I used to think I understood children (and parents) pretty well. And I probably did. But becoming a mother brought me to a whole different level of understanding, and I think it made me a better person in general, and a better children’s librarian specifically.
These are my experiences.
- I’m now able to connect with my customers in a way I never could before. Conversation starters are easy (“How old is your baby? …Oh, mine is just one month younger than him!”), advice is given and taken more seriously, rapport is built nearly instantly.
- The roomful of babies and toddlers is cast in a different light. The passion given to the job is transformed by your love for your child.
- Each child’s developmental level is understood faster, abilities and intellect and age recognized better. The daily struggles of parenting are vivid and real, and expectations are adjusted accordingly. Sympathy sometimes trumps official rules.
- The children seem to know a mommy when they see one, and relationships are forged quicker. We were buddies before baby, too, but something small changed.
- And of course, I have a built-in audience for at-home storytime practice. I don’t need to worry about forgetting how to read baby books, and I can practice the new scarf song I just learned right away.
Practically speaking, here are some realities that I learned on the job:
- Children, especially young babies or curious or cranky toddlers, will often be uninterested in all the pages in the book or all the verses in the song or, if we’ll be honest, in anything you have to offer. And that’s fine. As a librarian, we might be bummed if a child doesn’t seem engaged at story time, but it’s not a reflection of you (unless, of course, you made a foolish choice for baby time read-aloud), but of their attention spans and external factors like overtiredness, teething, or hunger. Keep trying and believe that there is a benefit to your toil, even if the story or song seems to be going in one ear and out the other. They might surprise you with how much they’ve absorbed.
- Newborns don’t care a whit about the plot line, or even the rhyme scheme or color palette. This may be sacrilegious, but having a baby lent credence to my skepticism: Infants don’t seem to appreciate books until they can stay awake long enough to see what you’re showing them. After they’ve opened their eyes and focused on objects, reading seems more worthwhile. It wasn’t until about three or four months when my baby seemed interested in a bedtime story. Songs and conversation, though, are always good for any age, and establishing good literacy habits for parents is a noble enough cause to warrant encouraging reading to infants who couldn’t care less.
- My eyes were fully opened to the harsh reality that what I like isn’t the same as what a baby likes. I bought Corduroy because I felt nostalgic about this childhood favorite, and when I settled down to read it to my daughter, I was in for a rude awakening. She would much rather read Baby Faces despite it having a grand total of six words (or nine, depending how you count them) in the entire book. This is definitely a lesson I need to carry over into storytime: I sometimes pick story time books because of personal preferences, not solely because of their baby appeal and read-aloud merits.
How being a librarian informs my parenting choices
The converse of the above is also true: I think being a children’s librarian has made me a better mother. This plays out mostly in a general awareness of, and effort towards, early literacy, but also specifically in these areas:
- Stash of Songs. My repertoire would certainly not have been as rich as it is had I not chosen this profession. It is so easy to distract a wiggly baby mid-diaper-change with a screen, but instead I know how to launch into a favorite song, rhyme or tickle (though she’ll often dive for the phone anyways).
- Stash of Stories. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, but my daughter is over the moon with joy when I suggest that we read a book together. It’s a favorite activity for both of us. But would I have been as assiduous in my collection development of our little board book library if not for my librarian background? Would I have thought that a baby as young as her would really enjoy a bedtime story? Could be bookworm genes, but could be that babies just enjoy watching their parents or hearing a beloved voice discuss the pictures on the page. I certainly know that my baby wouldn’t be excited about reading if I didn’t bother buying the books to begin with (I know, I’m a librarian, I shouldn’t be buying them–but a) the board books are probably full of germs, b) it’s kind of hard to get library books during quarantine, and c) I believe it’s important for literacy to own books in general, especially favorites that will be read and reread and chewed upon for years).
- Conscious Conversation. I learned that one of the greatest indicators of a child’s readiness to read is how many words they are exposed to on a daily basis. I taught parents about the five components of early literacy, including “Talk,” and privately wondered why in the world parents needed to be instructed to talk to their children. It seemed so obvious and natural. Fast forward a couple years, and here I often find myself silently going about my tasks–even baby-related ones like diaper changes and bath time–and need to consciously remind myself to chatter and sing to her while I work. I’ve lost my skepticism on this one.
