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An Interview with Ginny Moore Kruse

by Amy E. Brandt

 

Ginny Moore Kruse became Director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 1976. Ginny is respected throughout Wisconsin and nationally as an expert in children’s and young adult literature, and as a staunch advocate of intellectual freedom. Ginny retired from the CCBC in August 2002. In this interview on the eve of her retirment, she offered a glimpse of her dynamic career at the CCBC and the people who helped make the CCBC such a vital place.

AEB: When you began as Director of the CCBC in July 1976, your position was deemed a one-year appointment, as there were plans to close the CCBC within a year. Twenty-six years later, the CCBC is a vital and invaluable institution. What happened?

GMK: Funding from the state education agency at that time had what we would today label as start-up funding, and it was going to end in June 1977. Period. For logical reasons, too. Along with funding from the University of Wisconsin School of Education and the Library School, this Division for Libraries funding had been the third source of CCBC “cooperative” funding since its doors first opened in 1963 in the State Capitol building.


Even so, it seemed to me that we could view most of 1976-1977 as a “project” year, an opportunity to meet the specific current information needs about children’s literature of our “public” or “service population” which was UW-Madison university students, Wisconsin teachers, and Wisconsin librarians. This was fine with the CCBC Executive Board, as long as the CCBC didn’t go into the red by June 1977.


During the summer of 1976 I conducted an informal needs assessment. Dr. Sally Davis had also just arrived on campus to head the UW-Madison Library School Library. Because she had previously been the Oconomowoc district media coordinator, Sally’s wise, generous counsel was extremely helpful, and she was also well connected with the Wisconsin library community. Sally became chair of the CCBC Advisory Board, which soon evolved from being a group of busy presidents of state organizations to representing a cross-section of the CCBC’s service population across the state, more or less as it functions today. Along with Sally and Professor Muriel Fuller, who had responsibility for UW-Extension continuing education programs for librarians, somehow I was invited to speak at the October Wisconsin Library Association conference. Several one-day winter and spring workshops for librarians and teachers were planned with the help of Susan C. Griffith, a Library School student with a CCBC Project Assistant appointment. Before I came to the CCBC I had been invited by Ronnie Hess to develop and tape weekly commentaries about children’s books for broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio. There was no plan in place to continue or “save” the CCBC. The CCBC simply became more visible across the campus and state.


That evolving visibility caused a number of people who weren’t previously very acquainted with the CCBC, or with each other for that matter, to begin saying that the CCBC must not be closed down. Some of them then worked alongside Department of Public Instruction (DPI) colleagues Lyle Eberhart and others to support a new kind of funding commitment. Many pitched into the effort during that time, including Pat Bakula, Nancy Elsmo, Vida Stanton, Eliza Dresang, Joan Thron, Carolyn Cain, Rose Holmes, Kay Knauer, Mary Elizabeth Ledlie, Tekla Bekkedal, Bette Peltola, and Sandy Robbers—and that doesn’t begin to name everyone!


Meanwhile, Susan and I focused on providing reliable, high quality CCBC services both on and off-campus. Although it wasn’t until June 1977 that continued cooperative funding from DPI was confirmed, it was always clear that the University’s School of Education and Library School remained committed to the CCBC and its expanded service emphasis.


If the CCBC hadn’t been supremely well organized and administered internally since 1963, due to the former leadership of Elizabeth Burr and others, such progress could never have been accomplished in that short length of time. If it weren’t for the on-going support of past Education Deans John Palmer and Henry Trueba and now that of Dean Charles Read, the commitment to the CCBC could not have been sustained over the years. DPI support has always been critical to the outreach mission of the CCBC since then, with crucial leadership coming from Leslyn Shires, Bill Wilson, Larry Nix, Sally Drew, Carolyn Folke, and Cal Potter, to mention only a few. Direct annual funding from the School of Library and Information Studies ceased in 1986, due to decisions made elsewhere on campus; in-kind support has come from many on that faculty then and since, including that of former director Jane Robbins and current director Louise S. Robbins.


