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Authors Among Us - Children's Writers Who Are or Who Have Been Librarians
Featured Titles by New York writer Johanna Hurwitz
Peewee & Plush, SeaStar/North South Books.
|To see a bibliography of Johanna Hurwitz' books click here.|
|What influenced you to become a
to work in a library?
I come from a family where books were very important. My parents met in a second hand book shop where my mother was employed. My father owned his own store of a similar nature just a couple of blocks away. After I was born my father sold his shop but he kept most of the books. So I grew up in a house surrounded by books. At a very young age I began making up stories and writing them down. I decided to be a writer when I grew up but my parents pointed out that it would be essential to have another way to support myself. (I was only eight but they were already concerned about my future). So it was at that point when I decided that my other job would be to work in a library.
Do you have a library/information science degree?
I have a Master's degree in Library Science from Columbia University in New York City.
What kinds of library positions have you held and where?
I worked during college and while I was getting my master's degree at the New York Public Library as a page, clerk and trainee. Once I had my degree I became a children' s librarian and worked in about twenty different branches of the library system ending up in charge of the large collection at the Tompkins Square Branch (the library where the children in All-Of-A-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor borrowed books).
After my children were born I worked as a school librarian at the Calhoun School, a private school, in NYC. Subsequently I worked in a public school on Long Island. In addition, I taught library science courses (children's literature, storytelling, history of children' s literature, etc.) at Queens College which is now part of the City University of New York. My last library position was that of part-time children's librarian with the Great Neck Library on Long Island.
How long were you, or have you been, a librarian?
In all, my library career lasted 30 years. I am no longer working as a librarian.
Do you plan to return to the profession? If not, why did you leave it?
No. I left library work with deep regrets. There were just not enough hours in the day or days in the week to work, write, travel and speak.
Which came first in your life, your career as a librarian, or writing for children?
I became a librarian in 1959 and published my first story in 1961.
Did your library work directly influence your work as an author?
Certainly my career as a children's librarian made me very aware of the difference between quality writing for children and those of less literary merit. However, though my first published book Busybody Nora (Morrow 1976) was one of the first early chapter books and opened up a whole new genre, the credit for this goes to the editor Connie Epstein who realized this format would have child appeal. I have never consciously sat down and said to myself "there is a need for a book on such and such a topic". People are constantly suggesting these topics to me but if they don't originate in my imagination, I can't do it.
What were the greatest benefits of being a librarian to you as a writer?
The greatest benefit was being surrounded by books both old and new and children and their teachers and parents who were eager to borrow those books. I also had the advantage of working with some wonderful colleagues. I learned more from Maria Cimino, Head of the Central Children's Room at the NYPL, than I did from 36 credits at Columbia.
When I was growing up, I only came face to face with one or two authors. I assumed that most authors were dead. Nowadays, authors are invited to visit schools and libraries so that children can learn otherwise. There is no question that my years as a librarian, giving book talks and story hours, was the perfect training for my speaking career. In fact, I consider the visits I make to schools as an extension of my library work. When I speak I always mention other authors and their titles. I want children to be readers, not just of my books, but of all that the library has to offer them.
Were there any drawbacks to being a librarian and also a writer?
At first, surrounded by so many children's books, I wondered what I had to say that hadn't been said before and said better than I could ever hope to do. Still, I continued writing.
If you wrote while working as as librarian, how did you manage the time-juggling act?
I wrote at night, on holidays and vacations. During the last years of library work, I limited myself to two days each week (15 hours) at the library. Knowing that I would be away from my desk on those two days disciplined me to sit at my desk during the remaining days when I was home.
Did you find any conflicts or job-related difficulties in being both a writer and a librarian?
Because children are not drilled or tested on the books they borrow from the public library, there is a freedom for them there that is missing in the school situation. I didn't like recommending my books because I worried that the children would feel compelled to borrow and read my books. If they didn't enjoy the books they would avoid me in the future or try and hide the books (behind others on the library shelves) when I wasn't looking. Then one day a mother came up to me and said, "You've been helping me find books for my son for two years and you never even told me about your own books." When I explained the reason to her, she said, "Well, last week when you were out, another librarian pointed out the books to me. I borrowed several and my son loves them!"
Do you feel that librarianship has/had specific benefits to you as a writer?
As a writer, one uses everything in one's life. I'm sure I would have been a writer even if I'd gone into another field, but the books I wrote might have been different.
Special quote from Johanna Hurwitz:
When I was growing up there were only a limited number of professions open to women: teaching, nursing, secretarial work. I felt very clever to have thought of something else when I decided on library work. Nowadays every profession is open to women and yet were I twenty again, I would once again select library work. The field has changed greatly due to computers. Story hours nowadays are given for children less than a year old. The possibilities for programs are endless. And yet in the end, the library itself, the child and the right book, is a formula that can't be improved upon. I consider myself very fortunate to have had two (three if you count motherhood!) professions that I love.
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Last Updated October 22, 2003