Blogger Tess Prendergast

Child development knowledge: What do we know?

We know that children’s librarians develop and deliver services that encourage and support children’s overall development. How do we learn how to do this well?

New research about child development knowledge in our field

I just read an article called “Child development knowledge among new children’s librarians in US public libraries” that was published in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science written by Jennifer Rice Sullivan. Sullivan reports on a survey of 61 children’s librarians with MLIS degrees completed within the past five years. Participants responded to a series of questions about perceived knowledge across these six domains of child development:

  • Language
  • Cognition
  • Gross motor
  • Fine motor
  • Emotional
  • Social

Most respondents reported having moderate to high levels of knowledge about these domains. Next, Sullivan asked more specific questions about participants’ knowledge of these topics.

  • Behavior management
  • Early literacy skills
  • Object permanence
  • Attachment
  • Separation anxiety
  • Self-regulation
  • Executive functions
  • Sensory processing
  • Non-neurotypical development

Given the strong focus on early literacy in our field, participants reported having high levels of this type of knowledge. Most other topics fell into the moderate to low range. Next, participants responded to a question about additional education that they thought would be most beneficial for them in their jobs. Interestingly, given my own interest in inclusive services, 82% of respondents rated the topic “non-neurotypical development” as a topic that would be helpful to know more about in their jobs.

MLIS education and child development: Results may vary!

Following this, Sullivan asked respondents about any prior child development training that most helpful for them. As an LIS educator, I read this part with great interest!  28% of respondents said their MLIS education was “Not useful” as a potential source of child development knowledge. In fact. most said it was only “Somewhat useful”, with just a few saying it was  “Useful” or “Extremely useful”. This result gave me pause. Importantly, respondents scored taking webinars a lot higher than course content.

Sullivan shares many more crucial findings in this highly readable article. My students will be reading it from now on too!

What do we know and how do we know it?

I think most people know more about children than they realize. For instance, we all started learning about children when we were children. So, our experiences since then have shaped our child development knowledge. Before you became a children’s librarian, perhaps you had experience in some of the following:

  • Babysitting and/or growing up with siblings
  • Volunteering, working and coaching experience with kids
  • Courses in psychology, sociology, and education, etc.
  • Being a parent, aunt, uncle, or older cousin
  • News, popular, & social media
  • Common sense

All of these things are part of your child development base which you are adding to all the time. If I asked a total newcomer to child development to tell me some things that they know about children they might say that kids:

  • Cry frequently
  • Laugh at silly things
  • Can be very loud
  • Move a lot
  • Like to touch stuff

These simple observations are true of many children. Therefore, when they do these things, kids are demonstrating where they are in this amazing period of human development that we call childhood.

Children are immature human beings, and while in this vulnerable state, they rely on adults to keep them safe and to support their development. Finally, I think we all agree that children’s librarians play important roles in supporting children’s development. We can do this best when we know how kids’ work.

After reading Sullivan’s article, I seemed to me that there is a lot think about regarding children’s librarians’ knowledge gaps. Fortunately, there are some great freely accessible resources on the topic.

Recommended Child Development Resources

A basic introduction to child development theories

This is just what it says it is: an overview of various theories related to child development. Some of these theories make more sense to our field than others, therefore, it is important to read them with a critical eye.

CDC’s developmental milestones

The Centre for Disease Control has just revised their developmental milestones. These are meant to be used as guides, not diagnoses for individual children. Presented by age group, these offer descriptive examples of what most children will be doing by specific age ranges.

Child Trends

This website holds a treasure trove of reports, guides, and research about child development, most of which has been summarized into short, readable articles.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) Position Statement (NAEYC)

Although this position statement is aimed at early childhood educators, children’s librarians can still benefit from its scope and how it frames developmentally appropriate practice.

Developmentally appropriate programming for babies and toddlers: An Infopeople webinar

After reading through the position statement above, go ahead and watch this free webinar hosted by librarians Brooke Newbery and Amy Koester.

What other child development resources do you like? Please share them with us in the comments!


Sullivan, J.R. (2022). Child development knowledge among new children’s librarians in US public libraries. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 63(1), 19-37. DOI: 10:3138/jelis.2020-0033


  1. Erica

    I completely identify with this article! My MLIS education barely touched on child development, even though I took the few child related classes offered. My knowledge comes from experience, undergrad psychology classes, and current professional development/webinars. Thanks for providing these resources.

  2. Betsy Diamant-Cohen

    Tess, what a great post. You should turn this into a Research Roundup article!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *