Being a librarian isn’t just about books – it’s about helping everyone get access to information and resources

Michelle Martin is the Beverly Cleary Professor of Child and Youth Welfare at the University of Washington Information School. She primarily teaches students who will become youth services librarians who will work with children and young adults in libraries or other information science spaces. Below are highlights from an interview with The Conversation US Answers edited for brevity and clarity.

The Conversation speaks to Michelle Martin, a professor at the University of Washington, about the role of libraries today and how they are adapting to our modern lives.

How did you get to where you are today?

I have a doctorate in English and specialize in children’s and young adult literature. I spent the first half of my 25 year career in English departments, teaching education and English majors. And then I switched to social sciences when I entered the University of South Carolina library school in 2011. Since 2016, I’ve been teaching student librarians at the University of Washington in the Information School (which started as the Library School).

What would surprise someone about your work if they didn’t know what you’re studying?

Some of my publications have more to do with children in books than real children reading books. Those who study children’s literature from an English perspective view children’s books as literary and artistic artifacts and devote attention to aspects such as the art, character development, and the application of different theoretical readings to texts intended for young people, rather than focusing on what children and young adults do with the books . But I do care deeply about children and how they interact with books, which is often more of a focus for those who teach children’s literature in library science and education departments. My teaching, research and service cover all three disciplines.

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A lot of the work I do now is really helping adults understand the importance of showing children different perspectives in books and that children are able to see their own experiences in the books they read. The books you grew up with might not necessarily be good or entertaining for the kids you work with now.

I really need to do my homework and read a lot to be able to teach and recommend books that represent the life experiences of children and families from different backgrounds.

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How has the role of libraries changed as a result of the pandemic?

Libraries have been under many of the same pressures that everyone else has. But although many libraries were physically closed, they continued to serve their communities. Libraries have been working hard to meet their communities where they are, particularly those hardest hit by the pandemic – from providing virtual storytelling hours to career support. For example, many libraries extended their WiFi into the parking lot so parents could drive their kids to the library, download their homework, and go home and do it. Although many students had a school-provided laptop, if they lived in rural areas with no internet, they didn’t have what they needed to be successful in school. Libraries helped support many of these families.

I’ve heard so many stories about how libraries have met community needs during the pandemic, such as: B. providing clothing or food, or improving access to information by offering contactless curbside pickup, or converting private vehicles into bookmobiles where books can be delivered to those who were unable to come to the library.

Some readers may view libraries as institutions that do not change. And perhaps the pandemic has proven that libraries can adapt and change over time as we need to.

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I’m currently working on a research project called Project VOICE, which aims to help libraries plan their outreach with, not for, their communities, with a social justice lens and with participatory design. We encourage librarians to work closely with the community and community partner organizations to recognize community assets and values ​​and to adopt a strengths-based approach when creating outreach programs, rather than the deficit model focused on weaknesses and needs concentrated.

We encourage libraries to move away from the approach that says, “Hey, we’re the library, here’s what we do well.” Can you use it?” and instead ask, “As members of this community, you know best what the values ​​and benefits of the community are. How can we as a library work with you to support your goals and aspirations?”

As communities across the country are more diverse than ever, and growing, it is really important for librarians to invest time and effort in building relationships with the people in the community. This will ensure that libraries continue to understand the nuances of how to best serve their community, especially as the face of that community is rapidly changing.

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