Absolutely all credit must be shared with those named and so many others, especially with Susan C. Griffith, Carol Langenburg, Michele Seipp, Kathleen Horning, Mary Jo Cleaver, Deana Grobe, Merri Lindgren, and Megan Schliesman

AEB: Since the 1970s, the universe of children’s and young adult literature has expanded and evolved. Of course, the CCBC has responded to myriad changes in the literature as well as in how the literature is read and used by children, students, teachers, and librarians. In your opinion, what have been the most significant changes in the CCBC’s past three decades?

GMK: Despite its unwieldy, confusing name, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center now focuses on young adult literature, as well as books for children. Also, the CCBC’s reference collection of print materials about children’s and young adult literature has grown enormously in scope, format, and size.
The CCBC has found additional ways to do what no other state library or agency does, which is to document, archive, and provide information about authors and artists who are current and past Wisconsin residents. The nationally unique Alternative Press Collection and related information services begun in 1980 have made a huge impact on what the CCBC can offer to its users on and off-campus.
CCBC Book Discussion Guidelines, developed in 1981 and written down by Katy and me in 1989, are now used in annual book award discussions here and nationally, as well.


We’ve expanded the emphasis on multicultural literature, documented as far back as 1963 in CCBC files.


Educators on and off campus have invited us to collaborate in so many ways, such as the splendid thematic conferences we began developing in the late 1970s with Professors Gertrude Herman and Jack Kean; projects with groups within WLA, WEMA, WSRA, and WCTE; and the SERC satellite TV courses with DPI and the Educational Communications Board (ECB) in 1993 and 1995. The CCBC has developed an ever-growing network of colleagues and kindred spirits on campus, in regional and state organizations, and across the nation. This, too, has been significant.


Thanks to emerging technologies and the strong support of the School of Education, the CCBC now has access to many ways of providing information wanted by students, faculty, and staff on campus, and any adult with an academic, professional or career interest in literature for the young. These include the CCBC website, with a Book of the Week review and video streamed speeches by CCBC guests, and much more. The topical CCBC-Net discussions begun in June, 1995, with Michael Streibel and Chris Dowling’s support, now involve more than 1,700 people in this nation and beyond.


The CCBC now administers the annual Charlotte Zolotow Lecture and Award, each of which is an exciting recent dimension of service honoring one of the University’s former students with a distinguished career as a writer, editor and publisher. We couldn’t have accomplished this without the insight and guidance of our UW Foundation colleague Jane Urbaska, of donors, and of the Friends. People probably have no idea of the impact of our very active, fantastic Friends organization, which is another story in itself!

AEB: Throughout your career, you have been a strong advocate for intellectual freedom. You have served on national boards of directors and committees, received state and national awards, and are now part of organizing a network for intellectual freedom advocates here in Wisconsin. However, one of your most enduring accomplishments has been the establishment of the CCBC Intellectual Freedom Information Services. What prompted you to start the Intellectual Freedom services at the CCBC?

GMK: During my first week at the CCBC, I examined administrative files and tried to become acquainted with the Reference Collection. I remember thinking to myself how helpful some of those very reference resources could have been to me as a former teacher and librarian whenever a book in my classroom or library was questioned by a parent or administrator.


I knew from personal experience how it feels to defend a book to which access is threatened. Once I had experienced an internal challenge when, as the head of a junior high library, I was denied the right to order a new novel, The Outsiders. At another time I had served as a parent member of a review committee when a book was questioned in an elementary school. I understood the environments in which this can happen, and I was familiar with the potential “players,” as it were.


It seemed to me that these vast CCBC resources might be helpful to Wisconsin teachers and librarians having similar experiences. During the fall of 1977 I began thinking seriously how such an information service might be administered. How might the same CCBC resources used by students and others for academic purposes be used in an specific extension of CCBC information services whenever they might be requested by individual Wisconsin librarians and educators? People didn’t have access then to backfiles of bound periodicals and certainly not to the databases available today. At the CCBC we not only had access to those backfiles, we were steeped in thinking about and working with literature for the young every single day. As specialists we were perfectly positioned to provide immediate, in-depth information. We didn’t have to shift gears in order to think about why a book could be professionally valued from any number of perspectives.