Wishing the best of luck to all children’s librarians, parents or not, and all parents, children’s librarians or not. Anyone who spends their day with kids is awesome.
Disclaimer: this post was not commissioned by a maternity wear company or a diaper manufacturer.
Today’s guest blogger is Leah Hoenig. Leah is a wife and mother, and a children’s librarian for the Queens Public Library.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Leah. I can see that becoming a parent has really helped you in your work and that your work also helps you in your parenting, which is great! I just also want to point out that children’s librarians who are not parents (either by choice or circumstance) bring so much to the field. I don’t imagine it was your intent to say that being a parent is a prerequisite to being a good children’s librarian or to invalidate the knowledge, experience and amazing work of other librarians–but some sections of your blog may convey that impression. I especially take issue with the idea that children “know a mommy when they see one.” It has been my experience that children respond to adults who enjoy their company, are interested in what they have to say and treat them with respect. These qualities sometimes correlate with parenthood, but very often do not!
I find this post very distasteful to say the least. How many children’s librarians have tried to be mothers? Or those of us who prefer being childfree. I would challenge anyone making these claims that my apparent “lack” of not being a parent is making me not a good youth librarian.
This post is offensive on so many levels it is hard for me to process. While I’m sure hurting people was not your intent, consider the impact this has on the people and library workers who care for children every day (both personally and professionally) regardless of their biology, ability, gender identity, family structure, or any other aspect of identity or experience. Even though you said “Anyone who spends their day with kids is awesome” narratives like what appear in the rest of your post are triggering. They claim an experience of universality not rooted in reality. These narratives also cause pain and contribute to oppressive patterns of behavior that result in real consequences for people who do not (for myriad reasons) fit the mold of a mythological “normal”.
Publishing this kind of opinion is very damaging to the field of youth librarianship and all librarianship generally. Everyone brings their own personal experience to their job which obviously influences the way they do their work–however no one type of experience makes anyone better or worse at their job.
We are taught to serve the needs of our community, but we are never told we cannot serve a particular community if we do not personally belong to it. Instead, we must be reflective on the job, observant of our patrons, and receptive to ways we can change or provide new services to meet the needs of a wide variety of patrons–especially in the public library setting.
Surely working with dozens of children at work is what makes for a good youth librarian. Honestly, the belief that one needs to have their own child to truly understand children makes for a more narrow understanding of what children are like and what services they need, since you limit your sample size so much.
Let’s not even mention that this expectation is not placed on other kinds of librarians (hospital librarians don’t need to be doctors or even have advanced education in health, for example), OR that the female-centric terminology of this post excludes an already underrepresented area, OR that there are plenty of women who choose to be child-free, OR that for many people the choice to have children has been taken away from them.
This was a meaningful and beautiful piece. Women’s lived experiences are increasingly seen as not being “inclusive” enough to describe because those experiences are not shared by everyone. I am glad that Hoenig is not on Twitter to get dragged for this by woke library workers who are offended by absolutely everything. We can learn from the lives of other library workers and consider their insights. It’s called being thoughtful and empathetic colleagues. You have 82 likes on this post, please consider those 82 likes before you take yourselves to reeducation camp.
Thank you Jill. Let us please be tolerant of everyone! The loudest voice in the room is not always right. I am also sick of voices not being heard because someone preemptively shouts out that they’re offended. I am sick of it. How many voices were not heard for fear of being judged? Who are you to judge me? And who am I to judge you? Librarians are activists yes, but we cannot be hypocrites and be against other ideas that do not match your own! I appreciate this story and others who cannot connect with it can find another article that connects with them.
This is not ALL women’s lived experience, and telling someone that they could be better at their job if only they gave birth is extremely damaging, and frankly, archaic. For ALA, a professional organization that depends on collecting membership dues from the same professionals it is insulting with this piece, to publish this kind of narrative is despicable.
Dear Jill, whoever instilled in you that you’re not good enough until you have children was wrong. You matter because of you, not because of your ability to bear children.
Signed, a “woke” librarian who lives in the 21st century and elsewhere in the world where you’re judged on merit, not on genetics
“I am glad that Hoenig is not on Twitter to get dragged for this by woke library workers who are offended by absolutely everything.”
“We can learn from the lives of other library workers and consider their insights. It’s called being thoughtful and empathetic colleagues.”
Ms. Minor, your post’s thoughts seem to clash with themselves.
