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[Interview] Caribbean Children's Literature: A Library Perspective With Janice Ferdinand

Our special series of interviews with librarians continues today. Join our editor-in-chief, Summer Edward, as she investigates forward-thinking children's library projects across the Caribbean and the crucial role librarians everywhere play in broadening awareness of Caribbean children's and young adult literature.

Janice Ferdinad is the school librarian at the Juanita Gardine Elementary School in St. Croix. She graduated from the University of the Virgin Islands and has served as coordinator of the Young Writers’ Camp, sponsored by the national V.I. Writing Project (VIWP). In 2014, her initiative, "Bookopoly: An Interactive Project to Encourage Student Reading", received an Anderson Family Teacher Grant from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. She lives in Christiansted, St. Croix.

Janice and I met earlier this year when I led a workshop titled 'Healing Through Children's Stories: 10 Talents for Cultivating a Caribbean Children's Book Harvest' in St. Croix, under the auspices of the U. S. Virgin Islands Literary Festival and Book Fair and the U.S Virgin Islands Department of Education. The event took place in the school library and was attended by elementary school and high school teachers from across the three main islands. Janice helped set up, and participated in, the workshop and afterward, she and I chatted about the rewards and challenges of school librarianship in the territories.

Janice Ferdinand (far left), myself (far right), and some of the U. S. Virgin Islands teachers who attended the 'Healing Through Children's Stories: 10 Talents for Cultivating a Caribbean Children's Book Harvest' workshop, pictured here holding Caribbean children's books in the library of the Juanita Gardine Elementary School where the workshop was held.


Summer Edward: Children can always go to the public libraries in their communities, so why is it important for schools, and even classrooms, to have their own libraries as well?

Janice Ferdinand: School and classroom libraries tremendously enrich learning and influence literacy by giving children daily, on-demand access to books that pique their interest. Surrounding young learners with books says to them that literacy/reading matters. We read for pleasure and delve in for information as well. School libraries highlight great authors, variety in genres, as well as subject matter content. The books in the school library expose students to new vocabulary, an array of authentic writings, factual information and attractive places in real life, and teach them about elements of storytelling like voice and conflict among characters. What I particularly like are the discussions, in the corners of these libraries, among adults and students, or student-to-student, and observing how they decipher the wording of a difficult text in order to comprehend the author’s meaning.

Accessing titles from the public libraries in my area is simple if families want to do so, but that’s as far as it goes. I believe all local libraries should have modern-day titles, appealing activities, and tech tools, otherwise they fail in anchoring literacy throughout communities. Creative planning and sufficient funding are needed to bring about change in St. Croix. The professionals needed in our public libraries are within our communities.

SE: We chatted a bit before about the difficulty of finding short Caribbean picture books (books less than 900 words long) that are suited for quick read-alouds in the classroom. The majority of Caribbean picture books are really picture storybooks which have longer text lengths of 900-2,000 words. Why are short, quick Caribbean children’s books important for child readers?

JF: The youngest readers in my school are best served with quick picture books. They are always intrigued by the comical or real-life characters, rhyme and catchy rhythm in the text. Students quickly grasp the familiar settings and dialects, and are engaged by the fast-paced and concise form. These short-paced texts with less wording are designed to induce lots of laughter, voice and pitch changes during read-alouds, and spontaneous applause. Each story teaches a valuable lesson that young readers internalize. Caribbean picture books are much-needed culturally-relevant introductions to the world of words.

SE: I looked around the library at Juanita Gardine Elementary School and was pleased to find a number of Caribbean children’s and young adult books, but most of the books are American and British books. I imagine this is also true for other school libraries across the U.S. Virgin Islands. What do you think is necessary in order for this to change?