When new DPI administrator Dianne M. Williams (now Dianne M. Hopkins) scheduled an appointment to become acquainted with CCBC resources and its professional staff—which was me at that time—I mentioned my idea to her. Dianne immediately expressed interest in what such an information service might mean for Wisconsin school librarians. She subsequently developed a network still in place for DPI consultants to be linked to this CCBC service.


Professor Charles Bunge applied for and secured an Evjue Foundation grant so the service could get underway. Barbara Holme Wilson was hired part time to offer staff support. Jack Kean’s nationally acknowledged expertise in curriculum development and academic freedom, and his long-standing involvement on behalf of his students with the CCBC, were invaluable.


The first Intellectual Freedom Information Service transaction occurred on January 18, 1978. The CCBC’s Intellectual Freedom Information Services have been used as many as 140 and as few as 70 times during a calendar year by Wisconsin teachers and librarians. What the CCBC can do now at the time of a Wisconsin book complaint has evolved substantially beyond what could be provided when we began!

AEB: Each year, thousands of people look forward to the publication of CCBC Choices, an extensive bibliography of children’s and young adult books published during the previous year and recommended by CCBC staff (The Friends of CCBC print 6,500 copies of Choices each year). With thousands of children’s and young adult books being reviewed in professional journals and the popular press, how is CCBC Choices unique?

GMK: Although I had previously thought that there were enough “best of the year” lists to go around, my mind began to change during 1979. Susan and I realized that the newly formed CCBC monthly book discussions along with our daily access to and use of the CCBC Current Collection of recently published books gave us insights about new books that might be helpful to CCBC users. We noticed that most “best of the year” lists and publishers’ ads seemed to focus on a pool of almost the same books. Then, as now, there are always so many other books we deemed excellent from a variety of perspectives each year. People have little or no way to have these books brought to their attention. Here at the CCBC we were using these new books in many ways all year. We could so easily make comparisons with other new books and with the books published in earlier years, too. We had access to content specialists, and we could seek informal feedback from the librarians and teachers using the CCBC for book selection or curriculum development.


CCBC Choices 1980 was published in 1981. It was a modest seven-page stapled 8x11 handout, and it was typed, perhaps on stencils. Incidentally, after several years of Choices, it was members of the Friends Board who pointed out that the format of Choices needed to reflect the quality of the contents. The 1983 issue was indexed. In 1985 we included observations about publishing. In 1986 Bill Kasdorf at Impressions created a professional design for Choices, and the Friends funded the production. The 1994 issue contained the first professional index created by Friends member Tana Elias. In 1995 Choices simply needed a fresh look, and our colleagues at UW Publications assisted us to take that step. Lois Ehlert created the fine cover design you’ve enjoyed since then.


And now the annotated citations from CCBC Choices 1990 to the present issue are available in the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. Wow!


Some things haven’t changed. CCBC Choices continues to be created within the environment of the CCBC and all its resources and services. It’s still a volunteer effort of the CCBC librarians. And most of the “best of the year” lists and publishers’ ads still seem to feature a more or less similar pool of books. The Friends now underwrite the expenses of publishing Choices, and it has become their biggest annual budget item. The CCBC librarians continue to develop and refine new ways to make Choices known and available to anyone who might find it useful. We never expect every person who uses Choices to appreciate or want every book we recommend, but we always hope there will be books important for each individual each year.

AEB: In addition to writing for CCBC Choices, you have authored and co-authored (with Kathleen T. Horning) several bibliographies about multicultural literature for youth. Please tell us a little bit about your ongoing commitment to multicultural literature.

GMK: Along with its longstanding commitment to high quality writing and artwork and to excellence in literature from a variety of perspectives, the CCBC has always maintained a basic commitment to what is now called multicultural literature.


Early in the 1980s it was a question from Janesville school librarian Patty Geske Schultz that caused us to realize how very much the CCBC can provide specialized information about children’s literature. It was my service on the national 1985-1986 Coretta Scott King Book Awards jury that caused us to realize we wanted to document in writing that only 18 books were eligible for the 1986 award.
I think it was an invitation to me to speak at a convention of the Wisconsin Council on the Social Studies that caused us to develop a brief annotated list of recommended books on multicultural literature. I’m certain that it was Don Crary and Margaret Jensen who later saw that handout, and claimed that this printed bibliography needed wider distribution. Chancellor Donna Shalala agreed when she saw many of the books we were recommending during her visit to the CCBC in her first year at UW-Madison.

