Children’s Librarians

Profiles By: Mary Henley

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Part Three A History of Female Advocacy for Children's Literacy

Managerial wisdom in the library system rests on the assumption that there is not a lot of professional advancement for a librarian, and a way to get a male to work for the library is the promise of not having to work with children. For example, in the Omaha Public Library system, there are only five different positions for a librarian.  Verda Bialac, a previous assistant director and acting director for the Omaha Public Library, explains that those positions are “Librarian 1, an entry level position; Librarian 2; Librarian 3, a supervisory position that includes all the categories encompassing all of the library system; Assistant Director; and Director” (Bialac Interview).  Bialac argues another possibility as to why librarians are predominantly female: “It could be because it is an inside job, safe, and working with people and children” (Bialac Interview). Bialac’s last theory is a provoking one. Popular images and stereotypes often portray librarians spending all of their time within the confines of the library walls, but the reality of this view is not accurate.  Librarians have been out in the community working with the public for decades. These women have found ways to not only spread literacy to those who have the fewest resources to make the trip to the library, but also to those in rural or urban areas that don’t have libraries at all. For example, the Omaha Public Library provided the bookmobile, which “was… a monster of a machine” that provides reading material to the “poor people without metropolitan services. [It] went all the way out to 84th Street” in Omaha (McMenamin Interview). In fact, driving these big trucks was difficult. The women who drove the bookmobile had a hard time backing into the loading area and missing the supporting beams. However, they were determined to reach out to the community. When the bookmobile was first started, 84th Street was considered a rural area in Omaha. However, the drivers worked to develop a following with the residents and tried to stock the bookmobile with materials that the librarian felt the residents would enjoy.

Each city had its own bookmobile. For example, Lincoln, Valentine, and Kearney had their own, if they had the financing to offer such a service. The Kearney Public Library bookmobile would travel to “small country schools” to provide the rural area with reading material (NLA 14). The drivers of the bookmobile would endure terrible driving conditions in order to reach their destinations, so that the schoolchildren would have books to read.  In 1970, “At Imperial, a bookmobile made a 92 mile round trip each Thursday to Hayes Center Public School.” The Valentine Public Library’s bookmobile made “regular visits to 10 of the northern Sheridan County schools on a twice a month basis” (NLA 10).  It is clear how important this service was not only to the adults of the community, but to the children, students, and school system as well.

 

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Part Four Program Development and Literacy Innovation

Today, children’s librarians are responsible for many different programs offered by the Omaha Public Library.  A supervisor of children’s programming would be “in charge of the summer reading camp, story times… [which] is a period of time during the school year where they would have weekly story time, puppets, and songs” (Bialac Interview). The children’s librarian would also be responsible for the purchasing of materials, placing orders, tracking finances and the budget, and approving the incorporation of new reading materials (McMenamin Interview).  Some librarians go out into the community to speak about their services and look for any new ideas that may be integrated into their programs.

An example of creating a historical reading section can be found at the Swanson branch of the Omaha Public Library. This collection was assembled by a children’s librarian, Genevieve Price (insert hyperlink to her