Michelle Martin is the Beverly Cleary Professor of Children and Youth Services in the University of Washington School of Information. It primarily teaches students who will be Youth Services librarians who work with children and young people in libraries or other information science settings. Here are the highlights from an interview with The Conversation US Answers edited for brevity and clarity.
How did you get to where you are today?
I have a PhD in English specializing in children’s and youth literature. I spent the first half of my 25-year career in English departments teaching Education and English majors. I then transitioned into social sciences when I joined the University of South Carolina Library School in 2011. Since 2016, I have taught future librarians at the University of Washington in the School of Information (which began as the Library School).
What would surprise anyone in the work you do if they didn’t know what you were studying?
Some of my posts are more about children in books than real children who read books. Those who study children’s literature from an English Studies perspective view children’s books as literary and artistic masterpieces and are interested in aspects such as art and character development and apply different theoretical readings to texts for young people rather than focusing on what children and young people do. books. But I care a lot about children and how they interact with books, which is often the focus of those who teach children’s literature in the Departments of Library Science and Education. My teaching, research, and service transcend all three disciplines.
A lot of the work I do now is really helping adults understand the importance of exposing children to diverse perspectives in books and for children to be able to see their own experiences in the books they read. The books you grew up with may not necessarily be useful or the most entertaining for the kids you’re working with now.
I really need to do my homework and read extensively to be able to teach and recommend books that represent the life experiences of children and families who come from different backgrounds.
How has the role of libraries transformed as a result of the epidemic?
Libraries have come under many of the same pressures as others. But even though many bookstores have effectively closed, they have continued to serve their communities. Libraries have worked hard to cater to their communities wherever they are, especially those hard hit by the pandemic – from providing virtual stories to professional assistance. For example, many libraries have extended their Wi-Fi to the parking lot so that parents can drop off their kids at the library, download their homework, go home, and do it. Although many students have a school-provided laptop, if they live in rural areas with no internet, they won’t have what they need to succeed in school. Libraries have helped support many of these families.
I’ve heard plenty of stories about the ways libraries have responded to community needs during the pandemic, such as providing clothing or food, promoting access to information by being offline, picking up on the sidewalk, or turning personal vehicles into bookstore carts to deliver books to those who couldn’t Access to the library.
Some readers may think of libraries as unchanging institutions. And perhaps the pandemic has proven that libraries can adapt and change with the times we need them.
I am working on a research project now called Project VOICE that seeks to help libraries plan to connect with, not for, their communities through the lens of social justice and participatory design. We recommend that librarians work closely with the community and community partner organizations to discern community origins and values and take a strengths-based approach to creating outreach programs rather than a disability model that focuses on weaknesses and needs.
We encourage libraries to move away from the approach, “Hey, we are the library, this is what we do well. Can you use it?” and instead ask, “As members of this community, you know best what the values and origins of the community are. How can we , as a library, to partner with you to support your goals and aspirations?”
As communities across the country are becoming more and more diverse than ever before, it is really important for librarians to spend time and effort building relationships with those in the community. This will ensure that libraries continue to understand the nuances of how to best serve their community, especially as the face of this community is changing rapidly.