When Your Critique Partner is Also a Librarian -- Jen Doktorski
As an author, I owe so much to my generous, talented critique partners, who always push me to be a better writer, and to the librarians, who’ve invited me to do writing workshops, panel discussions, and book signings and often have hand in making sure my books are turned cover-side-out on the shelves.
How lucky am I to have a critique partner who is also a youth services librarian, a published author of short stories, and an aspiring author of middle grade fiction? Very. She also has mad art skills, creating library displays out of everything from Peeps to Post-It Notes.
Since we’re celebrating all things library this month, I asked her if she’d be willing to a do a short Q&A here on YAOTL. She’s also doing me a solid by helping me ease back into blogging and the KidLit world after an extended hiatus.
Meet Becky Osowski.
After earning her M.L.I.S. from Rutgers University, Becky became a Youth Services Librarian at the Monroe Township Public Library. She is in charge of juvenile Technical Services and coordinates with the local school district and other outreach partners. She is the recipient of a Talk Story Grant, has headed multiple teen volunteering programs, and is currently the Secretary/Treasurer of the New Jersey Library Association's Children's Services Section. She is also an avid middle grade and YA reader.
Tell us about your path as a reader and writer and what led you to pursue a career as a librarian.
My earliest memories include my mother reading to me. She instilled my passion for books and brought me to the local library, encouraging me to read whatever I wanted—even if it was Stephen King when I was 12 years old.
After being a library volunteer, I was offered a job as a Page, which led to becoming a Youth Services Assistant. Getting my MLIS was a natural next step as I was already instructing a weekly craft hour for kids and recommending titles that clicked for each kid. I simply love the everyday magic of connecting a reader with the right book.
How do librarians/libraries decide which books to keep on the shelves? (Before we met, I had no clue that some books were taken out of circulation.)
This is a GREAT question. I’m sure it differs from library to library, but where I’m working, it’s a numbers game.
If one book has gone out 40 times in the past five years, and the other has only gone out 5 times, guess which one’s on the chopping block?
Since each library has limited space, it’s survival of the fittest on the shelves. Books with more check-outs stay. Books with less check-outs may get discarded.
This is where it might be handy to have a librarian on your side to champion your work. Librarians are in charge of curating displays, but we’re human. We’re biased. If we love your book, we’re more likely to share it with our patrons by putting it on display. Which equals more check-outs.
What are some of your most requested titles and/or genres? i.e. What are kids and teens reading these days? Is there anything that surprises you?
For teens, I’ve seen an uptick in books that address contemporary social issues. Also thriller and mystery titles. Middle Graders are asking for light fiction, graphic novels, or something that blends pictures and text, similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Libraries have evolved to become so much more than a place where you can borrow books and seek out information. My library, like many, offers free museum passes, a recording studio, and everything from sewing machines to drones that can be check-out. What are some of the programs your library offers kids and teens?
Programming is near and dear to my heart, since offers a chance for kids—and grown ups!—to experience the library as a place not only of learning but of fun.
Seasonal programming which celebrates everything from Unicorn Day to Diwali, from Palentine’s to Thanksgiving, is a staple right alongside the good old fashioned storytime. But libraries offer so much more!
My library has partnered with the California Academy of Sciences’ Science Action Club, which was an amazing opportunity. Over two months together, the kids, my co-workers, and I become citizen scientists, trained to share our observations of insects, birds, and weather patterns. I particularly loved running SAC, because it got us outside and looking more closely at the natural world.
Other regular programs for kids and teens have explored varied topics such as creative writing, 3D Printing, calligraphy, yoga, sewing, cooking, coding, anime, learning a new language...you name it, chances are a library has done it.
Larger family events have included a Car Show, Solar Eclipse Viewing, Makerfest, an after-hours Haunted Library for Halloween, Magic and Puppet Shows, and Pop-Up Shops, just to name a few. We’re looking forward to hosting a weekly Farmer’s Market this summer.
Certain libraries and books have come under fire recently in states and municipalities that believe it’s the government’s job to tell kids what they can and cannot read. Any thoughts on censorship and how has your library been impacted, if at all?
My thoughts align with the American Library Association’s statement on censorship, in that banning or removing books infringes on the First Amendment right of free speech. If certain titles are censored, banned, or removed, then how can a constructive dialogue take place? Being exposed to different points of view and ideas promotes not only critical thinking, but empathy, which we could certainly use a little more of.
Jennifer Salvato Doktorski is the author of four young adult novels. Her first paid writing gig was at The North Jersey Herald & News, where she wrote obituaries and began her lifelong love of news and coffee. A proud Jersey girl, she lives with her family in New Jersey and spends summers "down the shore," where everything is always all right.
Visit her at www.jendoktorski.com or on Twitter @jdoktorski and Instagram @authorjendoktorski.