Butler Children's Literature Center

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By Kathy Roegge, Metropolitan Library System

Originally published in the Metropolitan Library System’s MLS E-nnounce on November 18, 2009 in vol. 3, iss. 22

On January 10, 2009 the Butler Children’s Literature Center was dedicated at Dominican University.  Invited to be part of the dedication was Jon Scieszka, author of notable children’s books such as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and Caldecott honor book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.   Administered by the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS), the Butler Children’s Literature Center is located in the Rebecca Crown Library at the University’s main campus at 7900 West Division Street in River Forest, Illinois. 

In an article from School Library Journal (12/18/2008),  Susan Roman, the GSLIS Dean, remarked “Given our focus on quality children’s literature and our mission to promote reading as educational as well as fun, we were convinced that Jon Scieszka would be an ideal person to help us dedicate our new center. In his inimitable fashion, he has been encouraging children to read for over two decades.”

Because of a shared commitment to books and reading, Dean Roman and Lynne Butler Adams (MALS ’72), trustee of the Butler Family Foundation, wanted to create the Center.  They envisioned it as a place for parents, teachers and others to help make books central to young peoples’ lives.  Created using seed money from the Butler Family Foundation the center was located at Dominican because, as Ms. Adams states in a article from the Fall 2008 Dominican University Magazine (PDF), it “is uniquely situated with our graduate program in library science and with the American Library Association headquarters in Chicago.  We’re hopeful the center will become a destination for the area, for people to see the books, look at the latest publications and reviews, to make choices about books.”

Founding partners at Dominican include the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, the School of Education, the Rebecca Crown Library, the Butler Family Foundation, and an Anonymous Donor.  The Butler Children’s Literature Center Advisory Board is comprised of education, library, literacy, literature, and youth services professionals and advocates, as well as university professors, publishers, and media producers. These distinguished Advisory Board members represent scores of organizations that serve the broad needs of youth services professions and provide essential library, literature, and literacy services and materials to millions of children and youth, both regionally and nationally.

The Center strives to serve as an examination center for children’s and young adult books and as an historical collection of the best children’s and young adult literature published nationally and internationally.  They hope to receive every book published for youth in the U.S. and make these available for examination by the community.  For collection development and other reasons they feel it is critical to be able to hold and see the book before ordering it.

It will also serve as an evidence-based, best practices professional collection in support of the application and integration of children’s and young adult literature in classrooms, libraries, childcare centers, and homes.  While the collection will include some audio or video material the bulk of their attention will be on print literature.  The collection is designed for adults, but it concentrates on books suitable for ages from birth to High School.  It will include some professional reading, storytelling/folktale resource material and reference literature. While it will not be a circulating collection, the center is in the process of developing a database that will list all the books and be accessible to the larger community.  Depending on the title this catalog may provide just bibliographic information, a short annotation or include more information such as book reviews.  The Center also plans to create and make available virtual collections of the titles.

The Butler Center will also present different programs, activities and events focusing on children’s literature.  Recently they presented a mock Caldecott program, inviting participates to think about and look at titles using the official Caldecott committee terms and criteria.  The program was administered by the Curator of the Center, Thom Barthelmess.  He says he wanted to be called a curator instead of a director because he wanted to be able to explore what happens when you bring books together similar to what happens in museums or art gallery collections. 

New to academia, Thom came to the center after working 15 years in youth services at the Austin and Spokane Public Libraries.  Attracted to working with youth before he was to the library field, he had decided to go into education.  Because of the variety of tasks the library profession offered and the chance to work with children’s literature he decided instead to go into youth services at a public library.  It is important, he believes, to help students develop skills for reading and feels the luckiest person alive to be able to do work he loves.  Thom is currently serving as the president of the ALA Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC).  

The next program he will be working on is called “Butler’s Pantry,” a retrospective on past titles including ones the center believes should be highlighted.  Because it is still not in a permanent space, efforts are going into reaching out to the community and introducing themselves.  Ultimately Butler Children’s Literature Center hopes to be a resource for not only Dominican University students and faculty but also scholars, researchers, librarians, teachers and parents.  For more information about the Butler Center contact Thom Barthelmess at butler@dom.edu.

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