Guest Blogger

A Retired Children’s Librarian Re-evaluates His Contest Hierarchy

What’s the Most Important Job?

Kids love contests; heck most of us love contests. Sports, elections, betting, spelling bees, darts. Who won? I’m winning. Yay, I’m a winner! Oh, just an honorable mention? Well, at least a mention. That’s something, right?

Perhaps that’s how I came up with the idea one year of re-tooling my elementary school class visits when I was working as a children’s librarian at the Berkeley Public Library. One of our jobs was to introduce, remind, and otherwise connect students to the library through books, stories, DVDs, and other means as needed, as possible.

One of my goals – and I was darned good at it – was to rile kids up, make them remember weird stuff in relationship to me in my shorts and ratty safari hat as a friendly representative of the library. In this kind of visit, one of the best ways was to talk about gross stuff, yes, especially excretion. That’s absolutely present in a lot of good books for young readers – and older readers, too. Everyone likes to talk about excretion!

But my absolute favorite mode was as a gameshow contest leader: since elementary school teachers usually talk to their students about professions at some point, I turned that a bit on its side, and asked, “What’s the most important profession/job of all?” Then, I’d say, “And not a librarian. Yes, we’re the greatest, I agree, but we don’t win this contest. So that’s your only hint.” And I always pointed to the school library staff – or in the direction of the school library if I was in a classroom – and said how great they were. And, of course, as soon as I finished, a kid or two would immediately yell out, “Librarian!” That brought me a definite smile: kissing up may have no limits, am I correct? Or perhaps it was just direct response to suggestion without much thorough listening.

But that gave me an opportunity to highlight (really quickly, even instantaneously) a book on librarians, libraries, etc. This has to be a quick bookcover look only because kids straightaway start shouting out their choices to win win win – win the contest! Have a prize ready – okay, you can cheat and give the same prize of some attractive, but hardly precious, book mark to all the kids. Prizes for all! The winner can be the one to hand out the book mark prizes to all the other kids. Sharing, forced or not – and even without prizes, the contest environment rules.

But back to the contest: some kids love to kiss up to their teachers so that comes up fast. I always always always praised the teachers because they welcomed me to their place. But I had to tell the kids that though I love love love teachers, they don’t win this contest either. Then from the kids usually came: doctors, dentists, professors (even though they are teachers, I live in a university town), foodstore owners, even basketball players. Kids could get creative and they would also repeat professions already given. That’s fine. Books can be shown or pointed to over and over, good reminders. And, naturally, I didn’t have books for every profession that came up. That’s fine because it gave me the chance to invite kids to the library and the library’s website to find library materials and digital information, whatever they wanted and needed.

Now, before I give you the correct answer(s), I want to put in my usual plug for fun. Boy, do we all need fun, especially these days. Kids appreciate it more than can be calculated, am I right? This kind of contest-visit is really entertaining and has its own ‘story’ arc with lots of tension, and the kids themselves determine the exact ‘story’ arc, since they are the ones shouting out the professions. And of course, the visits may have to be virtual until schools can re-open.

So, finally, after I’d worked the class into a frenzy – even the dour students usually looked interested, and BTW this idea worked well for K-5, and I think it might work for middle school, too – I told. But first I told a story . . . naturally it’s about my time as a teenager in Napoli in the mid-1960s. There was a garbage strike, the piles grew, the stench swelled, and the rat-sightings increased. Then, of course, a short history lesson: this strike ended, but if it hadn’t, there would have been a real mess, perhaps the rebirth of the plague that killed perhaps 200 million people in just a few years during the middle ages. And this is no exaggeration: a huge garbage strike in Napoli within the last few years could have brought back the plague! They did get closer. I know you’ve guessed the profession(s) by now: garbage workers, yes, and sewage repair crews, and all those that keep us from the plague.

Uh-oh, right now there would have to be some contest ties with my original public works choice; I recognize I have inevitably left out other vital jobs in this perilous, almost unprecedented time. Within our current pandemic, medical staff are right up there. And, finally, anyone involved in the public’s safety, as we try to move through and survive this pandemic, is in our most important profession: besides public works staff, we need scientists, medical staff, those in the food supply industries, manufacturers of equipment, plus educators (including librarians) to keep us safer, and even,  and especially, political leaders. This last category may be our most problematic; let’s hope I’m wrong about that.

Photo of Alan Bern, author of a post about a possible gameshow contest
Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Today’s guest blogger is Alan Bern. Alan is a 25+-year ALSC member and retired children’s librarian from the Berkeley (California) Public Library after over 20 years with them. He has published three poetry books and has had poems, stories, and photos published in a wide variety of online and print publications. Alan performs with dancer/choreographer Lucinda Weaver at PACES: dance & poetry fit to the space and with fabulous musicians from Composing Together, Contact him at    

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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