The Hats We Wear

The capstone course of my dual degree in Children’s Literature and Library and Information Sciences is on “positionality.” Half the the students in the class been in the dual degree program together for the last two and a half years. The other half the class is others in the children’s literature program in some capacity, taking our required capstone as an elective. Some are writers, also enrolled in an MFA program, others are solely studying children’s literature without the influence of a dual-degree.

The course encourages us to consider the multiple positions that we come from when discussing children’s literature. We bring scholarly contexts, professional contexts, and personal contexts to our work. I like to think of these positions as the hats we wear. If you’re familiar with the classic picture book Caps for Sale, consider the positions like the caps that the main character wears – a sky-high towering stack.

Critical Hats, Professional Hats, and Personal Hats (Oh My!)

For example: I studied children’s literature both as an undergraduate and now more specifically as a graduate student, so I bring the scholarly background of my coursework as well as the tools of literary criticism and academic research I’ve developed in those courses. As a LIS student, I bring an understanding of children’s literacy development and coursework in collections and programming. I also bring a broader understanding of the library field and the place of youth services librarianship within that field. As a library assistant in the youth services department of a public library, I bring my experience of actually working in a library setting with kids and caregivers that goes beyond what I’ve learned in my classes. Personally, I’ve always loved to read and when I started studying English in undergrad, I decided that I loved to talk about children’s and YA literature more than the classics or any other area of literary criticism. I also grew up in a small town in Kansas so I care a lot about the way rural areas are represented in children’s literature. Of course political and religious beliefs factor in, as do race, gender, and sexuality.

When you look at everything that I’ve shared above, that’s a lot of hats to wear when talking about children’s literature. You can’t look at every book with every hat on. Sometimes, you have to set aside your academic-self and look at a book based on its popularity to kids rather than its perceived literary merit. Often in my children’s literature classes, we’re encouraged not to talk about real kids when discussing a book which I find difficult as someone who works directly with kids. The thing about hats, in this sense, is that even when you’re trying to avoid wearing one or more of them while evaluating or selecting literature, that hat is still there in the background implicitly affecting the work you do.

Using Our Hats

We’re wearing all of our hats when we select books for our library collections, we’re wearing all of our hats when we choose books to put on display, we’re wearing all of our hats when we recommend a book to a young person to read. 

Consider collection development. Something I constantly bring up in my classes, both LIS and children’s literature, is that librarians don’t have time to read every book that we want to add to our collection. Sometimes, despite the best of our abilities, we spend more time discussing individual books in my library collections and services for children class than we do talking about how to evaluate the books that we can’t read. If you’re looking at reviews, which reviewing sources do you use? How do those sources align with the hats you wear? Do you consult any reviewing sources that you don’t feel like serve any of your hats? If you choose not to select a book, what influences that decision? Consider asking yourself if you consult a broad enough base of reviewing sources and if you consider your own implicit biases when selecting material. Perhaps ask a colleague for a second opinion.

When making displays, do you just display works that you’re familiar with? Consider asking yourself why you’re familiar with those works? Are they classics? Do we need to make more displays of classic picture books when those are titles that parents routinely go to? Are you only selecting books by white authors or featuring white children? If your display is a “staff favorites” shelf, what do they books there say about the types of things that your staff find excellent? I’ll be honest, when I have to add titles to the staff favorites shelf, I just pull from our yet-to-be-shelved books something that I like or am vaguely familiar with in order to save our pages a little bit of work, but after class conversations and writing this blog post, I’m hoping to be a little more thoughtful in the choices I make, even for something as simple as a staff favorites display.

For readers advisory, what are your go to book recommendations? Do you recommend things that are popular and that circulate well? Do you recommend books that are positively reviewed? Do you recommend books that you like as an adult? What about books you liked as a kid? I’m of a weird age where things that I love as a kid like Percy Jackson are still pretty popular, but I’m also conscious that the other titles in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint might make better recommendations for readers based on what I learn during a reference interview.

All of our work is influenced by the hats that we wear, these are just a few examples that I’ve been considering lately. What are some of the hats you wear, and how do they influence your work? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Macy Davis is a month-and-a-half away from graduating from Simmons University with an MA in Children’s Literature/MS in Library and Information Sciences dual degree program. She’s currently complaining about the time change and drinking hot tea. You can find her on twitter @bookishlybright or through her personal blog.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

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