Q&A with Leigh Turina

Lead Librarian, IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities

Leigh Turina is the Lead Librarian for the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities and is a working children’s librarian at Toronto Public Library’s (TPL) North York Central branch where the Collection resides.

After 26 years in the TPL system, Leigh transferred to the children’s department at North York Central — and was asked to work on an assignment with the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities. Leigh, who previously worked in the therapeutic recreation field with people with disabilities, had found a dream job.

We asked Leigh to provide us with some background on the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities as well as offer her perspectives on how it has evolved.

1. How would you introduce or describe the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities to a new IBBY member — or someone who might not be familiar with it?

The IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities is a wondrous collection of books representing the hopes and goals of people internationally who love books and want to be able to share them with young people with disabilities.

I believe the vision for the Collection was, and is, for everyone to be able to read by themselves, thus books in various formats should be provided whether these be silent wordless books, books in print, Braille, dyslexic font, simplified text which is age appropriate, Sign language or Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) as well as those with tactile and textile illustrations.

In more recent years, the books which feature portrayals of characters with disabilities, offering mirrors for young people with disabilities, also offer windows for all of us on following a path which may be different than our own.

2. How did you get involved in the Collection?

I got involved because I had a little bit of expertise and was interested. Once I began unpacking the books, I was really sure that I was in my dream job. They are fascinating. Imagine being able to pour over these books, examining the craftsmanship of the tactile books; talking with authors and illustrators; becoming friends with so many of the IBBY national section members all over the world from Mongolia to France to Australia. It’s been a great adventure.

3. What is Toronto Public Library’s role in the Collection?

Toronto Public Library is the steward for this Collection, which belongs to IBBY Secretariat. We are in charge of housing the permanent reference copies of all the books chosen as outstanding, as well as all the other submissions.

In true IBBY fashion, there are two circulating collections of outstanding books which travel around the world for two years or more. Once the touring collections have returned, we house these as well. We coordinate the submission and evaluation process every two years, using TPL staff and other volunteer readers.

Collaborating with the Secretariat in Basel, Switzerland, a print catalogue with annotations of the outstanding books is produced and posted online at www.ibby.org and www.tpl.ca/ibby. TPL cataloguing and processing staff ensure that the books are physically on the shelf. The web team staff posts the online catalogues and maintain the website.

Finally, we are in charge of publicizing the collection to increase its usage. We do this by blogging, providing class visits, tours and reference information to users and researchers, and mounting exhibits and displays, such as the Silent Book Tour in 2015 and the art gallery exhibit at the Toronto Reference Library, November 16, 2019-January 26, 2020.

Over the years, Toronto Public Library has:

• Increased catalogue access by providing standardized formats, additional subject headings, and the ability to download from the Web.
• Created descriptive and analytical annotations based on how the reader or purchaser might use them.
• Utilized additional multilingual resources.
• Increased physical access by being on a subway line, in an urban centre, in an accessible public library with generous opening hours.

4. In the 2019 IBBY Selection catalogue, the Collection is described as a “labour of love”…

We use the phrase “labour of love” to describe our work; many of the people involved feel that way. First, the national sections evaluate and choose their outstanding books which reflect the best examples their countries have to offer at a particular time. Without their help and the book donations from the publishers, we would not be able to carry out this project.

Once the books arrive in Canada, our volunteer readers take over. Most of them are staff from Toronto Public Library, but others from outside provide expertise in language, viewpoint or format. Many are excited to read new books published in their native languages.

Other staff comb the Internet to find reviews of the books, their authors and illustrators, while TPL cataloguers and web teams provide online access. Our graphic artist in Switzerland, Marcela Montes, pulls together the striking images for the catalogue. Enormous credit goes to Liz Page, IBBY Executive Director, for her editing and stewardship of the overall project.

Such work becomes a labour of love when it is done voluntarily or goes beyond a job description.

5. The Collection is international in scope with the books nominated by IBBY national sections around the world — the 2019 catalogue features 40 books in 17 languages from 20 countries. What impresses you about the international diversity of the collection?

There is concern from parents, educators, librarians and other allies all over the world for children and teens with disabilities. Each of us wants to see these young people included and valued in society and thus, reflected in books and media. Every community/country approach this in a different way. We learn from all of them. A novel about a teen whose brother’s disability disrupts the whole family strikes a spark of recognition in other readers who have the same experience; teenage angst transcends geography. A tactile book from Japan may give a teacher in Singapore an idea for her own classroom. Cookbooks from Norway and the US demonstrate that children who are blind or teens with intellectual disabilities are equally able to experiment in the kitchen.

The collection has a sheer mass of over 4,000 books in close to 50 different languages, multiplied by a variety of formats, approaches and disabilities represented. It is phenomenal. For those of us who are exposed to the North American and/or English-language market of children’s publishing, it is a fascinating treasure trove of diversity, equally valued by bibliophile and researchers alike.

Every two years when our catalogue is published, TPL posts a blog about the new outstanding book list on our website. The current April 2019 blog has amassed over 1,000 page views from countries such as Australia, India, Sweden, Italy and Japan.

While we have had many international visitors in the library who view the collection as part of their tour, we also have people who come specifically to tour the books. We welcome researchers and ask that they email ahead so that we may better prepare for their visit. (ibby@tpl.ca )

6. How has the collection changed since its in inception?

Times have changed since 1981, when the United Nations decided to highlight The Year of Disabled Persons.

One of the main tenets of that year was “full participation and equality,” defined as the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies. We have seen changes in attitudes in many countries since then. Here at the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities, we see this progress through popular culture, particularly in books for young people. Some of the current trends that we have observed are:

Portrayals of disability. A greater variety of disabilities are being written about and illustrated in books today, including many which are invisible, such as mental illness, dyslexia, etc. There has been a change from viewing characters as objects of pity, or “other,” to characters with disabilities having an active and primary role in the plot. The IBBY Collection is also beginning to reflect a movement where the dealing with the disability or limitations becomes less important than the characterization.
Easy to read format. Increasingly people need books which they can read. Whether a person has a learning disability, an intellectual disability or is learning a language, interesting books in an age-appropriate simplified text need to be provided which they can read themselves. Publishers and agencies in Europe are answering this need with specialized texts.
Disability awareness. Many people are looking for books to “teach” disability awareness for all young people regardless of their own abilities. While the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities was established to encourage publication of books for child and teen readers with disabilities, it may be noted that a wider audience of parents, educators and young people are looking for books that portray diversity and a wide range of abilities in our world. And this is the best way forward.

7. How do you think the Collection relates to IBBY’s mission?

The books in the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities are books of high literary and artistic standards, which promote understanding: that children and teens with disabilities are people first; that similarities are more important than limitations; that everyone should have the right to read and access information by themselves; that young people should be able to see themselves reflected in stories.

All of these goals are reflections of the IBBY mission statements, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the hopes of all of us.

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