Eliza T. Dresang
Eliza T. Dresang, the Beverly Cleary Professor in Children and Youth Services at the University of Washington Information School and longtime VOYA board member, died on April 21. She was 72. Eliza wrote the following article about her career for the VOYA website on September 5, 2010.
I realize as I sit writing this profile that I’m wearing a T-shirt with one of my favorite quotations on the front, i.e., “I’ve always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library” (Jorge Luis Borges). I love libraries! I love teaching! I love youth! I love information and finding out about things! I love stories and losing myself in them! I love trying out new ideas, new places, and new ways of doing things! And I love sharing all of my loves with others! Fortunately, I have always had a career that rolls all of my loves into one terrific experience. Right now I’m enjoying all this as the Beverly Cleary Professor for Children and Youth Services at the University of Washington Information School in Seattle–and like Pam [Spencer Holley] and Diane [Tuccillo], as a founding member of the VOYA board. The paths that led to where I’ve currently landed have been varied, exciting, and filled with my life loves.
As soon as I could write my name (the rule!), I wanted a library card, and I distinctly remember carrying home my first three “checked out” books. My childhood librarian, Mrs. Harrison, often gave me books from the adult section, and I read and read and read. Other great libraries in my life include the Los Angeles Public Library (Encino Tarzana Branch), where I gained a firm foundation right there in my very first professional job, learning and practicing everything I really have ever needed to know about how to be a top-notch librarian (like how to evaluate, write good reviews, talk about books, provide good service) and the Atlanta Public Library (Ida Williams Branch in Buckhead), my second just-out-of-school job where I headed the youth section in the branch with the largest circ in the South and gained professional poise as well as my first experience with a book challenge.
My good fortune with libraries continued. They included the Madison (WI) Metropolitan School District (Lapham School), where I had the opportunity to work in one of the most terrific school libraries in the country for four years, getting to know tons of children with special needs who taught me “there are no other children,” and after obtaining my PhD from the University of Wisconsin (UW), where I became District Director of School Libraries & Technology for over a decade, practicing what I later have preached as a college teacher (with Madison libraries achieving finalist for AASL School Library of the Year); the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the UW, a special library that is the most special library for anyone interested in youth; the top notch school libraries across Florida from which I received or to which I sent librarians as a faculty member at Florida State for another decade or so; and now the “Cleary libraries” (King County, Pierce County, Sno-Isle, Spokane County, Yakima Valley), libraries that contributed to the endowed Cleary professorship established by University of Washington School alumnus Beverly Cleary and her family, and Seattle Public Library, magnificent public libraries with whom I have a special relationship in my current job. YA services in Washington are outstanding. It is no wonder I think of paradise as some kind of library!
New Places, New Ideas
Two things strike me as particularly important in terms of new places and new ideas. One is the many opportunities I have had to travel and live in various parts of the U.S. and of the world–probably fostering my intense interest in multicultural and international resources for young people. Fortunately, I have not had to wait for my “twilight years” to have grand adventures, including living in Zambia (about which I wrote my only book for teens, The Land and People of Zambia) and in Kenya, traveling to nine additional African countries, including a recent trip to South Africa; in England, where I taught two summers with various travels over the years in seventeen other European countries; in Korea, where my Korean-American daughter was born, with visits to Japan, and China. I’ve also experienced many other places vicariously through my two sons who are family physicians involved in international medicine. The other “new” was an idea that was born almost twenty years ago now, was nurtured and developed through the 1990s, and led to my book, Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age, chosen as the VOYA Most Outstanding Professional Book of the Year in 2000. This prompted me to think and investigate and immerse myself in all the new opportunities and resources for youth in the ever expanding digital environment. My latest “new ideas” are putting to use what I learned about Scratch, a popular computer programming language for tweens and teens, at MIT in the summer, and applying for a grant to develop mobile phone apps to connect teens and libraries. I’ve loved watching VOYA grow and contribute to and take on the very best the digital work has to offer.
In addition to direct and indirect contact with young people in all those libraries I mentioned, I had the privilege of coaching youth soccer for all three of my children over the course of fourteen years. Now my three preschool grandchildren in Seattle and my four Wisconsin grandchildren keep me in touch with the reality of growing up digital. For that matter, so do my master’s and doctoral students with whom I love to work. During my own master’s degree years at UCLA, I became immersed in the principles of intellectual freedom, and I’ve kept advocacy for free access to information for youth at the forefront of my professional and personal life–another excellent fit with VOYA that has always had that as a mantra.
Icing on the Cake
I do have a sweet tooth, which brought me to call this last topic the icing on the cake. For me, involvement in professional activities, like being on the VOYA Board with so many terrific people; serving as a member of the YALSA Margaret A. Edwards and R&D committees; chairing committees like Newbery, Notable Children’s books, Pura Belpré, Batchelder; serving on the ALSC and Freedom to Read Boards and ALA Council; and participating in the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (for books with the themes of peace and social justice) for a decade, may be hard work but it is also pure pleasure. I’ve always had local youth advisory groups reading and discussing books with me during my major award committee experiences, a definite addition to the quality of my decisions. These and other professional opportunities provide me with extra joy (the icing on the cake) and are incalculably valuable learning opportunities.
Eliza T. Dresang, September 5, 2010
Words from fellow VOYA Board members:
Eliza was such a wonderful colleague. She genuinely cared about the opinion of others. Her contributions to the field were immeasurable. I count myself fortunate to have known her, and I will miss her presence. ~ Teri S. Lesesne
Eliza Dresang represented to me a long-established tradition of youth services scholars maintaining strong connections to the world of practice. The university does not always support or value these connections very much, but Eliza’s scholarly labor always connected back to the basic connections between libraries, librarians, and the work we do with children and young people. I continue to use her texts to prepare new youth professionals. Students will for some time to come benefit from having read her work. So, despite the loss to our community, Dr. Dresang’s influence will continue to be felt. I was enriched by her work as well as her friendship. ~ Anthony Bernier