I am an experienced children’s librarian, and agree with the many others who found this article to be offensive on several levels. I do have a friend who’s a librarian and mom who weighed in on Think Tank to say she found this article encouraging as a working mom. So I am trying to understand that perspective. However this librarian/mom was never in youth services. Are you a children’s librarian or in library youth services? I’m trying to understand the difference in reactions here. For instance, I never would have considered reading a book like Corduroy to a young baby and expecting them to be engaged. I learned this through professional development and experience working with young children. It sounds like she’s saying she never really gave her job serving children much thought until she actually started paying attention to and caring for a child (her own). To experienced children’s librarians, if nothing else, this seems like not much more than an announcement that she didn’t try very hard at her job until she discovered a personal investment.
I’m not “woke,” I’m barren, as in I am unable to have children. Others choose not to have children for a variety of reasons that are none of your business. According to this opinion piece, we will never be as good of a children’s librarian as this mommy can be simply by virtue of her mommy-ness. So perhaps YOU need to consider that people have life circumstances that color their perspectives and quit making everything about politics. This author is entitled to her opinion. I am entitled to disagree with this opinion and to consider it painful and harmful. If you put your opinion out for the world to read, be prepared to have others judge it.
So…I’m an inferior librarian (and an inferior person in general) because I don’t have kids. I’m incapable of understanding and bonding with children as well as you do because they “know a mommy when they see one.” I’m awesome because I spend all day with kids, but just that much less awesome than you, because you’re Super Mom. Guess I need to either rethink my career or change my mind about wanting children. Thanks for the insight.
Thank you for this article. My other comment disappeared and I wish the blog admin would have emailed me about it. Being offended nowadays is the norm. Please do not take down this blog post if it garners a strong negative reaction. We need all voices to be heard. Librarians come in all shapes and sizes and I appreciated this blog post.
Thank you Adrienne. I am sick of tantrums on Library Twitter too. “I am offended”
= That person must be punished
And whoever is responsible for “platforming” the thing must be punished
And the offensive thing must be removed
And there is no discussion allowed, that also hurts me
And I get to judge the value of the thing for all humanity based on my feelings
And whoever defends it is an evil person, let’s get them too
And I get to shame another member of my own profession on social media
And all the social media mob I incite get to validate and congratulate one another
And cancelling it is not good enough I want an apology
And none of us who are piling on are being hurtful ourselves, the very idea
This is all wrong and destructive to professional dialogue and courtesy.
Wow! This could have been written and positioned with a much less offensive tone, but missed the mark completely. This implies that women who choose not be mothers or cannot be are less than in their career as a children’s librarian and cannot do these things. Newsflash. Not a mom and I connect with parents and children because I know how to do my job. This article is out of touch and had it been framed differently may have actually been worth a read.
When I started to first read this, it hurt. Then I remembered my colleagues that I knew this was going to be extra painful – those whose struggles with infertility are fresher and more raw. We love children and our communities, but sometimes this work can be an emotional minefield from patrons and colleagues. It was really hard to see it here.
I am sure this was not Hoenig’s intention. She was sharing her experience that felt relevant to her. We are all impacted by power structures that continue to perpetuate how we see and experience the world, but do have harmful impacts on others. We need to understand that these are rooted in white supremacy that try to maintain the narrative that you are not whole unless you fit these prescribed roles of wife and mother. By saying you could not be as good of a children’s librarian until you become a mother implies that others can’t as well.
This is a field where everyone can bring something unique and special. Hoenig has found hers through motherhood, others through study, research, learning, experience, curiosity, passion, commitment, and so many other ways. I love learning from my colleagues and being inspired by them. Some have kids and are amazing librarians. Some have chosen not to have kids, and are amazing librarians. Some have wanted to have kids, and couldn’t, and THEY ARE AMAZING LIBRARIANS.
For those of you who need to hear it – you are valued, your work is valued, and the children will be better for it.
I feel that I am quite a good children’s librarian and I have no intention of being a mommy.
If we want to talk about “women’s lived experiences,” positioning children’s librarianship as the domain of mothers (presumably cis female birth mothers) is out of touch. While this is one person’s personal view, the choice to publish it on the official ALSC blog gives it weight. Why is this the message about children’s librarianship that you choose to amplify?
