Monday, December 10, 2012

Don't confuse children's/teen literature with teen/children's librarianship

Whenever I have someone tell me that they really want to be a children's librarian because they love children's literature, it tells me that they don't know much about actually being a children's librarian. Most librarians start eye-rolling when someone tells them it sure must be great to read books all day, and the children's lit/children's librarian confusion is a subset of that argument.

If you looked at actual job postings for children's and teen librarians you will notice that loving children's literature is not the sole job duty. In fact, if you stated that this was your only qualification for the position, I can guarantee that they would not make you a job offer.

This posting from Monroe, Washington says:
  • The successful candidate for this position will demonstrate knowledge of teen culture and technologies; 
  • judgment when using reference databases and print resources; 
  • flexibility in trying new approaches to customer service; 
  • and enthusiasm when promoting library programs and initiatives.
I think this means you better like technology, know about marketing, have some customer service background and at least read a book about "teen culture".

This posting from Rawlings, Wyoming says:
The 40 hours/week position involves working with the programming team to develop programs for all 8 library locations. The position also involves collection development for the teen and children’s collections. The position reports to the Public Support Services Manager. The job includes a variety of evening and weekend hours.
I'm sure you will not only have to be able to pick a teenager out of a line-up, but you will also be working on collection development, which actually means you need to know how to develop a teen collection, as well as programming for teens, which can include media literacy, study skills, life skills, college/vocational preparation, helping youth at risk, as well as bullying, sexual identity issues, suicide and basic literacy. Of course, you could touch on these issues through fiction--and you will--but knowing the culture and the needs of the community going to take up more of your day than preparing Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers.

And this posting from Waukee Public Library
A master’s degree in Library and Information Science from an ALA-accredited institution, with coursework or experience in children’s services is preferred. Knowledge of literature for children and young adult, storytelling skills and programming experience are essential. May require travel to various locations for outreach programs.
Now, you have to know about children's and teen lit, but you also have to have presentation and programming (teaching and class planning) experience in addition to a knowledge of the literature. A driver's license will probably also be a must, not to mention a willingness to travel. 

Instead of reading your way exclusively through the VOYA booklists, I would recommend that you spend some time with real children and teens and learn about some of the issues that children and teens are facing and what their information needs are. So you have to meet some real children and teens in their natural habitats and even talk to them. It is not enough to have a firm grasp about what adult authors have composed for the edification and entertainment of children and teens.

If the library's hiring decisions come down to a choice like this:

Candidate ACandidate B
  • was a child once
  • briefly a teenager
  • knows what a Time Turner is
  • Team Gale
  • and an MLIS
One of the former:
  • teacher
  • social worker
  • youth counsellor of some type such as camp, school, addictions, etc.
  • juvenile detention center worker
  • or is a current literacy specialist
  • and holds an MLIS
I think the library's hiring committee is going to go with Candidate B, provided that the candidate expresses no disgust at spending more of their professional life in the company of children.

It is clear that loving children's lit is a must, but it is not a significant percentage of children or teen librarian's day. However, over-estimating just how much time is spent with books, as opposed to people is not solely a failing of wannabe youth librarians.

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