JF: Access, access, access! Librarians need updated publications, flyers and links to reputable websites that highlight new Caribbean releases. Sadly, some librarians stick to the curriculum, which is still Americentric and Eurocentric, and buy only those types of books. I am always looking for published Caribbean stories because I was raised listening to the oral traditions from the elders. I do quick online searches or visit the local bookstores, but with these methods, it's hard to find a good sampling of what might be available. A suggestion is for Caribbean children's and young adult authors to send library guides, advertising flyers or emails to department chairpersons, reading councils, librarian associations, and librarians. There are so many great children's books out there that are not getting the publicity.

SE: It’s easy for the Caribbean books in the school library to get lost in the shuffle. How do you ensure that the Caribbean books are visible to students and how do you help students recognize the distinct value of Caribbean children’s/YA literature?

The Caribbean Literature Section in my library is a standout because it is strategically placed in an area that everyone passes by. Each school year, I plan and execute a new look for this section because I strongly believe that books unique to our region and diaspora are paramount. Organizing an area that stimulates the senses with appealing designs, headings, and pictures is key. Namely, indigenous foods, colloquial sayings, flora and fauna, cultural elements like moko jumbies, Caribbean people and places. Then, I read aloud a host of Caribbean stories with different grade levels using the text to teach lessons and reading/comprehension strategies. I love when students return to the Caribbean Literature Section to reread a favorite. I know I’ve struck rare gold when a teacher diverts from the American curriculum and requests a Caribbean story to teach a lesson.

SE: What difficulties do school librarians in St. Croix face in terms of adding Caribbean children’s and young adult books to their collections? Are there perhaps gatekeepers you have to get past?

JF: School librarians on St. Croix are independently charged to order books for their libraries when funding is approved. Each school librarian is unique. If building a Caribbean collection is not important to the librarian, that section of the library can be limited or neglected. As the faces of librarians change, the availability of Caribbean titles can be negatively affected.

The gatekeepers in my area are the individuals that grant funding for new items. Teacher-librarians should not be the only ones leading the discussions about the need for Caribbean storybooks in schools. The school district has an overarching responsibility as well. It’s imperative that school librarians extend their expertise to the district, and spend time learning how various titles tie-in to a content skill or fit the different interests and personalities of children who want to read just for pleasure. It’s important to persevere when it comes to finding, ordering and exposing children to quality books about "us”!

We have to also encourage each other to continue writing authentic Caribbean stories and then talk and teach about why children and young adults should see themselves in the books they read and learn from. It’s how culture is passed on!

SE: In your experience, are teachers in St. Croix aware of the Caribbean children’s and young adult books that are available to them in school libraries, and are they using these books enough in the classroom?

JF: Many teachers are conditioned to use the American books that accompany their curriculum guides even though they can use any text to teach a skill. It’s rare for a teacher to request a Caribbean story to teach a skill/lesson. When we are celebrating Virgin Islands History Month, there are slightly more requests for books to tie in with a school-wide theme or for a visitor to read aloud. Many believe Caribbean books are solely for occasions like these when we want to explicitly teach children about our culture, but when exposed to our students on an everyday basis, Caribbean books win hands-down because of students’ familiarity with aspects of the story which heightens interest to listen and learn more.

SE: In terms of developing the school library collection and deciding which books to purchase, do you think it’s important to get input from students and parents? Is this something that you do?

JF: Each year, I request input from students and teachers. I find that students have a lengthier wish list than their teachers because students are heavily influenced by a variety of advertisements online and on television. Likewise, if they are hooked on the first volume of a great read, then they want to continue that series. Some teachers, on the other hand, just rely on the librarian to make collection choices. For the past five years, I’ve noticed that some teachers only request a tie-in text when it is time for them to present a lesson that will be observed by the building administrator. When this occurs, I have to locate specific titles from other school libraries. To garner more suggestions from staff, I regularly attend grade-level planning meetings just to listen in on the types of skills teachers are working on, and then I begin the work of deciding what to add to the collection.

SE: Do you have any tips for teachers who want to build a classroom library?

JF: Each classroom library should be comfortable, vibrant, organized by subject/genre, and employ a user-friendly system to check books in and out. It is vital that students are empowered to organize this space.

SE: What, for you, are the most rewarding aspects of being a school librarian?

