Today we kick off our RWW Interviews series with a conversation between Elisa Gall and Edith (Edi) Campbell. Campbell is a Reference/Instruction Librarian at Indiana State University. She has served as the Indiana State Ambassador for USBBY and on the WNDB Walter Award Committee, YALSA’s BFYA jury, and CYBILS Nonfiction Awards committee. She is a member of the 2018 Printz Award committee and she works with a team to coordinate the annual We’re the People Summer Reading List. She blogs at https://campbele.wordpress.com/ and can be found on Twitter at @CrazyQuilts. Thank you, Edi, for sharing your insights with us!
To many of us, you are an online superhero. Can you share your origin story? How did you get started blogging?
Super hero? No, I’m just a librarian doing her thing. There are so many, many more librarians, publishers, editors, authors and illustrators who have done this for such a long time! Their persistence has made it that much easier for me to do what I do. Just imagine some of the things I post that would have had serious consequences just a few decades ago. Because of what they have stated, exposed, spoke and risked, those of us working today are able to feel hopeful.
So, how did I get started?? I came into the library after spending part of my career teaching Social Studies. I had actually been a school librarian for a couple of years before I began blogging. I was looking for a new technology to master and I was also thinking about so many librarians and teachers who kept saying that they had a difficult time finding books by African American authors. I thought that could be something to blog about. I thought I could combine my interest in technology and in books to promote literacy for African American teens. I immediately saw the need to also include books for Latinx and my blog continued to become more and more inclusive.
What has changed since?
I think several things have changed over the years. I’ve tried different things over the years, some more interesting than others. I think I blog to promote Native American authors, authors of color and their books rather than to promote literacy and that’s probably because I’m not in a school library any more. Much of the sharing I used to do on my blog is now done on Facebook and Twitter and I think that brings up one major change in my blog: I just don’t post as much as I used to. I think my posts fell off when I was on BFYA and then the Walter Award Committee, and I’ve not really recovered from that, not gotten back into the blogging routine. Next year, I’m on another award committee so I’ll be back to blogging without talking about current books that are eligible for that award.
Something else that has changed since I started would be that other forms of social media have come about that have actually provided a voice to marginalized people. This has been a huge development.
You’ve talked about the importance of connecting with people with whom you disagree. How do you break the echo chamber?
I have two Twitter accounts and two Facebook accounts and it amazes me how many people I connect with that seem to share my same perspectives. I’ve even reconnected with people from grade school and high school and still I see little dissent on my FB feeds.
At this time when we’ll “unfriend” someone who says the slightest thing with which we disagree, it seems that it takes a conscious effort to connect with people of differing opinions. It’s following that person who says something you don’t completely agree with or in ‘real life’ it’s taking the risk of saying some things others may not agree with and being able to listen to others’ reactions. I’m beginning to think that coming offline and having those face to face connections is where we’re really going to build robust communities. Online, where there is no chance to read body language or facial expressions we tend to parse words while expecting nuanced conversations. It’s easy to get caught up and misunderstood online.
I like what Ashley Hope Perez said a few weeks ago in giving advice to people who want to be allies. She suggested using social media as a tool for listening. Sometimes, just listening helps us grow more than thinking we have to say something, especially if we’re listening to people outside the echo chamber.
In all the work that you do, what are you the most proud of?
This is going to feel like a punt, but I am most proud of my children and this definitely includes my daughter in law. While I maintain that they have become the awesome people that they are despite me, I am so very, very proud that they are my children. I learn so much from them! They are truly amazing people.
I take pride in being a librarian. While people claim librarianship is dying, I find it to be a very vibrant and demanding profession that requires me to keep learning, allows me to innovate services and provide ways for me to make a difference for others.
Can you tell us about the We’re the People list?
This is also something of which I’m quite proud! For the past couple of years, I’ve been able to work with some of the most amazing people in children’s literature (Tad Andracki, Sarah Park Dahlen, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nathalie Mvondo, Debbie Reese, Ed Spicer and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas) to create summer reading lists for all ages of children. We work together throughout the year to identify books written by authors of color that are chapter books, picture books, middle grade, young adult and adult crossover. We critically review each book so that our list contains books that we would be proud to give any child.
We look for books from small and large publishers, as well as self-published books. Intersectionality is extremely important as we look for books that also include LGBT+ characters, those with disabilities and those from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. We want biographies as well as sports books, speculative fiction and mysteries. We try to apply diversity in every sense of the word. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work.
How do you stay motivated or promote self-care when facing frustration or pushback?
I don’t work alone. From the very beginning, I’ve been with a network of people who are just amazing! The network has changed over the years, but it’s always been there and I can always turn to them for clarity, strategy or for a good laugh. Being surrounded by people of integrity is the key to accomplishing most things in life, including remaining sane.
Balance is a critical part of self-care, but it can be challenging when you earn your living by your passion; when you want to get away from work, yet you want to read a book! I’ve only recently questioned ‘what am I doing for me?’ It helps to be healthy, to eat to live rather than living to eat and to get out in nature as much as possible. I think celebrating is an important part of this equation, but in equity work, it can seem like there is so little to celebrate at times, but there are small successes and it helps to stay positive to recognize them.
Who are people you look to for advice and inspiration?
My family really takes a strong interest in what I do. My children keep up with much of what I’m doing and we talk about many issues that intersect with my passion, and with their passions, too. Talking to them, getting a perspective from outside that echo chamber really helps. And the inspiration I get from my daughter-in-law as well as my three children knows no limits.
Children’s literature is an intersecting world. We have so many differences within this community, but we have that common drive to get good literature to our children and that really holds us together. I’ve approached so many people for advice and rarely if ever have been turned away.
There are too many people in children’s literature who excel at what they do to begin naming names, too many people who have shared wisdom or advice with me and who inspire me.
What advice do you have for others looking to do equity work in the world of libraries and youth literature?
I’d say if you’re interested in doing equity work in libraries and/or children’s literature, you should be clear about why you want to do this work. If it’s about what you want to get and not what you want to give, you may want to spend your efforts on something else.
I’d say understand that you’re joining a network of people who are and have been entrenched in this work; build upon their knowledge. Know that we’re reaching a point in time where those who are LGBT+, disabled, Native American or people of color know who we are and what we want. We’re not looking for missionaries to represent our interest. We need workers who honor the past while creating a new future. I’d say forget patience, we’ve been patient too long. Look back and fly forward.
- Elisa Gall
Thanks for the interview. I like the sentiment about using social media to LISTEN. Good advice.
I don't think it is fair to connect my essay to post-election questioning of identity politics. I believe I have raised important questions better shared, expressed, debated. Take Gene Luen Yang's Reading Without Walls challenge: http://geneyang.com/the-reading-without-walls-challenge, isn't he making a similar case to mine? Read beyond yourself, write beyond yourself, explore every life, every experience. Do we need more artists from under-represented groups? Of course. But we also need to keep emphasizing the power of art to take us beyond ourselves.
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