Ask the librarian: Susan Farnum

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Name of Library: Forest Park Public Library

What kind of librarian are you: I’m a children’s librarian and the head of the Youth Services department here. We work with babies through teens (up to 18 years-old).

What lead you to wanting to be a librarian? I was a kid, I wanted to be an author or run a bookstore. I always admired the librarians I knew, but it didn’t occur to me I could be a librarian myself until I worked at my college library as a student worker. The librarians there were very encouraging of us to go to library school and I know of at least two of us who did and are now librarians.

How do you pick books for your library? The other librarians and staff members in my department work with me to select books. We all have different ages and areas we specialize in. We use a combination of things to find just the right books for our colection. Award and recommended lists, magazines, and book blogs help, but we also have to do a lot of talking and listening (and observing) with the readers in our community to know what they like and are looking for. Those are the people that depend upon us the most, so we want to make sure we represent them well!

Do you have a favorite author? So many! Because I work with so many ages I read for all different ages and my favorites change all the time. Right now it’s Herve Tullet, Ezra Jack Keats, Jarrett Krosoczka, Matt de la Pena, and Tao Nyeu (picture books), Jonathan Stroud, Jennifer Holm, and Rebecca Stead (middle grade), Raina Telgemeier, Jarrett K (again), and Doug TenNapel (graphic novels), Scott Westerfeld, Rainbow Rowell, Sharon Draper, Holly Black (teen/YA)

How do you decide what book to recommend to a specific kid? I learned this in library school and it’s still one of my favorite questions to start out with: “What’s the last book that you read that you really enjoyed?” I ask my other follow up questions based on that. Even if I’m talking to a parent and kid who are there because they have to pick out a book for a specific assignment or in a certain reading level range this can be a very important question. I feel there’s so much out there that in most cases, there’s really no reason someone has to read a book they don’t like, even for an assignment. Most cases the teacher has a topic and allows for the kid to choose the title–and that’s where we can come in to make it the best fit for them. Librarians call this Readers’ Advisory, but it can feel a little like a game sometimes, and I think that’s why so many librarians love that part of their job.

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