JF: Being a librarian is such an empowering and flexible role. I love to see students reading, but when the boys in particular huddle together on the rug and are intensely engrossed in a book of their choice, that stands out! I’ve been supported by administration and intermediate teachers in the planning and execution of school-wide activities. My school’s largest celebration so far was the first Battle of the Books Competition on St. Croix. Each year, there is a new twist to keep students interested in reading. So far, we have celebrated literacy with book parades, challenges, pajama reads, and independent explorations. Each successful event makes the job all the more rewarding. The icing on the cake is to hear a child say, “I love to come to the library!” or when former students stop in to say, "We miss this library, can we still check out books?”


Next week, the first installment of this series on Caribbean children's librarianship closes with an interview with Cherie Miot Abbanat, CEO of Haiti Projects, Inc., Founder of The Haiti Projects’ Community Library, and Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Links to all of the interviews in this series will be archived on our website on this page.

About the Interviewer

Summer Edward is the Editor-in-Chief here at Anansesem. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.

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[Interview] Caribbean Children's Literature: A Library Perspective With Michelle Warren

Our special series of interviews with librarians continues today. Join our editor-in-chief, Summer Edward, as she investigates forward-thinking children's library projects across the Caribbean and the crucial role librarians everywhere play in broadening awareness of Caribbean children's and young adult literature.

Michelle Warren grew up in Windsor Forest, St. David, Grenada and is the Operations Manager at the Grenada Community Library and Resource Centre, previously called the Mt. Zion Public Library. She is an alum of St. Joseph's Convent St. George and holds an Associate Degree in Technology from the T.A Marryshow Community College, and a BSc in e-business from Ashworth College. She formerly worked for CARICOM's Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network and has fifteen years of experience in the field of education and technology. She lives in St. George's, Grenada.


Summer Edward: First of all, how, why and by whom was the Grenada Community Library conceived?

Michelle Warren: The library was established in 2013 through the efforts of Caribbean and internationally-published author Oonya Kempadoo, the faith-based organization Mt. Zion Full Gospel Revival, and the social-action collective Groundation Grenada. They recognized the urgent need for a public library, as the Grenada National Public Library had been closed since 2011.

The Grenada Community Library building at 7 Lucas Street in St. George's, Grenada. The library's opening hours
are Mon-Fri 10am-6pm and Sat 10am-1pm.

SE: By the end of the first month, the library had 25 members. In 2016, it had over 1,000 members. As of today, where does the membership count stand and has membership been stable?

MW: We now have 2841 members, and yes membership is stable.

SE: You've struggled with securing volunteer participation. Why do you think it's so hard to get people to volunteer at libraries? Also, what are some of the things library volunteers do?

MW: Library volunteering is still new to Grenadians and many don’t understand the benefits. A library volunteer will be trained to carry out some of the duties of a librarian: cataloging; greeting members; assisting members to locate books of interest and/or recommending books to them; returning and loaning books to members; assisting children with reading; and ensuring the library environment remains user-friendly.

SE: In 2013, the library started a new after-school programme for children. What is the goal of the programme and what do children gain from it? Also, what types of creative programmes for children does the library offer?

MW: The goal of the programme is to expose children to learning by using a variety of creative methods that may not be used in a classroom. The classes are structured to reinforce creativity in language, math, reading, critical thinking, science and arts and crafts. The children are able to master various lessons and skills that may be challenging them in school. We offer creative programs that utilize internet research, group games, video documentaries and discussions. We offer chess club, story time, a boys' Kindle book club, arts and crafts activities, and science activities to demonstrate concepts like gravity, evaporation etc.

SE: What is the Grenada Community Library's Children's Library doing to build children's and teens' awareness of the range of literature for young people written by Caribbean authors?

