Librarians and Kids Music: A Survey

We are committed library users in our household -- four cards! -- so it's not surprising that there are a few CDs scattered amongst the books we borrow from our local library system. Not so many kids' music CDs -- we have plenty, far more than all but the most devoted library system could hope or want to purchase -- but early on, before this site was but a twinkle in my eye, I discovered some artists there -- my first spins of Dan Zanes and Justin Roberts disks, for example, came courtesy of the library.

Now that I spend a lot more time thinking about kids music, not only from a critic's perspective but also from a business perspective, I thought it would be interesting to survey some librarians on kids music in their libraries. The survey is a little old (OK, waay old, like, last year), but I think the answers still hold up. I've kept the responses anonymous, though I should note that librarian/blogger Warren Truitt participated -- I think finding at least one of his responses shouldn't be too hard.

If there are any trends in the responses, it's that there are no trends. The respondents were all over the map in terms of their favorites, how the learn about music, and how they purchase music. If they agreed on anything, it's that patron requests are taken very seriously. (So go now and ask your library system to get some more great kids music.)

Thanks to all the librarians who participated, and to all of them who fight the good kids music fight week in, week out.

Zooglobble: What is the internal process your library system uses to decide which kids and family music CDs to acquire?
-- In our system, librarians share collection development responsibilities. One librarian is responsible for selecting music. If another person reads a favorable review, he or she sends the info to the music selector. Each branch selects its own programming music.
-- I work for an 18 branch library system and our music is centrally selected. At the beginning of each year we fill out a survey to let the collection development librarian know what our community is like and what artists we especially want. I also get to share things like our collection is heavily used.
-- Our collection development librarian looks over reviews and pays attention to what is popular and orders accordingly. Each library has a different size collection. We of course can request items be purchased at any time.
The process isn't fancy (especially since there's only me doing the selection/acquisition). Good music is important to me and it's important that my collection have a good selection of quality kids music. I try to keep abreast of what's happening in kids music (both great and not so great) and I spend a lot of time previewing the music on
-- I generate the audio order every other month. I put a list together and individual agencies order according to their needs.
-- Kids' music is ordered centrally for [the library] by one person, and she uses a couple of non-print materials catalogs and a few websites (Gentle Wind, Rounder Kids, Folkways) to make her choices.
-- We have centralized selection; I select materials for our main library and 16 other locations. I buy music based on reviews and/or familiarity with a particular performer. Patron and staff requests are also taken into consideration.
-- Within budgetary and space restraints, quality, expected demand as well as use in our programming are our internal guidelines.
-- I am the selector for that collection, which means that I pretty much get free rein. I put together a list of items to be ordered and submit to the person in charge of acquisitions gets them from wherever I ask. I have a $750 budget, which can be a challenge. The combination of preschoolers and CDs can be unfortunate, and I spend a portion of my budget reordering things that have been damaged. One interesting factor that can be frustrating is that I can only have a limited number of vendors to keep things easier for the people who process the cds. I would like to add Pokey Pup, but to do so I would have to drop one of the other vendors.

What external feedback (e.g., patrons' comments, print reviews, internet reviews) do you use to help make your selections? Is there particular feedback that is more important or trustworthy than others?
-- I read Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Criticas, Horn Book, and other review journals. I am not sure which journals the music selector uses. We keep a record of patron requests at our reference desk and place orders using that information. Our system also has formal patron request cards that can be used to request items.
-- I use all of the above to make selections. I very much like patron’s suggestions and often purchase everything if I can find it. The main part of our collection is purchased based on popularity and requests, of course I am always looking for great new music.
-- I take patron requests into account...I don't know of many sources of official print and internet review. I had never heard of your site before today. If I happen to see a good review I'll check the CD out...and I definitely check out customer feedback reviews on Amazon and other online merchants. Of all the external feedback I can think of, the only thing that might make me buy something I wouldn't normally touch is patron demand..
-- I look at a variety of resources to find materials: Fids and Kamily, School Library Journal, Kimbo, Educational Record Center, Midwest Tape, Book Wholesalers (BWI), staff suggestions and patron requests. I prefer School Library Journal reviews. I rarely put an individual artist's recording on a list unless I have a review or a receive a suggestion for purchase.
-- Personally, I trust my own judgement. I check CDBaby and Pokey Pup pretty frequently to see what's new out there. I trust other kiddierock bloggers (like yourself, Amy, and Bill), because they actually listen to the CDs they review, and don't use phrases like "rollickin'" or "toe-tappin'" when they write.
-- Reviews in professional journals (School Library Journal, for example) are very important; staff and customer recommendations and requests are considered but ideally I would be able to find print reviews of the materials also.
-- Print reviews and notable lists are my primary source for material to purchase. We do respond to patron recommendations, however, and that is where the ability to listen to selections via the internet is helpful. I also travel to Boston frequently (family) and make a point to listen to "The Playground" on WERS (Emerson College student run radio). "The Playground" show has an excellent children and family music playlist. They are miles above the children's programming on satellite radio. In the end, nothing beats actually hearing the music.
-- I use some print reviews (in School Library Journal, and occasionally Booklist), but my most important resource is blogs. I regularly check Zooglobble, Children's Music that Rocks, Mrs. Davis..., and a few others that are updated less frequently. I also check Amazon's 'Just released' lists to keep up with Disney and the Wiggles and other things that tend not to be reviewed. My reliance on blogs has been challenged by my supervisor, as she finds it hard to understand that I am not killing time but using resources that I feel are best and most up-to-date. There is a patron request form, but thus far I have only received one children's music request (for Hannah Montana), and I ended up forwarding it to Adult Services, since our focus is on preschool and early elementary. One-on-one, parent's comments about the collection seem to focus on getting suggestions from me rather than making suggestions.

