Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Good Place...Gone

Few things are sadder for writers and readers than empty bookshelves, especially bookshelves that used to be packed full.

This week I was looking for the new picture book biography on Fibonacci-- Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, written by Joseph D'Agnese and illustrated by John O'Brien (Henry Holt, 2010). I knew just where to go--one of my favorite spots--the University of Iowa Curriculum Library.

This library has a wide-ranging collection of the best, most ground-breaking, most interesting, most enjoyable books for children and young adults. Teachers, student teachers, writers go there with questions about what has been written for children and how it has been written. I have stopped by many times just to get caught up on the new books and to have good conversations about children's literature.

But Fibonacci, though in the catalog, was not at the Curriculum Library. There are no longer any fiction or non-fiction books at the Curriculum Library, only a few reference books. And they will be moved out soon.

The books are now stored in the basement of the Iowa City Public Library, a wonderful library, but a library that has a different mission than the Curriculum Library. That place is gone--and won't come back. Our lives here in Iowa are diminished by its loss.

Today I'm wondering what it says about our society's, regard for reading/books/literature that the University would close a facility like the Curriculum Library. The Library's main purpose was to help people who work with children (and some who write for children) become better informed about children's literature so they could better introduce their students to the joys of reading (or write better books). Is the closing of this library one more sign that our culture is devaluing books and reading? Recently in my home town there was serious (yes, serious) talk about not hiring an elementary school librarian to fill the position of one who retired.

Can this train be stopped? I don't know. Can we do more? I think so. I took for granted that the Curriculum Library would always be there so I never sent a letter to anyone saying what a wonderful place it was, never said, "This is important to Iowa children, Iowa teachers, Iowa writers and readers." I should have. If everyone who had used the library had written to the decision makers occasionally, maybe they would have had a different sense of its importance. I'm going to start letting people know what's important to me, saying thanks, saying this is why we need this place.

Every place we care about is vulnerable to budget cuts, bottom line considerations. How many books stores have we watched close? How many libraries now keep shorter hours, or no hours?

I walked past the empty shelves, past the dark offices, waved good-bye to the lone librarian, and went out the door, straight to Prairie Lights Bookstore to buy the Fibonacci book--along with Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Henry Holt, 2010)--two remarkable biographies. The good news is that people are writing wonderful books for kids--books about Medieval mathematicians and 17th century woman botanists!

Wallets and pens. We must do what we can with wallets and pens to be sure we have places to buy and places to read these books.


  1. As a graduate student in school librarianship in the late 70s (under the guidance of G. Robert Carlson and Mildred Laughlin), I used the curriculum library extensively. Given the digital nature of today's (and tomorrow's) educational resources, I suspect the library was seen as outmoded.


  2. It was a wonderful resource. I still miss it. And no matter what the delivery system--digital or actual--it seems like we still need people who know the full scope of children's literature to help those who are writing children's books, writing about children's books, or connecting children with books they'll enjoy.