As part of our Libraries month, I chatted with my fabulous local librarian, Elizabeth McDonald who is the Reader Development Officer for Young People and Families for Wokingham Borough Libraries and one of the Carnegie Kate Greenaway judges this year.
What made you want to become a librarian?
A love of stories has always been a huge part of my life and I am privileged to read books as part of my job. I grew up using libraries and having an excuse to read even more books can never be a bad thing. A library can be all things to all people, and is a community space that people have grown up with. It is a place for everyone, and we try to adapt to what our community wants from the library.
Can you tell us a bit about your role and what it entails?
I am Reader Development Officer for Young People and Families for Wokingham Borough Libraries. I work with all age ranges across 10 libraries including; organising and running rhymetimes and storytimes for the under 5s, leading school visits with primary school children, organising author visits with schools, chatterbooks reading groups, teen reading and writing groups, workshops with parents and more. Being creative and inventive with books and sharing stories is at the heart of all this and knowing what authors, series and genres to read and recommend to children and adults alike is essential.
What are the best parts of your job?
Promoting and experiencing the magic of children's literature. I also enjoy rhymetime where you can really see young children engage with a text, its pictures and the language. Young children respond well to poems too, such as Bubbles by James Carter where you can see the children using their imagination as they watch imaginary bubbles floating through the air. Both well-loved, older poems and new poems work particularly well with this age group.
What are the challenges?
Time. Different parts of the job dictate different amounts of time. But that also keeps the job interesting as no day or week is ever the same.
What is it about children's books that inspire you? And which are your favourites? (if it is possible to choose!)
The pleasure that a book can give to a child, and the imagination that grows from that. Among my favourite books are The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – this is one that really stayed with me long after I had finished reading. I adore picture books and love Tell me a Dragon by Jackie Morris and one of my son's favourites Shackleton's Journey by William Grill, a wonderful non-fiction book that fostered my son's desire to become an explorer!
Can you tell us a little more about your involvement with the Youth Library Group?
In 2007 I joined the committee for the South East branch of YLG, undertaking the roles of secretary, vice-chair, chair and now CKG judge. It has been an inspirational experience to be on this committee. I have provided training courses on relevant topics and organised the South East Carnegie and Kate Greenaway training days for other South East based libraries. It's fantastic to have had the opportunity to meet so many enthusiastic authors, illustrators, publishers and librarians who, through their creativity, bring the joy of reading and stories to children. Being a Judge this year has been a rewarding experience, the huge nominations list of Carnegie books (91) and 70 Kate Greenaway Books were a varied and interesting read. There were lots of books I would not normally read, so it was great to broaden my horizons and find about different authors and illustrators. The longlist has been announced and can be viewed here. The shortlists for both the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2015 will be announced on Tuesday 17th March, with the winners being announced on Monday 22nd June at a special event at the British Library. For more details visit the website.
How do you decide on which authors/illustrators to book for library and local school events?
We are sometimes offered author or illustrators. They can pitch an idea to us for an event or workshop that they think might be beneficial to the patrons of the library. It all depends on what would work for the library or the school. In this area, it seems to work better when we take an author to a primary or secondary school rather than a library event, but this may be different in other areas across the UK. In the library, authors/illustrators of books for the under 5s seem to get a better audience, partly because the event is usually more interactive, offering opportunities for the children to take part in a more immersive experience.
Would you like to see more authors/illustrators get more involved in their local library and school events? And if so, how can they take part?
We are always happy to see local authors/illustrators who are offering something worthwhile to the library patrons. A workshop or talk that engages the audience and continues to foster the love of books and imagination.
Do you have any say on which books to order in to the library and which to promote? How are these decisions made?
In Wokingham, we use Suppliers Selection – the supplier chooses the books for us, but we state what we want, taking into account factors such as popular authors who have a new book out, debut authors etc. Some local authorities still choose the books themselves. But, if we feel that a particular book is missing on our shelves, we will have it ordered in. In terms of promoting books, we look at what is happening at a national level, for example books nominated for prizes, events such as Harry Potter Book Night, tying in to well-loved book anniversaries etc. If we have an author visit, we will promote the book, as well as having displays such as recommended book of the month, romantic reads for Valentine's Day, cultural books for Chinese New Year, and also any books that have been published that month.
Finally, what sort of books would you like to see more of – what don't you see enough of or do you see too much of?
I'd like to see more diverse books, and more outstanding books for beginner readers – a good example would be Goth Girl by Chris Riddell. I'd also like to see more originality in book covers, and covers which are less gender specific so that a boy or girl isn't put off from reading a story simply because of the cover. Book covers for children in particular have to be striking for them to want to pick it up.
Elizabeth McDonald works as Reader Development Officer for Young People and Families at Wokingham Libraries. She is also one of the judges this year for the Carnegie Kate Greenaway prize.
You can find her on Twitter.
You can find more information about Wokingham Libraries here: