Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Silent Sentinels of Culture Librarians Play Crucial Role in the Publishing of Children's Literature

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Silent Sentinels of Culture Librarians Play Crucial Role in the Publishing of Children's Literature

Article excerpt

A child doesn't need many instructions to take part in the 1990s multimedia extravaganza.

With a few clicks - remote control clicks, mouse clicks, joystick clicks - children can access through television, VCRs, and computers almost anything our culture has to offer, the raw as well as the cooked.

That's why parents and educators are learning to act as cultural crossing guards. Increasingly, their task is to usher this generation of clickers and readers through the bewildering and occasionally threatening cultural static and lead them to a set of valuable beliefs. And no group performs this task as effectively, as self- consciously, and with as little ceremony, as school librarians. Their direct contact with children and their influence in the publishing industry combine to make school librarians the primary cultural crossing guards. Since most children don't buy books for themselves, and many parents only occasionally buy books for their children, school librarians are usually responsible for teaching children the value of ideas and the habit of reading. And since they are the single most important market in the children's book industry, school librarians determine not only what books will be available on library shelves but, to a surprising extent, what books will also be published. Librarian. The word usually evokes images of old-fashioned women who speak in scolding whispers and derive strange pleasure from the Dewey Decimal System. But today's school librarians are shedding their schoolmarm images. They're adopting an additional job title - media specialist - that more accurately describes their new role in the multimedia environment of the modern library. And they've become a powerful, if uncelebrated, force in publishing circles. "Public and school libraries together buy 10 percent of all books published in the United States," says Fred Ciporen, vice president and group publisher of Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, and School Library Journal, the leading publishing trade magazines. "They make up a $1.8 billion market." But since public librarians order most of their books through wholesale companies like Baker & Taylor, and not directly from publishing companies, publishers of popular trade books are never quite sure how many books they're selling to librarians. "I would call libraries an invisible market, because most publishers don't really know how much economic power librarians have," Mr. Ciporen says. Children's book publishers, on the other hand, know exactly how important the library market is. School librarians absorb close to 65 percent of all books published for children and young adults, and they often buy directly from children's publishing houses. Some children's publishers devote entire imprints to the needs of the school market, such as Marshall Cavendish's Benchmark Books. Like other children's book editors, Judith Whipple, editorial director for Benchmark, maintains a close relationship with the library market. "We have a very large sales force that communicates directly with librarians," Ms. Whipple says. "Through our sales reps, we find out what librarians need in their libraries and try to fill the gaps in their collections." In addition to the dialogue between the sales reps and the librarians, editors meet with librarians face to face twice a year, in June and January, at the American Library Association (ALA) conventions. "I frequently make suggestions to publishing representatives about what I'd like to see, particularly at the conventions," says Sharon Coatney, president of the American Association of School Librarians and a librarian at Oak Hill Elementary School in Overland Park, Kan. …

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