Pursuing a Specialty in Library Services for Children [Starter Kit]

Photo of sign that reads, "Children's Library."

Photo by Michael Sauers

As library science students begin classes again, school is also beginning for the children we serve as School Media Specialists and Children’s Librarians. In that spirit, Ashley and I co-wrote a starter kit for anyone interested in librarianship related to children. I am currently pursing my School Media Studies degree, while also teaching first grade. Ashley is a certified librarian and works as a Children’s Librarian at a public library. Below are some thoughts on our programs and experiences. Ashley is in bold.

To Start with Core Classes or Not to Start with Core Classes?

Many library school veterans will tell you to take core classes first. When I enrolled for my first semester I didn’t know many library school veterans and I didn’t get this advice. Rather, I signed up for one core class(on metadata and information organization) and a youth literature survey. I suspected the two classes would balance each other out nicely. They did–and something else occurred. It jump started the process of learning about children’s literature. In an earlier HLS post I wrote about reading as many children’s and YA books as possible  and my reasons for doing so. In a nutshell, good readers advisory starts with lots of reading and an understanding of the cannon. When I started library school I hadn’t read a children’s book since I was a child–so I had a lot to learn. While you are free to read what you like and build this knowledge on your own, I recommend starting library school with a class that adds structure and purpose to your reading of children’s literature that you can build on throughout  library school. Also, a good youth literature survey class will require you to read a ton. Having a ton of reading and subject knowledge under your belt will help when it comes time to apply for jobs and internships while you are in graduate school. While my class in metadata was insightful and important–it didn’t necessarily help me land my first library job. I will say that my ability to talk about various children’s titles helped a great deal during the interview. Take a good youth literature class early and then keep reading.

 I decided to take my four core classes first, before signing up for any classes required for my School Media Studies program. I appreciated taking these classes first because they gave me a perspective on the broad goals of librarianship before I learned about any specialized topics in children’s literature. This perspective has given me a strong foundation for my understanding of librarianship and how it applies to children.  It was beneficial to meet students within other specialty areas and better understand the goals of librarians in other disciplines. Because I already knew I wanted to specialize in School Media Studies, it made sense to take my core classes first and then focus solely on specialty classes later on. It also made it easier to sign up for classes I needed that had a core class as a prerequisite. Taking the four core classes first was a good way to test the waters and figure out how much time and work I would be doing.  Many of the School Media Studies classes require some observation hours at a school library, so it was nice to be able to have a sense of what was required from the program before trying to balance an observation and class at the same time.


Make Use of Blogging and Goodreads
As you start to expand your knowledge of youth literature, it may become difficult to remember all of the books you’ve read and want to read. Goodreads is a great way to keep track. Listing and rating the books you have read can come in handy during program and storytime prep and during readers’ advisory situations. You may be thinking, “I’m just starting library school and you already have me planning a storytime?” If this is your goal, organizing and retaining your knowledge from library school can help you get there. The best time to start is now. Finally, if time permits, blog about the books you read. Maybe not all of them–but the books of note. Blogging is another great way to organize materials you’ll want to use and recommend down the line. Additionally, blogging can help you stand out from other job/internship candidates by showcasing your best ideas and communication skills. I will admit, it takes time to stay this on top of organizing what you’ve read. I’m still working to blog enough and participate enough on Goodreads–but I feel the progress I do make is useful.

Understand the Role of a School Media Specialist from a Teacher’s Perspective
I am currently a teacher and I think this perspective will help me as a school librarian. Librarians and teachers who work together make a positive academic impact for students and also fill social needs. As my professor just pointed out, no school librarian wants to eat lunch alone while the rest of the teachers go out to eat together. As a teacher, I know how helpful school librarians are in pulling books for my class, teaching technology literacy and recommending read alouds. I think that sometimes teachers get a bad reputation for focusing only on a student’s reading level and core standards in reading and being too heavily reliant on reading program like Accelerated Reader. I feel strongly though, that both teachers and school librarians ultimately want to instill a love of reading in their students, even if they have different avenues of achieving this. Having teachers and librarians who work together is the best way to help students. Partnerships between school libraries and public libraries are also extremely important.

Read Beyond Your Comfort Zone
Reading and maintaining a solid knowledge of children’s literature is part of a children’s librarian’s gig–and can be separated from “pleasure reading.” If you’re reading to build knowledge of the canon–you’ll need to read beyond your comfort zone. If it were up to me I would read all mysteries all the time. But alas, I can’t recommend P.D. James to most 3rd graders. Read a spectrum of books and genres–even if it isn’t your thing–some reader will be really enthusiastic about it and you’ll be glad you did. This can be accomplished with an organized list or a rotation by book type, genre, or target audience. Make your way through picture books, easy readers, series, chapter books, non-fiction titles and graphic novels while touching on a variety of genres (sci-fi, horror, historical fiction etc.). 

Be Familiar with Children’s Authors
As both a teacher and a School Media Studies student, I have found it helpful to be familiar with a few outstanding children’s authors. Having a strong knowledge of children’s authors is great when helping parents and patrons who are look for book ideas. Many children’s authors write with recurring characters or themes, which is especially helpful for weaker readers who can be pulled into wanting to read a book because they already know the character and recognize an author’s style. Some of my favorite children’s authors are Mo Willems, Cynthia Rylant, Kevin Henkes, Helen Lester, Mark Teague and James Marshall.

Know Your Audience
While we were all kids once, children exist in a culture that is unique to them and the world they live in right now. Sure, Sesame Street and LEGOs have stood the test of time–but there’s a whole new list of things that are cool, interesting and relevant to today’s children. As you begin library school and venture into internships and volunteering–seek out artifacts that help you understand the experience of today’s child. What music do they listen to? What do they watch on TV? What is the curriculum in their schools? Seek out this knowledge for children at large and children in the communities you hope to serve. Hopefully it will help you relate to the children you’re working to serve as a librarian. 

We would love to hear your thoughts on children’s librarianship and any questions you have as the fall semester begins!

5 replies

  1. A great post! I agree that reading outside your own interests is incredibly important– even to read something you might think you will hate. I love contemporary realistic fiction, but I am trying to read teen paranormal romance, the Captain Underpants books, and easy readers to expand my knowledge. It’s easy to recommend books we love, but not every kid is going to have the same taste as you!


  2. Reblogged this on To The Library and commented:

    Check out my most recent (and final regular) appearance on Hack Library School. Celia Dillon and I co-wrote this Starter Kit for “Pursuing a Specialty in Library Services for Children.”


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