Last Tuesday Sandy Asher led off with this month’s WRITERS AT WORK conversation about the relationship between authors and illustrators with libraries. Today it’s my turn so off we go.
WRITERS AT WORK
November 8, 2016
Part 2 – David
Thanks, Sandy. When I was in elementary school we didn’t live close to a public library and my school didn’t have a library except for a modest collection of books that my mother and other volunteers placed on shelves in a converted storage closet. A bookmobile came on certain days of the month and I remember waiting in line for my turn to mount the steps and enter between floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books. Then as now I loved anything about wild animals, from the smallest insects to exotic forms found a continent or two away. I had books at home to feed my need for fiction and adventure. The Hardy Boys were a particular favorite. But my link to learning about snakes and birds and butterflies – interests that would lead me one day to college degrees in biology — was that bookmobile.
Writing came later for me so as a kid I had no dreams about becoming an author. Public libraries were my trusted source of knowledge. During my astronomy phase I checked out books on the solar system and marveled at the complexities of the universe. Later on I haunted library shelves to identify the latest addition to my collections. To a 12-year-old entomologist it’s important to know if the swallowtail he just captured is a large blue swallowtail or a variation of a female giant swallowtail.
Flash forward to my mid-thirties. Sandy and I returned to Springfield to live. By then I had published a number of books for children. I ran for the school board and won. And right away I learned that libraries in Springfield public elementary schools were in dreadful shape. The board and the superintendent worked shoulder to shoulder convincing the community to pass an enormous bond issue to pay for new school libraries throughout the district. Later on, when construction was completed, it was a great pleasure to walk into an elementary school to visit students in their brand new libraries and know that an author had something to do with making that happen. I’m sometimes credited for leading the charge but of course it took the whole board, the superintendent, and key people throughout the district to get it done. If to some extent I became a spokesman for the cause, I have to think that the kid who used to get his books from a bookmobile had a sense that it was time for the community to do better.
And of course one thing leads to another, Sandy. In 1996 you and I teamed up to create MISSOURI WRITES FOR KIDS with sponsorship support from Drury University and library support from Springfield-Greene County Library District. We featured a lot of books by good writers and always ended our programs with the tag, “Check it out at the Library.” Six years after that I found myself co-chairing a successful campaign to pass a 5-cent tax levy increase for Springfield-Greene County Library District, its first increase in 22 years.
Sandy, you mention how busy librarians are with their responsibilities and I want to second that. Children’s librarians put in busy days and not all of them think to initiate contact or generate programs with authors. And not all of them understand the dynamics (financial and otherwise) of inviting an author to come in and present a program. I’ve received e-mail invitations from a state or more away asking if I would consider driving to their location to talk to a group of children for story hour. But it’s really a two-way street and the author can certainly be more active in reaching out to his/her libraries within a working distance. More about that in my next segment on November 15. I’ve never met a children’s librarian who wasn’t extremely helpful. I’m with you, Sandy. We do love our libraries.