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Authors Among Us - Children's Writers Who Are or Who Have Been Librarians
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Wendie C. Old
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|What influenced you to become a
My mother insisted that I get a 'practical' degree. There was no guarantee I'd ever get married -- boys weren't knocking down the door to ask me out. And, besides, if I were married and something happened to my husband, I should have job training to fall back on. This was the 1950s, before women had 'careers.' In fact, girls were being raised with the expectation that men would 'take care of them.' But my mother and father came from families where women were prepared for all emergencies, including being prepared to get a job if finances were tight.
Therefore, I went to Potomac State Junior College, prepared to train as a secretary. But in my English class, the professor made a statement that changed my life. He referred to being a librarian as the place for the person who knew a little bit about everything. That appealed to me. (and typing and accounting had become more and more boring.)
My poor parents. I came home that summer and told them I was changing from a two-year degree to one that took four years plus a graduate degree. It was fine with them -- as long as I realized that they would only pay for the first two years. Since our family had four children, three more to put through college after me, I had to come up with the money for the rest. So I did. I worked part time and went to school full time. I got loans. I lived in co-op housing where we cooked and cleaned for reduced college fees. And I graduated.
Do you have a library/information
Yes, M.S.L.S. cum laud from the University of Kentucky
What kinds of library positions have you held and where?
I have always been a children's librarian. I guess, being the oldest of four children, I felt more comfortable with this age group. Plus, all the best books are in the children's department.
I began working in 1969 for Baltimore county Public Library, just north of Baltimore, Maryland. It is a large library system of about 20 branches. Very soon I was head of the children's department in one of the smaller branches. Then I retired to have a child. Two years later. I returned as assistant head of the children's department in one of the largest branches of the county. Retired again to have another child and then worked part time until 1989.
At that time, I realized my writing wasn't going to be enough to get my kids through college, so I went back to work, full time, in the next county north of us -- Harford County Public Library.
How long have you been a librarian? Since 1969.
Do you plan to continue in the
Yes, until I retire or can earn enough with writing to be able to retire early.
Which came first in your life, your career as a librarian or writing for children?
I was always a writer. Even in high school, I wrote stories featuring my friends. While I was in college, I was too busy writing papers to write for 'fun.' I began writing for publication when I retired to have my first child.
Did your library work have anything
do with becoming a children's writer?
Did your library work directly influence your work as an author? Did you respond to children's books in your library collection, or to the lack of books of certain kinds or on certain subjects, or to your interactions with young library patrons and their families?
Yes. My first published picture book came from a search by a parent for a book to help her child understand the death of a baby with S.I.D.S. I was unable to find a publisher until I received a catalog at work which seemed to have a lot of similar books in it. Ah Ha, my little brain deduced -- this might be a possible publisher. So I sent it to Albert Whitman and they published it.
I can see what kinds of books are in demand, but often don't have the urge to write them. Recently I combined some of the things children are interested in (dogs and trucks) and decided that a book about dogs driving trucks would be popular. But coming up with a plot or story line is harder.
Did librarianship increase your knowledge of children's literature and influence the kinds of things you chose to write? Yes and no.
Did incidents from your library work
ever make it into your books?
Did you ever set any scenes in your books in the library? Not yet, but it's an idea.
What are the greatest benefits of being a librarian to you as a writer?
The greatest benefit of working in a library is the fact that all the library's resources are available to you -- every day. If you need books from other library systems, it's easy to do the InterLibrary loan order yourself.
The hardest part about working in a library
is that I try to keep my writing and my library work
Which means that, if I actually do need to do some library research, I
forget about it while I am at the library. I have to write
long notes, and then find time when I am NOT scheduled to work to do
research. (staying late or coming in
Are there any drawbacks to being a librarian and also a writer?
Some. When I attend library conventions, it is necessary for me to attend the meetings, when all I want to do is browse the exhibits and talk to the editors like the other writers are doing.
If you write while working as as librarian, how do you manage the time-juggling act? How does your employment impact on how much you write and when you do it?
I use weekends and vacation time to write. Weekends are hard, because there are all the usual household chores that every working mother has to do, as well. When revisions come, I can't begin on them right away. I have to arrange for time off from work and that isn't always easy to get at short notice.
Do you find any conflicts or
job-related difficulties in being both a writer and a librarian?
When I began at Harford County Public Library, I was encouraged by the Head of the Children's Librarians to continue writing. She sent me notices of conferences and events that might be of interest/help to me. However, now that we have no Head of Children's Services, there is less support. Administration keeps telling me they won't pay for events where I go as a writer, which is as it should be. However, there are many times I go as a librarian AND a writer, which they consider to be a grey area. Plus, some of my co-workers seem to have the attitude that I "go off to enjoy myself while everyone else is working hard" when I'm actually attending conferences or giving speeches at schools and teacher's meetings. It is unspoken, but I can feel it there.
I'm working a second job as a writer and I treat it as a business. I try to keep them separate. I can only hope that my co-workers will respect the fact that I work two jobs.
Do you feel that librarianship has specific benefits to you as a writer?
Just being around all the new books, all the good books, is a wonderful experience for a writer. Which is why I keep telling new writers to make friends with their children's librarian so that she'll let them know when something special comes in.
Working in a library forces you to read, read, read.
Special Quote from Wendie Old about
librarianship and writing for children:
It's the best of all worlds.
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Last Updated April 17, 2011