MW: The library keeps an active Facebook page and noticeboard which updates members of our growing collection of books. Recently the library was fortunate to add 1,200 books all written by Caribbean and Caribbean-American authors. This collection was officially launched on March 27th of this year. To further bring awareness to this collection and other literature, the library celebrated World Book Day on April 23 under the theme, “Reading should not be presented to a child as a duty, a chore. It should be a gift.” All of the nation's secondary and primary schools were invited to the library. Some of the Grenadian children's authors who have done events at the library include Richardo Keens Douglas, Sheldon Charles, Fidelia Fisher, Sue Brathwaite, Jemilla Francis, Reena Andrews and Verna Wilkins.

Children busy reading in the Children's Library.

Young patrons hold copies of The Grenada Chocolate Family, The Grenada Community Library’s first publication, a children’s story/coloring book written by library co-founder Ooyna Kempadoo. The book was named BEST IN THE WORLD at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards (considered the “Oscars” of Cookbooks).

SE: How are children and teens responding to books by Caribbean children's/YA authors/illustrators or to the authors/illustrators themselves?

MW: They are usually fascinated to see someone ordinary, someone resembling their big sister or mother, someone real who can achieve something creative. I believe they are inspired on the spot, and are motivated to create something equally unique and creative that will represent their own experiences and environment. The books are usually easier to relate to compared to books written by an author of another nationality/race because they can see their own culture/heritage reflected within.

SE: How does one go about building a community of child readers?

MW: First create a space that is safe and child-friendly. Create book clubs for both adults and children, and have parents and community members participate in programmes that encourage reading and creative writing. Collaborate with similar outreach initiatives and schools to continue to motivate children to read, and parents to read with and to their children. It is the reading culture we really need to develop since children mimic parents and elders in society. Children should be encouraged to view reading as both entertaining and educational, and as an adventure.

SE: In 2014, the library employed its first youth librarians. What is the role of a youth librarian and why is it an important role?

MW: The children’s librarian's main role is to administer the Children's Library’s functions which include registering new members, entering and cataloging new books, training volunteers, supervising after-school activities for children and teens, and assisting them with homework and research. This role is important because the children's librarian guides and supports children who are still creating opinions of the world, and creates a space where the child feels equal and comfortable enough to express herself or himself.

SE: In 2015, the library began to digitize its services, becoming the first digitized Grenadian library free and open to the public. What does the digitization of library materials entail and why is it so important?

MW: The digitization of library materials entails the migration of members' information, books and other materials into a centralized computer database system. This significantly decreases the need to have records on paper. This was an important achievement as it signalled the library moving forward and keeping up with other libraries around the world.

SE: How has the library gone about securing patronage? Has that been a struggle?

MW: In an effort to secure patronage, the library has been inviting the private and public sectors to become Partners for Literacy. A Partner usually pledges $1000 for 3 years. This donation goes towards the salary of the children’s librarian. More recently, we have implemented partnership categories: a Bronze Partner EC$1000, a Silver Partner EC$5000 and a Gold Partner EC$10,000. All pledges are for a 3-year period. It is our hope that persons realize the importance of a library in our community. The library, so far, has one patron, Mr. James Bristol, who has given the library its current home.

SE: Why is taking children to the library so important? What role do libraries play in childhood?

MW: Taking a child to the library is an opportunity for their youthful imagination to be fueled by fantasies and dreams, and enriched with knowledge about the real world. The interplay of imagination and knowledge involved in reading makes a direct positive impact on how children will use their minds, skills and talents as they evolve into more independent learners. A library can be seen as an enchanted palace of books and knowledge. To a child, the atmosphere is comforting, quiet, and relaxed. It introduces learning to a child in a way that is very unique.

SE: What needs and challenges does the library currently have? What would you say to someone who might be considering supporting the Grenada Community Library?

MW: There is an urgent need for the library to become sustainable.We are challenged monthly to meet basic operational expenses such as remuneration and utility payments. There is no investment more fulfilling than that of investing in a child’s future. Very often, we see children flourish once given the opportunity to explore the natural talents and skills that they have. The Grenada Community Library provides a haven for them to nourish their minds and travel the world through the pages of a book.