This is a personal post that belongs on a personal blog. I appreciate that ALSC labeled this as an opinion piece and I firmly believe that professional blogs can be a place for opinion pieces that draw from personal experience. But this piece is hurtful and demeaning, not just to fellow professional librarians but to our profession as a whole. While I am so glad that Ms. Hoenig has found joy and fulfillment through motherhood the suggestion that it is required for things like getting kids to like/trust you, helping parents to connect to you, or understanding that children’s librarianship requires flexibility and openness dismisses the work that goes into our training and education and instead pink-washing and demeans us. This has real world consequences that ALSC, as a professional advocacy organization, should be not only well aware of but working on combatting, not promoting through opinion pieces. There are so many things in this piece that send the wrong message about what we do. You do not need to be a mother to understand proper storytime book selection or child development. When ALSC publishes pieces that imply this, even if they are only opinion pieces, hiring managers, supervisors, even colleagues see this and are impacted by it and think about children’s librarianship in a condescending manner that will inherently exclude many of our colleagues.
Also, as you can see, this post, extolling the advantages of natal motherhood as a way to make you better at a professional task, has drawn support from people who are parroting TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) talking points about “women’s lived experiences” – this is a not at all subtle dog whistle that dismisses our trans colleagues and seeks to outright harm them in our field. That should be a red flag for any opinion piece. Are those the values with which ALSC seeks to align themselves as an organization?
Please see the Twitter thread I wrote about this piece and see the many, many librarians who were hurt and excluded by this for so many reasons. This post served to make our profession smaller and sadder. https://twitter.com/misskubelik/status/1289242028442714113 Consider also and in everything impact > intent.
I found this post hurtful and triggering and unnecessary on a professional blog. I appreciate that each librarian brings lived experience to the job and it is valuable. But this post was written in a much less sensitive manner than the subject deserves. It is interesting to read about the author’s experiences and how she feels parenthood changed her professional abilities. I value the diverse experiences individual library staff bring to their jobs. However, the author come across quite tone-deaf, insensitive and totally oblivious to how her post may make many others feel. As a children’s librarian and non-parent, I have been extremely conscious of the insecurities that can be brought about in our work for those of us who do not have children. And with this post, I feel the author is magnifying all my insecurities and telling me I should definitely feel bad for them.
Do we say this about teachers who don’t have children? Do we say OB/GYNs who have not given birth are less valued? Do we say pediatricians who don’t have children are less able and less skilled to treat children? Librarianship is a profession and we are trained professionals. And human beings with feelings. Please treat us as such and be mindful to how a post like this on a professional blog can make others feel.
Hi! As a childfree children’s library worker who may never have children, I’d like to say that I did not find this article to be offensive or insensitive in the least. I have read comments here and on twitter that say this article is suggesting that librarians with children are superior in some way–but for the life of me I cannot find any evidence of this in Hoenig’s writing. The article is titled “How Motherhood Has Influenced ME as a Children’s Librarian” (emphasis mine) and that is what it seems to be about. It is not titled, nor does it seem to explain, “Why Motherhood Will Make You A Better Children’s Librarian.”
Perhaps I have missed something, but I don’t think that Hoenig suggests at any point that children’s librarians have to have children to be good at their jobs, or that she personally is superior to her colleagues without children. Rather, she is comparing two different versions of herself, considering her professional experiences both before and after a life-changing event in her home sphere. Imo, this is a reasonable topic for a professional organization to cover, as we are all people as well as professionals and our experiences at home frequently intersect with our work (at least, mine do!) Nowhere does Hoenig admonish children’s librarians who do not have children–she is simply stating that living with a child 24/7, as opposed to working with them 35 hours per week, has given her new insight into their development, which she appreciates. A perfectly logical and reasonable conclusion to make.
What is most interesting to me is that Hoenig also speaks about how her librarianship has benefitted her as a mother: “The converse of the above is also true: I think being a children’s librarian has made me a better mother.” Yet no one is accusing the article of being offensive to or exclusive of non-librarian moms.
As I’ve stated previously, I myself am childless, yet work with children. I am frankly baffled how many strongly negative reactions there seem to be to this article. Hoenig has been both a librarian without children and one with. She is describing both of those experiences. I don’t see anything offensive about that, and I do hope that people who read this article can respond to her words directly, and not only to projections based on their initial feelings. I also hope that it remains on the blog, despite the controversy it seems to have garnered. As a division of the ALA, the ALSC has committed to the principles of intellectual freedom, resisting censorship, to separating personal convictions from professional duties, and I hope that this article will not be removed based on anyone’s personal dislike of its content.
