The following is a guest post by Mal Haselberger, who just finished her Junior Fellow internship at the Library of Congress last month.
In 2008, the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council (CBC), and the CBC Foundation (its signature “Every Child a Reader” program) established a new literary outreach position geared specifically towards young readers: the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Created to raise awareness of the importance of young people’s literature, literacy, and education, the ambassadorship fulfills an important place in the Library’s literary outreach programs that directly engage with young people.
The position has been held by numerous award-winning authors of young people’s literature, from Jacqueline Woodson, Gene Luen Yang, and Kate DiCamillo, to Walter Dean Myers, Katherine Paterson, and Jon Scieszka. The 2020-2021 Ambassador, Jason Reynolds, is perhaps the most well-represented in the Library’s recent outreach programming with Reynolds’ “Write. Right. Rite.” video series—part of his “GRAB THE MIC” online platform launched during the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the ambassadors emeritus, however, offer special insight into the types of readers—and reading—that have been important to America’s young people over the past twelve years. The position reflects changing ideas as to what is considered “literature,” the disproportionate ways that young readers come to reading, and even the different types of literary works that young people themselves enjoy reading in a changing world.
Jason Reynolds’ appointment to the position was announced in January 2020, and soon after, the Library of Congress created a research guide for Reynolds in order to share information about his role at the Library, his written work, and, most importantly, his goals for reaching young people during his ambassadorship. Research guides are created by Library of Congress subject specialists in order to make materials and information more accessible to individuals across the country and the world. Reynolds’ guide—with almost 100,000 online views by the end of July—speaks to the ways in which the Library’s research guides allow the public to connect with programs like the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and also allow for a more personal connection with the platform and materials ambassadors promote during their time in the position.
Prior to this summer, none of the ambassadors emeritus had research guides available on the Library’s website providing details about their ambassadorship or outreach platforms. The Library does provide brief summaries detailing each ambassador’s background and written works on the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature website, as well as links to the ambassador’s inauguration ceremony presided by the Librarian of Congress, but no specific area to conduct a further exploration into the past ambassador’s experience. As a Junior Fellow intern at the Library this summer, creating research guides for the six previous ambassadors was my task. In the process of creating the guides, I learned firsthand the importance of making details about the ambassadors’ tenure and outreach programs more accessible to the public.
The new research guides for each of the ambassadors help create a comprehensive overview of their impact on children’s literature, both in and out of the National Ambassador position. Beginning with Jacqueline Woodson and working backwards, I quickly realized the extent of information that could be shared on the new research guides. Each guide provides resources helpful to users’ exploration into authors’ works and careers, assistance in finding information to share with young readers, as well as serving as general surveys for understanding the types of materials the Library makes available online—including webcasts, news releases, and links to holdings in the Library’s various reading rooms. Beyond their general uses, however, each research guide also makes it possible to stay updated on an author’s activities at the Library and beyond. All resources are categorized by date of publication, and in many cases, provide additional details to find the pertinent information about the ambassador in an individual source. In addition to compiling resources, the guides link to newly updated biographies for the ambassadors on the Library of Congress website. The biographies include information on the pertinent literary awards received by an ambassador, some of their most renowned literary works, as well as information about their ambassadorship.
The research guides each compile over 100 resources for patrons to review, and with additional links and materials available when discovering a particular point of interest in the guide’s resources, the number of research opportunities expands exponentially. Featured news articles and author interviews, radio and podcast appearances, and book reviews and literary awards all make up the content available for further review. And, in the case of additional interest in a particular facet of an author’s works, links to the appropriate Library division’s “Ask a Librarian” form, contacts for an ambassador’s publisher, and information about media inquiries and event requests are also made readily available. Publishers’ materials for further engaging young people in reading—such as Woodson’s “Reading = Hope x Change (What’s Your Equation?)” or DiCamillo’s “Stories Connect Us” platforms—are also made available to allow the ambassadors’ mission to improve young people’s literacy to continue, even after their ambassadorship.
The continued importance of the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature is easily discoverable in each research guide, showing that despite the changing nature of our world and the ways that young people learn, the impact of reading and finding new ways to engage with reading have remained meaningful over time. Every resource, from 2008 to 2020, is continually relevant for teaching and educating a new generation of readers to feel empowered in the impact they have on the future and understanding the impact of literacy and reading as an instrumental facet of life.
As I compiled each of the six research guides (all are now available: Jacqueline Woodson, Gene Luen Yang, Kate DiCamillo, Walter Dean Myers, Katherine Paterson, and Jon Scieszka) for the past national ambassadors this summer, I was often reminded of my own experiences as a young reader: settling in with my first chapter book, feeling excitement at recognizing a new word I had learned in a library book, and having parents who instilled in me the importance of being able to read, speak, and understand my place in the world through the books I read. In an ever-changing world, the resources that the past ambassadors make available to young readers provide invaluable ways to prepare young people for a future that they can create themselves, whether reading or writing, to share their voice with the world.