In this monthly feature, we profile ALSC Board members. We hope to offer information about the people who work to guide the organization so that you can feel more comfortable in reaching out to them with your concerns, questions, or comments. To continue this series, we invite you to meet ALSC Board member, Sue McCleaf Nespeca.
My entry into children’s librarianship was by accident. Literally.
After graduation from library school, I was looking for a job at an academic library. During college, I had worked at the university library and loved it. Unfortunately, being a “baby boomer,” any type of job was scarce. Headlines in newspapers highlighted the fact that jobs in any profession for college graduates were almost nonexistent. So when I was hired as a part-time librarian in a near-by state, I jumped at the opportunity, even though it was a public library.
I was assigned to the bookmobile. For weeks I accompanied the driver, enjoying meeting and helping people in what then were rural areas in a D.C. bedroom community. At that time, you did not need a chauffeur’s license to drive a bookmobile, and I was told in a few weeks, I would get to be the driver. I was so excited to be “promoted” to this opportunity. While backing out of the first stop, I saw a woman running from her house waving her arms frantically. It turned out that I had backed over her mailbox, and did not even realize it. What if it had been a child? I was immediately pulled from the bookmobile and was reassigned to the children’s library. I had no idea then how this decision made by the library director was so fortuitous. Within no time, I realized being a children’s librarian was my calling.
There was no question about what division I wanted to join when I became an ALA member 37 years ago. I loved children’s librarianship and my favorite thing to do was storytimes. My idol at that time was world-renown storyteller and author Caroline Feller Bauer. Her Handbook for Storytellers was my Bible. When I filled out a committee volunteer form, my first choice was what then was called the Preschool Services and Parent Education Committee. While at work one mundane day, I received a call from the Chair telling me I was on the committee. The chair was none other than Caroline Feller Bauer! When I got off the phone, I literally screamed in the library!
My entire career was in Ohio. In 2011 I left my dream job as the Youth Services Consultant for a large regional library system with 100 public library systems as members. I moved back to my hometown in central PA. to care for my elderly mother and my part-time business as an early literacy and children’s literature consultant became my full-time job which I continue today.
My passion has always been early literacy, so much so, that I went back to get a second master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and my thesis was on (what was called at that time) emergent literacy. For that reason I feel that is one of my strengths as an ALSC Board member. But I also feel that I am a good listener and I like to hear all sides of an issue before making a decision. Also, I am not afraid to ask questions to completely understand an issue.
It has been a privilege to serve on the Board. I have been impressed with everyone’s dedication to do what is best for membership rather than promote their own personal agenda. There has been a feeling of camaraderie and that special bond generates respect for each other.
Serving on the Board gives me an inside look at how much is happening within our vibrant association. Unlike some other divisions in ALA, we continue to increase membership and we are blessed with having hard-working committees. As a board member we get to read all the committee reports, and the last stack was 96 pages – Whew! I also am in awe of the ALSC staff. It goes without saying that they handle an incredible amount of work, but what amazes me is that every single one is friendly, helpful, dedicated and 100 per cent unflappable! How is that possible?
I previously served on the board over eighteen years ago when we struggled for over a year to come up with a name for our new informational book award. There were strong feelings on what the award should be called, and there was no consensus. The decision dragged on for several conferences, until the suggestion was made just to name it after the funder — Robert F. Sibert, the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books. It is rather ironic then that I have been a Board Member during the decision to rename the Wilder Award the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. It has been disheartening to read so much national press that contains much false information, and also hear from many librarians locally and nationally that have evidently not read the entire statement on the name change of the award, and feel that the decision is censorship or an attempt to rewrite history. As given in the official ALA/ALSC statement “Wilder’s work holds a significant place in the history of children’s literature.” I hope more people will read the full press release. http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2018/06/ala-alsc-respond-wilder-medal-name-change
I would love to encourage more people to become actively involved in ALSC. Maybe you too can meet your idol! There are so many opportunities, and unlike when I became a member, conference attendance is not even necessary since there are virtual committees. On a personal note, I would like to point out the opportunity the Bechtel Fellowship allows. I was ALSC’s first Bechtel Fellow and that was an experience of a lifetime. You receive a $4,000 stipend to spend a month in Florida (as a resident of northeast Ohio, I chose a winter month) studying a topic of your choice at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature of the George A. Smathers Libraries. I cannot imagine why anyone would not want to try for this experience.
The ALSC strategic plan is based on goals of diversity, advocacy, leadership and development. Some might consider these lofty goals, but we are striving to meet these objectives, and could use your help. I would love to answer questions on how one can become more active. It has been a wonderful experience for me. By being an ALSC member for so many years, I have gained friendships with similar-minded folks that will last a lifetime. What is better than that?