Column Description: Libraries and librarians are adapting, always in motion particularly as the 21st century has extended the mammoth reach of technology and digital communication. Then, this year, we said thank you for the ability to stay home and still be able to communicate with our colleagues. As many librarians wondered how new responsibilities would play out when ‘normality’ returned, it was a daily challenge to prioritize decisions. Technology helped, but the goal remained how to meet user needs and anticipate patron requests. This fall, as libraries slowly reopen, we move into a hybrid world. Administrators and librarians have worked overtime and collaborated fiercely to match estimated demand with physical distancing and health-related constraints. 

What are some of their stories and how do we understand future changes?  Libraries have always held the key for knowledge queries. Whether for the scholar, the schoolchild, life-long learner, jobseeker, or browser, libraries, and librarians have adapted to keep their doors open and their users and patrons satisfied. How do individual librarians go about their roles and what suggestions do they have moving forward? What has helped?

This column will consider several library environments (public, private, corporate, academic, online, and special) and using a combination of interviews, historic perspectives, anecdotes, and a sprinkling of stats, examine the commonalities and differences. A fun exploration of how libraries remain relevant and beloved.

The excitement of finding worthwhile books and/or reading material and/or digital information sometimes is like a treasure hunt, oftentimes popping up in unexpected places. Browsers like this feeling of catching a glimpse of gold.  It’s why we hunt antique shops and flea markets.  It’s even why we do a deep clean of closets filled with old boxes. To learn again what we once thought most important. Particularly, the picture book and young reader collections of public libraries can offer up surprises for adults and children alike. Children’s books are fun and often speak in a very plain language. Straight to the point, they are.

I want to share three children’s books discovered through browsing. The first is called, “Infinite Hope, A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace.” Found in the juvenile section, this book covers the endearing story of an artist first, soldier second and black man all the way. Through sketches, letters, photos, and an expanded storyline, the author’s work gives a profound understanding of war, contemporary racism within the military, and the overarching positivity of a gentle, observant soul.  Artist Ashley Bryan ‘kept a sketch pad in his gas mask and drew on every possible occasion.’  His fellow soldiers often covered his more mundane duties, so he could be free to sketch. Seventy-five years later we feel the weariness, exhaustion, and constant wartime calamities through his expressive gestures. Thank you Ashley Bryan for this wonderful glimpse into humanity.

Another favorite children’s book discovered through continuous browsing is the picture book: “Fry Bread, A Native American Family Story,” by Kevin Noble Maillard. Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, the cover caught my attention, displayed, merchandise style, in a very small library housed on the top shelf of a very tiny children’s corner. I love this book because, not only does it tell a wonderful picture story of a grandmother and her crew coming together to make the fry bread, but it gives the history of tribal peoples on every page. This is explained wonderfully in the Author’s Note which follows the full picture story. It is a story of inclusion and togetherness with a nod to relevance in our modern culture.

The last children’s book recommended from my browsing was a particular delight that took a little searching to find.  A new library opened up in Poughkeepsie and it's such a unique little library, situated as it is on the second floor of the Family Partnership Center.  The Sadie Peterson Delaney Library is both quaint and modern, focused on African-American literature and history.

Tucked within the regularly shelved picture books I spotted Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex on the spine. Hmm, thinking this might be some ego-driven effort I picked it up and sat down to read it right away.  “The Bench,” by the Duchess, is the most smile-inducing picture book I have read in a long time.  In addition to poetry celebrating father and son moments, the illustrations by

Christian Robinson offers constant reminders of the multicultural and shared bond between fathers and sons, and therefore, parents and children.  Highly recommended.
I find some of the best, successful intentions are housed in the children’s section of public libraries. Take a young family member and share with our young readers these library treasures.

Rajene Hardeman, MSLIS, is a committed community and library advocate with experience serving community groups throughout metropolitan NYC and the Hudson Valley. A graduate of Pratt Institute School of Information, Rajene currently works as an independent archivist while continuing to develop programs and raise awareness regarding the need for a balance between digital and non-digital activities. She is a trained mediator for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Rajene has partnered with the Mozilla Foundation and Tactical Technology Collective to bring workshops and supportive dialogue around the issues of online privacy and security, and, as a current trustee for the Mid-Hudson Library System, Rajene enthusiastically supports engagement and sustainability for all libraries and their patrons. She is a Metropolitan Museum of Art Library volunteer.  Rajene serves on the board of Wikimedia New York City and as a member of the Wikimedia and Libraries User Group steering committee. In a non-pandemic world, she coaches in-person Wikipedia edit-a-thons.