Thank you Hannah! You summed it up so well! I’m ashamed of myself for not speaking up!
Please re read the piece. The author in fact does claim that motherhood changes the way YOU – the universal YOU (my emphasis) are better at your job because you had a child.
“ The roomful of babies and toddlers is cast in a different light. The passion given to the job is transformed by your love for your child.”
Hi Hannah! I thought your response to Leah Hoenig’s post was really thoughtful. I do have children, however that is not why I reacted to Leah’s post. Like you, I didn’t see this post as anything other than one person’s view of their own experiences. Leah writes at the end: “Wishing the best of luck to all children’s librarians, parents or not, and all parents, children’s librarians or not. Anyone who spends their day with kids is awesome.” I read that and thought that she was recognizing that all of us in this field are working towards helping kids. And that those who are parents but not librarians are also great. Neither group was being admonished or thought less for their life experiences.
The part that stood out to me is also the part that struck you as interesting: “I think being a children’s librarian has made me a better mother.” In our profession, we understand the value of early literacy and how critical it is. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends to parents that they start reading out loud to their children starting at birth. They started doing this relatively recently, in 2014. Libraries have lapsit and storytime programs where we read stories and talk to parents about how to read stories with their babies and it’s importance, and we’ve been doing this for years and years. Leah wrote “But would I have been as assiduous in my collection development of our little board book library if not for my librarian background? Would I have thought that a baby as young as her would really enjoy a bedtime story?” I’m glad that she wrote this because I think it’s important to think about. We are still having to reaffirm to people the value of reading to a tiny baby, that having books for them is important. Leah is recognizing that even though she’s a big reader herself, she might not have seen the value on doing that for a baby. Unless we’re reaching people who come to the library and actively take their child to storytime, that message might not be getting out there. I think it’s important to say that were it not for the experience and education she has, it might have been missed.
Another key takeaway is this: “I learned that one of the greatest indicators of a child’s readiness to read is how many words they are exposed to on a daily basis. I taught parents about the five components of early literacy, including “Talk,” and privately wondered why in the world parents needed to be instructed to talk to their children. It seemed so obvious and natural. Fast forward a couple years, and here I often find myself silently going about my tasks–even baby-related ones like diaper changes and bath time–and need to consciously remind myself to chatter and sing to her while I work. I’ve lost my skepticism on this one.” Here is another good example about why reading her experience as a parent can help us as librarians relate to parents when we’re talking about what to do. Talking to babies can be hard, and can feel awkward at first, and like any new thing they will need to practice. Reading Leah’s perspective might bring that to a librarian’s attention as a way of offering advice or insight to other parents. If she, a librarian, has to actively reminder herself the value of chatting with her kid, we should recognize that it might something challenging for parents who might not know the importance.
While you may or may not agree with Leah, I think her post is a valued view on her personal experiences and how it relates to her being a librarian. Reading ALCS’s blog policy, I didn’t find anything to suggest that it wasn’t a good topic to pursue. I think her experience helps give more insight into what parents might be feeling, because as a parent she can see both sides of the library world where she might not have before.
I think it’s also been very valuable reading all the comments from everyone who has commented, and hearing everyone’s perspective. It’s not a perfect piece but I think what’s she’s trying to do is show what she’s learned and gained a new appreciation for in terms of her job. I definitely don’t feel it’s advocating that only moms make good librarians. I can see in some sentences where it can seem like that, but I think that’s more of unclear writing or not writing a thought clearly enough.
This article is interesting, and there’s an important element being ignored. Becoming a mother within a profession isn’t really celebrated in our culture. It’s largely seen as a liability: maternity leave, various breaks to pump while at work, extra sick days, inflexible schedule, firm time to leave work every evening etc etc. Though we’re a female dominated industry, we’re not immune to the internalized bias here.
This article’s author is reclaiming her worth. She’s not comparing herself to other colleagues; she’s comparing herself to her former self. Maybe her former self was an industrious go-getter who would pour extra energy into her job. And maybe she had to remind herself that even though her baby gets the lion’s share of her energy now (and not her career), that the experience has still served her well.
