Meet Shelley Harris, Children’s Librarian

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Meet Shelley Harris, Children's LibrarianEach month, The Library Adventure interviews a library worker. This month, the spotlight is on Shelley Harris, a children’s librarian at Oak Park Public Library in Oak Park, Illinois.

Photo of Shelley Harris and a cutout of the 11th doctor

Shelley gets ready for a Doctor Who 50th Anniversary party.

The Library Adventure: Please give a brief description of your current position.

Shelley: I’m a children’s librarian, and I coordinate our Family Learning initiatives. This includes storytimes, the summer reading program, educational and STEM programming, and parent workshops. This is a brand new position and I’ve had so much fun really developing the programs we offer. My background is as a speech therapy major, ABA therapist and 1:1 paraprofessional, as well as being a sibling to a young man with significant special needs, so I’ve also been able to use those skills and connections to offer weekly Sensory Storytimes and playgroup and bring in specialized software and hardware for our Homework Hub computer. I also order nonfiction for birth through grade 7.

TLA: Tell us a little bit about the community your library serves.

Shelley: Oak Park is a very diverse community located just outside the city of Chicago. Our town has both very high and very low-income pockets, and we get a lot of kids who live just over the Chicago border. So we have very well attended programs and very involved families that show us off as incredibly successful, but also have entire swaths of children that we rarely, if ever, see because their families don’t have the time or energy to bring them regularly. It’s challenging, but we try hard to get library services to those families.

TLA: What is unique about your library building and/or its collection?

Shelley: First, our building is gorgeous. That’s not unique, but it’s special. One entire wall of our department is floor to ceiling windows overlooking a park. Perfect view for changing seasons!

One thing that is unique is our tween section. A few years ago, we brought 6th and 7th graders down from the teen section back to kids and rearranged the room to fit their brand new collection and lounge space. Our room is now organized chronologically – board books behind us, next to picture books, then readers, early chapters, fiction and tweens right back in front of us, with AV and nonfiction in the middle because everyone uses those.

I put the tween collection together by hand – I went through every YA book to find the more middle grade titles, pulled some of the older middle grades from our kids fiction section and read reviews for them all. We named their space the Locker Lounge, and it includes a blue locker with games and activities, soft red couches, cool IKEA cafe tables and a huge screen TV with Wii U and Xbox 360 for collaborative gaming 4 days a week. We try very hard to keep adults and little kids out of there (there are other zones for toddlers and preschoolers) so the tweens have a sense of ownership. It’s been hugely popular.

TLA: What is the craziest/funniest/strangest thing you have ever seen or experienced on the job?

Shelley: My favorite was the time a group of kids ordered in Jimmy John’s delivery during a very snowy schools out day! We let them know that food deliveries weren’t allowed, but it highlighted how comfortable the kids feel in our space. (And, possibly, how often Jimmy John’s delivers for the librarians here. I’m sure they’ve seen us doing it!)

TLA: What is one thing you wish library users knew?

Shelley: This is probably reactionary because of multiple events the past few days, but: we are a public space! We love kids and we help kids and we know a lot of our kids, but 3-year-olds can’t be left unattended while you run upstairs for a book and 5-year-olds can’t self-facilitate on the computers while you do your work two floors above them. Would you leave your child unattended at a bus stop? Anyone can walk off with them! They can leave! We aren’t babysitters and we can’t keep track of who is leaving with who. It’s not safe.

TLA: Give a quick plug for a favorite library resource.

Shelley: I’m going entirely non-techy with this question, because my answer is librarians. My department goes on bi-yearly field trips to visit near-by libraries. (The furthest we’ve driven is about 2 hours.) We pile into my manager’s minivan and head off to tour spaces, observe storytimes, ask questions and more. Conferences are great to hear about ideas, but it’s so much more meaningful to go on field trips and see them in action.

Thanks so much to Shelley for joining us at The Library Adventure this month. If you work in a library and would like to be interviewed for a future post, please fill out our interest form.

About Katie Fitzgerald

Katie Fitzgerald holds degrees in English and library science, and has worked in small town and big city libraries, serving both children and teens. You can read her book reviews and posts about story time, picture books, and early literacy at Story Time Secrets. Also follow her blog on Facebook for kidlit quotations, story time suggestions, and interesting links.

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