What are the most popular kids/family CDs, both Disney-related and non-Disney-related, in your system? (Is there a significant difference between the two in terms of usage?)
-- People seem to be enjoying music that teaches foreign languages such as Spanish and French. They like counting songs. I am not sure about who the favorite artists are because items are checked out in another area of the library.
-- Dan Zanes, Laurie Berkner, Greg and Steve, Jim Gill, Sesame Street, Disney anything, Kidz Bop, Ella Jenkins, Hap Palmer I think the entire music collection is very heavily used. I think the Disney stuff and Kidz Bop may go out more for the little bit older kids. Overall, I think family music is the biggest chunk of circulation.
-- Those Disney CDs are way too popular...but hey, the kids like them. Kidz Bop is also enormously popular, and I always have to have the newest one for the kids to take home with them. I also find that music that appeals to parents as well as to children circulates a lot, such as the "They Might Be Giants" CDs and the Ramones cover album "Brats on the Beat." SteveSongs is also really popular, due to its infectious melodies. I love that CD.
-- Disney is always hot- any Disney. Jim Gill and Laurie Berkner are also popular. Disney items have much more circulation than non-Disney items. Disney knows how to market!! Non-Disney: the Sesame Street series, Ella Jenkins. [The library] just very, very recently started buying Disney music, so circulation numbers are undetermined.
-- Popularity of children's music varies widely from location to location. Disney soundtracks tend to be very popular. Individual performers that are requested by name include Laurie Berkner and Dan Zanes.
Soundtracks (movies, television and Broadway shows) are very popular. Disney circulates well but Raffi continues to be a giant as well as Hap Palmer. Greg and Steve do well here and Laura Berkner is up and coming.
-- Raffi, the Wiggles, Jim Gill, Ralph's World, Disney, compilations (since I think a lot of parents are overwhelmed even by our limited selection and go for compilations of songs they're familiar with). Those are the ones that have been checked out the most. Our collection is growing, but it's still fairly small, so just about everything gets checked out a few times a year. Our biggest item of all is The Lion King's soundtrack, which has gotten an amazing 109 checkouts.

There's been a resurgence in the popularity and volume of kids/family music in the past decade, and particularly in the past year or two -- have you noticed that in your system? To what do you attribute that resurgence (or lack thereof in your system)?
-- Yes- I have seen a greater circulation in kids music. We have just switched over to face out/flip through style of shelving which has increased circulation. I think Dan Zanes being on Disney and Laurie Berkner being on Nick makes a huge impact. I also think that we use a lot of music in our storytimes and promote different artists that way. When we use a certain artist we can’t keep their music on the shelves.
-- I think the resurgence is more apparent in other parts of our library system...the last few librarians before me just weren't into music and so they bought a couple of mainstream things every now and again and didn't do much to develop the collection. Even in the rest of the system, however, though some libraries have great kids' music collections, most just have lots of mainstream junk. I KNOW there's a lot more out there. As a result, I think the lack of true resurgence just has to do with lack of librarians' interest and lots of stereotypes as to what kids' music should be and sound like.
-- I think the artists are more parent/adult friendly. I really like listening to Laurie Berkner or Timmy Abell, and I don't have children. Really like that "adult" are making music for kids. Jack Johnson's song for the Curious George soundtrack are excellent.
-- I honestly haven't seen much of a change in circulation over the past five years in the children's rooms where I've worked. We've seen an insane increase in DVD circulation, but kids' music has remained pretty level. And I don't know why.
-- I have certainly noticed that there are lots more titles to select from. Popularity has increased somewhat, but I'm not sure it has mirrored the big jump in quantity/availability.
-- Yes and the quality of music production is increasing. This combined with the baby boomlet are probably factors.
-- It's hard to judge whether there has been a resurgence in our system, since our collection wasn't started in earnest until two years ago. We got a large donation from our Friends of the Library group, which we used to buy nice shelving and about 20 new cds. Before that, we did have a children's music collection, but it was in hanging bags, and most patrons did not know that it existed. I do think that shows like Jack's Big Music Show and corporate tie-ins like those Starbucks sponsored have helped the phenomenon reach the suburbs.

