Sixteen thousand. Walk in the fairytale castle that houses the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. Walk down a tight wooden staircase. Turn right. Walk through the doors of the Center for Children’s Books, and that’s how many children’s and young adult books you’ll have at your fingertips. 16,000.
You might feel a little overwhelmed.
You might, while gaping, meet Center employees like GSLIS graduate students Katie Boucher and Anna Holland. (Well, probably not Anna, since she’s graduating in mere days.) They might offer you a tour or tell you, with enthusiastic intelligence, about all the Center has to offer.
You might, for example, hear about how the exhaustiveness and recentness of the collection (most books are no more than 5-7 years old) can reveal trends in children’s and YA publishing. Soon to be hot in YA? Mermaids and selkies. Selkies are like “half girl, half seal,” Katie might explain when she notices your baffled look.
You might learn about the Center programming. Like a book club for people like kids’ books, or brownbag research talks about youth services librarianship, or an annual storytelling festival.
You might start drooling a little when you hear about their yearly book sale, held over Presidents’ Day weekend, at which hundreds of children’s and YA books are available for less than five dollars. Apparently, many area schools and libraries hoard their acquisition money to spend during the sale, where they can get good books for cheap. And can you blame them? You might start thinking about starting to save now for next year.
You might, exhausted a bit from the experience so far, be tempted to curl up with a good book in the Folk and Fairy Tale section of the library, affectionately known as the “Nap Corner,” thanks to the presence of a couch and blanket (and, with some frequency, an exhausted, sleeping graduate student).
You might wonder if people who can’t make it to Urbana could take advantage of the Center’s resources. Katie and Anna (or whoever you find there) would tell you, “Of course!” The Center publishes the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books and sends it to over 3,500 subscribers eleven times a year, each issue packed with reviews and recommendations.
There’s also a newsletter, with updates about Center activities as well as reviews by graduate students like Katie and Anna. The Center puts together bibliographies on various themes that are useful to researchers and readers alike. (If, say, you want to find more contemporary reimaginings of myths, then the Center has you covered.) And everyone from readers in France to librarians in South Dakota call or email the Center with reference questions.
Though really, you might think: 16,000 books. That alone could be worth a trip to central Illinois.
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