For her, becoming a mom made her better with customer service. For others, learning a new language made them better librarians. Or extensive travel. Or starting a podcast. Or training for a marathon. The best librarians will leverage all life experiences into their job. That’s how ya keep it fresh.
I’d recommend a follow up segment where other librarians share what life experience has made them better at their job, and we could all respond in a more supportive way.
I would love to read all of those! Unless it was a piece on “from my experience I learned to stalk, label, dehumanize, censor, and doxx library workers on social media and foment mass outrage, so this piece I am writing from On High had better be the final word on the subject, or else, can I get an amen.” I find that kind of thing boring, tedious, childish, and anything but diverse. The experiences of others in the field that open up more insight and discussion are endlessly fascinating. Please solicit more opinion pieces for blogslike this one!
Christine, I love that you highlighted that she’s comparing her experiences before and after becoming a mom and what’s changed. What you wrote: “The best librarians will leverage all life experiences into their job. That’s how ya keep it fresh. I’d recommend a follow up segment where other librarians share what life experience has made them better at their job, and we could all respond in a more supportive way.” I think that’s a great idea! I know that my experience working retail and fast food definitely made me better at my library job. I have such a focus on wanting to provide good customer service because that’s been drilled into me for years. That, and the ability to mainly stay calm under pressure. When you work at a toy store during the holiday season and have a parent yell at you that you ruined their child’s Christmas because the toy they wanted was sold out for months, you realize you can cope with a lot.
Others have covered the parenting issues better than I could–raising one baby means you know something about that baby, and is not always generalizable–but I was really taken by the author’s note that “a) the board books are probably full of germs, b) it’s kind of hard to get library books during quarantine, and c) I believe it’s important for literacy to own books in general, especially favorites that will be read and reread and chewed upon for years).”
a) really? how long do you think germs last on cardboard? what are your sources? what is your library doing to inform itself about public health and follow evidence-based guidelines?
b) you work AT A LIBRARY. how is it hard to get books? what are you doing to make it easier?
c) this is kind of like if a restaurant trade association published a piece saying “prepared meals you can buy are ok, but I really think it’s better for children if their parents cook from scratch.” why would they say something that undercuts their whole industry and makes people feel bad if they can’t do the thing the author thinks is better?
‘”The passion given to the job is transformed by your love for your child.”
“Each child’s developmental level is understood faster, abilities and intellect and age recognized better.”
Notice how in these statements Leah Hoenig is not just talking about her personal experience. She is strongly implying that mothers are better children’s librarians.
One of ALSC’s core values is inclusiveness. This post does not reflect that. ALSC clearly needs to do a better job reviewing and editing posts so that they live up to our organization’s professed values.
What was the point of publishing this? Is it advice? “Want to get the leg up on children’s librarianship? Try having a kid!” If not advice, then what? An observation? “Hey everyone, parents make better children’s librarians! Just noticin’.” How are we supposed to read this? Good for you? This is offensive. Not that the author feels what they feel, but that it is published here and given this platform. I was a stay at home parent for my baby and know all too well what “super mom power” exclusion feels like. What a dangerous and exclusionary idea the article communicates by being here. Very sloppy on the part of the editors that piece escaped from whatever lifestyle blog it belonged on and ended up here.
I want to preface this by saying that I believe parents have value and especially mothers have value. However, if the takeaway of this article was supposed to be that motherhood gave this person a different lens to view librarianship, it failed. Instead, my takeaway is that being a mom unlocked a new level of children’s librarianship that childfree librarians will never be able to obtain. And THAT hurt. By 2020, we should also realize that being childfree isn’t a choice for some people and reading takes like this can be upsetting for people who have tried for a child, but, for whatever reason, are childless. I am very happy I chose not to renew my ALA and ALSC membership when I did if these are the decisions being made on what to post.
This piece is not well-thought out at all. You define parenting in a way that leaves out any kind of caretaking that doesn’t fit a tradition role (i.e. birthing a child), which probably alienates a good portion of your patron population. Not to mention we were all children once and can probably connect with each other through that lived experience. Hope you are able to reflect on and grow from listening to what others are saying… here’s to being a *better* children’s librarian.
