The Parker Hill Branch Library re-opened this summer after being closed for about a year for a renovation. Along with fixes and repairs, the re-opening also brought a new children librarian—Thealyn Ploetz—into the fold. The Gazette recently conducted a question-and-answer session with Ploetz about becoming a children librarian, what is in store this year for children at the library, as well as other questions. For more information about the library, visit bpl.org. (The session has been edited.)
Q: What prompted you to become a children librarian?
A: I’ve always loved books, not just reading them, but the social experience of it too. You can learn so much about a person when you hear them talk about books, whether they’re telling you why they loved a particular book or why they hated it. Being a librarian is kind of like being a book matchmaker – each reader is unique, and figuring out what book is just right for each one is an incredibly rewarding puzzle. That’s especially true with kids. They’re often so open with their emotions that you get to watch that excitement and joy just switch on when you get it right. Reading has always been such a powerful tool in my own life, both for learning about myself and learning about the world outside of myself. Playing any small part in introducing a child to that tool is an incredible feeling.
Q: Prior to coming to the Parker Hill Branch Library, what did you do?
A: I was the children librarian over at the Honan-Allston Branch of Boston Public Library for about two and a half years. There I did many of the same things I’ll be doing here – story times, events for kids, coordinating visits with schools, and so on, though of course you always adapt what you do based on the needs of the community you’re in.
Q: What are some projects and goals that you have in your new role at the Parker Hill Branch Library?
A: I want every kid, every family who comes to the library to feel that it has something to offer them. When ordering books for the collection, or choosing books to display or read aloud, I really want to consider who’s being represented in them and who isn’t. Mission Hill is an incredibly diverse neighborhood, and I think it’s really important that the library has books and stories that reflect that wide range of experiences and backgrounds.
Likewise, that extends to kids’ programs at the library. Kids learn in so many different ways. I think it’s important to provide a lot of variety, a lot of different entry points to enjoying the library. Sometimes people are surprised to learn that libraries have things like kids’ yoga or Pokémon parties because there’s no obvious connection to reading. But you provide things that kids are interested in and enthusiastic about, and there’s always ways to connect that back to learning.
Outreach is another thing I’ve been working on a lot. While there’re the patrons who come to the library regularly, as a library, you always want to connect with people who might not come into the library on their own. So I’ve been trying to get out to community events, especially ones geared for kids and families. Coordinating with the local schools is another aspect of outreach. Setting up times for teachers to bring their classes helps introduce the library to kids who may not necessarily come in on their own.
Q: What are some activities that the children can look forward to this year?
A: I have a Family Story Time that meets every week on Tuesday mornings at 10:30. It’s a mix of stories, songs, and movement geared towards kids 0-5 and their caregivers.
For school-aged kids, we offer homework help. Our Homework Assistance Program, or HAP, will start on October 1st. HAP runs Monday through Thursday, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. for kids in grades kindergarten through 8th. It’s taught by our HAP mentors (high-achieving high school students). It’s really a great program, because although homework might not be that enjoyable, the kids look forward to it because they bond with the mentors and the other kids at HAP. So it turns into what can sometimes be a really frustrating experience into something a bit more fun and social. On Thursdays from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., we additionally have a tutor from Boston Teacher’s Union who offers homework help from kindergarten through 12th grade.
We’ll also have Drop-In Art and Lego programs on Thursday afternoons, from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m., alternating weeks. So it will be art Drop-In Art one week and LEGO Hour the next. LEGO Hour will meet on Oct. 18, Nov. 1, and Nov. 15. We’ll have Drop-In Art on Oct. 25 (Pumpkin Decorating), Nov. 8 (Slime Making), and Nov. 29 (Watercolor Wall Art).
I add new events continuously throughout the year, so you can always check the flyers at the library, or the events section of the Parker Hill Branch page on the library website (https://www.bpl.org/locations/34/).
Q: I know you’re new to the library, but what are your thoughts so far on the Mission Hill neighborhood and its community?
A: I love is how many community organizations there are in such close proximity to the library! There’s several schools, Tobin Community Center, Mission Hill Health Movement, Sociedad Latina, and tons more. The Mission Hill Artists’ Collective has been showcasing their artwork at the library, as well. Having so many community groups and such involved residents makes the neighborhood feel really close-knit. I haven’t been here that long, but just walking down Tremont Street or stopping for my morning coffee, I’m always bumping into people I know. It’s a really friendly neighborhood to work in.
Q: Being a librarian, I imagine that you are a lover of books. Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
A: For kids’ books, I’m a big fan of Rick Riordan. He’s probably best known for his Percy Jackson series, which are fantasy books based on Greek mythology. His books are funny and smart, while still feeling like they’re written by someone who remembers what it’s like to be a kid. I love series where you get to immerse yourself in the world and the characters and watch them grow from book to book.
My favorite author is probably Melina Marchetta. She’s an Australian author, so she’s not as well known in the U.S. I’m continually blown away by her range as an author. She’s written books for teens, adults, realistic, fantasy, crime, and each keeps being better than the last. No matter what genre she writes, her ability to flesh out lovable but flawed characters and complicated family dynamics is always spot-on.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: I love to answer questions! Sometimes patrons worry they’re interrupting if they ask questions when I’m at my desk, but answering those questions is one my favorite and most important parts of my job.