Watch the Grenada's Community Library's fundraising video and head on over to their Go Fund Me page to make a donation.

SE: In terms of working with child and youth readers, what has been one of the most special or rewarding moments you've had so far?

MW: The moment when a child has a “Ah!” moment, when the light enters their eyes, curiosity is developed, and questions are asked. This is the most rewarding thing to witness, and can be repeated every time a child visits the library or reads a book. Children need to know that movies like Harry Potter began with a story, that all of the magic in the world can be found in the books that sit on a library shelf somewhere.


Next week, the series continues with an interview with Janice Ferdinand, school librarian at the Juanita Gardine Elementary School in St. Croix. Links to all of the interviews in this series will be archived on our website on this page.

About the Interviewer

Summer Edward is the Editor-in-Chief here at Anansesem. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.

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[Interview] Caribbean Children's Literature: A Library Perspective With John Robert Lee

Our special series of interviews with librarians continues today. Join our editor-in-chief, Summer Edward, as she investigates forward-thinking children's library projects across the Caribbean and the crucial role librarians everywhere play in broadening awareness of Caribbean children's and young adult literature.

John Robert Lee (b. 1948) is a prolific St. Lucian poet, art and theater critic, journalist, editor and educator. For over a decade, he taught children's literature at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College in St. Lucia where he also worked as a librarian. He was a librarian at the Central Library of St. Lucia for seven years, and is currently the librarian and information Officer at the Msgr Patrick Anthony Folk Research Center where he organizes educational programs for young people and adults.

He has published several collections of poetry: John Robert Lee: Collected Poems 1975-2015 (Peepal Tree Press, 2017); Song and Symphony (Mahanaim Publishing, 2016); City Remembrances (Mahanaim, 2016); Sighting and Other Poems of Faith (2013); Elemental: New and Selected Poems (Peepal Tree Press, 2008); Canticles (2007); Artefacts (2000); Saint Lucian (1988) and Vocation (1975). His short stories and poems appear in numerous literary journals and in international anthologies including Facing the Sea (1986), The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse (1986), The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories (1990), The Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry (1992) and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse (2005).

He lives in St. Lucia and writes the occasional blog at www.mahanaimnotes.blogspot.com.


Summer Edward: You completed post-graduate courses in librarianship studies. That was back in the 80s. Do you recall if there was an emphasis on children’s librarianship in St. Lucia at the time? What, if anything, has changed in the field of children’s librarianship since then?

John Robert Lee: The 80s was a good time for children’s librarianship and school libraries in St. Lucia. Led by Dr. Janet Forde*, then Librarian of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, the libraries were developed and school librarians trained. I worked with her at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College Library to develop training programmes for all librarians. I also taught a course in children’s literature to all students of the Teacher’s Division of the Community College.

Unfortunately there has been a decline in development of school libraries and interest in children’s librarianship since then. Of course there would be isolated efforts from the Central (public) Library and some teachers. But I could not say that that there is a visible, obvious developing and interest in the area now.

SE: Your background is in folk studies; you worked as an education officer and archivist at the Msgr. Patrick Anthony Folk Research Centre from 2002 until it’s tragic destruction earlier this year. Folkloric children’s literature is a significant facet of folk studies and children's books in general can tell us a lot about the folklife of a given culture and period. Why do you think cultural centers and other repositories for cultural heritage in the Caribbean have paid such little attention to the region's children's literature and how can that be changed?

JRL: I would say that some attention is paid to folk and traditional stories, games, dances for children, but there is certainly room for more focus on them, more continuing research to be carried out to find more of these stories and games and songs that are directed to children and that have an appeal for children. One of the keys is to involve teachers in that research so they can accumulate resource materials to share with and pass on to the children they teach.

Msgr Patrick 'Paba' Anthony, founder of the Folk Research Centre: “We have been trying to get our children to understand and to love the Saint Lucian culture. When I started the Folk Research Centre it was with young people. That’s my source of hope, the children.” Photo credit: DaMajority.

