Guest Blogger

Thinking About Serving Youth? Library School for Kid-People

We have cat-people and dog-people. Why not kid-people? This one is for you, kid-people.

So, are you thinking you might want to be a children’s librarian or school librarian (or archivist or pastry chef or ultrasound technician)? If you are, there are a few things you should think out first.

Do you like children?

Are you a kid-person? When I was interviewing to be an assistant to a youth services department in a public library, I was asked this question. It seemed silly to me at the time, but I now realize where the branch director may have been coming from. Sometimes lost souls gravitate to the library profession because they hate their job or life and they think, “Hey, I can Google! This will be easy.” These same fools, once they realize it will not be easy, sometimes gravitate towards youth services because they think then that will be easy. There is also a certain cadre of teachers who hate their job. They look at the school library and think, well that will be better, and I’ll still get my pension. Good luck with the pension, but please, please for the love of children DO NOT BECOME A LIBRARIAN. If you hate teaching, you will despise being a librarian. I promise.

The first axiom of librarianship in my book is:

You must like people.

Liking children is just an extension of this. This does not mean talking to children “like they are adults.” They are not adults, but they are people with ideas and preferences. This does not mean “being their friend.” They do not need you to be their friend, they need you to be their librarian. This does not mean that you “love children’s books!” Books will be your side business, people are your meat and potatoes (sorry vegans). This means you respect and want to help children and their people.

To decide if you want to serve youth or adults through a school or through a public library you must actually spend some time either serving them or observing them in the wild. If possible, do this before you send in your tuition check. If not, make it a part of your library schooling.

Earning a MLIS goes really fast, but wouldn’t it stink to get to the finish line and realize all too late that this isn’t for you? The best way to avoid this is to spend quality time with some librarians. Volunteer at your public library or school library. If you already work in a public library, volunteer in a different public library. This will develop an understanding of the great diversity of libraries and library cultures that you have to choose from. My undergraduate college runs an externship program during spring and winter break. During a single week, students have the chance to complete a mini-internship in a variety of professional settings. My graduate school didn’t offer anything like this, so I created my own externship program one spring break. I worked in my local public library in circulation the evenings, but wasn’t sure of my path. In the interest of seeing new things and networking, I asked a children’s director at an exemplary public library 45 minutes from my home. She was delighted to have a capable volunteer for a solid week and tried to create a project that wasn’t too laborious. While executing my project, I stopped to talk to the many librarians who came on and off the children’s reference desk. I got a glimpse into a library world that was very much the same, and yet very different. This little week stint taught me that the way things are done is not the only way they can be done, thus opening my mind up to the work of reflective improvement. It also bought me a few really neat contacts in my state’s youth library services circle. Most importantly, it let me see that the things I didn’t like about my job weren’t librarianship issues, they were localized work culture issues. I committed to going to library school, did well, got a job, and don’t expect to ever look back.

If you think this is for you, are you ready to stick your neck out for kids?

Children are a different breed of patron. They need advocates. Before you decide to work for kids, imagine how you will take action when they need you. What do you say when a pushy parent brings their child to you and tells you, “Sasha likes these junk-reading fairy books. Can you find her a quality book like those Great Illustrated Classics to help her do better in school?” Are you ready to buy and re-buy books about abortion and other controversial issues? Are you ready to buy books that children actually like? Even the boys? Will you hang a rainbow button next to your room key even if you’re not the gay/straight alliance supervisor? Are you ready to tell your principal, that the police need a subpoena to see what websites Michael was browsing in the library? What do you tell the child with sunken eyes and scratches up their arms when they seek you out at the public library and say, “I’m doing a report in health class about teen suicide. Can you help me? I need to know how they, you know, do it.” What do you say when a parent berates their four year old for messing up their storytime craft, saying, “You’re no good. Look what you did! You ruined it! You’re a bad boy!” You don’t have to have all of these answers, but you should be making a plan for how far you’re willing to go for a child. If your answer to all of the above, however, was “I will mind my own business,” you should probably look into that pastry chef course. If you thought, you’d have the guts to say at least something, on behalf of the cult, WE WANT YOU!

So now what? Get your geek on and on and on.

Now is the time for professional development. (Actually it’s always time for PD, but now is an even better time.) Let’s start with your library school classes. Are there tracks you can choose?If you’re hemming and hawing over whether or not you should go public youth librarian or school library media specialist, here’s a big tip: You can do either route and be a great public librarian. If you want to work in a school, you will need to follow a strict curriculum to get certified. I advise students I’ve met to go the school route, lest they become one of those bitter random librarians in their curriculum class who already has a MLIS, but needs 12 more credits to get the job he really wants. Just saying. Let me also tell you the magic words…
they are…

Ready?

STUDENT RATE. Now is the time to go to conferences, join associations, and subscribe to journals. It will help you grow as a librarian… on the cheap.

The other cheap way to get your geek on, is of course with your library card. The titles below can take you from caring about kids’ library needs to actually getting them just what they need. Try some or all of the titles below. They got my geek on. I hope they get yours.

  • The Power of Reading by Krashen
  • The Read Aloud Handbook by Trelease
  • More than Just a Place to Go by Pearson, Johnstad, and Conway
  • Ban Those Bird Units by Loertscher
  • Being Indispensable by Toor and Weisbur
  • Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I Don’t) by Bottner

Happy Reading!

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Our guest blogger today is Mary Fran Daley, Middle School Librarian in Pittstown, New Jersey and a Youth Services Librarian in Bridgewater New Jersey. She graduated from Rutgers University in 2009 with her MLIS. Mary Fran Daley can be reached at LibrarianFran@gmail.com

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

3 comments

  1. Sarah Stippich

    Great article! I wish I had read something like this when I was starting library school. Thankfully, I AM a kid person.

    (PS: I love your last book suggestion!)

  2. MotherReader

    Wonderful article and perspective on what librarians in children’s and teen services do and need to be. Great advice!

  3. Lydia

    Thank you for this article! I am a high school junior and I have decided that I want to be a librarian, but I am “hemming and hawing” about which type of librarian I am most interested in becoming. I especially appreciate that you included a reading list.

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