The New “Rock-Star” Librarian
Librarians may have a new title to add to their qualifications: “rock star.” A March 2017 Wall Street Journal article, “The ‘Rock Star’ Librarians Who Choose What Your Kids Read,” highlighted the parallels between some contemporary librarians and musicians that many people admire.
By examining the work of librarians who are taking an approach to library and information science differently, scholars can gain insight into the way librarians connect with the next generation of readers.
Rock-Star Librarians Are Connected to the Publishing Industry
The social media age has enabled librarians today to more easily connect with the publishing industry, according to Ellen Gamerman who authored The Wall Street Journal’s “rock-star” librarians article. She noted that as newspapers publish less book reviews and bookstores face financial hardship, book publishers are increasingly turning to librarians to publicize new books.
Publicists contact leading librarians online through their personal websites and social media, Gamerman explained, showering them with free books and pitching their latest releases.
The communication runs both ways, with prominent figures in the children’s publishing industry describing to Publishers Weekly the influence rock-star librarians have on the books they approve and the new ones their authors write.
“Some of our authors’ book ideas have come from discussions with librarians or from their research on other projects,” confirmed Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at children’s book publisher Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek. “An author may stumble upon something interesting while doing research, then run the idea by a librarian or teacher and look at the curricula to see if there’s a need for a book on that subject.”
These Librarians Are Active Online
Since young children shouldn’t technically have social media accounts and many aren’t active in other online channels, some children’s librarians may think that the Internet is no place for them. Gamerman disputes this notion, revealing through her research that librarians active in the online world receive elevation to rock-star status, with thousands of influential adults — including parents, publishers, and other librarians — following them.
Matthew Winner has a sizable online following through his children’s book website “All the Wonders” and its companion podcast. John Schumacher, dubbed a “rock star in the library world” by Reston-based librarian Kim Sigle, has more than 43,000 Twitter followers and a thriving blog, “Mr. Schu Reads.” Through these channels, Gamerman noted that he received many review books that allowed him to donate $10,000 worth of books to a school in his community.
The move online is global, with Australian children’s librarians Helen Stower and Margaret Donaghue detailing their own social media journey in a 2016 Schools Catalogue Information Service “Connections” article. They began with a Facebook account, and later Twitter, but added Instagram in 2015, noting, “We became aware that students had migrated to this platform, and that we needed to be there as well.” The librarians said they use these platforms to share their libraries’ content and highlight their collection material. They also enjoy the immediate feedback and real-time interactions with members of their community.
They Know Children’s Books
Rock-star librarians can speak to children on their level because they embrace the books that their young fans do, according to Gamerman. She recounted stories of Schumacher’s appearance at Lake Anne Elementary School in Northern Virginia. There, he chatted with children from kindergarten to third grade, joining them in their discussions about The Lightning Thief and Louise Loves Art. Through his strong recall about the books children love, Schumacher can relate to young people and influence them to read other books he thinks they might enjoy.
Librarians Tour the Country
The librarians Gamerman profiled all toured the country on publicized road trips. While their appearances in schools and other public venues may not attract as many people as a rock-star’s concert, Gamerman highlighted the way these librarians create a similar following. Their appearances still sell out and attendees still wait in line for autographs at events.
Rock-Star Librarians Collaborate With Others
The term “rock-star librarians” was used before Gamerman’s article, thanks to a survey that asked readers to name their “library rock stars” and what set these professionals apart.
The survey revealed that rock-star librarians collaborate with others in their field, learning from their professional skills to best serve their young audiences. This continued learning can be a natural springboard from professional qualifications such as a Master of Management in Library and Information Science (MMLIS) degree.
Librarians Are Passionate and Enthusiastic About the Role of Libraries in the Community
Rock-star librarians “lead out loud with passion” and “exude so much enthusiasm” for their jobs. They “are passionate about what they do” and “go above and beyond.”
While some high-profile librarians have left the profession, some continue to champion it. Schumacher, for example, now works as an ambassador for libraries targeted at children at Scholastic Book Fairs.
Rock-Star Librarians Showcase Professional Knowledge
Just as a rock-star musician knows instinctively what songs fans will want to listen to, a rock-star librarian can identify what children will want to read. This identification takes a level of professional knowledge that few librarians have, but it’s one that they can develop through advanced study.
An instinctive understanding of what children want to read has led the librarians profiled by The Wall Street Journal to become influential. Gamerman noted that these librarians give children advance copies of books, knowing that they’ll strike a chord with them. Some rock-star librarians, such as John Schumacher and Colby Sharp, have also championed books in the manuscript stage.