Christine A. Jenkins
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
501 E. Daniel Street, Room 220
Champaign, IL 61820 * 217-244-7452
cajenkin@uiuc.edu

Graduate School of Library and Information Science University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 501 E. Daniel Street, Room 220 * Champaign, IL 61820 * 217-244-7452 email address Home Page Research CV-Resume YA Bibliography Courses Taught Selected Papers CCB K-12 Program Favorite Links Valentine Gallery background image

RESEARCH STATEMENT

Books are keys to wisdom's treasure
Books are gates to lands of pleasure
Books are paths that upward lead
Books are friends. Come, let us read.
— Emilie Poulssen, poem inscribed over the entrance
to the Children's Reading Room, Hopkinton (Massachusetts) Public Library

"What then are we doing when we teach children to read and write?
We have taken this for granted for so long that it seems strange to question it."
—Martin Hoyles, The Politics of Literacy, p. 22.

Broadly defined, my research questions and interests center on historical, contemporary, and future connections between young people and texts. I am particularly—though not exclusively—interested in these connections as they are mediated (both positively and negatively) by youth services librarians, educators, and other authoritative adults. This is an interdisciplinary area area of study that overlaps several disciplines: history (including the histories of youth services librarianship, women, children, literacy, print culture, and popular culture), literature (particularly texts intended for young people and/or those who work with them), and education (principally in the areas of literacy and reader-response).

Thus, I bring a library and information science perspective to reading research in education, an interest in gay/lesbian content to research in children's and young adult literature, an awareness of gender and children's issues to the study of censorship, a knowledge of women in female-intensive middle class professions to American history scholarship, an appreciation of popular culture to children's literature discussions, a knowledge of the early history of children's literature with African American characters to the current discussion around multicultural issues and authenticity in children's books, an understanding of children's issues to Cold War history, and a background in children's popular literature to the study of the canon.

Among the specific areas that I have focused on in my research:

I want to challenge the "common wisdom" about the complacency/passivity of middle class women librarians, the apolitical nature of mid-century children's and young adult literature, the changelessness of the children’s literary canon, and the unsuitability of mass market series, comics, and books with gay/lesbian content for young readers.


HISTORY OF YOUTH SERVICES LIBRARIANSHIP   Back to Top

Although women's history as a distinct area of scholarship has flourished since the second wave of feminism in the late 1960s, there are many groups of women whose histories remain understudied and little known. Within American women's history, for example, research has most commonly focused on either singular exceptional women or on large groups of working class women. Thus far, comparatively little attention has been directed toward the women who created and comprised the social welfare professions that grew out of Progressive Era social reform movements. And despite the fact that library service to youth has been lauded as "the success story of American public libraries" since its late nineteenth century beginnings, few scholars of library history have focused on youth services librarians and librarianship, Through my research I seek to enrich and expand the history of children’s librarianship and connect it to the developing histories of other female-intensive social welfare profession, including teachers, social workers, and nurses, as well as to the histories of children and childhood.

My past and current areas of interest within this larger topic include:


CHILDREN'S AND YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE   Back to Top

Children’s literature scholar Anne Pellowski notes that the "history of U.S. children’s libraries cannot be separated from that of children’s literature."1 For example, questioning assumptions about children's librarians?passive, even docile, response to censors led me to reexamine the commonly held belief that earlier children's and young adult literature lent apolitical support to the sociopolitical status quo. Thus, I have also examined the history of the fiction and nonfiction written for children and young adults during that time. While I am interested in individual texts, I am particularly interested in texts as the parts that comprise the whole of a genre or body of literature.

My past and current areas of interest within this larger topic include


CENSORSHIP AND INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM    Back to Top

My work speaks to an audience of scholars in several disciplines—American history, literary criticism, gay/lesbian studies, women’s studies, education, and library and information science—and to the professions of teaching and librarianship. Historically, youth services librarianship, young people, and books written for young readers have been idealized and marginalized, lauded and dismissed. In the popular imagination, libraries for young people exist as a quiet professional backwater focused on the timeless elements of childhood, literacy, Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, and Beverly Cleary. My research highlights the distance between this pleasant but ineffectual stereotype and the strategies of positive resistance actually employed by librarians on behalf of young people and their reading. My work in this area began with a historical investigation of the not-uncommon assumption that censorship within librarianship was/is the "natural" result of the preponderance of women in the profession. My dissertation research had a more specific focus on youth services librarians and intellectual freedom, focusing on the work of the youth services leaders in the American Library Association (ALA) in the years from 1939 to 1955.

My past and current areas of interest within this larger topic include:


CHILDREN’S READING AND POPULAR CULTURE   Back to Top

There is a long-standing tension among library professionals between the reading and promotion of children's books designated as "formula fiction" and of books designated as "literature." This is particularly true in the evaluation of books portraying characters who are not white and middle class, as series books have traditionally reflected the mainstream culture and race/class/gender prejudices of their times, whereas children's literature might include realistically drawn characters who are members of non-mainstream or minority-status groups. The lines between these two genres, however, are not absolute, and some series books have included such characters; certainly there is a long tradition of assertive female characters in nontraditional roles (Nancy Drew, etc.) and, more recently, there have been several ongoing series book characters from racial/cultural/religious minorities. Despite the fact that children actively choose to purchase and read series fiction, few critics or scholars examine children's popular print culture, and these books (and readers' interaction with them) remain largely unexplored territory. This work is relevant to researchers in literature, popular culture, and ethnic studies.

My past and current areas of interest within this larger topic include:


CHILDREN’S CANONICAL LITERATURE   Back to Top

Over the past year, my research focus has expanded to include not only the books whose presence in children's library collections has been challenged, but also the books that have been considered part of the canon of children's literature. Since 1909, the Children's Catalog (published by the H.W. Wilson Co., now in its 19th [2006] edition) has been one of the primary collection development tools of school and public youth services librarians. The Catalog itself is an annotated listing of the 4000-5000 books recommended by librarians for inclusion in libraries serving young people. The six editions published from 1941 to 1966 contained the additional feature of placing two stars (**) before the 200-300 most highly recommended books, thus creating an identifiable and potentially quantifiable canon of children's books. In 1999 I began work on a searchable database that would enable me to track these 2-star titles through successive editions, with the goal of identifying patterns of inclusion over time.

My past and current areas of interest within this larger topic include:


AESTHETIC AND EFFERENT READING PRACTICES    Back to Top

I believe that research in literacy, particularly in the areas of aesthetic reading and reading engagement, can inform and give nuances to LIS theories of information-gathering strategies. Literacy workers know that pleasure is an essential element in the development of people who consider themselves readers as adults. Consideration of this aspect of reading, however, is simply dropped once the person leaves adolescence and/or is judged to be an able reader. This is unfortunate, as the focus on one end of the reading continuum unnecessarily limits the work being done by LIS researchers in terms of the range and depth of the scholarship that could inform their theories. Indeed, why must aesthetic and efferent reading be studied separately when the readers themselves rarely make this distinction? This research is relevant to researchers in LIS, education, psychology, and communication, as well as the teachers, librarians, and other practitioners involved in literacy work.

1. Anne Pellowski, The World of Children’s Literature (NY: R.R.Bowker Co., 1968), 391.

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