STORYWALK WITH MARGARET MILES!
Welcome to Library Lions interviews Raising a Roar for libraries and the outstanding librarians serving youth in schools and public libraries across the U.S. Please Roar today’s guest, Margaret Miles.
I much prefer not having my photo taken, so this is the image I use on our website. If you don’t understand this image, all I can say is that you don’t read enough Terry Pratchett.
Welcome, Margaret! Tell us about your library career
I have been working at the New Hanover County Public Library during two centuries so far. During that time I have officially changed jobs once, when I moved up in the world by changing from the Reference Department (on the first floor of our Main Library) to the Children’s Department (on the second floor). Since then it’s been more a case of responsibility drift than official new positions, since I haven’t ever had to interview again, but I have been:
• Main Library Children’s Librarian under a system-level Children’s Coordinator
• Children’s Librarian with responsibilities but not job title of Children’s Coordinator
• Staff member most willing to try to fix, and try to learn about fixing, problems in the Library website and ILS (Integrated Library System, the software suites that run library circulation and catalog functions) while still being a Children’s Librarian
• Technical Services Manager and more-or-less-officially Children’s Coordinator
I’m not really sure what my job title is supposed to be these days, but the Library Director and I both like “Librarian without Portfolio.”
New Hanover County Public Library has four locations. Most of the time I’m at our Main Library in downtown Wilmington, NC, but we like to say that NHCPL is not four libraries, it’s one library in four locations, and any of us may be in any location at any given time, depending on what’s going on.
Here’s a picture of our whole fantastic staff. I’m the one in the middle with the red shirt, second row from the back.
The Skinny — What do you love most about your work?
Which is to say, introducing people to books and books to people, always with the hope that it will be true love, either at first sight or as the end result of a deepening friendship.
I’m passionate about collection building and trying to ensure that NHCPL does the best possible job at providing both the books that readers come to the library already knowing that they want, and the books that they didn’t know they wanted until they meet nose-to-book-jacket.
When I say “books,” I mean multiple formats – print, audiobook, or digital. I do also mean all the other things our library system provides, in either physical or virtual formats. But as dual-century librarian, the books are always going to come first with me.
A Mighty Roar!
One of our mantras at NHCPL is “Creating library experiences that matter.” Like many public libraries, we’re continually thinking about what we do, how we can do it better, and how we can provide experiences that are valuable to and valued by our community. Public libraries are special because we have the challenge of being the library that’s for the WHOLE community. Most students also have access to a school library targeted to their age group – but those wonderful school libraries can’t serve everyone. And public libraries are the ones that are open on evenings and weekends and during school breaks when most of the school libraries can’t be. Don’t take this to mean that we don’t also value our partnerships, both formal and informal, with school libraries – of course we do! Right now we’re working on a very special collaboration project that I can’t tell you about yet.
As a public library we also serve preschools and Head Start through our Children’s Outreach. In the library buildings we serve a large and many-faceted homeschool population. We also provide enhanced classroom resources for the whole spectrum of teachers – public, private, and charter school, preschool, homeschool – through our Teacher Request service which assembles custom selections of library materials for an average of 40 to 60 requests per month.
In children’s services, we connect early literacy practices with our County government’s strategic emphasis on early childhood education through storytimes, preschool Math & Science, Messy Hands art, and other events.
We have also created Story Place spaces at all the NHCPL locations. Right now only the Main Library’s Story Place has its own room but all the other libraries have Story Place areas with resources for encouraging language development and imaginative play.
In our continuing efforts to Entice the Elusive Teens (who read. A lot! But are not as keen on organized events, usually) our Myrtle Grove Children’s Librarian, Mr. Scooter, has had some great success with ideas unencumbered by the previous century, including the Scare Squad (prop-makers and haunted-house staff for our annual Haunted Library) and the Teen Fashion Design contest using recycled library book sale materials.
This is a true NHCPL homework help story. I did not take the call myself, but I was sitting next to the person who did, and the caller’s voice was loud enough that I could hear both sides of the conversation.
