It was in 2012 when I read Paul Hazard’s Books, Children, & Men that I learned about the International Youth Library in Munich. Upon noting that it is the world’s largest library for international children’s literature and that it is housed in a castle, I vowed to find my way to this seemingly-magical place.
Last year, given the nature of our funded research project in my institution: “Reading Lives and Practices of Singapore Teachers and the Use of Multicultural Children’s Literature to promote Socio-emotional Learning” I finally managed to scrounge up the funds to travel to Munich for a week-long study visit. The library, needless to say, exceeded my expectations. I fell in love with the place – and before I even left the castle last year, I submitted my application to be an International Fellow this year.
It is my great fortune to have been selected as one of the few academics to do my research (i.e. read books to my heart’s content and write, and read and write, ad infinitum) for two entire months in this beautiful place this year. I officially started 1 June and will be leaving by 1 August.
With my 14 year old girl who is staying with me for the month of June (her school holidays).
Research Goals and Objectives
My goal here is to help develop and refine a multicultural text-set that will help serve to facilitate the teaching of social and emotional learning of teachers in the classroom. Having access to more than 800,000 titles is indeed a privilege, add the fact that there are so many helpful language specialists in the library who are more than willing to provide support and assistance when it comes to translating foreign titles. I have never limited my exposure to books because of my own language constraints, and the idea is to have a variety of titles to choose from (regardless of where it is coming from in the world) so that I can consider them for inclusion in a professional development text for teachers – something that we will most likely continue working on for the coming years or so, hence it is very likely that I might return again, if the library would continue having me (see, I am already plotting my return and I haven’t even left yet).
Check out my working space. Same place where I am now drafting this blogpost.
Ooops.. I just moved to this new workstation – because I love windows:
Home Of Donated Books From All Over The World
The entire premise of the International Youth Library resonates with me – as this is the home of the IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People), which is “a non-profit organization which represents an international network of people from all over the world who are committed to bringing books and children together.” In the words of the Mother of IYL (founder of the library), Jella Lepman, the library exists because it is essentially building a bridge of international understanding through children’s literature. How could anything be better than that, really?
As I have posted during our launch of the Universal Republic of Childhood reading theme here at GatheringBooks til end of June:
Since the library relies primarily on book donations, I made sure that I brought a number of children’s books with me from Singapore, thanks to the very generous donation of Epigram Books.
Borrowing Books from the International Youth Library
The library has a relatively unique system – most of the books are actually housed underground or in other buildings apart from the Schloss Blutenburg. We were very privileged to have the labyrinthine first-class tour last year during my first visit. Given how precious the books are, scholars are strongly urged to order the books beforehand. Hence, it isn’t like you can just come in, browse, and pick out the books that resonate with you from the shelves. Since they do have an extensive tagging system in their database, you can find what you need depending on specific themes, plus if you are really stumped, then ask the help of their friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and enthusiastic librarians. Here is their webopac or online database:
I am lucky because I have an idea of what books I am looking for, thanks to UK independent scholar, Janet Evans who edited the book Challenging and Controversial Picturebooks which I read cover to cover.
Most of the titles that she and her chapter contributors in the book have discussed are books that I really find fascinating, and seeing how difficult it is to find such titles in Singapore, I know I have to seek them out here at IYL. Alternatively, there are also a few titles that I am reading from the multicultural professional development texts I borrowed from the IYL that I can not locate in their database. And so I have two search engines that are concurrently up (among others): one from IYL and the other one from our NLB (National Library Board) database in Singapore. Here is one book available in Singapore that is not found here in Munich:
And so, prior to coming here, I made sure I ordered the books in advance – and guess what, we can order up to 200 titles and here they all are waiting for me upon my arrival, my babies:
Organizing Book Titles
During one of our many library visits in international schools in Singapore, one fabulous librarian from the United World College Southeast Asia, Katie Day, recommended that instead of using our excel spreadsheet, why not make use of Librarything.com – and so that is what I am using now to group the books according to themes.
I have started putting together my account in LibraryThing even while I was in Singapore. Being here in Munich gives me the much-needed time and energy to really sort through all the titles I already have prior to coming here and the books that I am currently reading. So many books, so little time. And yes, there has to be a coherent and meaningful way of arranging, tagging, organizing them books. If you know of any other tool that would be helpful, please do let me know.
The Value of Space and Inspiration
One of the greatest things being here is that you are with like-minded individuals who are possibly as passionate about children’s books as you are – there is such a lively exchange of ideas and energy – and the place is absolutely inspiring as can be attested by these photos of my family in front of the castle.
How many people can say that their “office” is in a library housed in a castle? I do feel like a faery princess, albeit a freezing one as it has been a cloudy 12/14 degrees out since we arrived here from Berlin. For a daughter of the tropics such as myself, that already counts as extremely cold.
Watch out for more of my posts about the IYL. I am also beyond thrilled that the White Ravens Festival is being hosted by IYL while I am here in July. How cool is that?
Ok, back to reading books for me now. 🙂