Are there particular areas or styles of kids' music that you think aren't being produced in sufficient quantities (or quality) for your users' needs?
-- I think we are just starting to see lots of great family music- true family music and this is what people want. They are tired of the nauseating sugary sweet kids music that makes you want to poke out your eyes. They want something they can listen to in the car and maintain some level of sanity. They want music that they can truly enjoy as a family. I use a lot of movement based music in storytimes. I want good music and music that inspires movement either directive or expressive. I think there is a lot of cheesy kids music and the majority of the movement cd’s are horrible. I love Hap Palmer because there are lots of songs on several of his cds that I find very useable. I don’t use any of the cds targeted towards educators, I use regular kids cds and find songs that work.
-- We need more CDs that appeal to both kids and know, GOOD music with snappy lyrics and catchy melodies. Those CDs are ridiculously popular and they go out ALL THE TIME.
-- Dance activity recordings with instructions.
-- There need to be more well-done (emphasis mine) early childhood CDs. Examples: Josh Levine, Jim Gill, Melanie Dill, Enzo Garcia. Enough of the failed-vocal-student-with-drum-machine singing "Twinkle Twinkle"!!!
-- Not that I can think of. [More than one respondent said this.] As I've said though, I don't get a lot of feedback from parents.

What are your own personal favorite kids and family CDs?
-- I like Hap Palmer Early Childhood Classics and So Big. Raffi Everything Grows and More Singable Songs. Raimond Lap Lovely Baby no.1. Hunk-ta-bunk-ta Funsies. Marylee Baby-O! I am actually in the process of listening to our programming CDs now to pick songs for summer.
-- My all time favorite is Dan Zanes. He is amazing as a person, as an artist and as an advocate. I can honestly say that we own over 5 copies of each of his family cds and they are never on the shelf. I have to buy more.
Other favorites: Laurie Berkner, Hap Palmer, Anna Moo, Raffi, Frank Leto, Mother Goose Rocks.
New favorites: The Candy Band, The Jellydots.
-- I love SteveSongs' CD Marvelous Day as well as Elizabeth Mitchell's You Are My Little Bird. Her version of "What Goes On" is really fantastic. I am also particularly fond of The Innocence Mission's CD Now the Day is Over, which is a collection of lullabies. Sing Over Me is a great compilation of worship songs/lullabies for the Christian contingent.
-- I love Timmy Abell's Little Red Wagon. We play music in the Children's Library and I always play it a few times a day.
-- Favorites? Why, sez it all! Older stuff that's really cool: NRBQ's You're Nice People You Are, Harry Nilsson's The Point!, Bruce Haack's Dance, Sing & Listen series...
-- I'm a fan of Cathy and Marcy because I like folk music and I think they have good things to say. I also like Bill Harley for his great sense of humor.
-- Songs from the Street (Sesame Street), Zak Morgan, Bill Harley, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Kathy Reid-Naiman, Laurie Berkner, Ben Rudnick. I think CD collections which have various artists are particularly popular. It is, I think, why the Very Special Christmas CDs have been popular for years. It may account for the popularity of the KidzBop CDs and soundtracks as well.
-- For programs, Jim Gill, Laurie Berkner, Raffi. I do toddler storytimes, so I tend to focus on music that has motions to go along with it, or that goes well with shaker eggs or streamers. I use Elizabeth Mitchell and Ella Jenkins a lot in Baby Storytimes. I personally enjoy Justin Roberts, Farmer Jason, Ralph's World, and Dan Zanes, and play them during the free play session that ends storytimes.

Any additional comments?
-- I think patrons are very easily influenced by librarians music choices. They come in and ask for good kids music or something that will not drive them insane or for the specific songs we use in storytime. As kids get older they develop their own musical taste as well as see all the advertisements and are influenced in that way.
-- Additional comments: It seems that, especially in Brooklyn specifically and the Northeast in general, kids' music is becoming more of a communal thing, a chance to have a "gathering", if you will (family-centered pubs, kid-specific music venues, kiddierock festivals, etc.). The difference between now and, say, ten or fifteen years ago, is that kids' musicians are actually making great quality original music, where in the past, music was an afterthought (performer with beard or in overalls and floppy hat singing something about "who goes oink?").
-- And thanks for your blog. In all honesty, our collection would be much less interesting without it and other children's music blogs.