Jane Botham received her Master’s Degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Library and Information Science. Before becoming Coordinator of Children’s Services for Milwaukee Public Library (1980-1998), she worked at New York Public Library, San Francisco Public Library, New York State Library and as the marketing director at Bradbury Press.
As Coordinator of Children’s Services, Jane was a leader of youth services staff at the Central library and the 12 neighborhood libraries as well as the Mobile Library in the Milwaukee Public Library system. Jane was noted for her clear vision, passionate advocacy, children’s and teen book expertise, and unceasing commitment to bringing librarians, community organizations, book creators and kids together to provide respectful child- and family-centered library service.
Jane Botham was a true force in youth services in Milwaukee, in the state and nationally. Her leadership in youth services was well known and fell into a number of categories:
Jane’s experience in other large metropolitan libraries as well as her five years in publishing gave her a unique perspective on creating responsive services. “After having worked in publishing, Botham was able to share with library colleagues a valuable understanding of the publishing industry and its relationship to children’s librarianship.” [“Botham Honored as DSA.” Children and Libraries, Spring 2009. pp 55-56,]. She celebrated books and book creators, championing author visits to Milwaukee and creating the highly successful Poetry Concerts in the 1980s that brought nationally known children’s poets to the city. While chairing the Caldecott Committee in 1992, Jane facilitated a series of discussions for children and parents to involve them in the process of evaluating art in picture books. An extension of the Milwaukee Reads program, this project was done in cooperation with the Milwaukee Public Schools, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Education. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. October 22, 1992 and MPL Brochure “Let’s Talk About Picture Books for Children”]
Jane felt strongly that the library was an integral part of the community. She forged many invaluable collaborations and networks between the library and Milwaukee arts, educational, schools and community groups and individuals. She brought together leading youth-serving organizations like museums, nature centers, and cultural organizations to meet bi-monthly and created vibrant community collaborative programs with them including one with renowned author Nancy Eckholm Burkert and the Milwaukee Art Museum. [“Art Literature and Poetry: Milwaukee PL Supports Culture.” School Library Journal, June/July 1987, pp 32-36] These creative and multi-faceted programs were beneficial to the citizens of Milwaukee, the organizations, the individual artists, authors, and community workers, as well as providing opportunities for librarians to grow professionally and become integral members of their neighborhoods and the city-at-large. As Jane herself said, “I think networking is the ultimate tool for children’s librarians. The more people you know, the better off you are.” [“Reading, Responsibility and Respect: Jane Botham on the Three R’s of Library Service to Children.” School Library Journal. September, 1994. pp.134-138]
Jane was a mentor not just to the MPL youth staff but also to many, many Wisconsin Library Association Youth Services Section members and youth librarians throughout the state. Jane’s leadership, wise counsel, and support of youth librarians was legendary. There are many career librarians in Wisconsin – many now also retired – who were fortunate to be counted among her proteges. She encouraged MPL librarians and youth librarians around the state to become active in local organizations and state and national library association work. Jane energized staff and proteges not only to attend conferences and seminars, but to take an active role in presenting and speaking on panels locally, statewide, and nationally as well. That support, which included making appointments of WI children’s and teen library staff to Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) committees, brought the voices of many Wisconsin professionals to the tables at ALA and created life-long library leaders in children’s work and library management positions on the state and national level.
Jane was a strong advocate for quality children’s books, the importance of children’s library services in the constellation of services that libraries offer, and the training of youth services librarians to be leaders in their libraries and communities. Her voice was always an important one at any table of librarianship. She also recognized the fundamental powerlessness of children and advocated tirelessly for their right to read and to be informed by children’s literature. She was a strong leader and an exemplar of excellent library service locally, statewide and nationally and served as the President of the Friends of the CCBC during her career. After her retirement, she continued to advocate and support excellence in youth services and youth publishing and to mentor WI youth librarians.
Meeting Children Where They Are
Jane was a strong proponent of the public library serving the “whole child,” with their wide and varied interests. She focused on ways to listen to what children showed interest in and tying service and recommendations for materials conversationally into any interaction. She worked with others to create welcoming, supportive environments and services for children and families – always encouraging staff to get up and greet kids and families as they enter the library. She believed in respecting kids and treating them fairly. As Jane once said, “Children need to have adults who support them in their interests and who can respect them for who they are. That’s what a librarian can do more than anything else.” [“Reading, Responsibility and Respect: Jane Botham on the Three R’s of Library Service to Children.” School Library Journal. September, 1994. pp.134-138]
Supporting Professional Development
Jane’s leadership and coaching was evident on a daily basis within Wisconsin. She was an unstinting champion of making good books available to kids. She encouraged and developed MPL librarians’ critical skills in evaluating, critiquing, reviewing, and promoting children’s books, from both a literary and visual perspective. She helped facilitate appearances of many children’s book creators to Milwaukee for library programs, including Ashley Bryan, Kevin Henkes, Ava Weiss, Phillip Pullman and many others. She instilled in librarians an appreciation for the heritage and importance of children’s librarianship and literature and the role children’s librarians could play in the future of the profession.