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Growing young readers: Meet Snoqualmie Children’s Librarian Jenifer Loomis
Jenifer Loomis comes over with a pile of children’s books in her arms.
Monkeys, rabbits, bears, awkward kids and cartoon superheroes gaze out from the colorful covers. These aren’t old classics, either, these are the latest hot children’s books. And Loomis, as the Snoqualmie Library’s Children’s Librarian, is making sure kids and parents know all about them.
“Grown-ups just need to check out the kids’ section,” she says. “If you haven’t looked at what there is, you’re missing out.”
Loomis has been introducing reading to Valley children, through storytimes, songs and lots of one-on-one time, since 2005.
What’s a good day for her? “If I’ve had a chance to work directly with kids, shared a book with them, answered a question, encouraged them to feel like the library is a welcoming place,” Loomis said. “If a parent comes up after story time and tells me, ‘That was really fun!’”
Loomis fell into this career serendipitously.
“I was one of those people who was interested in too many different things,” she said. “I kept changing my major.”
She ended up majoring in French, but, without an advanced degree, she wasn’t any closer to a specific career.
“That led to some soul-searching,” said Loomis. In a conversation with a friend, libraries came up. Loomis then met a librarian, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Soon, she was enrolled for a new degree at the University of Washington.
“That landed me in a great area for libraries,” she said. “King County Library System is the cream of the crop, one of the biggest and busiest in the nation.”
A lot of study goes into becoming a librarian. It starts with the requisite graduate-level degree.
“There’s a lot that goes into that conversation with someone, when they come up to you and say, I need X,” Loomis said. “Oftentimes, X is not what they need. You have to get a clear idea of what it is they’re seeking. That’s an art. Connecting a book to the right person requires a lot of listening and dialogue, as well as knowing the books—whether you’ve read them yourself or are just aware of something. None of us read everything.”
With so many wide interests, Loomis at first thought she’d be a reference librarian— “you get all kinds of questions, it’s fascinating.”
But a class to fill a gap in her schedule put her on a different path. Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald, children’s librarian at Bothell, taught that class on storytelling, and for Loomis, it was transformational.
Loomis discovered that she wanted to work with children, and get kids excited about books and stories.
She started with a substitute shift at the Redmond Library, while doing children’s story times on a contract basis at Sammamish’s library.
That booming community, with its many young families—and parallels to Snoqualmie—honed her gifts. When a full-time children’s position opened up at Snoqualmie in the spring of 2005, she took it.
In those days, stories were told at the old, small library downtown.
“I am always excited when I see patrons who have been with us since then,” she said. “They made the trek to the old library, and came on up here when we opened the new one.”
She works with kids from birth to fifth grade, so she’s seen a lot of faces come through her program.
“I feel like I’ve had the chance to get to know this community,” she said. “I watch kids as they grow up.”
It makes a difference if kids can get to know their librarian, Loomis says: “They need that consistency and familiarity.”
What keeps her doing this?
“I love seeing the delight when a child finds a story, a book, or for the younger ones, rhymes and songs—when that lights their fire, they’re going to want to read. They see that learning is fun. That’s the key to being a lifelong learner and reader.”
Loomis is certain there are more people in the Valley who could benefit from library programs.
On a busy day, she gets upwards of 70 young people and parents filling her room.
“It’s a little bit intense,” she says. She’s learned from experience how to keep her audience engaged and happy.
“When things start to fall apart, we stop and sing a beloved, familiar song,” she said. “It’s amazing how ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ will bring a hush over the room. It’s magic.”
Beyond the story room, her work takes her out into the community, to preschools, Bookmobile visits, and performances at the North Bend Farmer’s Market.
“There’s been a big push in recent years to get out in the community and reach those people who don’t know about us,” she said.
She advises prospective librarians or others interesting in working with young readers to “get out there” and get a sense of the work.
“That was the key for me, the moment I got in a room full of kids, and read a story with them, seeing that enthusiasm. It was very clear,” Loomis said. “You have to love it. You have to enjoy kids to do it.”
“There’s still a place for children’s librarians,” she said. “Kids need a person to help connect them…. People have been doing the right things with kids for hundreds of years. There’s a lot of research that tells us, ‘Yes, you should read to children, you should sing to them.”