Interview Alert: Children’s Librarians Jenny and Emily

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Children’s Librarians (from left to right) Emily and Jennifer

Two of the busiest staff members at the Community Library of DeWitt & Jamesville are the children’s librarians, Jenny Burke and Emily Wormuth. They’re gearing up for the craziest time of the year, summer, when the Library draws in hundreds of kids for the Summer Reading Program. Right now, Jenny and Emily are in the midst of visiting local schools, telling the kids all about the myriad of events and activities the Library has lined up–all summer long–from the end of June until the end of August. School visits are also a great time to introduce the kids to some of the cool things the Library has to offer everyday.

Of course, Jenny and Emily are busy the rest of the year too, presenting daily story times, special themed events, and lots of opportunities for kids to engage in reading, learning, crafting, dancing, and having fun. They also help patrons find just the right books.

Aside from all of that, they make purchasing decisions, choosing books and media that they believe will be good additions to the Library’s children’s collection. Picture books make up a large portion of the items that they order. Lucky for us, Jenny and Emily found some time to answer a few questions about picture books!

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Q. How do you decide whether or not to purchase a particular picture book for the library’s collection? What criteria do you use?

Jenny: I follow my library’s collection development policy in choosing books to purchase for the Children’s Collection. I want to ensure our collection meets the needs of our community, is well rounded, and appeals to a variety of people. I focus on books I know will be popular with kids, whether it’s because of a subject area, popular author or series.

Q. How important are reviews, such as those found in Kirkus Reviews or School Library Journal, in making a purchasing decision?

Jenny: Pretty important. I’d say the majority of my book selections come from reviews in Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. Like most public libraries, I have a set budget for the year that I need to adhere to, so I want to focus monies on books that are well-reviewed or that I know our patrons will want. But, the review journals are just a guiding point. I will purchase books that kids ask for, or I know are popular series.

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Q. How do you use picture books in story-time settings? And for different age groups?

Jenny: No matter how old they are, kids love being read aloud to! At the library, I do story time for ages 0-5 and one for preschoolers ages 3-5. For these ages, I choose picture books with a rhyming quality, or sing-along books – they love those! Basically, you want less text and engaging illustrations, so you can talk about what is going on in the story. For older age groups, I still use that model, but will pick picture books that may be longer. You can’t lose with a funny story, I’ve found!

Emily: The best picture books for story time are the ones with big, beautiful pictures and an easy-to-follow story. Our story times are organized by age, so we choose books that are appropriate for that particular age. I present the Babies and Books story time, so I’m looking for books with fewer words, bolder pictures and repetitive language. I love it when the kids can read the book along with me.

Q. How do you choose your story-time themes? Do you always have a theme?

Jenny: Themes are a guiding point for me. I pick them based upon the season, what I’ve done in the past that’s successful, or sometimes I’ll find books and base a theme upon the book. I don’t always have a theme, but when I do, it helps me plan my songs, rhymes, and crafts. That being said, I don’t let the theme dictate what I’m doing in story time. Sometimes I find books that I just want to read aloud and I go with it!

Emily: I find it easier to put a story time together if I’m working with a theme. I can then choose books, music and activities that follow that theme. I think it’s easier for the children to actively participate if there’s a theme. “What animal are we going to sing about today?” “Elephants!” shout the toddlers. After doing this for a few years, Jenny and I both have a pretty good idea of what books and materials we have to support a theme, so that helps when we’re choosing themes. It’s best not to get too complicated; animal, trucks and seasonal themes all work well. For example, we always do an Apple Picking story time in the fall because that’s an activity many kids are doing.

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Q. Is there anything you’d like to see more of in picture books published today-either fiction or nonfiction (e.g. subject matter, characters, settings, themes, concepts, etc.)?

Jenny: With the We Need Diverse Books campaign, I’ve seen some great books – both fiction and nonfiction – that have been published in the past couple of years. Keep ‘em coming! We need their stories, now more than ever.

Emily: I love books about girls doing things we (traditionally, unfairly) associate with boys. Bring on the books about women truck drivers and construction workers. And kids love books about misbehaving children, but they’re often too often boys. 

Thank you, Jenny and Emily, for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk picture books! Hooray for children’s librarians and all that they do for kids in our communities!

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