SE: Seven Stories, the UK's National Centre for Children’s Books, recently acquired the archives of UK-based award-winning Guyanese children's authors, John Agard and Grace Nichols. I find it unsettling that institutions in the UK are more concerned about preserving Caribbean children’s literature as cultural heritage than we here in the English-speaking Caribbean are. What do you see as some of the advantages of creating our own repositories to collect archival material related to the Caribbean children's literature?

JRL: The advantages are that we are better placed to understand the roots and sources of our literature, to identify the authentic stories and storytellers, to make connections between the stories, our histories and our community lives, and to see how the older stories can provide a continuity into the present and future, and even generate new stories that have an authentic foundation in the traditional experiences and values of the past. Our own repositories provide national archives of what we recognise as important records of our literature and history.

Jacqueline Alacantara's sketches and final illustrations for The Field, a picturebook set in St. Lucia, are valuable physical artifacts that can connect people to the historical, social and economic significance of St. Lucian literary works for children and illuminate the conditions in which they were produced.

SE: You taught children’s literature courses at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College in the late 80s and early 90s. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that! It’s one of the reasons we invited you to join Anansesem’s advisory board. I’m interestested in the overlap between the academic and librarianship aspects of children’s literature. Having worked in both areas, do you see an interplay?

JRL: Well, yes. The academics, the teaching of children’s literature, feed into the collection- building of libraries, since the teachers of the literature will make recommendations to the library for new and necessary acquisitions. A librarian conscious of the literature, interested in it, can also ensure that the library’s collection contains a good representation of children’s literature across genres and age groups and can also help the teachers of the literature to keep up with what is available and the discussions about children’s literature.

SE: Yesterday we published an interview with an American librarian at NoveList who recently asked me for advice on her subject index project; she used metadata to enhance access to Caribbean children’s books in the NoveList database. What are some other things librarians can do to make Caribbean children’s books easier to find both in online searches and in brick-and-mortar library buildings?

JRL: Given the limited public knowledge of children's books and audio-visual materials with Caribbean settings, themes and authors, it's necessary that books, nationalities and themes should be catalogued as comprehensively as possible in databases. Within the libraries themselves, there is merit in identifying the Caribbean children’s books as clearly as possible in separate library sections or departments to encourage their use by patrons, both children and adults, especially parents and teachers.

SE: In your decades working as a librarian in various institutions, you organized many special library collections. I often think of all the rare, valuable and fragile Caribbean children’s books that still need to be collected, organized and preserved. Firstly, what is the precise value of a special collection? Also, what advice do you have for any librianian out there thinking of creating a Caribbean children’s (or young adult) literature special collection?

JRL: The value of a special collection, especially a Caribbean children’s collection, is that it draws attention to the importance, significance and national value of such literatures. It places these literatures alongside the other forms and genres of literature that have adults as audience. It makes a statement that children’s literature is a vital and important part of all national literature and should not be seen as works that can be ignored or undervalued. Advising a librarian interested in creating a special collection of Caribbean children’s or young adult literature, I would say they need to investigate the field, develop a real interest in the works and authors, read as much as they can across genres and age groups, become relative experts in the field and then become advocates to their patrons of this genre of literature.

* Janet Forde, Obl. S.B. is currently a librarian at Benedictine University in Arizon, USA. From 1969-1971, she worked as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer at the St.Lucia Teacher's Training College Library, assisting in its development. From 1987–1997, she guided the growth of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College Library in St. Lucia where she trained library staff and served as a member of the College's Senior Management team.


Later this week, the series continues with an interview with Michelle Warren, Operations Manager at the Grenada Community Library. Links to all of the interviews in this series will be archived on our website on this page.

About the Interviewer

Summer Edward is the Editor-in-Chief here at Anansesem. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.

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[Interview] Caribbean Children's Literature: A Library Perspective With Lindsey Dunn

As promised, here is the first interview in a special series of interviews with librarians that Anansesem will be publishing in the upcoming days. Join our editor-in-chief, Summer Edward, as she investigates forward-thinking children's library projects across the Caribbean and the crucial role librarians everywhere play in broadening awareness of Caribbean children's and young adult literature.

