I collect children’s books, specifically children’s books about third-party reproduction and assisted reproductive technology. It is an obscure topic and one that started with a reference question back in 2003. I was asked if I could find any children’s books that explained sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, surrogacy, or IVF to children. Of course, I said! I can find anything! I’m a librarian! I’ve got search skills! And thus began what is now going on a 14-year search to find these books. It turned out not to be that simple though for these books are rather unfindable. There are no reliable Library of Congress subject headings for these topics, and it turns out that they are all self-published, hence not purchased by the average library. So how to find them then? I’d have to dig using unconventional research methods. I’d have to resort to Google. But occasionally these books are held in libraries and so I frequent WorldCat to look for them, and one day recently I stumbled upon a book in Hebrew that was held in the National Library of Israel. I had not seen this book before, and so I followed the link to the library and there it was, listed in the catalog in Hebrew, but with English subject headings. I used Google Chrome to translate the summary for me and voilà, the book was on the topic I collect books on. I just had to have it for my collection. But how was I going to get it? I started by copying the title, אמא בטן, אמא לב, in its original Hebrew. Then I went to Google Israel (http://google.co.il) and pasted the title into the search box. Up popped several results, some of them bookstores that sold the book. So I found the book, just how was I going to now buy this book?
This is not the first book I have discovered from Israel. I have several in my collection, but each time I have asked other librarians for help with finding these books. This time was no different. I am on several listservs: lm_net, nycslist, alsc-l, child_lit, collib-l, yalsa-bk, and aaslforum, so I wrote a query and then sat back and waited for some kind person to help me track down this book. Although I have studied 8 languages, Hebrew is not one of them, so I needed help navigating bookstores in Israel who might ship to the United States, and if they didn’t, I needed someone to purchase the book for me and send it to me in the States, for which I would readily reimburse them. So I posted this query:
“Dearest kind colleagues,
“I found this book today at the National Library of Israel and I must have it for my collection of children’s books on assisted reproduction. I am hoping some kind soul from among you could help me to purchase two copies of this book.”
I went on to write:
“It is available from this bookstore in Israel but I do not read or speak Hebrew. Can someone help me? I am having trouble navigating the site because of my lack of Hebrew skills and I want to know if they will ship to the States. Or maybe someone here happens to be going to Israel and can purchase two copies for me for which I will readily reimburse you?
And I waited. And a few days later, a librarian in New York City told me that her sister-in-law lived in Israel, had found the book, and that she actually had a friend traveling to Israel who could take the book from her sister-in-law and bring it back to the states for me! This is not the first time kind people have come through for me through my posts to the listservs, but I was very grateful. This is the first children’s book from Israel that I have discovered on donor conception in a lesbian family and it might be the first of its kind in Hebrew. I just had to have it for my collection.
Who uses these books anyway? I maintain a list of these books on my Books for Donor Offspring blog and since 2003 I have discovered 321 children’s books on third-party reproduction and assisted reproductive technology. Again, this was all because of a simple reference question fourteen years ago! I maintain the blog for two purposes: 1) it is a record of all of my research into finding these books, but 2) the blog serves as a tool to help parents who are looking for books for which they want help explaining assisted conception to their children. Once a week, usually Saturday mornings, I scour the web and self-publishing catalogs, to see if any children’s books on these topics have been published or written about in the last week. I not only search Google, but I search Google Argentina, Google Spain, Google France, Google Australia, Google Germany, Google Italy, etc. I have taught myself the search terms in other languages and I use those terms to search for these books as well. You see, I haven’t just limited my searching to books in English. I have discovered books on this topic in 13 different languages! And sometimes, especially when I find books in a language I do not speak like Hebrew, I have turned to my virtual colleagues for assistance.
Although my search for these books has turned into a personal hobby for which I dedicate several hours every weekend, I am just as actively engaged in my job during the week. I’ve been a school librarian for 24 years and until very recently I’d been a solo librarian for the last 9 of those years. And during those last 9 especially, I have frequently posted to my listservs both to make queries and to share. Working alone is sometimes a lonely existence and it was always nice to know that someone was on the other end of the bandwidth ready to help with any questions I might have had about working with my students, dealing with my administration, or help with my teaching. By being an active poster on the listservs, I have met many kind people that I would never otherwise have gotten a chance to meet, and the AASL Forum is a wonderful way to make those connections. I have met colleagues from all over the country, from all over the world even, and I have had innumerable questions answered. So when this question came up about the Israeli children’s book I wanted to track down, I naturally turned to my listservs for help. And help I got for the book arrived in the mail last night! And I don’t just get help from others through the listservs, I have been asked to offer help myself. I have been approached by editors and asked to write articles based on my queries or shares and have been asked to do workshops based on knowledge I have demonstrated through my posts. The listservs have turned out to be powerful tools for help in my daily work as a weekend researcher and a school librarian and ones I could not live without both personally and professionally.