Each month, we work to profile an ALSC member, and learn a little about their professional life as well as a bit about their not-so-serious side. Using just a few questions, we try to keep the profiles fun while highlighting the variety of members in our organization. So, without further ado, welcome to our ALSC profile, ten questions with ALSC member, Christopher Brown.
1. What do you do, and how long have you been doing it?
I’m the Special Collections Curator for the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia. It’s a mouthful, right? It’s a fantastic position though – we have one of the largest collections of original art, manuscripts, realia, ephemera, and books about children’s literature in the country. My favorite part of the job – and there are A LOT of great parts – is that our collections is open to everyone interested in Children’s Literature. This year alone we’ve hosted international scholars, authors and illustrators researching styles of art, college students learning about children’s literature, and children who are learning about the art in their favorite picture books. It’s been a busy six months!
2. Why did you join ALSC? Do you belong to any other ALA divisions or roundtables?
I joined ALSC in 2005. I was a new librarian at a public library and knew NOTHING about children’s services. I was originally hired as an adult librarian, but staff shortages quickly changed that. Eep! I did not take any children’s services classes in Library School BUT I was involved in my student chapter of ALA, so I had a few friends with a background in children’s services who I reached out to for help. I also emailed all the professors at the University of Pittsburgh who taught children’s services and begged for their syllabi. I still thank the Lord for Mary K. Biagini and the late Maggie Kimmel’s help. I also signed up for the courses that ALSC offered on the history of the Newbery and Caldecott medals and those were invaluable.
I was involved with RUSA and ACRL for a long time, but have focused my attention on ALSC for the past few years. What can I say? It’s a friendly and inspiring group.
3. What did you most enjoy at the recent ALA Annual Conference?
There are really too many things to list! The committee work is always fun and incredibly rewarding. I love seeing colleagues from around the country and learning about new trends in other library systems. I also love seeing the new line-up of books that will soon be available and picking up as many ARCs as I can. I think the most enjoyable experience though was a new one for me: I was an ALSC Mentor for the first time this year, so I was able to see the conference again through the eyes of my Mentee. (His name is Alec – He’s amazing – And he’ll be running ALSC someday, so everyone should start sucking up to him now for award appointments. I kid! Mostly. *cough*CALDECOTT*cough*)
But let’s be serious for a moment. ALA Conferences can be big, scary things! If you’re a new member or someone going for the first time, it can easily overwhelm you. There’s too much to do, everything is spread out, and everyone speaks in acronyms. To get the most out of ALA, every new member should consider the ALSC Mentoring Program. And, on the flip side of that – if you’ve gone to ALA a few times and are savvy about what you do, you NEED to sign up as a mentor. We don’t advance and grow as a profession without passing on our experiences and helping to foster new ideas and welcoming new members.
4. Have you accomplished all your big summer plans? What still remains before the snow starts to fall?
Does anyone ever say “yes” to this? No! There’s always something to do! Right now, I’m focusing on writing finding aids for all of the items in our archives. That’s been a big project, but I’m lucky to have my library assistant Cory helping me through it. That girl is a machine! We’re currently working on one for all of the Summer Reading materials created by the Free Library of Philadelphia. It’s ninety years of posters, pins, certificates, and game boards – which we’re still in the process of digitizing. In the last few years we’ve had a renaissance in the program and have had notable illustrators creating our Summer Reading artwork. This year Greg Pizzoli created a bold and vibrant mystery/exploration-themed image for the program. Lauren Castillo and Zach OHora have also created beautiful designs. Next year our Summer reading team has chosen….Well, you’ll have to wait and see. 🙂 (But as a clue, I have sprinkled letters from his/her/their name(s) throughout this interview. Can you figure it out?)
5. What’s your favorite book of all time?
Yowza that’s hard. It really depends on my mood and the audience. For toddlers 2 and under, I love using Brian Biggs’ Tinyville Town books. They feature a fun and diverse community and that’s always the ideal, isn’t it? For preschoolers, I’d have to say Angela Dominguez’s Santiago Stays. That book has the best page turns in the room AND gives the reader a lot of chances to ask open-ended questions. For K-2, I’d go with Mônica Carnesi’s Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear. It combines seasons, friendship, and crafts. What’s not to like? For older readers, Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. With each new book she gets better and better. I’d lay odds that the Newbery committee will be discussing that one for a while. And George O’Connor is always my guilty pleasure. The man made Ares sympathetic! Ares! That’s skill. If you’re looking for something above an 8th grade level, I can’t help you. You’re essentially dead to me once you move into the teen section.
