By Nancy Koeneman
Every year, children's librarians across the country must choose from thousands of newly written books and old favorites to decide what they will add to their shelves. A monthly bulletin published by a UI-affiliated office gives them a hand in making those decisions.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, published by the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the UI Press, is written for public and school librarians. The center itself has been in existence since 1945, and came to the UI in 1992.
The Bulletin simplifies the jobs of librarians who face tight book-buying budgets and limited time to review the thousands of books published for children each year.
"We receive between 5,000 and 6,000 books here for review each year," said Janice Del Negro, editor of the Bulletin. From that, the staff culls 800 to 840 books for review. They don't review nonfiction series, reference books or paperback series.
"We reserve the right to review whatever we want," Del Negro said. "[Since the Bulletin is self-supporting,] we don't owe allegiance to anyone. We are independent. Our allegiance is to our subscribers."
The Bulletin uses a staff of free-lance reviewers, primarily children's librarians from public and school libraries.
"They have varied expertise and must be able to write," she said. "Our credibility is dependent upon them. They're peer reviewers who have a background much like our subscribers."
The reviewers attend editorial meetings where the books being reviewed are discussed. "Our subscribers don't just get a review from an individual but from the combined expertise of people around that table," Del Negro said.
"We take it pretty seriously," she said. "We also laugh a lot. It's hard not to have a good time when you love books and you're surrounded by them."
Not only does the Bulletin review children's books, but it also reviews books for librarians on library programming and professional and reference titles.
Del Negro and her assistant editor, Deborah Stevenson, bring different perspectives to the editorial table. Del Negro was a children's librarian for 13 years with the Chicago Public Libraries, assistant director of Systemwide Children's Services with the Chicago library, and served as a consultant for children's and public library services for the State Library of North Carolina.
Stevenson is a doctoral candidate in the English department of the University of Chicago and has taught children's literature at Indiana University Northwest and the continuing education program at the University of Chicago. She's also known for specializing in the art in children's literature and has taught classes and workshops on the subject.
"We balance really well," Del Negro said. "I'm more pragmatic. Deborah brings the aesthetic and historical background in children's literature."
The Bulletin isn't the only resource of the center. The house that serves as the main office for the center is filled with shelves overflowing with books. The collection includes books reviewed by the Bulletin in the last five years, books of historical and critical interest, and professional reference materials for children's librarians. The collection numbers more than 14,000 items and is available for examination and self-service research.
The Bulletin has been around for 50 years, but in the past several years both the publication and the center have changed. The number of reviews has grown, and the Bulletin has developed a Web site that offers an archive of reviews, features and information. The staff hopes to expand the site to include a parenting page and a kid's page.
Del Negro has long been involved with storytelling and is now incorporating that part of verbal literature into the offerings of the center. The center's Storytelling Review will feature reviews of more than 200 storytelling audio and video tapes from 1990-1996. Its first issue is due out this month; its managing editor is Jim Dowling.
Storytelling materials are not reviewed regularly by any other publication, Del Negro said, and this is the first publication dedicated specifically to this growing field. The Review not only will help librarians and educators decide which materials are appropriate for their collections, but also will serve as a resource for storytellers and educators.
In addition, the center is sponsoring its first storytelling conference, as a 1997 Allerton Park Institute called "Story: From Fireplace to Cyberspace." Held Oct. 26 to 28, the agenda features scholars, librarians, artists and professional storytellers.
"This is a way to make the Bulletin and center specialize more," Del Negro said.
The planners have targeted the program to be useful and interesting to public and school librarians and teachers. A selection of workshops, paper presentations and demonstrations are scheduled to explore issues related to story and storytelling. Each day's events will conclude with storytelling and music.
Del Negro credits the talents of her assistant editor, her graduate assistants and talented reviewers for making the growth and development of the center and the Bulletin work. But they're not done expanding their offerings.
"We're doing more than we've done before," Del Negro said. "And our plan is to do more."
For more information on the Bulletin or The Center for Children's Books, visit the center's Web site at http://edfu.lis.uiuc.edu/puboff/bccb.
The conference is open to anyone interested in storytelling. For more
information about the conference, visit the Allerton 1997 Web site at http://edfu.lis.uiuc.edu/puboff/bccb/97allerton.html
or contact Allerton Conference Administrator Kathy Painter at firstname.lastname@example.org