Children’s librarian keeps close lookout
Brian Wilson, longtime childrens' librarian at the Evanston Library in Evanston on Wednesday, January 16, 2013. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 5, 2013 12:52PM
Evanston Public Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons greeted Brian Wilson last week before he was scheduled to speak to the library board in their third-floor boardroom on what life is like as a children’s librarian.
“Why didn’t you bring your puppets?” Lyons joked with him.
Wilson, an Evanston children’s librarian since Oct. 2001, and his props are a familiar sight as part of the children service’s storytelling team, which was recently judged best in the area by Make It Better magazine.
Even absent props, though, the youthful-looking librarian seemed at ease describing to board members what is entailed in collection development, one of his biggest responsibilities.
Wilson serves on the Bluestem Steering Committee, a statewide choice award for 3rd to 5th graders. This past Saturday, he presented his top 10 picture books at Ann’s Book Club, which consists of a group of professionals who work with young children.
Q. A lot of people might not realize what goes into keeping up a compelling collection? What exactly is your role and that of the library team?
A. As a selector I purchase picture books, early readers, and fiction up to grade 5, most of the non- fiction, reference, and all of the children’s audio-visual materials. Also on the selection team: Gigi Galich selects fiction grades 5 to 8, world language books, and fiction paperbacks; Laura Antolin buys the graphic novels and Leigh Kennelly purchases the Board books and parenting books. Jan Bojda meets with sale reps who sell non-fiction.”
Q. You really seem to like the role?
A. I love selecting materials for this library. I strongly believe in our philosophy that our collection should help our young patrons become lifelong readers and library users.”
Q. What are some of the sources you use as a basis for selecting a specific book?
A. I read reviews in journals such as Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Horn Book, the Bulletin and VOYA. When I read a review I ask myself “How will this title benefits our collection? This community? Does it sound like a book we can use in story time? Will this work of non-fiction help a child with research?
I usually wait for two positive reviews before I add a title to the collection, or three or four if I have any doubts, despite good notices.”
Q. Does that go for all books?
A. There are some surefire winners that I don not hesitate to purchase right off the bat. Mo Willems has a new picture book about his hilarious Elephant and Piggie characters. I add it to a cart. The latest book by a Newberry or Caldecott or Coretta Scott King winner gets a starred review – into the Baker and Taylor cart it goes. I don’t need a second review. Popular topics such as Lego’s, dinosaurs, superheroes – we’re always on the lookout for.”
Q. What are the grayer areas?
A. The other selectors and I also strive to develop a deep collection that reflects the wildly eclectic community that is Evanston. Yes, we need to please the many Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants fans, but we must also have something for budding historians, scientists, and artists – thoughtful books that appeal to niche audiences. There should be something for everyone.
Q. Besides reviews are there other ways you receive tips?
A. “I listen to what children and their parents ask for in person, or on our online “request for materials,” form. We work with the schools to find out what kids are studying so we can provide the books students need. My co-workers are very good at emailing me and letting me know if there are any holes in the collection. We weed, buy fresh copies of favorites.
Q. It sounds pretty gratifying.
A. I have been here for a while and have seen many children grow up. Watching 10-year-olds I once knew as one year olds excitedly carrying out armloads of books is one of the best parts of my job.