Philip Pullman’s latest ‘Book of Dust’ and read the new YA title by Clare Atkins ‘Between Us’ in one sitting. I am also slowly reading aloud to myself Therese Ryder’s book ‘Ayeye Thipe-akerte – Arrernte: stories about birds’. I am aiming to share the book at Storytime to include more bilingual elements into my sessions. The book tells stories of local birds in Arrernte and is translated into English. I am a keen bird watcher and the book combines my love of birds and language together. I have been learning Arrernte since moving here at the language school. Learning language is a great way to show respect to the Arrernte people, culture and land on which I live.

Finish this sentence: Libraries are amazing because… whether you need a drink of water, email your Mum to say you’re safe and sound, or find out where the closest bus stop is, not to mention the books, you will find it all in a library!