by Eric Michael Anderson, MLIS Day
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your role with the Seattle Public Library.
My name is Chance Hunt (yes, Chance is my given name. It comes from the John Wayne western, Rio Bravo). I earned my MLIS at UW in 1992, and have been working as a children's librarian, and now youth services coordinator ever since. In that time I have presented hundreds of storytimes, booktalks, answered reference questions, and generally had a good time serving kids. As the Youth Services Coordinator, I am responsible for what we do for children and teens across the city. I work closely with several departments throughout the library, partner with community agencies and City government, I lead an amazing group of dedicated professionals, and, every once in a while, I get to do fun things like be introduced at center court at a Seattle Storm basketball game or read from Dr. Seuss at the Experience Music Project.
What are your thoughts on the children's area at the new central library? Did you get to have any input in the design of the children's area at the new central library? If so, what was it & does the design reflect your input?
I was very involved, along with the children's librarians at the Central Library, in the design process. The parts that we are all most proud of are the wonderful amount of natural light in the room, the spaciousness of the children's center, the convenient restrooms for families of all sizes, and the popularity that the room has seen from day one. We are thrilled that so many families have found the new library a great place to spend time with their children.
While I personally find that there are a number of things to like about the new library, I feel that the unfinished concrete in the children's area and other parts of the first floor is not very attractive and makes it feel kind of like a parking garage. Do you have any thoughts on this?
There are many things about this building that are not traditional. The design intent throughout the first floor is to expose the structure of the building. The concrete ceilings don't bother me so much from an aesthetic perspective, but they don't absorb sound very well, and the first floor can be quite noisy because of that.
You're a man, which goes against the stereotype of children's librarians, and a rather tall one. Have you found that there's anything special you, as a tall, male, children's librarian need to do to be accessible to your patrons?
Having good knees is helpful ;). It's funny, ever since I have worked with children I have naturally adapted to them, no matter the situation-sometimes that means kneeling down so I could be eye to eye when answering a question, sometimes that means sitting on the floor and browsing picture books together, sometimes that means climbing on a table to rescue an adventurous toddler! Going with the flow has helped me adapt-yoga helps, too.
Boys typically read less than girls. What can we do about this? And what can we do to make sure the library is an inviting place for boys?
I think the best thing we can do is to remember, first, that all kids like to do all kinds of things-including reading. Reading can be a part of just about any activity. I am not so worried that boys don't spend hours reading a good book, as I am about boys (or girls) who don't or can't read at all. As librarians we have the opportunity to introduce reading over and over again as a fun thing to do. Whether it's storytime (boys aplenty enjoy storytime) or a Yu-gi-oh tournament (lots of reading going on as they figure out what cards to play), or letting parents and teachers know that comic books, magazines and baseball cards all have their place when it comes to reading development and reading practice. Keep connecting with kids where it feels good to them (not always what we think they should be reading, necessarily) and they will come to understand that reading can be fun. Continuing to read aloud to kids after they have become readers themselves is one of the best things I do every day.
Can you describe a conflict with a parent and what you did to resolve it? It's my opinion that as a children's librarian, one's first responsibility is to the children, so if a child wants something, whether it's a book or movie or some other information, but their parent wants something else for them, the librarian's responsibility is to get the child the information he or she wants. Have you ever found yourself in this situation? If so, what did you do? Does being a parent affect your stance on this issue?
I respect the responsibility of the parent to guide their children's choices based on their own personal values. As a librarian I have an obligation to serve the whole spectrum of opinions and values that are represented in my community. Helping parents understand the appropriate role of the library-for example, we will not go to extra lengths to make sure a particular child does not have access to specific parts of the collection, but we will educate their child on all of the options that the library has to offer-helps the parent know how we can work together, and reaffirms that it is ultimately the parent's role to guide their child's choices.
A specific conversation I dealt with began when a parent asked me for a list of "books to watch out for." When I queried further to understand what the parent wanted, she explained that she didn't like her daughter reading the Goosebumps series, and she wanted to be aware of other books that she wouldn't want her daughter to read. I explained that while I would be happy to make a variety of recommendations to her and her daughter for other materials, the library didn't create lists like she described. As we talked further, and browsed the shelves for some alternatives, I was able to make some acceptable suggestions, and she decided that as long as she had a helpful librarian to assist her in the future, then the list of books she originally wanted was not so important anymore.
Do you have any suggestions for people who want to become children's or other youth services librarians? Is there anything particular males, who are not typically thought of as youth librarians, should take into consideration?
Male or female, the first suggestion I have is to be a person who REALLY wants to serve kids. Whether it's children or teens, the successful (and happy) youth librarians I have met love to work with kids-you can't stop them from doing it they love it so much. And enjoying kids (warts, tantrums, silliness, and chaos included) is not something that you can fake. Next, I think the best youth librarians are both creative and persistent. If one way of doing something won't work, they find new ways of getting the job done. Next, read all of the time. To be a good children's or teen librarian, you need to know as much as you can to handle the wide range of reader's advisory that you will face.
Finally, don't take yourself too seriously-it's about serving the customer, not about doing what you like all of the time. So, this may mean that despite all of the time and effort you put into the slick, snazzy, snicker-doodle program your customers may still not come, and what they would have preferred is that you just sat down and read them a book. Keep it real. You're right that there are not very many men who do this work, especially for children-as long as you do the work and focus on the right things, it's not an issue. I would like to see more men do this work, if only to see them learn how enjoyable it really can be. I do think that men who are children's librarians get more credit than they deserve sometimes, and that all that praise we get for choosing this profession should also be directed to the women with whom we serve along side.
What's your favorite part of your job? Are there any career highlights you'd like to share with us?
At this point, the favorite part of my job is knowing that I am doing something that is, without question, 100% positive for my community every day. Serving families, other youth providers, and the staff I work with is a privilege. Working with kids is tiring and crazy at times, but, as a librarian, I have never wanted to work with any other customer.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Yes. If you ever advertise that you will be hosting a dinosaur egg hunt, make sure that you have enough "dinosaur eggs" for everyone who comes-toddlers and preschoolers will not share dinosaur eggs-period.
[If you want more Chance, here's another interview from 2003 - Ed.]