A Peek Behind the Stacks - An Interview with my Children's Librarian

I have been planning to interview my local children's librarian for a long time. Unfortunately, it took over a year for me to shower on the same day as story time. (Hey, I have to make time to write somehow...sorry personal hygiene.) I'm so glad the day finally came, because I enjoyed every minute of my time with Linda Lawrence. She was full of wonderful insights and some great quotes. 

The interviewed actually started with Linda asking about me. Which was so kind. She must have established I was nervous, or perhaps she shares that universal librarian curiosity.

As usual I humble-fumbled through it: "oh I've written some things...maybe someone will like to read them one day...or maybe not...I blog about stuff...I had a short story published...it was about dragons and cake and stuff..." [Note to self: start practicing verbal pitch before NJ SCBWI conference!!!] But still, it gave me a chance to settle in and ask some questions.

Lauri: How did you become a Children’s librarian?
Linda: I graduated as an English major. My father was screaming at me to find a job, so I looked at what I loved which was books and reading. I found out to be a librarian, you needed your masters. So I went to Simmons College in Boston. But I knew there was only one choice for me- children’s librarian.

Linda Lawrence & Lauri Meyers
I moved with my husband to Fair Lawn, New Jersey. By chance the library needed a children’s librarian. I was there for four years then had an 18-year hiatus while I had my two children.

Around the time my youngest was in first grade, I felt like I needed to work again. So I looked into being a media specialist. To be a media specialist, I needed to have a teaching degree. So I went to William Paterson University to complete my studies and student teaching. But I didn't end up with a media specialist job.

Instead, I saw an ad in the paper for “substitutes” at Wayne Public Library. When I interviewed I said “I only want children’s.” And she said, “Great, we need someone for children’s.” I started as a sub then moved into a part-time role. Following the renovation of the library in 2000, they added a full-time children’s librarian, and I got the job.

Lauri: What drove you to be so passionate about the children’s section?

Linda: It wasn't so much the books, but the clientele I wanted to work with.

I was also the children's librarian at the same time the first Harry Potter book came out. We were all very excited when we read it. That’s really when fantasy got hot, and it still is.

Lauri: As a children's writer, I think I am blessed with the robust children's section here at WPL. Does the Children's Department own the purchase decisions?

Linda: Yes, the children’s department owns the purchase decisions. I've been very lucky with freedom to make choices. This year was the first year our budget was reduced, which forced me to be more picky. Having the local library consortium helps also. We can't carry every book, but the consortium lets us lend books from other libraries.

Lauri: What resources do you use to make purchasing choices?

The School Library Journal is helpful, but used to be treated as the only source. Shelf Talker and Publishers Weekly are good sources which come in my email.

For nonfiction, I go by what people are coming in for and asking for.

I look for topics in catalogs that are hot right now. If trucks are in high demand, a new truck book will interest me.

We also use the Brodart Company (Lauri note: Brodart provides collection and other services to libraries.)

I like things that are readable. I call myself a "librarian of the masses." I'm looking for what "sells." Even though I'm not technically selling the books, I want books people want to borrow.

Lauri: My favorite place is the New Books shelf. Do you have a favorite spot in the Children's department?

Linda: I've always loved reference. I used to read and reread the materials to learn as much as I could and prepare myself for the questions kids would ask.

I see my job today as much more "readers advisory" than reference. When children come in looking for a book, I start by asking, "Tell me something that you like." It can take 25 minutes with some kids until they find the right niche. But once they find it, they are here all the time.

Lauri: You must regularly weed out books as well. How do you decide?

Linda: We have to make room for new books. I'm doing a big weed right now. Children's hasn't been weeded in awhile. There is a report which shows "no circulation for 5 years." I also look if topics are dated, if the book is in bad condition, etc.

Lauri: Thank you so much for meeting with me and sharing your story. It looks like storytime is out and I can hear my kids calling. (yes, this is how it went!)

Linda: Thank you. I'm always here for questions.

Hey, did you hear that? I can ask more questions! Do you have any more questions you would love to know about from a librarian's perspective?


  1. Fantastic interview Linda and Lauri! I always wanted to know who decides what books to get. In this case, it is linda. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. I do want to know if authors ever come to you with their books for donation to the library. If so, what is the percentage. Another question is how much of the books (not necessarily from authors themselves) are donated to the library. Ooh, and last question: are there plenty of job openings for librarians?

  2. Are you considering a job as a librarian? That would make knowing the market of picture books a heck of a lot easier!

  3. Replies
    1. Oh if the librarians went on strike... oh dear! I <3 librarians too.

  4. Thanks for giving me a behind-the-scenes look, Lauri!


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