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Back Porch Book Chat: Lou Hunley (Public Librarian)

Back Porch Book Chat: A casual, virtual conversation about books. Join us as we chat with book lovers like ourselves about a topic we all love! Our second guest is Lou Hunley, public librarian from North Carolina. She’s got some great tips for us on making the most of our local libraries, how to handle challenges, and more. Check out her bio after the interview for more about Lou.

Getting to Know Lou Hunley

Lou, you’re a public librarian, but you have a background that includes more than librarianship. Tell us a little bit about how you got started on the children’s literature path and how the Lord led you to the library. 

I started out as a middle school teacher.  I never loved teaching. It was mostly following text books.  However, as a children’s librarian, I do a lot of teaching. This includes classroom outreach, STEM lessons, story times and computer classes.  I enjoy these teaching opportunities because it allows me to be creative and share great books from the library.

One of the inside jokes among librarians is that no one plans to be a librarian when they grow up.  I thought it was odd that the job required a masters degree. Until I worked in a library, I never saw the potential for a career.  Librarians do so much more than check out books. There’s a lot of teaching in our jobs, both formal with story time and computer classes and informal, helping children navigate the computers and the shelves.

And I felt it was a calling. I saw libraries as one of many areas that needed God’s people.  I loved being a resource person for our church’s new Christian school. I was also a resource for friends who were homeschooling.  (It was a much smaller group in the early nineties.) Homeschoolers were so much fun! So many of our patrons were about the assignment and the grade, the homeschoolers just wanted to learn.  How refreshing! When I started teaching STEM classes six years ago, I discovered that those “unsocialized homeschoolers” worked great together on projects.

I am also a writer. I love it when I get to write about books or promote the library. I attended the World Journalism Institute in 2001. I had never attended Christian schools and it was a great worldview crash course. I briefly considered leaving the library to pursue journalism, but I stuck with my first love.

Megan and I heartily concur with your thoughts on librarianship! We both enjoyed our stints as librarians (mine was much briefer than hers), and we DO think it’s an important calling. As a librarian, you must read as much as we do! What books have you particularly enjoyed this past year? 

Lou’s Library Tips for Making the Most of Your Local Library

The Redeemed Reader team obviously loves books. Readers might not realize that we also depend heavily on public libraries: all of us are regulars at our local libraries, putting books on hold frequently. Can you give us (and fellow library regulars) any general tips for making the most of our local libraries? 

Librarian Tip #1: Start Early

Start them early.  (I know I’m preaching to the choir). Early literacy skills are a key ingredient in getting children off to the right start.  Story Time is a great resource. Many libraries have expanded story times to include babies and toddlers. I have always thought that six months was the perfect story time age.  A six month old isn’t as distracted by walking and crawling.  

But the most important thing is reading in the home. I grew up in a home where everyone was always reading.  It’s okay if toddlers are not sitting still. Children who are read to develop strong attention spans. In the area of vocabulary development alone, children who are read to regularly have enormous advantages.  Million Word Gap (Jeff Grabmeier, “ “A Million Word Gap’ for Children Who Aren’t Read to at Home,”   Ohio State News, April 4, 2019)

Librarian Tip #2: Let Children Select Books

I would encourage parents to let their child play a large role in selecting books but keep other books around for family reading time or just to explore.  The homeschool parent has the perfect opportunity to find high interest books on the topics they are studying.

“Some books should be tasted, some devoured but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.”

~Sir Francis Bacon

Librarian Tip #3: Ask Questions!

Librarians love to answer questions and recommend books.  

Librarian Tip #4: Don’t Force It

Don’t let reading become a chore.  If a child isn’t enjoying reading, I would encourage more listening and shorter reading sessions.  

Librarian Tip #5: Take Reading Levels with a Grain of Salt

Too much emphasis is placed on a child’s reading level.  Some elementary schools only allow students to read within a set Lexile level.  I find this far too limiting. For one thing, as adults we rarely read at our reading level.  Time Magazine, for example, is written on a sixth grade reading level. And yet, no one expects adults to read college level material just because they are college graduates.  So let’s give our children some freedom. We want to encourage our children to read lots of books. While they need easy books to get started, reading level should not dictate book selection.

Librarian Tip #6: Give Input

Librarians appreciate patron input.  Library decisions are made with their community in mind.

