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Faith Restored: Sometimes It Helps to Go Old School

“Scramble” is the best verb to describe what doing my work has felt like for the last six months; one scramble after another, responding to community needs and challenges. That scrambling took its toll and wore me out this summer. Last week, on the precipice of a new, uniquely chaotic school year, I was desperate for inspiration. What even is children’s librarianship now, amidst the multiple pandemics in which we find ourselves and our communities embroiled in today? 

I decided to start where I always start when I’m feeling overwhelmed — with cleaning my workspace. Sifting through old files, I found a folder labeled “Librarianship – History”. I’d apparently tucked away several articles on the history of children’s librarianship. 

Nowhere in this modest collection were there any articles specifically on librarianship during viral pandemics or social upheaval. But there was one that drew my eye. In 1999, Drs. Betsy Hearne and Christine Jenkins co-wrote an article on the history and tradition of children’s librarianship for the 75th anniversary of The Horn Book Magazine. Their article, “Sacred Texts: What Our Foremothers Left Us in the Way of Psalms, Proverbs, Precepts, and Practices”, asked their readers and themselves, “If children’s librarianship was a calling, what was the creed of those imbued with the ‘library spirit’? What are the central articles of faith according to the canon of children’s librarians’ professional literature?” (Hearne & Jenkins, 1999).

The answers, they asserted, were the following seven “articles of faith”, presented as the “core beliefs of the calling of children’s librarianship”. Hearne & Jenkins state these articles of faith are:

  1. “A belief in the primacy and uniqueness of the individual child.”
  2. “A belief in the critical importance of individual choice in young people’s reading.
  3. “A firm belief in the strength and resilience of young people.”
  4. “A belief in the children’s room as an egalitarian republic of readers.”
  5. “A belief in literature as a positive force for understanding not only between individuals, but also between groups, and nations.”
  6. “A friendly and unsentimental older sister’s attitude towards children.”
  7. “An assumption that children’s librarians would prevail over adversity in the performance of their professional work.”

As I sat with these articles of faith, I reflected on their continued applicability. While I’m not advocating for getting lost in vocational awe, I did find returning to these core beliefs personally restorative. In fact, I wonder if perhaps these core beliefs might help me set better boundaries around vocational awe and mission creep. I’m also not suggesting that children’s librarianship and its history should be free from examination through critical theory. Far from it. But sometimes, it’s good to go a little old school as I breathe and ground for a moment before re-engaging today’s myriad challenges.

So, if you’ve also been scrambling and you’re worn out too, perhaps try sitting with these questions:

Looking back and looking forward, what restores your faith in your work? How will you continue to advocate from the core beliefs of your librarianship? 

In the answers you find, may your own faith in your work also be restored.

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References:

Hearn, B. & Jenkins, C. (1999). Sacred texts: what our foremothers left us in the way of psalms, proverbs, precepts, and practices. The Horn Book Magazine, 75(5), 536-558

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Kate Brunner is a member of the ALSC Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee. She is the Southwest & Central Regional Early Literacy Specialist for the Colorado State Library’s Growing Readers Together initiative. She also serves as the Children’s Services Manager at Pine River Library in Bayfield, Colorado.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: VII: Professionalism and Professional Development..

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