Lisa Von Drasek, a children’s librarian at the Bank Street College of Education and director of its Center for Children’s Literature, has taken a job as curator at the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Literature Research Collections.
Why leave Bank Street after 15 years? Von Drasek says giving up “the best job a children’s librarian could have” was like “breaking up with a boyfriend.”
It all happened by accident while she was attending the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting in Dallas, TX, earlier this year.
“The seed was planted by Wendy Woodfill of the Hennepin County Library,” says Von Drasek. “I wasn’t looking, but she mentioned that Karen Nelson Hoyle of the Kerlan Collection—a renowned repository of children’s literature, original art, and manuscripts—was retiring after 43 years. To those of us in this world, the Kerlin and Hoyle were synonymous. Wendy knew that my husband’s family was in Minnesota, and every year we returned for Christmas, and for the Minnesota State Fair, as well as visits for family events.”
Coincidentally, Von Drasek ended up in the Twin Cities less than a week later and visited the Elmer L. Anderson Library at the University of Minnesota. Hoyle had already retired, and Meredith Gilles, the archive assistant, gave Von Drasek an extensive tour of the materials and facilities, where she discovered that the Kerlan Collection was only part of the Children’s Literature Research Collection.
“I was unaware and stunned by the extent of the collection, which includes manuscript materials ranging from Karen Hesse, Jane Yolen, Walter Dean Myers, Katherine Paterson, and Kate DiCamillo, as well as original art and sketches of Brian Pinkney, Wanda Gag and Gustaf Tenggren,” Von Drasek says. “[There’s also] a collection of Oziannia (Wizard of Oz) , a collection of series books, dime novels, and pulp fiction—and the Borger Collection of 40,000 comics! And a Paul Bunyan collection and a Treasure Island collection!”
Although Von Drasek never considered herself an archivist, she applied for the job, realizing that she would face stiff competition.
“The odds were slim that I would even be invited for an interview,” she says, explaining that since the hiring process was extremely slow, it gave her time to “really contemplate leaving my school and New York City.”
Funny enough, Von Drasek wrote a feature article in the February 2011 issue of SLJ called “Hang in There: How to get a library job against all odds.” She took her own advice and revised her resume to reflect the job description, studied the University’s website, researched local media, and talked to friends to better understand the corporate culture. Von Drasek even joined the Society of American Archivists and attended a workshop on archival practices for librarians on her own dime to see if she had an aptitude and interest to work there. “Most of what was presented was not unfamiliar,” she says. “And I realized that I was certainly capable of managing the materials and staffing.”
Leaving Bank Street, where Von Drasek was a school librarian for a Pre-K through 8th grade lab school that had a graduate school with a progressive education philosophy, was tough.
“How could I leave my colleagues whose practice and intellectual challenges I admire and aspire to? How could I leave the work of the Children’s Book Committee and the joy of coordinating the Irma Black Award and the Cook Prize, a STEM award? And the children?” Von Drasek asks.
The clincher came when a small package sent by the stepsister of Von Drasek’s husband arrived at their Brooklyn Heights co-op. “It contained home-made raspberry cherry jam wrapped in Minneapolis/ St. Paul real estate listings,” says Von Drasek. The “quality of life” issue—no longer commuting an hour or more each day, having a house with two bathrooms, a garden, and a yard for her dog—is what ultimately closed the deal.
Von Drasek’s last day at Bank Street is September 28, and she starts her new position November 1. She will continue to write and blog for Earlyword.com
Von Drasek’s position at Bank Street will be divided in two. Allie Bruce will be the interim Children’s Librarian for the School for Children and Graduate School of Education and Jenny Brown (the person behind Twenty by Jenny and Shelf Awareness) will be the interim Director of the Center for Children’s Literature. A committee is being formed, and an official search kicks off in January.
“After 15 years at Bank Street as a children’s librarian, and the last few years as Director of the Center for Children’s Literature, there hasn’t been a dull moment,” she says. “Some say that it’s best to leave for a new opportunity when you still enjoy the work that you’re doing. When is the right time for a new adventure? One must take a leap of faith. To reach out of one’s comfort zone is essential for learning. We ask this of children and graduate students every day. Shouldn’t we be willing to do so, too?”