Lindsey Dunn, an American librarian based in Durham, North Carolina, served as a youth services librarian with a specialty in teen services for 13 years. She is currently a Readers' Advisory Librarian and Content Editor at NoveList. She recently completed a readers' advisory project to help librarians use NoveList to find culturally authentic books by Caribbean children's authors and illustrators. Lindsey combs through the children's litosphere to discover what real-time questions librarians are being asked by their young patrons. She then creates solutions for those questions in the form of lists and articles. She regularly updates the popular Books to Movies lists for all ages, is a member of the NoveList Book Squad, and regularly serves as a judge for the Christy Awards.

Lindsey’s favorite childhood characters are Owl from Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, Ramona from the Beverly Cleary novels, and the main character from Roald Dahl's The Enormous Crocodile. She reads in any genre, but enjoys atmospheric suspense, heartwarming chick lit, or romantic science fiction the best. Her favorite type of story has a redemptive quality and a character with a haunting past. When she's not working, she's catching up on her Netflix queue, taking walks (as long as it's above 40 degrees), and perfecting her popcorn recipe.


Summer Edward: For those who may not know, please tell us about EBSCOhost NoveList. What’s it used for, how can we access it, and why is it a good tool for librarians? Also, is it available outside of the US?

Lindsey Dunn: NoveList is dedicated to helping librarians help readers. Our suite of products allows readers and reading advocates to find and select books and audiobooks by genre, reading appeal, theme, subject heading, author characteristics, and more. Our innovative staff continuously brainstorms to identify the different things people look for in their stories and then creates a "language of books" made up of searchable terms readers and librarians can combine to find the perfect book.

For instance, NoveList can help you fill requests like these:
  • I’m looking for historical fiction that deals with immigrant experiences in the 20th century. 
  • I love mysteries where the setting sticks with you, where it really feels like you’re there. Even better if the storyline sticks with me for days. Can you help me find some? 
  • Can you help me find romances about friends who turn into lovers?
NoveList is an EBSCO product. Most of our customers are libraries that purchase our products and then makes them available to their library patrons. Individuals access NoveList through their local public library. NoveList is available worldwide, though we do focus on books published in the United States, Canada, and Australia/New Zealand.

To see if your local library has NoveList, try searching in your library's website under keywords such as "research" or "databases." Even better, contact your local library and ask if they have access to NoveList.

SE: As part of your work at NoveList, you recently completed a readers' advisory project to help librarians use NoveList to find culturally authentic books by Caribbean children's authors and illustrators. What inspired your project and what did it entail?

LD: I came across your article, "Foreign Correspondence beyond the Four Fs" in the November 2017 issue of The Horn Book. This article spoke to me because it was bringing attention to a group that is underrepresented, and like all librarians, we at NoveList are interested in diversity and making sure all children can find themselves represented in books. I was curious to know what, if anything, our product had already done or could do to make these books easily findable in our database.

In the article, you said that the books about Caribbean communities that get attention are often written by cultural outsiders, lack authenticity and aren't empowering for Caribbean people. Of course the solution would be to find authors who are themselves Caribbean – what we call #ownvoices – and see what books they had created. Since NoveList staff include cultural identity in our author records, I used a NoveList power search to create a list of juvenile titles by Caribbean authors and illustrators, featuring Caribbean kids, double checking our metadata against official author/illustrator websites.

The book list is now available in the NoveList database under the title "Caribbean and Proud", bringing attention to these titles for being #ownvoices. The list features books by authors and illustrators from Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, The Dominican Republic, Cuba, Saint Lucia, Antigua, Barbados, Haiti, and Guyana.

SE: From your blog post about the project, I learned about LibraryAware, which looks like it could be really useful. I’m curious; is LibraryAware something librarians in the Caribbean can use? What are some of the things it can be used for?

