I am a librarian. I am a librarian the way that I am brunette or a vegetarian or a chocolate-lover or a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Being a librarian is part of my essential self-concept. When I am introduced to someone new I say, “Hi. I’m Kiera. I’m a librarian. A children’s librarian!” I feel enormous pride when I say it. Despite the fact that insensitive relatives will still occasionally ask “Really? Hasn’t the internet replaced libraries?” (SIGH) or well-meaning but woefully-uninformed patrons will ask if they can “volunteer to be a children’s librarian” (double SIGH) I still say it loud and proud: I am a children’s librarian! ROAR!
And yet, on October 28, I will no longer be a children’s librarian by title. I’ve had a few close library friends ask me if I’ll miss being in the public library. Yes. Oh, yes. Will I miss my adorable, messy storytime toddlers? Yes. My super silly and brilliant book club kids? Yes. That magical feeling when a patron starts off by asking, “You probably can’t help me but…” and then I find exactly what they need and they look like I just performed a magic feat worthy of Harry Potter?! You bet.
For anyone who is contemplating making the leap from a library to a non-library position, I understand how difficult and emotional the choice can be. For us, being a librarian (especially a public and/or children’s librarian) is not simply a job- it is a career, a calling. Leaving the public service realm can feel like abandoning ship. But should you be faced with the decision (or surprised with a unique opportunity) to leap from the library world into another sphere, you should feel confident that your experiences as a children’s librarian have you well-prepared to take on new challenges.
Let’s take a deeper look….
– Children’s library management skills are wonderfully transferable to a wide range of jobs and responsibilities.
I like to think of the children’s library as a microcosm of the whole library. Everything that happens on a larger scale in the library (reader’s advisory, reference assistance, programming, outreach, collection development, budgeting, marketing and communication, etc.) also happens right in the children’s library. And unlike the whole library, the children’s library does not generally have separate departments or staff members to manage each task. Very often, in fact, a small group or a single librarian manages all of the above in a children’s library. One need not be an official library manager or administrator to have vast and deep experience managing both people and tasks.
– Soft skills? Are you kidding?
When it comes to soft skills (aka interpersonal or people skills) no one has a children’s librarian beat. We interact daily with every type of human- newborns all the way to great-great-grandpas. We possess enormous patience and empathy. We are able to make decisions quickly and confidently. Children’s librarians greet each patron with a warm smile and a keen eye and ear open for clues to the best ways to help. Each interaction is unique and depends on tone of voice, body language, as well as the actual questions asked. How we help a bored tween find a great mystery will be markedly different from the way we assist a rushed mom find a book on puberty. We communicate horizontally, vertically, and sometimes even diagonally with our coworkers, subordinates, and supervisors. We reach out into schools, local organizations, and parent groups. We are not merely “people persons.” We are Super People Persons.
– Children’s librarians possess a wide and deep knowledge of literacy and literature.
I can’t think of any children’s librarians who leave their 9-5 and stop flexing their evaluative skills. Whether it is reviewing professionally for journals, blogging, posting quick thoughts on social media, or engaging in a heated lunchtime debate about the latest middle grade buzz book or storybook app, children’s librarians eat, sleep, and breathe content evaluation. Choosing age-appropriate books for toddler storytime? Selecting the next round of tween book discussion titles? Recommending new apps? Children’s librarians are by nature critical thinkers, evaluators, and reviewers.
– Children’s librarians are becoming social media mavens.
Children’s librarians have embraced social media as tool for connection and communication. From this fabulous blog to Twitter chats to Facebook groups, so many children’s librarians are leveraging social media in incredibly creative ways. I have seen social media used to help librarians around the country share best practices and program ideas. I’ve also seen it used brilliantly to target local patrons and groups who may not normally visit the library. Whereas children’s librarians of the past created beautiful and inspiring bulletin boards, the children’s librarians of the present create those AND the digital counterparts on Pinterest and Riffle.
– Children’s librarians are advocates, public relations specialists, and skilled marketers.
We skillfully integrate early literacy asides for parents and caregivers into our storytimes. We write up brochures, events calendars, program descriptions, press releases, and online content promoting what we do and why we do it. We speak before PTOs, at faculty meetings, at our local Y’s on everything from Summer Reading to eBooks. We give presentations, sit on panels, run webinars, and participate in committees in ALA, ALSC, and other professional associations. We invite afterschool groups and scouts to tour the library and teach them how to find the best resources. Children’s librarians are everyday advocates for literacy and lifelong learning. We are representatives of what is best in public library service.
I feel fortunate and lucky to have spent my entire adult working life, thus far, as a public librarian. I am proud to bring those experiences with me as I transition to an exciting and challenging new position. Official titles aside, I will always consider myself, at heart, a children’s librarian. ROAR!