Their support echoed the voiced needs then of classroom teachers and librarians across the nation and of faculty and students here. This caused us to have subsequent discussions with Barbara Bitters and others at DPI, with the Friends Board, and with Chancellor Shalala’s representatives. We talked about developing a professionally produced, nationally distributed publication featuring recommended books and related information about multicultural literature, and so the first edition of the volume one was published in 1989.


At that time it was also important to create ways to encourage authors and artists of color who might become interested in creating books for the young. As always, Katy was thinking “outside of the box.” She suggested figuring out how to provide some of the gifted authors and authors “out there” with an opportunity to find out from experienced mentors such as Walter Dean Myers more about the book publishing and evaluation process. Katy and I met with Jane Pearlmutter and others in the School of Library and Information Studies along with faculty from the School of Education to develop “The Multicolored Mirror,” a conference and parallel workshop for authors and artists held on campus in 1991. Subsequently a book with the same title was published by Highsmith at the end of the year.


AEB: You have met scores of authors and illustrators over the years, through your participation in book award committees, conferences, continuing education, and events at the CCBC. Can you share a couple of memorable author/illustrator meetings or other experiences?

GMK: You probably don’t know that Nancy Ekholm Burkert encouraged me to participate in an exchange with artists and authors from the former USSR at Bread Loaf in Vermont in 1986 and in Lithuania and Russia the next year. Or, that in 1989, on behalf of the Association for Library Service to Children, I visited Iona Opie at her home in England in order to personally invite her to give the 1991 Arbuthnot Lecture. Or, that while I was a member of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, we met in 1988 with FBI staff to discuss the FBI’s Library Awareness Program. Or, that in 1993 I was one of four American women invited to give a paper at a seminar in Teheran, Iran. I can go on almost indefinitely once you start asking me about my amazing experiences within the wider book and publishing community.


However, so much of what is actually most memorable to me involves the people I’ve met while they’ve been using the CCBC, or while I’ve represented the CCBC elsewhere in Wisconsin. Most of these individuals are teachers, librarians, and UW- Madison alums whose names you probably wouldn’t recognize; but they have given me the energy and enthusiasm for attempting to manage the ever-expanding services of the CCBC.


The late Ellen Raskin’s trip back to her beloved University of Wisconsin campus in Madison in May, 1979, stands out in a major way. Even though she lived most of her adult life in New York City, Ellen enjoyed telling people that she was from Wisconsin. She savored every opportunity to return to Milwaukee where she had lived as a child and Madison where she had been a student. Ellen was adamant about wanting some of her papers to be in the CCBC and handled as much as possible by students on this campus and other adults who might want to know more about the creative process. She wished she had been able to see something like that while she was an art student here. After she made this offer a third time, I stopped replying that the CCBC doesn’t collect manuscripts, or that the CCBC doesn’t have the environment necessary for archiving fragile documents.


This always highly organized writer, artist, and graphic designer had been hanging on to every scrap of paper with the CCBC in mind while she was creating The Westing Game. Because she created The Westing Game before she owned a computer, everything was on paper: the proposal, drafts, revisions and her editor’s notes. Even though that brilliantly quirky, humorous novel subsequently won three literary awards (Newbery, Boston Globe–Horn Book, and Banta), Ellen kept her word. She hand-carried the manuscript and design materials for The Westing Game to the CCBC in May 1979. I encouraged Ellen to hold a microphone while she talked through the materials for those assembled for the first annual meeting of the Friends of the CCBC in what is now named the Elizabeth Burr Conference Room. As a result, the CCBC also has Ellen’s taped comments about the precious papers she gave to the CCBC that day.


Later, Ellen returned to Wisconsin to be interviewed extensively at the CCBC for what became a two-part series of videotapes featuring her life and creative works. Eileen Littig of NEWIST at UW-Green Bay produced the videotapes about this artist who was formally acknowledged with awards for her writing. The Friends of the CCBC have since then acquired the out-takes from those extensive interviews for the CCBC. Someone from Texas looked at each of them only a few months ago.


