A Wise and Blithe Spirit

School Library Connection is proud to continue LMC‘s tradition in sponsoring an annual ALISE award to recognize outstanding research in library materials and services to young people. This year’s award submission deadline of September 22nd is fast approaching!—readers interested in submitting will find more information at ALISE’s website here.

As we eagerly look forward to reading the next winning paper, we’re excited to share this past winner by Sharon McQueen that was presented at the 2014 ALISE conference.

Mary Hill Arbuthnot with the third edition of Children and Books, photo 1969. The Cleveland Press Collection, Special Collections, Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University.
May Hill Arbuthnot with the third edition of Children and Books, photo 1969. The Cleveland Press Collection, Special Collections, Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University.

May Hill Arbuthnot is still with us in her books, a wise and blithe spirit.
— Zena Sutherland

The May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture is administered by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association. Each year, an Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee chooses “an individual of distinction who shall prepare and present a paper which shall be a significant contribution to the field of children’s literature” (ALSC 6). The location of the lectureship changes each year, as host institutions must apply and vie for the honor.

In 2006, I was a faculty member in the School of Library & Information Science, University of Kentucky (UK-SLIS) and served as Director of both The McConnell Center for the Study of Youth Literature and the annual McConnell Youth Literature Conference. Keven Henkes had been selected as the 2007 Arbuthnot lecturer, and I hoped The McConnell Center would be chosen to host the award.

In an effort to make the application as competitive as possible, I wanted to learn more about the Arbuthnot Lecture. As a sociocultural historian of children’s literature and biographer of individuals connected with the field, I was curious: Who the heck was May Hill Arbuthnot? At the time, I was not able to research Arbuthnot’s life and the history of the lectureship as deeply as I’d have liked. Much to the delight of everyone at UK-SLIS, The McConnell Center was chosen as the 2007 Arbuthnot Lecture site, and my attention was drawn back to the present.

After serving as an Arbuthnot Lecture Host Site Committee Chair, I supported several subsequent Host Site Chairs in an advisory capacity and was invited to serve on the ALSC Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee as well. Over the years, I eagerly spoke with ALSC members and others in the field of librarianship about May Hill Arbuthnot and the lectureship named in her honor. Though most had heard of the Arbuthnot Lecture, few knew who May Hill Arbuthnot was or why a lectureship had been named for her. Many knew she was considered to be one of the foremothers of our field but did not know why. Many were very much surprised to learn that Arbuthnot was not a children’s librarian. And yet, May Hill Arbuthnot made significant, lasting contributions that have shaped reading, children’s literature, and library youth services as we know them today. Continue reading “A Wise and Blithe Spirit”