New York librarian Elizabeth Bird to make Evanston library new home

Source: Veteran New York librarian Betsy Bird will join Evanston Public Library as its collection development manager July 31. Bird, who runs a popular children’s book blog, said she is excited to move to Evanston, which she said has a “fantastic reader community.”

Madeline Fox, Summer Managing Editor

When she went to college, the last thing Elizabeth Bird wanted to be was a librarian.

“As a kid I was the one who always alphabetized all the family’s books, put a labeling system on all the books, and came up with like a cataloguing system for my National Geographics for fun,” said Bird, now the youth materials specialist at New York Public Library. “But I thought librarians were those women with the tiny glasses saying ‘shhh,’ and I didn’t want to do that.”

Instead, the Kalamazoo, Michigan native studied photography and English at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, where she learned that she was “a terrible photographer.”

Bird then turned to library school, where she said she thought she would become an archivist. While there, she took a literature class on a whim.

“It was just like lightning had hit,” she said. “I was like, wow, this is where I was meant to be.”

Staff and patrons of NYPL tend to agree. Since joining the library’s staff in 2004, Bird has developed storytelling events, lecture series and literary salons that attract not only children, but parents, educators and other members of the literary community.

Bird will join the Evanston Public Library system July 31 as its collection development manager, a position library director Karen Danczak Lyons said she created earlier this year to put more emphasis on carefully developing the library’s collected work. Bird said she hopes to bring many of those programs with her to Evanston, including her children’s literary salon.

“I had talked to Evanston about this and they showed some interest early on in my doing (the salon),” she said. “Chicago has so many amazing children’s literature gurus, authors and publishers and all sorts of things, so I have no fear whatsoever that I’m not going to be able to continue the program there.”

Lyons said she was enthusiastic about Bird’s ideas.

“She produces some amazing programs that I think would transfer well to the Evanston community,” Lyons said. “Not only will our patrons really enjoy meeting her, but I think fresh eyes see things differently, and I’ll be excited to hear her suggestions.”

Bird has been making waves outside NYPL for years with her blog for School Library Journal called “A Fuse #8 Production.” Bird said she got the idea to start her blog in the early 2000s, when she read a piece in School Library Journal encouraging school librarians to blog. When she brought it before NYPL, though, they raised concerns about having their name attached to writing they wouldn’t be able to edit, so she started a personal blog instead, which now attracts tens of thousands of visitors each month.

“Because I was located in New York City, I was seeing all these books that people were reading first, and all the publishers are here, so I took to writing print library previews,” she said. “That caught the attention of School Library Journal, which was responsible for me getting into blogging in the first place, and they said, ‘hey, we will pay you for what you are doing for free,’ and I said ‘that sounds like a good deal, let’s do that.’”

While Bird began blogging for about four hours a night, she said she’s down to one or two hours now after her kids, ages 1 and 4, go to bed.

Her blog has also led Bird to other opportunities, including her first children’s book. After she blogged about illustrator Brandon Dorman, the Goosebumps cover artist reached out to her to write a book together.

“He emailed me and he said ‘hey, let’s do a book together — you write it, I’ll illustrate it, but I only have one idea — I want to draw giants leaping.’ ‘Giants leaping?’ ‘Giants leaping.’ So I said ‘okay, you got it.’”

Their book, entitled “Giant Dance Party,” was released in 2013.

Bird had a similar experience when she was asked to join the Newbery Medal selection committee in 2007 after one of the committee members had to leave.

“(The committee) knew from my blog that I’d been reading as much as humanly possible, so they asked if I wanted to be on Newbery, and I said yes,” Bird said. “It was great, it was an absolutely lovely experience.”

While Bird said she is sad to be leaving some things behind — including New York’s literary community, her coworkers and her library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street with its big stone lions out front — she said she’s excited to join EPL’s staff and the Evanston community as a whole.

“The sense that I’ve gotten is that Evanston loves its library, and the library loves it back, and they come up with fantastic programs together,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to helping them with that and to bringing them the best books.”

However, there is one major drawback to moving her family — including her screenwriter/author husband and her 4-year-old daughter who is already a voracious reader — from New York all the way to Evanston, Bird said.

“We are not looking forward to moving all our books, that’s definitely going to be a chore,” she said.

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