Another memorable day occurred during the University’s fall registration week in 1979 when a freshman student from Racine made an appointment to meet with me at the suggestion of his public librarian, Nancy Elsmo. Kevin Henkes brought his portfolio to the CCBC and said he wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. I looked at what I remember were lovely watercolor paintings, many of which bore award ribbons from previous competitions.


I knew I was looking at the work of a gifted artist impatient to begin creating books for children. I also knew he needed to deepen his understanding of the book world. I recalled that an Oberlin professor had told one of my daughters in regards to her creative writing that it’s important to take time to separate oneself from one’s high school experience. Kevin has probably forgotten exactly what was said that afternoon, but I know it was something to that effect.


I made my usual, specific suggestions for his use of the CCBC, even though in my experience most erstwhile book creators are unwilling to invest that kind of time on their prospective careers. Not Kevin. He spent endless hours in the CCBC listening to audio taped speeches of former guest speakers such as Ellen Raskin and Susan Hirschman, attending a weekly CCBC lecture series, and examining the typography and paper stock of books honored by the Children’s Book Council’s annual “Showcase.” He dummied up All Alone under Jack Kean’s tutelage and honed his understanding of the vast body of published literature for the young with Gertrude Herman.


Late the next spring, Kevin asked me to look with him at the ranked list of publishers he had made after months spent scrutinizing CCBC copies of books he admired, publisher by publisher. A visit to New York City was in the works, and he was ready to make the necessary appointments. He had brought his gifts as an artist and writer along with his intentions to the environment of the CCBC, and CCBC resources were here for him.


I also remember when Lois Ehlert came to the CCBC in March 1980 to talk about her freelance career as an artist. Lois was here that day as a guest of the Friends of the CCBC, who had been encouraged by President Elizabeth Burr to do something visible. That something emerged as a Dane County Cultural Affairs project linking Wisconsin authors and artists with Dane County audiences. People such as Florence Parry Heide and Frances Hamerstom would and did draw huge audiences during that project.
But Lois who? Very few people outside of the Milwaukee area where she now resided and her hometown of Beaver Dam knew Lois Ehlert’s few books for children then. She was so far ahead of the technology of those years that her understanding of color and design simply couldn’t be served by the book production of those days. I was convinced that people trusted the CCBC enough to want to hear this relatively unknown artist speak. They did come, and they were amazed at her genius in creating fabric art, posters for Manpower, illustrations for textbooks, and oh yes, books for children, including Limericks by Lear, from which the Friends later secured original artwork for the CCBC. Lois and I often talk about her first encounter with the CCBC and the Friends of the CCBC. We’re both glad it wasn’t her last.

AEB: What has been the most rewarding part of your tenure at the CCBC?

GMK: Two things. Seeing and using CCBC books and resources. I’m proud to have been given the opportunity to shepherd it and to expand the services based upon this incomparable collection.
The people. The people with whom I’ve have had the privilege of working, especially the CCBC librarians and student staffers. The university students, faculty and staff. The Wisconsin teachers and librarians and DPI colleagues whom I’ve had the opportunity to assist in one way or another. The authors, artists, editors, publishers and reviewers with whom I’ve had the chance to interact. Professional colleagues from across the nation and beyond. I’ve learned so much from everyone.

AEB: You have mentioned that you plan to remain professionally active in your retirement; what are your plans?

GMK: I plan to keep on learning. John and I want to travel more and farther, and we’ll also have greater flexibility about when we can be at our Burnett County cabin. We’ll have more time to be with our daughters and grandchildren. I want to be with old friends, and I look forward to making new ones. For many years I’ve been part of two adult reading groups, and there are shelves of other books I’m eager to read, too. I plan to continue reading books for children and young adults; the best of them are often far superior in quality to highly touted books published with adult readers in mind, and they can be taken seriously as literature.


I’m leaving the job I’ve loved, but not the career I’ve enjoyed so much, because I’ve already made several professional commitments in Wisconsin and nationally. Although I anticipate having CCBC virtual resources literally at my fingertips, I’ll need to use them in person. I’m so glad the CCBC is here for everyone, and now “everyone” includes me, too!


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