We want our resources to be used.

Those are great tips, Lou!

Dewey Decimal “Hot Spots” and Research

During my short stint in an elementary school library, I learned some Dewey numbers quickly because they were hot topics for kids: sharks, natural disasters, dogs, LEGO books, graphic novels, and more. What are the general Dewey numbers/ranges that parents might want to search for perennial favorites like that or popular school topics like US History? What about poetry and fairy tales?

Favorite Call Numbers–Parents, Take Note!

  • 398.2 — Folk & Fairy Tales
  • 567.9 — Dinosaur Books
  • 688s — LEGO Books (including fiction books)
  • 741.5 — Graphic Novels (this varies; Lou’s library labels them “GN”)
  • 741 — Drawing Books
  • 793 — I Spy Books
  • 796 — Sports Books
  • 920 — Juvenile Biographies (some libraries have these in their own section labeled as “JB”)

Further Research Suggestions

In the absence of your friendly neighborhood librarian, I recommend a catalog search. Often on an academic topic, there will be materials all over the library and you can find the unexpected. 

Sometimes children get obsessed with topics.  For example, military, books on the branches of the military and the history of military are in 355, weapons and vehicles in 623.  However a careful library search can help a child find books on drawing tanks and weapons and informational videos.  

At home on the computer, Amazon.com is a great resource.  Many books include previews, reviews and customer reviews. I love the “Look Inside” feature that allows the reader to look at the book.   I will often look on Amazon.com before reserving books. I love the “people who bought this book also bought…” feature. When I am researching a topic, I usually go to Amazon first and then reserve books at the library. I also use Amazon to research the books that I purchase for the library.

I use Amazon similarly, Lou! I do always check to see if my local library has a book before ordering one; sometimes, a quick library preview is enough to convince me that I *do* want to own a book. Other times, a library checkout is sufficient.

Discernment in the Library

You and I both know that there are plenty of books on library shelves that many parents would find problematic. What tips do you have for our readers in navigating their local libraries’ children’s and teen sections? Are there search terms to be aware of? Organizational principles that might help? Sections of the library that might require more discernment than others?

This has been a personal challenge for me. I have ordered juvenile books for years and now in my new job (of five months) I am ordering YA books for the first time. I’ve always enjoyed reading them, but the decisions are harder.  

I have found Redeemed Reader to be an invaluable resource. {Yay! So glad we’ve been able to be of service, Lou!} It’s hard work to be discerning. It’s easier to avoid things that might raise difficult issues.  Redeemed Reader challenges me in this area. Selecting books for the library is a great privilege and responsibility. 

So here’s my take.  Much of the children’s entertainment in our culture glorifies the teen years.  Children play with Barbies with perfect figures, a ready boyfriend and a sports car.  Saturday morning cartoons like Scooby-Doo or popular Nickelodeon shows for children feature teens.  This is not true of most children’s books. Most juvenile books focus on children.  

When children reach the teen years, they are already bored with the teen culture.  I believe in directing children to resources that focus on childhood rather than adolescence for as long as possible.  One of my favorite examples of this is the American Girl Magazine. It’s directed at tweens and focuses on things that are fun for their age (i.e. crafts, slumber parties, friendship).

The YA book section can be difficult.  Many YA books push boundaries. I recently listened to a great podcast from the Read Aloud Revival Podcast. Sarah McKenzie talks about the YA section of the library and what makes it unique:  Books for Teens, and Why YA is a Genre (not a reading level) 

She ultimately recommends focusing on juvenile and middle grade novels with more positive plots and fewer issues.

There are some great YA books.  Some of my favorite authors are Gary D. Schmidt, Sara Zarr, Holly Goldberg Sloan, Jordan Sonneblink and Eva Ibbotson. 

Here are a few lists for Clean YA Books.  

Those are great thoughts and good resources, Lou!

Salt and Light in our Communities

As Christians, we want to be salt and light in our communities. How can we do that in our public libraries? How can we best get to know and love our local librarians? What are some tips for those times when we feel we must bring something to the librarian’s attention, even though it might be confrontational? For instance, if there’s a book we think would be a better fit in the teen section than in the juvenile section….

