Wednesday, June 23, 2010

FEATURED SWEETHEART: Betsy Bird (aka Fuse #8)

Two of the three TEXAS SWEETHEARTS (Jessica and PJ) are heading to ALA this week, and in honor of that, we're thrilled to feature one of our very favorite librarians. Actually, all librarians are our favorite, but that's what makes them so special.
Anyway, this week, we're so excited to have Betsy Bird, the genius behind the Fuse #8 blog and NYC librarian extraordinaire.

*Thanks to James Preller for the image!

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TXS: Fuse #8 is a fantastic blog with a great reputation and following. Can you please tell us a little bit about how your blog got started and what your goal for it is? Also, how has your vision changed since its inception?

Fuse #8: Well, it's a funny story. On August 1, 2005 School Library Journal printed an article by one Eric Oatman called "Blogomania!". The piece wasn't written with me in mind, since I was just a newly formed public children's librarian and not a school librarian, but it still spoke to me. It got me to thinking about blogging. That sounded like fun. What if I made a blog for my library branch in Greenwich Village? Oo! What if I updated it with information about cool programs and great books and all kinds of stuff? That would be so delightful! Mind you, this was in the proto-days of the blogosphere and when I proposed the idea to NYPL they politely declined. "Fine!", I think to myself. "Then I shall create my OWN children's literary blog." Of course I had no idea how to go about making one. Seemed to me it should make use of all those reviews of children's books I'd been merrily posting onto Amazon for the last two years or so. So I stuck those in there. Then I thought that maybe some news items would also be fun. So that went in. Slowly, and over time, I managed to create a rough approximation of what you see on my site today.

Now the goal has ever, and shall always be, simply to promote information about the children's literary sphere. Since its inception I have become a little more precise in my goals, though. In a way, I would love to unite the different spheres of children's literature. The children's literary magazines, children's publishers and creators from other countries, the theatrical adaptation world of children's books, and the film world as well. I want agents and authors and illustrators and editors and librarians and teachers to all talk to one another, get crazy ideas, and create create create. And if blogging is the connecting thread, so be it.


TXS: What is the biggest surprise you've had since you started blogging?

Fuse #8: That the blog got any attention at all. Truly, I expected a little notice. I'd gotten feedback from folks because of the Amazon reviews, and that was nice. But if I had walked into it all with the goal of enticing School Library Journal into purchasing me, I can't imagine it would have been any good. I started blogging with no expectations and then got hit repeatedly by a series of lovely surprises. That surprised me. What also surprised me was the fact that it wasn't just librarians reading me. That was great, but also deeply unnerving. It's much harder to write a critical review of a book when you know the author probably has the title on Google Alert and is going to be personally aware of every word you write.

*Thanks to Just One More Book for the image!

TXS: You write. You blog. You read. You're a fab librarian. What is one (or more) of your favorite memories in getting kids to love books?

Fuse #8: Boy, that's a toughie. There's nothing sweeter on this planet than turning a kid onto a book you yourself love. Books like A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz sell themselves from page one onwards, but other titles need a little bit of a kick. One of my favorite memories actually has very little to do with me getting kids in love with books and everything to do with their teacher. I remember a class of third graders coming into the library once. I did my presentation, got them set up with library cards, and then it was their chance to find some books to read. I was watching them vaguely, helping out, when I hear one voice clear across the room say, "Oh, SNAP! Edward Eager!" Suddenly this stampede of children race to the source of the voice and I see them exchanging copies of everything from The Time Garden to Magic By the Lake. Apparently their teacher had been reading them some of the books in school and they'd all become addicts. I had nothing to do with it, but I got to reap the rewards of seeing kids dive bomb one another for something I loved.


TXS: How do you think reading for kids has changed over the years. People talk so much about kids needing to share their attention with texting, TV, and video games. Is the challenge greater now for getting kids to read?

Fuse #8: I'm not so sure. Certainly there are more electronic doodads and whizbangs luring our youth away from books. At the same time, it doesn't look that different from when I was a kid. I'm young enough to say that when I was growing up I spent my time playing my GameBoy, killing spaceships on my Commodore 64, and watching copious amounts of bad Hanna Barbara cartoons on the USA network. All that and I read too. It's not hard to simply swap out "Hanna Barbara" for "Hannah Montana", "GameBoy" for "texting", and "Commodore 64" for "XBox". It's all about managing your kids' time. We're not dealing with the first generation to deal with such distractions, after all.


TXS: If you could make a wish for kids and reading in the future, what would it be?

Fuse #8: Well, I'm a librarian, so my wish is that communities around this country realize how important it is to support the fantastic children's librarians we have in our schools and our public libraries. With funding being slashed left and right, a lot of great children's librarians are finding themselves without jobs in communities that desperately need them but don't realize why. My wish is that we continue to give kids the best books from the best writers, regardless of where they live or who they are.


TXS: Thank you, Betsy! We are so happy to feature you! And Happy ALA!

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Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts.

14 comments:

  1. Thanks, Sharon! We appreciate you stopping to comment, plus your contributions to children's literature!

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  2. Great interview. I agree that it's sad to see all the slashing of the budgets of school and public libraries. And in the Ann Arbor elementary schools, the librarians have to go to two schools and the teachers will be checking out the books. A lot of kids get most of their books during the school year at school and it's sad to think there won't be much money to buy new books.

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  3. So very true, Natalie. More and more, I've been hearing about things like what is happening in Ann Arbor schools. Betsy's wish really speaks to my heart.

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  4. I love this interview! Wow! She is such an accomplished woman!

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  5. We loved it, too, Bookaholic, and thank you so much for taking the time to visit!

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  6. This is a most AWESOME interview! I love librarians! And Betsy rocks. Totally. :)

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  7. Wonderful interview! One of my best friends started out as a high school biology teacher (20+ years), became an elementary school librarian (4 years) and is now a junior high librarian. She was one of the biggest influences of my life.

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  8. I also have to agree that libraries don't get near the support they need, nor do literacy programs in general. I know of a state that had to cancel their book festival this year due to budget cuts. It wasn't even in my state but I was crushed for all the people involved and for those who wouldn't get to enjoy.

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  9. Thanks for all the awesome support, guys!

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  10. LOVE this--have a fabulous time at ALA! WISH we were there too.

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  11. Thanks, LiLa! And we saw Betsy there which was even more perfect! We wish you were there, too!

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  12. So impressed with all her accomplishments. I'm inspired now!

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