Every library journey an early years story, or at least mine does. The things and moments from when we were young that influenced our decision to join the GLAM industry. This is the back backstory of how I got into libraries and how I never stood a chance. Reflecting on it now I can see some key things that helped me embrace reading and libraries, which I’ll touch on in this blog.
Some of my earliest memories involve reading book after book while sitting on the floor of the library and listening to audio books from those old cassette read along stories when I was sick in bed. My mum has worked in a school library for most of my life so I grew up spending a lot of time in the back room of the school library. So to say that I have fond memories of books and libraries from my childhood would be an understatement. To me books and libraries were a major part of my journey to adulthood and I am forever grateful that I had parents and such amazing librarians who encouraged my reading and love of words.
One thing that my parents did in particular that helped me was to give me the freedom to choose the books and types of books that I read. They made sure that I always had books on hand that matched my interests and each year when Book Fair came along we were allowed to choose a book as a special treat. I remember reading lots of fairy picture books particularly Shirley Barber and The Jewel Kingdom novels (think the 2000s version of Rainbow Magic). When I was briefly into reading about dolphins and other animals I had books about those too. I was also probably the lone borrower of poetry books from our primary school library because I went through a stage of being completely and utterly enthralled by them and how one could write poems about cats. I was never chastised for reading piles of picture books when I was well into novel reading levels. Sadly this is something I see far too much of when parents are looking for ways to encourage their young reluctant child to read. They wish to restrict their child from reading picture books or graphic novels because they’re too old for them or they don’t consider them real books. Restricting a child from reading the types of books they want to read purely for this reason won’t help them develop a rich love of reading. You are never too old to enjoy a good picture book, I should know I’m one of the co-founders of the Picture Book Book Club!
Because my mum worked at a school library we didn’t really have much need to go to the public library for books until I hit my teens. I was lucky and we lived near a big public library that really catered well to their teens/young adults. It had rows and rows of books to choose from and magazines galore and I knew exactly where to find everything. I’d pour over the shelves and leave with a large pile of books to pick from and read. I was big into fantasy so I really loved that the library made them easy to find by the dragon stickers on the spine and I mostly avoided the romance novels. I wasn’t just a fantasy reader though and made sure to regularly branch out into other genres. Most of the time I didn’t have particular authors or books in mind when I went to the library but just let the titles and spines entice me to read their blurbs. Most of the time I was able to find great books this way and it certainly meant that I read books I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. One particular book that always stands out is Morag Bane by Cheryl Jorgensen which was set in Brisbane. I got to see things I was familiar with on the pages of this book and on the cover. Diverse representation in books is important and is something we need to continue to champion in our libraries so that our readers too get to see themselves and places they know in the books they read.
As I mentioned earlier, my mum worked in a school library so I got to see the behind the scenes workings of the library and all the hard work that went into making it function. I loved my school library and though I’m sure I grumbled at times, mornings and afternoons spent in the library meant time sitting on the floor flicking through the book boxes and reading picture books which I loved.
I also had a close relationship with my teacher librarian and to this day she is one of my favourite teachers/librarians because she really cared about her library and her students. She made sure we knew all the basics on how to research, use the library, and create our own books and it was a whole lot of fun too. I don’t remember much of my primary school classroom work but I remember lessons in the library and being taught about Dewey, having stories like The Very Blue Thingamajig by Narelle Oliver read to us, and borrowing time. Our Teacher Librarian’s passion was evident and she put in a lot of hard work to making the library and us shine. Book Week and Book Fair were always a big deal and we’d celebrate with extra fun activities and competitions. Our library was always a welcoming place and somewhere we could come to during breaks to play games with our friends or read books.
These positive experiences have helped to shape me as a person and librarian and I am an example of what positive library experiences and the efforts of hard working library staff can do. I hope that by reading this you are encouraged in the work that you do for our young people and for any children in your care. Though you may not always see the fruits of your labour, you are helping to shape the futures of young readers and library users and giving them the skills to thrive.
If you are like me and still in love with picture books and how they teach and encourage in their own unique way please join myself and the rest of the Picture Book Book Club team for our next Twitter Chat.