It’s important for parents to consider their approach.  There are many dedicated caring professionals in our public schools and other institutions.  They are not all pushing an agenda and no one likes to be seen as “the enemy” or responds well when treated as such.

Also, libraries are influenced by their patrons’ opinions and often reflect their community.  A library in San Francisco will be different from a library in a more conservative area.

Libraries want feedback from their patrons.  They should be willing to hear concerns. The first step should be a discussion. But keep in mind that the library employee may have little power.  Most libraries have procedures for handling these issues. Nothing happens without a lot of discussion.  

Also, let the library know what you would like to have on the shelves.  Many libraries accept patron requests. 

Finally, I am currently working for a library with limited funding. We are highly dependent on Friends of the Library and other community groups to supply the basics. So supporting the library financially is also beneficial.  

Thanks, Lou. Even with my own library background, I wouldn’t have thought of financially supporting the library. And you make such a good point about the employee on the front lines–he or she may not have made the decision in the first place about the book of concern.

Lou’s Book!

Finally, our readers might be interested to know that YOU have written a book for kids! Tell us a little bit about your new book and where readers can find a copy if it’s not in their local libraries.

Well, I love history and  I am excited about the new approach of using “real books” to teach history and steering away from textbooks.  Textbooks are usually boring. They contain lots of information about many things. The emphasis is on memorizing facts. “Real books,” like picture book biographies, focus on telling a story. For example, a child reads Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker and or/watches the movie Hidden Figures. She is more likely to remember a well-told story than short snippets of information. 

Over the years, I have had many requests for a book about the Protestant Reformation and/or biographies of Martin Luther.  There isn’t much written about it for children. The Reformation was one of the pivotal events shaping our culture today, and yet many educated adults have limited knowledge.

I also find children’s library collections and elementary school curriculums to be weak in world history.  While there have been some recent picture book biographies, I wanted to write a book that would be more detailed for older children, so I targeted it to upper elementary, grades 4-6.

Kathleen Krull is my favorite children’s nonfiction author.  She entices children with only the most interesting facts. Her book, Leonardo da Vinci, in “The Giants of Science” Series, captures many of the gory details of the Middle Ages. For example, many children do not realize that plumbing is a modern invention.

I also wanted to draw children into the Reformation Era and paint a picture of the world, before, during and after Martin Luther.  I begin by exploring the 1500s, where disease and death were everyday realities and eternal life was a big issue. Everyone attended church, but the service was in a different language. No one owned a Bible. To make matters worse, corrupt leaders in the church cheated people out of their meager savings.

It was a lot of fun to write about Martin Luther.  He was such a colorful character. The PBS Documentary Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World inspired me to learn more about him.

My audience for the book is homeschoolers and Christian schools.

Readers, we will be reviewing Lou’s book soon, so stay tuned! We are including a link to Lou’s book below for your convenience in the meantime, so you can read other reviews. (Remember: all amazon links are affiliate links and Redeemed Reader will earn a small commission at no cost to you)

Thanks so much, Lou! We are so thankful there are Christian librarians like you seeking to serve their patrons in such a way.

Lou Hunley is the Youth Services Director for the BHM* Regional Library in Washington, North Carolina.  She is enjoying exploring new areas of the Inner Banks Region in Eastern North Carolina. She likes pickleball and kayaking.  She collects stuffed animals from children’s books. *BHM stands for Beaufort/Hyde/Martin. It’s a three county library system that covers a large rural area.  It’s located in the Inner Banks of NC (as opposed to the Outer Banks.) The area is surrounded by rivers. 

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3 Comments

  1. Mary Ann Walker Marsh says

    Wonderful information! Lou, you are such a great example of a Christian woman following her dreams. May you continue to bless others by sharing your journey as a Librarian.

  2. Mary Griffith says

    Thanks for all the wonderful information. I’m a mom and a librarian, so this topic is part of my daily life. Public libraries and public schools need Christians working in them. I’m so glad there are librarians like Lou who are willing to work in these places. Also, our kids go to public school, but we’ll be ordering her book about Martin Luther. Thanks for including her book in the article.

  3. Tricia Kelly says

    Loved this interview with Lou! We often took our kids to her story times in Greenville libraries — they enjoyed seeing her there and then at church, too. We are excited for all her new ventures! I am looking forward to reading her book!

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