WRITERS AT WORK: Loving Libraries, Part 1

BULLETIN: November Word of the Month will be announced tomorrow, November 2.

Hi everyone,

Today WRITERS AT WORK introduces a new 5-part set of conversations about the relationship between authors/illustrators and libraries. If you are new to the idea or want a refresher, here’s the link to our collected series. http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com . Leading off is Sandy Asher. As always, we welcome your comments. Because there are five Tuesdays this month, we’ll save the last one for your own stories about our subject. Please send them to me if you’d like to be included in the wrap-up segment on November 29. Thanks in advance! Here’s Sandy.
Sandy Asher
Loving Libraries
November 1, 2016
Part 1 — Sandy

You’d think it would be a natural partnership: local authors and neighborhood libraries. But it’s not. Many libraries don’t reach out to local authors. Why not?

Certainly, librarians are busy people. In addition to everyday services, they organize numerous special events of other kinds. Perhaps authors slip their minds?

Or maybe they’re hesitant to approach authors, figuring they, too, are busy?

Oh, and there’s the money thing. Librarians don’t have massive discretionary funds at their disposal, and authors do prefer to be paid for presentations. They don’t earn salaries, after all, and time at the library means time away from the computer.

Still, there’s the gratitude thing. Hard to imagine an author who doesn’t feel it. There is a debt to be paid.

When I think of the library, I get a feeling that’s close to worshipful. A source of books? Sure. A research center? Absolutely. A fount pouring forth surprise, delight, inspiration, and encouragement? Always. But also a sanctuary, a safe place to think, wonder, dream, be still . . . and just be.

I’ve felt that way since childhood, when I spent hours in the Children’s Reading Room of the Free Library of Philadelphia at Logan Square, deposited there by parents needing an afternoon with adult relatives or friends. Left alone, I was not lonely. The library was my shelter, companion, nanny, teacher, and mentor. Sitting on the floor between stacks, I’d breathe in my favorites: well-worn editions of fairy and folktales of every kind, all dog and horse stories, any book written by Louisa May Alcott or L. Frank Baum. Peter and Wendy. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. A host of friends as near and dear as any of the flesh-and-blood variety.

I dreamed of returning to that children’s reading room as a grown-up and seeing my own books on those same shelves, nestled among my favorites. I’ve lived that dream. And I remain ever grateful.

So how do I love the library? Let me count the ways:

Most recently, I’ve set my latest picture book, CHICKEN STORY TIME, and its stage adaptation, in the Children’s Reading Room of a library. Granted, I all but bury a librarian in chickens, but she prevails, and the love shines through.

Back in Springfield, MO, where I lived for 36 years, and now in Lancaster, PA, I’ve been involved in creating many programs for the library. David, I’m not sure how many years you and I ran MISSOURI WRITES FOR KIDS and AMERICA WRITES FOR KIDS together, but we certainly shared a lot of happy visits to the TV studio to spotlight our colleagues’ books and invite viewers to “Check it out at the library!”

Then there have been on-site writing workshops and story-hour readings, plus visits to schools to encourage first graders to sign up for library cards, and events that have brought other authors and illustrators in for workshops, book signings, and presentations.

Also, Springfield libraries provided free space for performances of my plays, “Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy” and “In the Garden of the Selfish Giant.” Another script, “Walking Toward America” packed the community room and served as a fundraiser for the system.

Talk about win-win situations! Libraries, patrons, colleagues, and I have all benefitted.

So I encourage reaching out — in both directions. Local authors are available for writing workshops, presentations, readings, signings, fund raisers, special events, and to help create unique programs. Neighborhood libraries are ideal locations. For libraries looking for authors, a Google search will lead to their websites, and many are listed on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators site at http://scbwi.org, which links to regional SCBWI websites as well. For authors looking for libraries, the Public Libraries site provides contact information state-by-state at http://www.publiclibraries.com.

If ever two groups should be on the same page, it’s authors and their libraries! And if ever an author has served his library system well, it’s David L. Harrison. Tell us all about it, David!


3 comments on “WRITERS AT WORK: Loving Libraries, Part 1

  1. I agree with Sandy’s sentiments about libraries, and have reached out to several, myself, although only the one here in town has been receptive to me coming in. But I continue to try to make connections, because it IS important for all those involved.

    I was actually quite disappointed when I went to the public library that helped mold me as a child – a place where I spent countless hours and days for both school work and pleasure – and was basically dismissed. The children’s librarian there seemed utterly disinterested in anything I had to say or offer, would never return my calls, and even the one time when we met in person it seemed like I was the last person she wanted to talk to. I even donated a signed copy of one of the anthologies I was in, and the next week I learned that it had been sold as part of their book sale! But I suppose once I have the name recognition and gravitas of a Yolen or Harrison, their ears will perk up. 😉

    • Good morning, Matt. Thanks for joining in the conversation. I’m sorry about your experience with that librarian. Thank goodness for librarians who see working with authors as opportunities to promote books and a love of literature among their young patrons!

    • Hello, Matt — Thanks so much for responding to the post. That partnership with your local library is a mutual gift that also benefits their constituents and your readers. Major win-win! On the other hand, your experience with your childhood library pretty much matches my own. I think that’s partly due to the sheer number of authors out there clamoring for attention, partly due to the incredible busy-ness of most librarians at understaffed libraries, and partly due to the phenomenon of the public — librarians among them — not really thinking of authors as real, live people. We read stories from machine-made objects. To have a flesh-and-blood stranger suddenly drop in, babbling something about writing those stories — well, it just doesn’t compute! I will continue to love and honor the Logan Square Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia for all it did for me way back when. I carry that love and reverence with me into the Lancaster Public Library now.

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