LD: LibraryAware is an extremely useful product. It is the only graphic design program out there that is created specifically for libraries. Our designers create templates customers can use to make customized attractive bookmarks, flyers, display signs, and shelf talkers. Customers can either print and post the templates exactly as created or customize to include the titles/images that speak to their patrons.

Just like NoveList, these products are available to any library that wants to purchase them. The beautiful thing is that we do the work, but no one will ever know that you aren't making these beautiful signs yourself. For more information about LibraryAware or to ask for a quote for your library, please go to the NoveList website.

SE: As a librarian in the US, you’re very aware of the diversity problem in literature for young people and the many conversations happening around it in the field. From a practical standpoint, what do American librarians need in order to be able to build responsive children's/youth library collections that meet the needs of Caribbean communities in the US?

LD: Libraries need advocates like Anansesem to speak up and let us know where we are falling short. For example, your article provoked me into action and to see how we could do better.

Libraries also need readers to speak up and let us know what they want. Libraries will purchase the books they think their customers want. If you are a customer or patron of a library, make sure to speak up and let your voice be heard.

Libraries need tools they can use to find diverse titles featuring Caribbean characters, as well as other underrepresented identities. We hope NoveList can be one of those tools. Anansesem is another tool, providing reviews and information about Caribbean authors and books.

Libraries need Caribbean authors to be bold and tell the stories they want to share about their culture.

Finally, libraries need courage, flexibility, and a desire to do better in building a truly diverse collection that meets the needs of all its customers. Libraries will have to choose to use a portion of their resources (budget, shelf space) for this work. It isn't easy to reverse the status quo, and it takes work to do it and do it correctly. Initially, the books you purchase may not fly off the shelves. It is partially the library's responsibility to promote and market these diverse titles to make sure they are being read and circulated.

SE: You’ve said that working to address library service gaps when it comes to culturally and racially diverse patrons and communities has been a learning experience for you. What are some of the things you’ve learned that might be useful for other librarians to know?

LD: This has been one of the most rewarding and challenging projects I have worked on to date. Usually we (NoveList editorial content team) can rely on reviews to tell us what books are going to be good. I have found that with diversity, it takes more steps. Those of us in the library profession have to learn, sometimes through trial and error, what good representation looks like.

In particular, the Caribbean is a challenge due to the many countries and islands that are included. Making the list has made me feel more invested in seeing the culture represented well. I feel somewhat protective even. Now, when I see that a story is set in Jamaica or Haiti or Trinidad, my ears perk up, and I start wondering if the story is going to "get it right" or not.

Your article helped me open my eyes to how problematic it was that most books I could think of set in the Caribbean featured characters that were slaves or cavorting on the beach. And the issue was driven home even more when our marketing department was looking for the right image to pair with the blog post and again found mainly palm trees and images that looked like they could be from a vacation brochure. It just really brought this issue home to me. When you talk about diversity in general, you can think, "Hey, we're doing it." It's only when you think about specific groups of people, like Caribbean people, that you see how much work there is to be done.

SE: I like to think that readers (including young readers!) have the power to shape the collections in libraries and should have a sense of ownership of the libraries in their communities. What are some things Caribbean readers (or readers in general) can do to help their local library build better Caribbean children’s/YA book collections?

LD: Librarians love to feedback from our customers. We want to build collections our readers want. If you can't find the types of stories you want, please let us know. If you don't feel brave enough to approach the desk, most libraries have a suggestion box or you can post a feedback on the website or social media page. We so often don't hear from our public and have to just assume we understand what our customers want. Trust me, your librarian will be thrilled that you spoke up, no matter what your age. At my library, if a young person asked for something we didn't have (after I offered to get it through inter-library loan), I would email the collection development librarians right away.


Later this week, the series continues with an interview with John Robert Lee, St. Lucian veteran librarian, archivist and highly-regarded author. Links to all of the interviews in this series will be archived on our website on this page.

About the Interviewer

Summer Edward is the Editor-in-Chief here at Anansesem. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.

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