Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Solving the Mystery: Children's Librarianship and How to Nurture It

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Solving the Mystery: Children's Librarianship and How to Nurture It

Article excerpt

An examination of issues identified in the 1966 Fenwick report `School and children's libraries in Australia' compared with practitioner and manager views of children's librarianship in 2001. Current issues include the need for a common vision for children's librarianship, training and development, children's librarians being more proactive and how libraries are promoting reading

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Defining children' s librarianship seems a simple proposition but there does not seem to be a commonly acknowledged view of it.

My interest in this arose from a search for a standard against which to measure the practice of children's librarianship. While the Library Association's (UK) guidelines for children's services did provide a standard, (1) there was little that focused specifically on children's librarianship.

To help fill this gap, two lines of investigation were pursued. One was to revisit Sara Fenwick's 1966 landmark report School and children's libraries in Australia, the first to focus solely on the provision of library services to children in Australia. Fenwick sought the opinions of a diverse range of librarians and public library managers and administrators to explore the `prospects for future development of library work with children'. (2) The report thus provided a snapshot of children' s librarianship in the 1960s. What I sought was a comparable snapshot of how practising librarians and managers viewed children's librarianship in 2001.

For this comparison a selection of children's librarians and library managers with experience in public libraries were interviewed. Four of each were asked six questions in an effort to come to terms with this elusive concept in theory and in practice. Six of these librarians (three of each) were practising in South Australian public libraries. Of the remaining two, one was a library manager from Queensland and the other a children's librarian from NSW. Their length of service, and the size and structure of the public libraries in which they currently served, varied.

Of the six questions asked, the following three are the focus for this article

* what is your ideal definition of children's librarianship ?

* what is needed to achieve this ideal?

* what hurdles need to be overcome to achieve this ideal?

The ideal

While respondents expressed their ideal in very different ways, there was much commonality. The definitions by Sara Fenwick (SF), the four library managers (LM) and four children's librarians (CL) are summarised in table 1. Only points put forward by four or more respondents are included. However before considering the characteristics of the ideal, mention is made of children's librarians and their important role in achieving the ideal.

In her report Fenwick focused heavily on the person, asserting that professionally trained children's librarians were essential to achieve the desired outcomes of children's librarianship. The level of service provided to children and the provision of a children's librarian were inextricably linked. Today's practitioners agreed with her, some finding it difficult to separate the definition from the role of the children's librarian.

Target audience

Understandably, all respondents identified children and young adults as obvious targets, but families and `agencies providing services to children and young adults' were also included in the target audience for children's librarianship.

Although Fenwick's focus was primarily children, she too acknowledged that service to these other groups was an `essential function' of children's library services. She felt that children's librarians needed to see children's services as part of a public library with a responsibility to serve all sectors of the community.

Reading development and enjoyment

Fenwick strongly supported reading development as a critical element of children's librarianship. …

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