Friday, February 26, 2016

So You Want To Be a Children's Librarian

So, you have read through our Teen Librarian and Public Library Reference Librarian articles, and you've decided that you'd rather work with children. Fabulous! I am a little partial to Youth Services myself, which encompasses both Children's and Teen Services; I've been a Children's/Youth Services Librarian for about 5 years now, and I think I've amassed some good insight. If you're just starting out, or considering going into Children's Librarianship, there are some things you should know.

Actually, there's a lot of things you should know. Enough that I've split this article into several parts: Programs and Events; Collection Development and Weeding; Community Outreach; and this lovely article, which will be an overview.

PLUS! Stay tuned: we have a special giveaway!

So, What Does This Job Entail?

I want to preface this topic by saying that being a children's librarian isn't an easy job. I'm not saying that it's harder than being any other kind of librarian, but I've spoken with a lot of people who will say things like:"oh, I'll just do Children's if I can't find anything else," or "it must be nice to read picture books all day." Let me be frank: children's librarians work just as hard as any other librarian out there.
You need to be able to:

  • Recommend books and intelligently speak with patrons (and their parents) from birth through age 12 (or 18, for those of us in Youth Services) 
  • Help with homework assignments, but not so much that you're actually doing the assignment for the student in question
  • Help in finding age-appropriate materials - there's a big difference between a book for a second grader and a book for a fourth grader! Not to mention finding reading-level appropriate books for kids who don't read as well as their peers but don't want to feel babyish, or kids who read way ahead and aren't mature enough for topics in books at their reading level
  • Provide storytimes and activities for a huge variety of ages, interests, attention spans, skill levels, and schedules
  • Know what's popular and what's passe, and be able to judge what pop-culture books to buy 4 copies of and what to ignore because it'll blow over in a month
  • Know enough about award winners to be able to successfully give a Newbery winner to a kid for a class assignment - AND make him want to read it
  • Provide a safe, welcoming, fun environment for kids, teens, and parents
  • Keep track of what's in your collection so you can give the right book to the right kid at the right time
  • Keep in contact with the local schools, so you can have books ready on whichever topic kids will be coming in to learn about
  • Run a storytime at a moment's notice

It also helps if you're able to:

  • Discuss the minutiae of My Little Pony, Pokemon (yes, still), Harry Potter, and whatever the latest Disney title is
  • Make friends with everyone, from toddlers to teenagers
  • Burst into song with little to no provocation
  • Know your way around a glue stick - arts and crafts projects are no joke
  • Figure out what book someone is talking about from a garbled half-description (I actually love doing this. It makes me feel like a rockstar.)

"It's about knights of different colors and wishes and a cat!"
Still interested? Good! Let's continue.

Be Cheerful, and Make it a Happy Place

Because the other articles will discuss the ins and outs of work in the library, I thought we should take a moment here and talk about that atmosphere you want to cultivate. My goal is simple. As I tell people when they're getting stressed about late fines and dropped crayons and homework: This is a happy place.

I know it sounds silly, or maybe impossible - who is always happy? - but hear me out. We want to make the library a happy, welcoming place, to foster the love of reading, learning, and doing. Starting with babies and moving on up toward adulthood, we want people to want to be at the library.

Have you ever been to a restaurant and had a bad server, and you never want to go back there even if you like the food, because it just makes you so angry or depressed? Same thing. One bad experience can stick with a person - especially a child - and they might not want to come back. Try to keep your frustrations in check, a smile pasted on your face (even if it's a fake one), and be friendly and accessible. I find that a smile and a "Hello! Let me know if you have any questions!" when a patron walks in works wonders; just by doing that, you've let them know that you're available if they need or want something, but you're not going to hover and stare at them, and they're welcome to hang out, read, color, and enjoy their time.

It's The Best Job Ever

If all of these aspects of the job haven't scared you away, you're in luck: for those of us who like this kind of thing, this job is the best. Sure, we occasionally have to clean unknown sticky substances off the picture books, but we get to see the joy - pure joy! - on a kid's face when we tell them we have the new Wimpy Kid. We get to watch little guys slowly progress week after week, until they know all the hand motions to "The Wheels on the Bus." We get to tell stories, and sing songs, and do arts and crafts projects, and be a big part of people's lives. Personally, the fact that I actually want to get up in the morning is a huge bonus, and even if I had to do it all over again, I would still be a children's librarian.

Special Giveaway!

As a thanks for reading and being part of our 5 Minute Librarian family, we have a special giveaway today! Thanks to Caitlin Casey from Little Bee Books, we have a signed copy of the awesome new nonfiction picture book, The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits, written by Douglas Florian and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez! To win it, please leave a comment on our Facebook page; one comment will be selected at random and the lucky winner will be notified. Good luck!


  1. thank you for a lovely article. Nadia

  2. Reaffirmed a lot of how I feel about being a Children's/Youth Services librarian. It really is one of the best jobs out there!