Children's Librarian, April Hayley, Named San Anselmo's 2012 Person of the Year

Celebrated children’s book author, Jeanne Walker Harvey, interviewed April Hayley, the 2012 San Anselmo, CA person of the year, and Children’s Librarian for the San Anselmo Library exclusively for I Love Libraries. Jeanne and April discuss the importance of children’s librarians in public libraries, as well as the unique and innovative programming that April has implemented in her library. Read the full interview below.

April, I want to begin by congratulating you for being chosen as The 2012 Person of the Year by our local newspaper, The San Anselmo – Fairfax Patch. As a children’s book author and lover of libraries, I was thrilled that a children’s librarian was chosen! And one of the other five finalists even included the filmmaker and local benefactor, George Lucas. Tell us about winning the award.

Thank you! I was stunned to see that I had been nominated for the award, especially after reading about all the other inspiring nominees who are doing so much to make this community a better place. The fact that people chose their local Children’s Librarian as “Person of the Year” validates the role of libraries—and librarians—within their communities.  While I am delighted to accept the award, I see it as a tribute to all of the children and families who have shown their unwavering support and enthusiasm for the library and the many programs we offer.
It is pretty rare for a librarian to be acknowledged outside of “libraryland,” so I see this as an encouraging sign that we are breaking through to reach a wider user group.

What led you to become a children’s librarian?

It’s the only profession I know of that combines so many of my favorite things in life: reading, connecting with and helping people, plus a little singing and performing. I have always had a deep respect for children and childhood, and I get along well with kids because I remember what it was like to be their age, and I like to think I have an instinct for reading character.  I read a lot as a child and I took it for granted that I was surrounded by limitless supplies of reading material. I later realized that books are a luxury for many, and I wanted to be able to share the transformative power of reading with people from all walks of life.

It’s been wonderful to have a children’s librarian again at our library. You were hired about two years ago with the backing of a parcel tax. How do you view the role of a children’s librarian?  

Within the greater library structure, I see myself as both friend and advocate for children and their reading needs. When kids enter the San Anselmo Library, they know they are in a safe and child-friendly place. If they are new to the library, they often recognize me as the person who visited their school to spread the word about the Summer Reading Program or to tell them about new books they can check out.  If they are regular library users, they probably know me from storytime or a book club meeting or other program, or just from getting to know me in the Children’s Room. Children need positive role models outside the family to foster an enthusiasm for reading, and that’s my goal. Aside from providing programs and reading materials for learning and recreational reading, I always do my best to recommend the right book for the right reader.

I very much enjoyed reading my book and leading a craft project with the children at the library this week. You gave me such a warm welcome and provided great publicity of the event, including the “marquee” in front.  Besides author readings, what other children’s programs have you instituted at the library? I know you play the banjo and often include music in your events. Which types of events do you think have been the most successful?

Thank you so much for being so generous with your time. Your Astro the Steller Sea Lion program was a big hit. We have been very fortunate to have some wonderful local authors give talks and lead workshops for children at our library—you; Elizabeth Singer Hunt who writes the Jack Stalwart series; Annie Barrows who is most famous for her Ivy + Bean series, and Karen Benke, a remarkable local poet , teacher, and author.

The first program I implemented was Preschool Storytime, which was immediately successful and is still one of my favorite programs to lead. It always puts me in a happy and hopeful mood to work with preschoolers, who have transformed from toddlers into bright and focused young people eager to learn and participate.

I also began a poetry club for older kids to experiment with creative writing, a book club for grade schoolers, a read-aloud book club for newly independent readers, Read to a Dog, a service provided by the Marin Humane Society, French Storytime, which is led by a French teacher and native speaker of the language, and a teen book club led by an excellent teen librarian from the Belvedere-Tiburon Library. The library just purchased a movie license, so I will be experimenting with screening movies for kids and teens on the big screen.

Summer is the biggest and most exciting, jam-packed time for programming; we offer a reading game for kids, teens, and pre-readers, as well as educational and cultural entertainment performances every week by musicians, dancers, storytellers, and other educators.

I am lucky to have a group of brilliant and dedicated teen volunteers, and one of my goals is to encourage them to lead programs and set positive examples for younger kids. Next month one of my high school volunteers will start leading a knitting club in the library for kids of all ages, and I hope to draw lots of new kids to the library this way.

None of these programs would be possible without the financial support from the Friends of the Library, the devoted group of volunteers who work tirelessly to raise money for our library. The Library Parcel Tax, overwhelmingly passed by a large majority of San Anselmo residents, also supports Children’s Services in the library, and without that extra 49 dollars per parcel of land, the San Anselmo Library would not be able to offer any of these excellent programs or employ a Children’s Librarian. Of course we are hopeful the tax will be passed again when it is back on the ballot in a couple of years.

Those are all terrific programs! And I’ll be out there supporting the next library parcel tax. I also wanted to mention that I hope it was OK that I told the children at my book reading about how I once answered the question, “What is the most important thing in your purse?” I responded, “My library card, of course! This card opens up the world to you. You can read about anything you can imagine.” The children all immediately responded, “I want to have my own library card.”  I think I caused a run on library card applications!

You certainly did! Thank you for that. We had at least four new and very proud library members after you mentioned the power of library cards. Library cards really are the key to a world of learning. You really inspired the children you spoke to that day!

As you know, one of my favorite places to write is at the library. And from my spot at the table, I’ve watched you interact with children. You’re always enthusiastic and listen carefully to what they are saying. How do you decide what books might be a good choice for a particular child?

It really is a skill I am always trying to hone. “Readers’ Advisory,” as it is called in the library world, is one of the toughest and most important jobs of the children’s librarian, or really any librarian. The goal is to get the right book into the right hands at the right time. If a child asks for something “good” to read without any details I ask them about books they enjoyed. Then I try to focus on what the child liked about a particular story. If they are vague about their interests, I ask them open-ended questions and try to engage them in a dialogue. Often kids make it really easy, much easier than adults, whom I also help on a daily basis. Kids are more likely to say something like, “I don’t like talking animals. I want a realistic story about friends who go on an adventure and solve a mystery together.” Or, “I want a book with dragons and magic.” Or simply, “I want a book about trains.” The key is to be observant and offer enough suggestions that they have some options but aren’t totally overwhelmed, and also to make it clear that if they don’t like any of the books we can always try again. The library is full of books—the perfect book is out there; we just have to figure out what it is.

What do you most enjoy about being a children’s librarian?

 My favorite part about being a librarian is getting to know so many fabulous kids. Last week a four-year old asked me for the library’s phone number. He tried to memorize it and then did his best to repeat the number to his mom, albeit leaving out a few digits. “Why do we need their phone number, honey?” his mom asked. “I wanted to invite the librarian over for a playdate,” he said. Unexpected moments like this make me realize the opportunities I have to forge authentic bonds with even the youngest of our patrons.

Thanks, April, for taking the time to answer my questions and for all you do to enrich the lives of children and make our library such a special place.  See you soon at the library!

For more information, read the award announcement here:

April Hayley, Children’s Librarian at the San Anselmo Library in San Anselmo, California library website:

Jeanne Walker Harvey, award-winning children’s narrative nonfiction picture book author MY HANDS SING THE BLUES – ROMARE BEARDEN’S CHILDHOOD JOURNEY (Marshall Cavendish 2011) and ASTRO THE STELLER SEA LION (Sylvan Dell 2010).