School Librarians of Aotearoa: Cathryn Mitchell

Cathryn Mitchell is our final School Librarian of Aotearoa this year. Her background includes public library work around Auckland, and she was a DHB librarian briefly before moving to the Blind Foundation Youth Library in 2015. Here is what she does, and what she believes in.

A view looking across the library. The shelf in the foreground houses the Junior Fiction large print collection and on the other side of the shelf is the collage and twin vision collections.

I started in libraries after finishing a BA in history at Auckland University and my first role was at Pukekohe Library as a trainee library assistant. I wasn’t planning to be a librarian and I took the role thinking that I would probably move onto something else: turns out I’d found my career.

I spent many years working in branches of Auckland Libraries and spent the majority of them as Pukekohe’s Children’s and Young Adults Librarian. I then moved to a children’s and teens buyer role for Auckland Libraries in the South Regional Resources team. I absolutely loved this role, it was fantastic being able to select titles for the collection, share my love for books and knowing that we were supporting the reading and literacy development of the children that used those branches.

Working with children in libraries

I started at the Blind Foundation Youth Library in 2015 and I thoroughly enjoy my role. It’s unique,challenging and I learn something new everyday.

The Blind Foundation Youth Library is part of the BLENNZ campus in Homai Auckland. My position is the Senior Librarian Children and Young Adults and have been here for two years. I applied for the role because I have always had roles that have been working with children and really enjoyed them. The library supports blind and low vision children in the country from the age of 0-21. This was a chance to work in a unique library, learn a new skill set and work with children.

I have always had a passion for children’s literature and the building of literacy skills. Literature allows you explore the world, learn and experience anything you are passionate or interested in, and if you use a library – it’s free.

Literature allows you explore the world, learn and experience anything you are passionate or interested in, and if you use a library – it’s free.

Since I have been in my current role I have been working on adding diversity and greater depth to our collection. I have worked with many amazing librarians in my career so far, and each one of them has influenced and broadened my view of children’s literature.

Formats & collection management

My typical day is quite hectic and passes very quickly. At the time this was written we were extremely busy as we were receiving requests for the production or issuing of textbooks and novels for the 2018 year.

I also spend quite a lot of time on collection management, this is due to the sheer diversity of formats that we provide. I use a variety of agencies to source suitable and requested titles for the collection. The formats we have in the collection include collage books (hard-covered picture books with braille print and bright, bold collage illustrations), large print (18-36pt font) ,etext, braille, twin vision (picture books with braille interleaved), kitsets (which include a picture book, a braille version and an audio version), Playaways and DAISY audio books.

A selection of formats

One of the most recent and popular developments for the Blind Foundation Library is our accessible app for downloading audiobooks. The app is called Book Link and has been designed for Apple devices. The audiobooks in the collection cover a wide range of subjects, both fiction and non-fiction. The collection also includes a good selection of New Zealand books that have been narrated in the Blind Foundation’s studios.

We have many visitors to the library each day and these range from children, to RTVs (Resource Teacher Vision), teachers and parents. They visit the library to take out books, learn about what technology is available for them, receive support in using a variety of devices, and request titles to be produced.

Due to our clients being spread across the country we spend a lot of time parceling items to be mailed to their school or home. This can be quite time consuming as we pick what we think a child may like to read according to the needs and interests information we have added to each client’s records.

… we pick what we think a child may like to read according to the needs and interests information we have added to each client’s records.

I am currently looking at creating a Summer reading programme for our children. It will encourage the children to keep up their reading in the school holidays and to read for pleasure. This will be quite a piece of work as I would like the children to be able to “check in” via a fully accessible webpage.

Publishing for the sight-impaired in NZ

It would be fantastic if each time a book was published in print it was automatically available in a braille format also – this could be in ebraille or print. One of the biggest challenges we face is keeping up with what is popular and current. The current production process is quite a bit slower.

I regularly cheerlead books in my collection. The majority of our braille books have multiple volumes and I have to really sell the books to get some children to take a book that has more than two volumes!!

I returned from maternity leave the end of October and while I have been off I have spent a lot of time at my local public library taking out books for my 4-year-old. She is like any other 4-year-old and likes to read the same book a million times so I quite often attempt to move her onto another books. We have read all of Aaron Blabey’s books and I’m now purchasing them all for the Youth Library collection.

Cathryn Mitchell
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Cathryn Mitchell is the Senior Librarian Children at BLENNZ Homai Campus, which houses the Blind Foundation Youth Library. This is utilised by sight-impaired children and their families all over New Zealand. Her background includes long stints at Pukekohe Library, and at South Auckland libraries as Children’s & Youth literature buyer.