I teach future children’s librarians for a living and I never suggest to them that having a baby is good preparation for their new careers. You don’t have to have a child to understand children. You don’t have to be a parent to understand parents. Childless people have been working well with children and their parents and caregivers for centuries. I teach my students to read research, analyze discourse, observe children, and most of all, listen to parents and caregivers about what they need and want from the library. I’ve worked with children and families in various jobs since I was 17 years old – long before I was fortunuate enough to have the children I wanted when I was in my thirties, at the same time I started out as a children’s librarian. If those children hadn’t come along, I would STILL have been a great children’s librarian, I assure you. I would STILL be teaching people how to be great children’s librarians now. Sure, I drew on my own personal experiences in my professional work, we’re all allowed to do, that but I have seen many of my childless colleagues absolutely flourish in their roles – with parents, caregivers, and children truly engaging with them, learning from them, all the things we want to see in our libraries and our relationships with our patrons. Their connectedness had nothing whatsoever to do with any parenting experience they had or didn’t have – they were doing their jobs well. On the flip side, I have seen colleagues who have kids be judgemental about other parents they see in the library. My own kids definitely benefited from the fact that I had easy access to all the things during their childhood and I’m reasonably sure my patrons found my anecdotes about my kids interesting, but I am pretty sure I would have thought of something just as insightful to say if I had remained childless. A few counterpoint:
My love for children was not transformed by having my own children – I always loved working with kids. As far as I know, babies do not have any 6th sense about who is a mommy or not – they MIGHT be able to smell breastmilk (maybe?) but no, I am sorry, I don’t think there’s any evidence that babies at the library forge better relationships with moms over anyone else. Parents and caregivers will take advice and encouragement about early literacy seriously from knowledgeable librarians because they’re librarians whom they have built a certain amount of trust with – not because they’re also parents. How would schooling work if parents only listened to teachers who also had children? Empathy should always over-ride dumb rules …not because you’re a parent who has also dealt with a tantrum and you feel for the parent, but because you’re a human being who understands that toddlers have bad days and the occasional crying child is just a reality in a public spaces. Let’s stay focused on our patrons needs and how we can support them.
I agree 100% that this blog post is not appropriate for this professional space. I agree 100% with all librarians and library staff posting about the hurt and pain this article has caused them. I, too, feel hurt by the assumptions and judgments passed by this Ms. Hoenig. All that to say, I also just want to take a moment to call the author out for pinning board books as “full of germs.” What kind of statement is that to make as a librarian? How do you think this type of judgment might come off to patrons who may not have the funds to purchase a whole board book library for at home? Why do you think libraries buy and build up collections of board books? I’m appalled at your statement about board books. It’s belittling to a collection that already struggles to stand up for its dignity. This whole article was written from a place of privilege and it disgusts me that it was published on here in the first place, let alone the fact that it still remains up on the blog a day later.
I’m never going to be a mother, so I’m not sure what this means for me.
I will be the first to say that motherhood is a transformative personal experience. For the author, I have no doubt that she sees parallels in children’s librarianship and parenting. However, motherhood by itself doesn’t automatically bestow a skill set in child development, insights into human behavior or empathy. Good children’s librarians are people with knowledge, training, creativity, and a commitment to service.
I think this was an interesting insight into Hoenig’s personal experience of motherhood. I can relate to her experience myself as a teacher. My interactions with students and parents have an added measure of sensitivity since my child has started school. I understand their struggles from the other point of view. I am sure a doctor who has a hospitalized family member and a dentist who just had a root canal feel they can better relate and understand their clients. Of course it is not a prerequisite and there are many amazing professionals without the experiences of the populations they serve.
It’s too bad some readers take a personal experience as criticism.
I find this a disappointing opinion to be published through a professional organization. First, when I was a children’s librarian fresh out of grad school, I struggled with “impostor syndrome”… Who was I to give advice when asked, or to tell this roomful of parents what they should be doing with their kids when I didn’t even have any of my own? Luckily I gained the confidence to get over that, and part of my confidence building was though reading advice from other professionals about best practices and owning my own knowledge and skills as a librarian. I would have found this opinion to be devastating. And as a person who is still childless, not by choice, I should be used to seeing society’s message that motherhood makes you more, but it still stings every time.
