February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ Talks to Two California Librarians About Their 9,000-Books-in-One-Year Quest

Susan Palm (left) and Elizabeth Stewart with just a few of the books they plan to read this year.

Librarians, Elizabeth Stewart and Susan Palm, at the Beale Memorial Library in Bakersfield, California, have taken up a challenge (started this past February 1) to read the 9,000 books that make up the public library’s children’s collection—from preschool to sixth grade—by February 1, 2015. Stewart is reading authors with the last names beginning with letters A–L, and Palm is reading M–Z

The idea for the reading project began back when Stewart was still an undergraduate art history major and—then—a patron of Beale Memorial. At the time, she’d decided to read all the adult fiction books in the library, but her goal was hampered by schoolwork and a part-time job.

After graduating college, she joined Beale Memorial’s staff and switched her reading challenge to cover children’s books instead. When her co-worker, Palm, heard about Stewart’s plan, she asked to be included.

Now, over a month has passed since their “start date,” and the two say they’ve read a total of 100 books. SLJ talks to Stewart and Palm about how their project has transformed the way they read and the way they relate to their patrons, both children and parents.

Tell us about your experience so far?

ES:  I love books, but now I read books I normally wouldn’t have. Plus, so many people are coming in to the library to see how many books we’ve read. We’re getting people into the library just to check our progress.

Does it lead to your patrons borrowing more books?

ES: Yes, and it gives us the chance to tell them about our services. We are also getting to know our patrons better and showing them we’re fun human beings—not shushing stuck up librarians who tend to have the reputation of wearing glasses and buns behind the desk.

Has this challenge changed the way you read?

ES: Susan lives a half-hour outside of Bakersfield and drives to work listening to books on tapes and CDs. Now, she knows our audio children’s collection.

SP: The last audiobook I listened to was Tuck Everlasting (Random House, 2001). I haven’t listened to audiobooks before, but the narrator makes all the difference. With summer coming up—and families traveling—I am going to recommend audiobooks.

What else have you noticed about the books you’ve been reading?

ES: My daughter and I were reading Beverly Clearly’s Ellen Tebbits (Morrow, 1951), in which the character was dying to clap the [chalkboard] erasers. Now they don’t have chalkboards, and my daughter will never have that experience of clapping erasers. It is kind of funny to see what authors put in books that make the books dated. In fact, some of the children’s books [I’ve read] were written during a time when language was harder for little children, like in Oliver Twist and Ann of Green Gables. Some of these British writers wrote in a different [style of] English, so I’ve read books using vocabulary we don’t use anymore.

How has this challenge changed your librarianship?

ES: We’re able to give a better readers’ advisory, and on our Facebook page, people suggest books for us to read. This project has started a dialogue about not only getting kids to read, but what they’ve read already.

What will you do when you finish this challenge?

ES: I can see us taking on another challenge, like reading all our picture books. Or bringing kids into the challenge and seeing how many books they can read in a year. This [idea] started as my own personal thing, and now the next step is to build out of it.

SP: Right now, I’m kind of brain dead from all the reading.


Carolyn Sun About Carolyn Sun

Carolyn Sun was a news editor at School Library Journal. Find her on Twitter @CarolynSSun.