“Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark…. In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.” — Germaine Greer
When you open the door to a library, you enter into a world of treasures unsurpassed by any other. Today is a day to celebrate libraries and give a shout out to all those fantastic librarians who are busily working to provide patrons with a wonderful library experience.
Meet Catherine Baer, Youth Services Librarian at the Rosemary Garfoot Public Library, Wisconsin’s first green library. She’s a dedicated professional with many talents, including a wonderful sense of humor.
Tell me, Catherine, when I say library, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?
Books, public service, children, information
What’s the story behind your choice to become a librarian?
As a young mother my two daughters helped me fall in love with children’s literature. They both were and still are voracious readers. Whenever one of them got upset, we would go immediately to the bookshelf, find a good picture book and share a story. Once my daughters were old enough to read on their own, when emotions started to run hot and they needed a break, they would go get a book on their own to read. Or when they would get hurt, they would come to me and ask for a story. I absolutely couldn’t have made it through parenthood without those books. Once my daughters started to grow up and read on their own, I realized I couldn’t stand to lose that connection with children’s literature. So I started working at a library and loved it. Then I decided to go to library school and get my MLIS. This is a second career for me. My undergraduate degree is in Graphic Design and Illustration.
Librarians are very busy people; can you tell us some of the jobs a librarian does that people don’t know about?
Cleaning, weeding (both gardens and books!), staying in touch with local organizations for library public relations and support, working with local schools on various projects, (of course some people do know about these last two), web design and maintenance, creating promotional materials, writing newsletters and press releases, shopping for craft materials and summer program prizes, fixing broken materials; including, sewing, glueing, taping, and woodworking, sorting recyclable materials, photography, singing and playing musical instruments (again, some would know this, especially those who come to storytimes) and oh so much more.
Do you have one job that is your favorite?
The most satisfying of my jobs is finding just the right book for a child – especially when I get good feedback about it from the child or his or her parent. I also enjoy creating storytime programs.
Making a connection with children and teens is important to keep them interested in the library. What are some of the programs you offer to kids – especially older ones – to keep them coming back for more?
I run a teen book group and also a teen advisory board. The kids in these groups got involved about 4 years ago as middle schoolers and are now mostly sophomores in high school. It is so gratifying to see that they keep coming back for more. The teens enjoy helping out at the library, especially as summer program volunteers.
There is such a wide variety of wonderful books available. How do you choose which ones to put into the library?
I use several sources: book review journals, the New York Times bestseller lists and reviews and especially the recommendations by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (UW-Madison).
What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you or someone has said to you?
One of my favorites is a knock-knock joke told to me by one of my most adorable preschoolers (she was about 3 and a half or 4 at the time): Knock, knock . . . who’s there? . . . Cosmo . . . Cosmo who? . . . You Cosmo twouble than you’re worth.
What is the most touching thing that has happened to you or someone has said to you?
One of the most touching was a comment from the mother of a little boy (about 2 and a half to 3 years old) who is very shy at storytimes. Although he always buries his face in his mom’s side and never says a word to me, she told me that he talks about storytime all day long at home.
What’s your favorite picture book? YA novel?
I have about 792 favorite picture books, but I’ll give you a new one: All the World, by Liz Scanlon, and an old one: Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, by Charlotte Zolotow. My favorite YA novel to recommend is The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. I’ve recommended it to 9 year olds to 90 year olds. It’s the most universally enjoyed novel I can think of.
Can you give some good advice for raising life-long readers?
I would have to go by my own parenting experience here. Start reading to your children as babies, on a regular basis, and use books as a reward and a comforting tool. Most importantly, read with your children whenever you can, and listen to what they have to say about the books. When they start reading on their own, allow them to choose what they want to read.
If you had three wishes, what would you wish for in your library?
More money, more staff, and more time!
If you wrote an advertisement for libraries, what would it say?
Something on the order of – Nourish your mind and your spirit with free information AND free entertainment at your public library.
Is there anything you would like to add?
One of the most gratifying aspects of working at a library is the common commitment to public service among library workers. This struck me the very first week I worked in a library and has given me the drive to continue with this career. There is a lot to be said for loving what you do and having people around you who care about what they are doing, on a daily basis. I feel very fortunate to have found this path.
Thank you, Catherine Baer and librarians everywhere!
Rosemary Garfoot Public Library