Faculty Profile: Melanie Kimball

April 14, 2014

"Libraries need to embrace new technologies because our young patrons want and need them to be successful."

Associate Professor Melanie Kimball's quest to prove the value of children's and young adult (YA) library services has not always been easy. "You will never get a job," she was told by a university dean after she declared her doctoral research interests: the history of youth services in early twentieth century public libraries and literature for children and young adults. Inspired by her mother, an elementary school librarian, Kimball left New York City to become a scholar in the children's and YA library services field. Despite the dire prediction from the dean, Kimball was hired to teach children's and YA library services to LIS master's students at the University at Buffalo after she completed her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. "There was a need for professors to teach children's and YA literature and library services and there were few people who specialized in the area at the time," Kimball says.

Today's increased demand for YA literature reinforces the need for specialists in the field. "We need to recognize that young adults require information specialists who can accommodate their needs, especially since the marketplace has demonstrated that this is a population that reads a great deal of literature," Kimball says. New categories of readers are emerging, such as "new adults" or "adulescents" ΜΆ early 20-somethings who may be in college but enjoy reading materials pitched to YAs. In addition, children's librarians are still finding ways to include new technologies, such as e-readers and e-books, in their shrinking budgets. "While I was teaching LIS 481 Children's Literature and Media Collections at Simmons GSLIS's study abroad partner institution, Yonsei University in South Korea, I saw an interactive storytelling room at the National Library for Children and Young Adults. Videos of Korean folktales are projected on the wall in a sophisticated, interactive children's room. Children can reach up and mimic motions, such as pulling fruit out of a tree and becoming part of the story. Such innovations show how to integrate technology into reading," says Kimball. "Libraries need to embrace new technologies because our young patrons want and need them to be successful."

To advance the children's and YA library services scholarship, Kimball has given almost 40 presentations and participated as a co-investigator in the Institute for Museum and Library Services project "Impact of the Internet on Youth's Use of the Public Library." In addition, she was on editorial boards for publications, such as Library & Information History, and is a peer reviewer for six journals, including Library and Information Science Research, Children & Libraries, Library Quarterly, and Young Adult Library Services. As part of the Simmons College mission to increase awareness about the historical contributions of women, Kimball's upcoming 2014 Library Trends article, "A Home-Like Atmosphere: The Advent of Children's Rooms at St. Louis Public Library, 1906-1912," shows how libraries changed the status of women in the workforce. The article, expanding upon her dissertation, shows how libraries gave children their own dedicated space for resources and reading. Dedicated children's and YA library specialists created professional jobs for women in 1909. The jobs elevated the status of women in the community by allowing them to assume leadership roles as library branch managers.

Kimball has held executive positions on the American Library Association's Library History Round Table and has been a judge in several Association of Library and Information Science Educators doctoral poster competitions. She is currently the President-Elect of the Simmons College Faculty Senate and seeks to address faculty concerns, and to encourage meaningful participation by the faculty in the college's shared governance. When she's not conducting research or serving on a committee, Kimball will be teaching LIS 401 Foundations of Library and Information Science, LIS 483 Young Adult Literature, and LIS 423 Storytelling during the Summer and Fall 2014 semesters.

Although Kimball received tenure in February 2014, she is not taking a vacation any time soon. "I'm looking forward to researching and writing a book." Her next research project involves comparing several early 20th-century public libraries' services to children. "Today's librarians can appreciate and learn from the proud, long tradition of children's and YA librarians."

By Dean's Editorial Fellow Jennifer Moyer