Caller: Hi, my child has one of those holidays-around-the-world assignments. I need to know how they say “Merry Christmas” in England.
NHCPL [struggling for self-control]: Well, they say “Merry Christmas.” Or sometimes they might say “Happy Christmas.”
Caller: No, I need to know how they say it in England. Like in Mexico they say “Feliz Navidad.”
NHCPL: Well, in England they would still say “Merry Christmas.” [unable not to emphasize the words] In England they speak English.
Caller: [clearly shouting across the room at home] Hey!!! In England they speak English!!!!
A Lion’s Pride of Programs
Our StoryWalks are one of my favorites among the projects we’ve used to get the message about reading and libraries into the community.
The StoryWalk® concept connects reading motivation with physical activity by posting page spreads from a picture book along a trail or path. Children walk (or hop, jump, run, skip, slither, slide…) along the path each time a page would be turned, exercising their brains and their bodies at the same time.
The StoryWalk concept originated in Vermont; I learned about it from Publishers Weekly’s “Shelf Talker” blog, which is co-authored by picture book author and bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle. That blog post connected NHCPL with Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, a Maine-based creator of children’s-literature-related outreach materials. The Curious City StoryWalks add value to the original concept by including action prompts with the picture book page spreads. Since these StoryWalks involve re-sizing the pages, copyright permission is necessary; Kirsten sometimes also works with the illustrator to create original action prompt illustrations.
After we get the design files from Curious City, the signs are manufactured. Our County Parks & Gardens Department helped us by sharing their specifications for ultra-durable outdoor signage, and are also our continuing partners in installing StoryWalks placed in County parks. These signs are not at all inexpensive to produce, and I’ve seen lots of other StoryWalk incarnations which would be much less expensive. The expense, however, has been a benefit as well as a challenge, because it has meant that we need partners every time we put a new StoryWalk together. So far besides County Parks & Gardens we’ve partnered with our County Health Department, our Library Foundation, a local physicians’ association, one of our local municipalities, and a women’s club, and we welcome further opportunities to partner with area entities and organizations who care about kids have the opportunity to grow up with healthy brains inside healthy bodies.
The original StoryWalk model involved simply taking books apart and mounting the pages on temporary, moveable signage. This does not require special copyright permission since the signs are made directly from copies of the book we purchase. At NHCPL we’ve done that also, with indoor StoryWalks becoming one of the traditions at our annual Story Extravaganza early-literacy storytelling festival. My favorite of those is the truly epic experience inspired by Antoinette Portis’s wonderful Not a box. We saved boxes for months, but it was more than worth the effort. And the “easels” holding up the StoryWalk pages are made from foam packaging inserts from one set of the boxes!
Readers Roar: Let’s hear from the kids!
It’s really great when I hear directly from kids, either on paper or in person, that NHCPL matchmaking succeeded. One is a Children’s Room comment card that I have framed on my desk. The other is from our Smart Start grant-funded children’s outreach project which runs the Raising A Reader program at a public Pre-K/HeadStart center; the kids were asked to show someone they like to share books with, a favorite place to read, and a favorite book.
One Last Roar
Several weeks ago I received a letter from a PhD candidate. He was a regular visitor to our library with his school classes from kindergarten through 5th grade. He remembers his 3rd grade teacher trying to limit the number of history books he checked out per visit, and how we made a deal with the teacher that his history reading would not be restricted, provided he accepted some recommendations from me for books in other genres. He’s currently completing his dissertation on a topic in 20th century theological history, and the letter concluded, “Individuals like you are why I am where I am today.”
I am a librarian, and this is what I do. If that’s not something to roar about, I don’t know what is.
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Thank you, Margaret for your terrific interview!
Note to Librarians: If you’re a Youth Librarian working in a school or public library we’d love to hear about you and your library. Email Janet via the Contact page on this website to set up an interview.
Note to Authors: If you’re interested in Roaring for Libraries on this blog, contact Janet.