Librarian Spotlight: Rita Meade from Brooklyn, NY
Librarians know a ton about books — and we love learning from them. With this in mind, we’re spotlighting librarians to hear more about their jobs, and of course, their book recommendations! This month we spoke with Rita Meade, a librarian based in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of Edward Gets Messy, which was awarded the inaugural Anna Dewdney Read Together Award recognizing a picture book that is “both a superb read aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection.” Rita was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn by Brooklyn Magazine, has served as a judge for The Story Prize, formerly hosted the Dear Book Nerd podcast for Book Riot, and has written for several publications and literary sites including School Library Journal and Reading Rainbow.
What is your favorite part of being a librarian?
In a nutshell: working with people! I love being a public librarian because it allows me to engage with the community in meaningful and impactful ways. When I help someone find information they need or solve a problem, it makes my day as much as it does theirs. Being a public librarian also allows me to explore many different areas of interest and have a wide range of experiences, even within a single hour. On any given day you can find me leading story time for babies and toddlers, facilitating a book discussion for adults, or running an after-school arts and crafts program for kids — not to mention all the interesting questions librarians get asked. My job is many things, but it’s never boring!
What do you think is the most important part of libraries and why do we need librarians?
Libraries provide essential services to everyone, all in one place, for free. If you think about it, these are attributes almost completely unique to public libraries. Sometimes people who haven’t been to a library in a while ask me what librarians can offer that the internet cannot. One of the answers is human connection, which I think is a component of customer service that is undervalued these days, but so important when it comes to building community. Librarians are not, in reality, superheroes, but we are dedicated trained professionals who strive to offer the best customer service possible to the widest range of people.
What is your favorite book club read?
The last time I ran our library’s book discussion group, I chose The Leavers by Lisa Ko. It’s beautifully written and explores poignant topics such as deportation, cultural identity, and complicated familial relationships with great nuance. It was a wonderful, emotional read and an excellent choice for sparking discussion.
What books do you think everyone should read?
Honestly, I’m not a fan of the word “should” when it comes to reading. What one person loves and responds to might not necessarily apply to the next person, and that’s okay. That being said, there are definitely books I feel would be beneficial to a wide audience and which explore essential topics in today’s society. Two examples are So You Want to Talk About Raceby Ijeoma Oluo and Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, which was edited by Roxane Gay. We cannot solve the world’s problems through reading alone; these books offer important perspectives and provide opportunities to start conversations that lead to action.
What is the last book that surprised you?
I wasn’t sure what to expect from My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, but I loved it. It’s a slim book, but it packs a lot of suspense, emotion, and dark humor into it. I also just finished the excellent Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister and was surprised at how angry AND inspired I could feel at the same time.
What are the most under-appreciated genres out there?
I feel like short stories can always use more love! Some of my favorite short story collections include What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah, Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson, and Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans. If you are looking to read more poetry, Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones is breathtaking.
How do you go about answering the question “what should I read next”?
Reader’s advisory is a fun but often tricky part of a librarian’s job. In an ideal world, I’d be able to read (or even hear about) every single book that gets published. That obviously can’t happen, so I try to stay on top of trends, read reviews, and use all kinds of book-related sites to discover new titles. When it comes to individual recommendations, I usually ask the patron the last thing they read that they really liked and try to offer something similar that might suit their taste, or ask them what genre they are interested in and go from there. I also sometimes encourage patrons to simply browse the new books shelves we have in the library. We also provide ever-changing book displays to encourage circulation of diverse materials.
How has your job changed over time and how has new technology changed your job?
Honestly, the biggest change is that it’s gotten busier! Libraries play so many different roles these days, and people have come to depend on them for social services as much as literary and informational ones. Technology definitely plays a part in modern library work, from providing access to books remotely to things like 3D printing programs that show kids the fun of designing. In my experience, tech only enhances the way librarians do our jobs and allows us to better serve our patrons (as opposed to threatening to replace us or make our work obsolete).
What is next on your reading list?
I’m excited to read Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken, which comes out in February — it’s her first novel in about 20 years! Her book Thunderstruck and Other Stories was incredible, so I’m looking forward to reading more fiction from her.