How often have you heard people complain in the last few months that our president, senators, and congressional reps are all acting like little children—especially during the shameful national debt ceiling crisis? There we were, on the brink of an unprecedented double-dip recession, and our federal elected officials persisted in pointing fingers at each other, making funny faces for the camera, attacking each other petulantly, and playing a nasty game of nah-nah nah-nah boo-boo.
This is precisely why I believe that children’s librarians are our profession’s best hope for strong leaders. By understanding how to handle children, they are gaining an understanding of how to handle politicians.
Then there is also the obvious point that at least in the public library, the children’s services department is the catalyst that gets the entire extended family involved in the library. If you want to go where the action is, don’t head for the largest section of the library—the adult book collection—because that has become a ghost town. Patrons are basically congregating in two places: the computer room and the children’s department.
Unfortunately, computers get most of the attention in library literature, library conferences, and the network of librarian bloggers—and funding when it comes to local library budgets. Are you as tired as I am of reading articles about whether this new shiny gadget or that cool new app holds any relevance for libraries?
The reality is that computers are only half of our future. Children are the other half, the half that we don’t like to talk about so much. Why? Children are loud and cantankerous, and much higher maintenance than computers. I always laugh when I recall what happened many years ago when our very serious IT director walked into the children’s room to personally check out a computer malfunction. A 2-year-old boy ran up to him and said, “Hi!” Flattered at the sudden affectionate attention, the IT guy picked up the child and gave him a hug—and then put the child down as quickly as he had lifted him up. The boy had peed all over him. All we heard as the IT guy headed for the exit was some grumbling about how toilet training should be a requirement for admittance to the library.
Then there was the time I got together with a group of parents in the library conference room to announce some changes in the schedule for preschool story hour. In the middle of my talk, one mother got up abruptly and hurried toward the door with a wailing baby in her arms. I said to her, “Please don’t leave. Your child is not bothering me.” In reply, she grimaced at me and said, “She may not be bothering you, but you are evidently bothering her!”
Into this chaos enter the mighty children’s librarian—that much-overlooked miracle worker of the library profession. With her eternal smile, her pockets bulging with sock puppets, and glitter sprinkled all over her clothes, the children’s librarian gets little respect. Everyone just assumes she is having a grand old time in the library’s “toy department,” where she always seems to be dancing happily to “Rubber Duckie.”
The irony, of course, is that if children’s librarianship is such a barrel of laughs, why are children’s librarians becoming as endangered as the polar bear? The truth is that the real library toy department is IT, a place devoid of hovering helicopter parents, nagging nannies, meddlesome moms, grouchy grannies, and childish children.
Which brings us back to petulant politicians. Is there a group in the library profession better prepared to fight for libraries in the political arena than children’s librarians?
WILL MANLEY has furnished provocative commentary on librarianship for over 30 years and in nine books on the lighter side of library science. He blogs at Will Unwound.