Monday, April 15, 2013

Those Beloved Librarians!

     It’s National Library Week!
     In my humble opinion, librarians and media specialists are still a writer’s best friend. They defend our books from the Banned Books Brigade. They place our books, audio tapes, films, e-books, and CDs into the hands of children and adults who might not otherwise have access, and on shelves, in book mobiles, in reviews, magazines and journals, web sites, columns and blogs,  and more.
     Librarians and media specialists are storytellers, scholars, researchers, nurturers, writers, teachers, and friends. They’re workers in the vineyards of reading, writing, and literacy. Thank you. 
    Who are some of the librarians and media specialists who’ve impacted your writing life?    
     The first librarian to influence me was a short, plump, gray haired lady named Miss Mary.  I never knew her last name. With only her stamp pad, stamper, pencil, telephone and her voice, she commanded  our tiny public library in the 1950s  in Canton, MO from her desk. I don’t think I ever saw her get up from it.  
     Miss Mary let me roam the shelves where even the books for adults were stacked and allowed my sassy self to check out a few. She gave me a set of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, which I dearly cherished.
     In Des Moines, Iowa I met my first African American librarian -- Elaine Estes -- the director of the Des Moines Public Library. Among other things she spearheaded the campaign to premiere the film version of my children’s book Just an Overnight Guest at the Des Moines Public Library. We still correspond.
     African American librarians were pivotal in U.S. library history. They fought for branches and books in Black communities. They promoted African American authors long before their work was noticed by others and they encouraged Black children to read and dream. White librarians, too, carried the torch of literacy and access to books for all. The American Library Association and its Black Caucus of the American Library Association continue to connect libraries and communities.
     Storyteller Augusta Baker (1911-1998) was first a librarian at the New York Public Library's 135th Street Branch in Harlem in 1937. There she established the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of children's books -- those that “accurately” portrayed Black children.  As NYPL coordinator of children's services she continued to unapologically promote quality, unbiased and culturally accurate children’s books throughout her life, including mine, praise the Lord.  
     I was blessed to meet and commune with her after she became “Storyteller in Residence” at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Go to
     Librarian Dr. Pauletta Brown Bracy of Durham, NC has made the study of picture books and  multiculturalism part of her life’s work. A "national treasure," she’s mentored countless writers, including me, and illustrators around the country. At North Carolina Central University’s School of Library and Information Sciences she’s given thousands of teachers and rising librarians superior critical thinking tools for understanding children’s books. She’s established NCCU children’s literature courses and even let me teach one.
     Her support of my books  and my sanity these past 20 plus years is invaluable.
     Mary Carter Smith (1919-2007) was a librarian (and a teacher) in the Maryland schools, a prominent storyteller, author, poet, and with Linda Goss co-founded the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (NABS).   An emphatic advocate of Afrocentric life (she abhorred “culture vultures”) and children’s books, she introduced me to NABS, promoted my books on her radio show, and let me “coach” her in the writing and editing of her last book My Autobiography: A Tale That Is Told. Go to
     Gwen Russell Green, a media specialist in Lithonia, GA, introduced my books and me to her students at Stephenson Middle School and other schools, and made it possible for me to be a participating author in the National Black Arts Festival. She’s brought me back to Georgia numerous times and loyally reads my books. A widely recognized, published poet and photographer, Gwen truly believes in the written word and young people.
     Wanda Cox Bailey, director of the Richard B. Harrison Library in Raleigh, NC, has been a friend and a locator of books that I’ve searched for to make my books authentic, especially African American Musicians. She’s organized readings and book signings for me, always with a smile, and really gone beyond the personal call of duty in recent years.
     Shirley Boone of Chapin Library in Myrtle Beach, SC, Catherine Lewis of the Horry County Library in Conway, SC, and Etrulia Dozier, a (Conway, SC) middle school librarian, all influenced me as they opened doors to historical information that others tried to conceal as I wrote The Secret of Gumbo Grove and Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!
     I haven’t even begun to list more media specialists! But now it’s your turn. Share!


  1. Melissa Middleswart was my librarian at Savannah and always had good books for me to try out. The library used to be very small, so in the late '80's, when they were expanding and were going to be closed for a bunch of months (which to me seemed FOREVER) she let me take home a big stack of books to get me through the long wait! So I like her a ton.

  2. Melissa, Ms. Middleswart had a great librarian name, too! Is she still in the system? What were some titles of those books?

  3. I wish she was, but then we got a library director who thought she was the Big Kahuna and kicked her out and then ran the whole system into the ground until the Library Board got rid of her and she went off to the Phillipines to make people miserable out that way. Melissa got a job with the library up north, which probably made them very happy because of her general awesomeness.

    I wish I could remember but there were so many. I think Dragon of the Inland Sea by Lawrence Yep was one of them that I found to be insanely awesome. I remember one recommendation that didn't work for me -- Goldengrove by Jill Paton Walsh. When she made the recommendation, I was nuts about Dominic and Half-Magic and So You Want To Be a Wizard at the time, so I was disappointed that this novel was about boring people. Fortunately she cheered me up with more fantasy. I think she played a background role as a Vulcan in a Star Trek movie so we kind of thought alike.

  4. My child hood librarians (school and public) had rhyming names: Miss Beck and Miss Keck. Lovely women.