Services to children and teens are the cornerstone of any modern public library. A strong youth services program can get new patrons in the door by promoting literacy education and providing children with a place to go after school. That said, there are many things a youth services librarian needs to know in order to be successful and provide the best possible service to young patrons.
- Current trends in early literacy practices and education. My school district recently began to follow the Fountas & Pinnell Guided Reading. When children and their families come in looking for a “level M” book, it’s a huge cause of frustration for my circulation staff. A trained children’s librarian should be aware of developments such as this and be able to offer recommendations. Similarly, a familiarity with the Common Core can aid not just in customer service, but also in collection development.
- The importance of the reference interview. Reference interviews aren’t just for reference anymore! They can also be helpful in performing reader’s advisory. A librarian who is able to assess exactly what a patron is looking for is a huge asset to his or her department.
- Understanding the needs of all levels of readers. Some children read far above their grade level and are not ready for the mature content that can come with higher-level books. Others struggle, and in the words of Marie Joyce, Children’s Librarian at the Free Public Library of Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, “it’s important to get them books they can read but that are not ‘babyish.’” A successful children’s librarian should be able to help find resources for all reading levels.
- An awareness of pop culture. Just as it’s important to be cognizant of current educational trends, it can greatly help a children’s librarian to be aware of what’s going on in popular culture. Some of the highest-circing items in my library’s juvenile collection are LEGO books and Star Wars tie-ins. Similarly, we recently held an American Girl tea party that was an overwhelming success. Staying up to date on these things can help a professional relate better to young patrons, not to mention make the library a “cooler” place to hang out.
- Management and networking skills. “Children librarians seem to be doing more and more on less available time. We are not an island…we need staff help, whether it is preparing crafts and props to marketing programs to patrons. Good management skills help rally the internal staff and outsiders who support the library with time and money,” points out Robin Rockman, Youth Services Librarian at Oradell (NJ) Free Public Library. Furthermore, many children’s librarians are also tasked with making sure their department runs smoothly. Having a good professional rapport with support staff makes this duty far easier.
- How to talk to children. It seems obvious, but providing good service to children is far different than working with adults, or even teens. Establishing a non-intimidating but still authoritative stance with young patrons is key in a public library.
- Technological know-how. That’s not to say every children’s librarian should be fluent in three different programming languages, but being able to leverage different resources can be a huge aid in both program development and customer service. It is also important to understand how screen time can affect our youngest patrons. It’s no longer out of place to have a parent or caregiver come into the library looking for app suggestions for their preschooler.
- How to be a creative problem-solver. Children are unpredictable! You never know when a scheduled performer might not show up, or a kid has an accident during story time. Flexibility and being able to think quickly on his or her feet will pay off greatly during those moments of uncertainty.
- Time management. Many children’s librarians are responsible for scheduling programming. Yet providing enough events for the public without burning themselves or their staff out can be a tricky act of balance. Similarly, most people in this position wear many different hats, from programming to collection development to community outreach and more. Being able to manage anything without being overwhelmed is vital.
- How to promote library services. I come from a digital marketing background, and what I learned while working in that industry has helped me almost every day in my library career. Now more than ever, it’s necessary to stay relevant in the eyes of the public and elected officials. We can’t do that if no one knows about what we offer. From social media marketing to creating catchy in-house displays and merchandising, a keen sense for promoting library awareness will ensure the longevity of our field.
What other topics do you think a children’s librarian needs to know about? Share your thoughts in the comments!