Let me say that I think it’s unfortunate that anyone would describe a distinctive experience as making themselves a “better” librarian, or person, or parent under any circumstances. It is impossible to imagine that becoming a parent would not give them DIFFERENT experiences both of their work, and especially of themselves, and these are likely to combine insights as well as challenges and limitations. But while this author may not have been as inclusive as they could be, in no way does their account amount to an effort to denigrate or demean anyone else’s experience as a person, parent, or professional. She is not saying anything about those who cannot, will not, or do not want to have children, she’s only offering some observations about herself. And yet, on this forum and so many others, this is taken as a license to engage in personal attack and self-serving expressions of hostility. It’s not for me to say whether anyone should be outraged in this way by whatever insensitivity they perceive. But I will strongly assert that in a world where working parents, and perhaps especially the working parents of children with disability (like myself), face a real lack of public support; and where resources for youth services and libraries of all kinds are increasingly scarce, it makes no sense to waste our energy in a circular firing squad, incensed at every perceived offense, however minor, or berating those one feels to be indulging in cancel culture. The point is not to police our behavior more assiduously – it’s to fight the real enemies of libraries and families of all kinds. We know who they are–let’s unleash some of our outrage on them!
I am baffled by the many negative responses on this post. Ms. Hoenig is clearly stating her personal experiences as a mother and as a librarian.
My question to all those bashing Ms. Hoenig’s insensitivity towards women who cannot have children, or women who choose not to become mothers is as follows: Why are your comments any less sensitive to mothers who entered motherhood unwillingly such as rape victims from communities where abortion is shunned? Or how about the new mothers who are struggling with postpartum depression or just plain old exhaustion? Why should those mothers lose out on the empowerment from Ms. Hoenig’s article because your feeble selves cannot tolerate expressions that do not fully align with your feelings and sentiments. Hoenig is expressing the positive influences motherhood has had on her professions and vice versa. In no way did she say that someone who is not a mother cannot possibly be an excellent librarian. What she was saying is that she feels that since she has become a mother, she feels more equipped and understanding of children’s needs. This is HER experience. She did not say that you are a worse librarian if you are not a mother, she said SHE feels like a better one now that she is. As for Jenny’s concern and disgust about the privilege stemming from this article, Ms. Hoenig never alluded that she believes that people should go and purchase full board book collections. She simply stated the facts surrounding board books; they are books which cater towards infants who tend to stick anything within their reach into their mouths. Of course libraries do their utmost best to maintain cleanliness, but for a mother to be concerned about what her child places in his or her mouth is very understandable. She also mentioned that owning books-even only one or two will help encourage children to take ownership of their literacy. I am aware of multiple organizations which provide books at significantly reduced prices or even for free. Ms. Hoenig was also not saying that it is bad to not own any books-she was expressing her experience of owning them being beneficial. Though her experiences may differ from yours, they do not make you or her a better librarian. Everyone experiences their jobs uniquely according to their own circumstances, and I hope that many more personal experiences like this are posted so we can continue to gain from each others experiences regardless of the differences we have from one another, so we can broaden our perspective beyond our own and recognize that what works for others works for them, and what works for you works for you, and there is no right or wrong, and most importantly, to keep freedom of expression, alive.
I am also baffled by the comments above. I worked in a library system for over decade and I noticed two things. The majority of full time librarians were female and did not have children, and the majority of women who were in leadership positions in this particular system were also childless. I have no idea if this was unique to my organization, but it was rather striking. I also found it dis-spiriting in terms of lack of representation, to see so few parents in leadership positions. Those librarians who did have children, tended to work part time and in the children’s department these staff were heavily relied on to run the children’s programs which involved the most interaction with children, while librarians tended to be behind their desks all day dealing with administrative and management work. One of our children’s librarians, who was also my manager, did not appear to enjoy the company of children at all. I worked with this woman for five years and she never once asked me how my family was or what my kids names were. She also bragged about how empathy was her most lacking trait. I personally couldn’t fathom why she had trained as a children’s librarian. In fact, most of the staff in the library I worked in openly admitted that they did not like children, which I found really strange, and quite an isolating experience as I was in fact only one of two women in a department of over 40 staff who was actually raising children.
I also found that some of the children’s librarians who were childless were great with kids, but noticed that there was a certain inflexibility, lack of understanding and overly judgemental attitude regarding parenting skills from many of those children’s librarians who were not parents. However, it’s hard to say if this attitude was due to lack of parenting experience or just a general attitude related to the extremely conservative and judgemental culture that librarianship promotes.