Periodically the library will close for a Staff Day in order to train our employees on a host of different matters. The training last month was no different. And in the afternoon, as a bit of a break, I found myself taking my fellow employees to the Evanstoniana Room on the second floor.
The Evanstoniana Room is the library’s historical section. Outside the room are flat files with additional information. Now while I was showing my fellow employees the statue that was mysteriously found under the steps of the first Evanston Public Library building as it was being demolished (a good story, but for another day), I started pawing through the files. Out of curiosity, I went to the section on “Evanston – Librarians,” just to see if there was anything of interest. The odd file here and there were of mild interest . . . until I found two small articles from 1967 and 1972 respectively.
Now I’m a children’s librarian by training. And when I moved to Evanston from New York City roundabout seven years ago, I came to the sudden realization that more than any city OTHER than NYC, Evanston is a veritable hub of international children’s literature.
- There’s the ongoing and beautifully curated collection at independent bookstore Bookends & Beginnings.
- There are local scholars like Junko Yokota, world famous for her children’s literature expertise, who is past president of the U.S. Board on Books for Young People, the U.S. national section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), former chair of the Batchelder Committee and two-term member of the IBBY Hans Christian Andersen Award jury.
- And now, on this day, I discovered one more surprising connection.
Every year, the American Library Association (ALA) bestows the Batchelder Award to a U.S. publisher for a children’s book considered the most outstanding of those books originating in a country other than the United States and in a language other than English.
For a lot of international children’s books, it’s honestly the only major U.S. children’s book award awarded by ALA that grants them any attention at all.
Now, as I looked through the files, I discovered that Mildred L. Batchelder lived in Evanston and was the librarian at Haven Middle School for much of her life.
Check out her Wikipedia page sometime if you’d like to hear more about how she fought racist library policies for decades.
As the page says, “It outraged her that African American children weren’t provided the same privileges that were afforded to white children. She fought hard for the rights of minorities and women and was enraged when the keynote speaker of an ALA meeting was asked to use the service elevator because she was black.
“She was instrumental in bringing this racism to light and in keeping the ALA conferences from taking place in Southern states for 20 years.”
She is, in fact, one of the great library heroes and one of the great Evanston heroes as well. And to think I had to dip through old files even to find out!
I don’t know if anyone has half a mind to name something after a librarian in this town, but if you do, then I shall step forward and propose a Mildred L. Batchelder street/fountain/library branch/what have you. Seems it would be the least we could do for a name that is now internationally famous – and with good reason.
Betsy Bird is the Collection Development manager of Evanston Public Library. She has been writing for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.