On February 14th Diana Haneski, the library media specialist at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, saved the lives of fifty students and five adults. She knew what to do when the shooter roamed her school because she had learned from her good friend Yvonne Cech, the librarian at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, who had saved the lives of eighteen children and four adults under the same circumstances six years ago. These two librarians are true heroes in the literal sense to the people in their communities. Their degrees taught them how to save children’s literacy, but when other critical skills were needed, they hurried to assist.
As authors and illustrators we interact with librarians for far less dire reasons. Yet librarians can offer children’s book authors and artists vital help in building a successful life in books. The first piece of advice every children’s writer or illustrator hears is to read books in the age range your work is intended to reach. Certainly, you could purchase lots of picture books, middle grade or young adult novels, or you could do the smart thing and go to your public library where books and the guidance of people with extensive experience are available to you, free of charge.
When I started out I befriended our town’s children’s librarian and found her advice helpful in many ways. She even sponsored my son’s magic show at the library, including allowing him to stuff her in a big bag and lock her in a trunk to show that only he could magically escape. Much later she moved to England and took a job at an International School there, which opened a door for me to an unexpected opportunity. In 2016 she arranged for me to spend a week at her school in Surrey as an author/artist to talk about my picturebook. One never knows what benefits there might be to knowing a librarian!
Here are nine book-related reasons librarians are, or should be, our heroes too.
- They inspire! Librarians keep the shelves filled with inspiration for you to borrow. In any genre or age group, you will find a wide range of books that will thrill your brain and inspire your ideas. Your librarian chose them for your audience, and for you.
- They make books appear! Librarians are friendly, helpful people. If you need a book that your library does not have available, you can request it through inter-library loan. If it is not available through that route, you can request that your librarian order that book. As long as it is something that other patrons would benefit from, and the funds are available, she or he may consider purchasing a copy based on your recommendation.
- They are wise! If you let your librarian know what genre of children’s books you need to know more about, s/he will steer you to useful sources. By nature and by profession, librarians are supportive and ready to assist you. Should you have an obscure question, often a librarian will know the answer.
- They promote your work! In 1895 the Boston Public Library made available the first space in the United States dedicated specifically for children’s books. Now most communities nationwide have children’s rooms and children’s media specialists to run them. Most also offer activities to keep children interested in reading. Your librarian may allow you to do a story hour, art activity, or other program for your target audience about your book or related talent. This would gain you useful feedback from children and parents, and promote your work to a wider book-loving audience.
- They are versatile! our librarian may have a blog that is a goldmine of links and information related to books that could expand beyond the blogs for writers or illustrators that you already follow. Here is one example from the New York Public Library’s children’s room.
- They can guide you! Since your librarian may work closely with sales reps from book distributors, receives catalogs or other lists of what is available for purchase, and is also on the receiving end of requests and needs from the children and teens who patronize the library, she or he is an expert on the latest trends and market demands. That can help you refine and target your work.
- They make connections! Your librarian may help you find “comp” books, those that you will compare your work to when you pitch your project to agents or editors. Standard practice in queries is to say something like ‘my book is like X (name appropriate recent book) meets Y (name appropriate recent book)’. This helps an agent assess the market your work best fits. If you have developed a relationship with your librarian, his or her suggestions early on about books in the genre your art or writing reflects may help you refine your work while it is still in development, which may mean even stronger comparisons–comps– to other successful books when you are ready to query yours.
- They are ingenious! Your librarian will certainly be able to suggest books you need to read when you are researching your own. Let’s say you want to do a picturebook about tidepool wildlife and you have found some books whose styles you like and others that seem inadequate to you for that subject–or perhaps you want to see how other artists handled depicting the water. Your librarian can probably find related books that don’t have the word “tidepool” in them (which you could find yourself), yet do relate. Or older or much newer books that you were not aware of. Let’s say that you have been working in mixed media for your illustrations and you want to know whether your style is too weird or not funky enough for the kids you are aiming the book towards. Or your novel needs a creepy character and you are unsure if you have characterized him with enough nuances to make him seem dimensional. How do you search for existing examples? Your librarian has a huge database in her head that is not organized the same way Google searches are. S/he is an incredible resource!
- They know books! If you and your librarian ‘click’ over conversations about the genre of books you are interested in working on, he or she may eventually be a good candidate for a beta reader or portfolio reviewer. Her/his mind is focused on what is really needed by the audience you are targeting. Why not tap into that knowledge?
If you reach out, your librarian can be a hero to you, helping you build a viable, rewarding life creating the books children love and need to read.
Do you have a special relationship with your children’s librarian? In what way has s/he helped you?