6. What’s the favorite part of your evening meal… appetizer? soup? salad? entree? side dishes? desert? something else?
I’m trying to be as healthy as I can, so that means my evening meal is pretty basic. My favorite part is my pre-bed protein shake. It’s chocolate and vanilla and mint. It’s the only really sweet thing I eat all day and I love it. Some days it’s the thought of that shake that gets me through the gym!
7. Who is the last person you said “Thank You” to?
I have no idea. But If I had to guess, it would probably either be Cory or Rachel Fryd. Rachel helped me find my place at the Free Library and we worked together as children’s librarians (and cube-mates) for years. When I started going to ALA, Rachel helped direct me to make smart choices. Thanks Rachel! (Also: Are you happy? I put that in print. IN. PRINT. For all of ALSC to read!)
It may have been Cory though. She’s been focusing heavily on our Instagram page and always finds great images. If you’ve been impressed with our #Caturday posts, you should thank Cory too.
8. What do you think is the best way for public and school libraries to work together?
That’s really a tough question because the relationship is so nuanced depending on schools, the libraries, etc. We have it pretty bad in Philadelphia in regard to our school librarians. A lot of my public librarian colleagues in the city are stepping up to help where they can – school visits, programming, etc. But realistically, we can’t do it all. The majority of students in school may see their public librarian for what – 30-60 minutes every two weeks? That’s not enough time to develop research skills and critical thinking skills. So, the first step is to advocate. If you’re a public librarian, talk to the parents and caregivers that visit you. Tell them why you think it’s vital for there to be a school librarian in every school. If you’re a school librarian, ask your students and teachers if they have library cards. Little steps can have big impacts. With all the restrictions on teachers and classroom trips, the ball is probably more in the public librarians’ court. Be aggressive! Visit your local schools, offer to supplement classroom libraries with your materials, push for storytimes, and most importantly become BFF with every school secretary you meet. No matter what type of school it is, the secretary is always the real power behind the throne. 🙂
9. What do you remember about your favorite teacher?
One of my favorite teachers was my High School English Teacher, Susan Monroe. That woman was (and still is) a dynamo. Besides teaching us the wonders of Shakespeare, Richard Wright, and Mark Twain, she taught us about time management: What’s expected of you when you’re beginning a project; what’s your stance on a topic; what’s your end goal? It was an intense course and I’m a better person for having her as a teacher. When I was writing my thesis for my second masters, I asked her to read it – and she did. That was a very special moment to me because she was willing to help a student she hadn’t had in her classroom in nearly 20 years. I still use her rules of grammar when I’m writing. (FANBOYS! A comma goes before For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So if both parts of the sentence make their own sentence.) I’ve passed that along to countless students doing their homework my branches over the years.
10. What will children’s librarians be doing 25 years from now?
Hopefully, pushing themselves to learn new things. I recently heard a colleague rant that librarians should focus on “traditional” storytimes instead of chasing every new trend that pops up. Frankly, that mentality is wrong and dangerous. It’s wrong because no storytime is traditional – Children weren’t even welcomed in libraries until the last century! It’s dangerous because it implies stagnation. The fastest way to make yourself obsolete is to stop adapting. Let’s say you have the best doctor in the world. He/she is lovely – great bedside manner, knows all your complaints, always warms up the stethoscope – all the bells and whistles. The only thing is, he/she hasn’t learned anything new about medical advances since 1971. Are you really going to him/her for reliable health advice? Of course not! Why should we expect our profession – the leaders in the dissemination of information – to be any different? Our work is always evolving in an attempt to improve. There’s always a place for a good read-a-loud (please see my previously mentioned suggestions.) but there’s also room for maker spaces and hands-on learning. Pull tech into your storytimes and add a story break to your LEGO club. Experiment and see how it goes. (Can you tell I’m a Ravenclaw?)
(Photo courtesy of Christopher Brown)
Thanks, Christopher! What a great continuation to our monthly member profile feature!
Do you know someone who would be a good candidate for our ALSC Monthly Profile? Are YOU brave enough to answer our ten questions? Send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org; we’ll see what we can do!