Every weekday morning, as medical rounds in the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center wrap up, Phoebe Bacon finishes arranging 100 books on a three-tiered cart and heads to a unit. Room by room, the Children’s Center librarian tells patients and their parents about the hospital’s library and offers assistance finding a desired book. Then she invites them to pick books from the cart—favorites like Piggie & Elephant by Mo Willems or Bernard Most’s La Vaca Que Decia OINK. Drawing from more than two decades as a school librarian, Bacon can offer a quick summary of nearly any book on the cart.
As a child who grew up traveling overseas with her family, Bacon understands how books can create a refuge. At the same time, she feels comfortable in a hospital setting; Bacon worked as a nurse in the adolescent psychiatric unit at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. After deciding to pursue a master’s degree in library science, however, she worked for 23 years at independent schools and at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The position of hospital pediatric librarian, which she took in 2012, merges her nursing and library backgrounds.
How many books are in the library? And why does a pediatric hospital need a library?
There are currently about 6,000 books. The library serves as a resource for parents seeking complete, unbiased information on such topics as special diets and managing chronic illness and databases for scholarly research. It also provides picture books for Child Life staff seeking books to help children cope with a new diagnosis, bereavement and anxieties. And it provides books for parents to read aloud to their children. Finally, it offers inviting chapter books that can transport children of all ages out of the hospital.
How do you select books for hospitalized children?
I buy the same books that I would select in any setting: those with illustrations and words that catch my imagination, make me laugh, or take me on an adventure.
What are some favorites among the children?
For 5-year-olds and under, I have the most success with picture books. Boys like Diary of a Wimpy Kid; girls love Dork Diaries. Graphic novels are also popular.
What’s a typical week?
In addition to preparing the book cart, I meet with parents and patients to suggest age-appropriate reading material, help with searches for information on their health issues and invite them to visit the library. Once a week, I head to the pediatric outpatient Harriet Lane Clinic and leave donated books in the waiting room for anyone to pick up, read and take home.
With all the technology at kids’ fingertips these days, do books still appeal to them?
For many kids who are given a choice between a book and the Internet, the latter will win. A book is a tougher sell today. But kids still read for the same reasons we have always read—it’s pure pleasure to curl up with a book (or electronic reader) and escape into that mystery, graphic novel or fantasy.
—Interview by Judy F. Minkove