It's no secret: we love the Cambridge Public Library staff! From circulation to admin, facilities to youth services - the enthusiasm, warmth, and dedication of Library workers makes Cambridge an amazing place to live and be.
While we look forward to life returning to normal, we'd like to share a series of conversations with Library staff members conducted by the Foundation last month. We hope that reading about their work brightens your day, and reminds you that no matter what goes on the world, the Cambridge Public Library will continue to support our community. First up: our conversation with Julie Roach, a familiar face around the children's room.
What do you do at the Library?
I manage youth services at the Library. That means I am responsible for coordinating public programs, outreach, collections, and face-to-face service for kids, teens, families, and anyone associated with them – teachers, counselors, students, and other librarians.
What’s a typical day at the Library look like for you?
Every day is dramatically different at the Library! I have a team that I manage of professional and paraprofessional librarians. We want to make sure that the spaces are friendly, welcoming, and open, that people are getting what they need, and that librarians are getting out, bringing the library to other people. We’re also making sure that our collection is in good shape, and we are planning for what’s coming.
What would you say is your favorite thing is about working in the Library and working with kids specifically?
My favorite thing that happens in the Library is getting kids connected to what is personally exciting to them. If there’s a book that resonates with them, I think that being the conduit for that is one of the most magical things that happens.
And the circulation in the children’s room is really high, right?
Yes! We own about 80,000 items and about 35,000 go out every single month. Children and families in Cambridge are real readers! They are very passionate and dedicated to the Library.
Why do you think the circulation is so high?
Having a strong collection on the shelf is really important. Also, I think that the staff, the professional children’s librarians in Cambridge, are exceptional at readers’ advisory. The children’s librarians are reading in their personal time, all the time. They’re reading at home, they’re reading on their commute, they’re reading all the time to try and stay up to date so that they can talk to kids about books and help kids find what to read next.
A librarian is not a parent or a teacher. They can build a relationship or a rapport with a child over pleasure reading in a way that it can be hard for another adult to. We work hard to build that trust with kids, so that they can see that we like and appreciate things that they do, that we can help them make choices that they’ll actually like, rather than what someone else might say is good for them. We’re always trying to connect kids with books that are going to speak to them, and we’re perhaps less concerned with what could be something that they could, you know, learn from. We want to try and spark their personal interest so that that learning will be more self-driven.
I can imagine – it’s such an empowering thing, to be a kid and be able to go in and just check out anything that you want. I don’t think there are a lot of places in your life where you can do that, especially when you’re five!
I think the Library is the one place that a child really has some agency. We’re very committed to a child’s privacy in the library, and for them to be able to check out whatever they want. If a child wants a book that’s too easy for them or too hard for them, you know, who cares? I always encourage families to borrow it anyway! Getting to make that choice is going to bring a child so much closer to loving reading than hearing, no, that book’s not right for you.
How did you get interested in working in the Library, and in the children’s room?
That’s kind of a long story! I studied to be a journalist, I went to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. The biggest thing I learned while getting that journalism degree is that I would not be a good journalist! So when I graduated from college I had this great degree, and was kind of at a loss about what to do. I started doing some editing work and working in advertising, and I was kind of looking for a career. I stumbled upon Simmons and library school. I didn’t know much about working for a Library – I didn’t know you had to have a degree to become a librarian. So I did a little research and I thought, well, this would be something that meets all of my interests – I had always loved children’s literature, my mom was a first grade teacher. There were lots of books in our house and we went to the library a lot, so I appreciated the art and the text in a children’s book. I had always volunteered working with kids – so I just started to try it out. After I got my master’s degree, I worked at a couple of public libraries in Massachusetts before the job in Cambridge opened up. I’ve been here since 2005.
I wonder if you could also tell me a little bit — I know you’ve been involved with the Caldecott Committee too – you chaired it this year, right? How was it?
It was a wonderful experience! I had such an incredible committee – the Caldecott committee is made up of fifteen people including the chair. Half are elected, half are appointed, and it was a smart, dedicated group of people. You become very close over the year because you’re working really hard on this big goal. It was a great experience and I cherish the bond that the committee made, and the choices that came out of the experience together.
What makes children’s literature good? What makes the book “the pick”?
Good is such a strange word! Every book is good – it’s not “is it good,” but how is it good? For the Caldecott committee, we are evaluating the art of a picture book, so we’re looking for the most distinguished picture book published in the United States in a given year, and we are solely considering the art. That’s a big challenge, because some books are illustrated in a cartoon style, and some are painted in very realistic oils – there’s a gazillion different styles and media that people use to create children’s books. If you spend some time with them, they really are works of art – there are all kinds of things going on with shape, line, color, texture, design. We’re trying to find: what is the best at what it’s trying to do with the art? And in the end, our committee of fifteen people chose what we chose, and a different committee of fifteen people might choose something else. You can know a lot of about art, and you can discuss art, but in the end, everyone looks at art in a different way.
Is there anything coming up in the children’s room you’d like us to know about?
Summer reading is always a huge deal at the Cambridge Public Library! We plan to have public programs happening every day this summer, three times the usual amount. I want to give props to the Foundation – that extra financial support has helped us have a lot more programs. We’re also trying to have more programs on Saturdays and evenings so that working families can attend. Kids are invited to try all sorts of different challenges to complete their summer reading experience. The other thing that’s coming up this fall – we’re looking to have the illustrator Bryan Collier come to the Library to do a program for families.
Thank you, Julie!
Please note that upcoming events are prone to change in accordance with the Library's closure.
Children's room photography (c) Stu Rosner. Julie Roach photo (c) Christine Spadafor.