YA Librarians: Born or Made?

I’m going to tell you a secret – not a super-secret secret since I’m writing about it in a public forum, but a semi-secret all the same: I very often don’t know what I’m doing. I get tugged in all kinds of different directions by various and disparate interests and while I realize that this isn’t the end of the world, I feel that, at this point in my education, rounding out my second-to-last semester at library school with two internships under my belt, I really should know what I’m doing, or at least have a very solid clue. Amy addressed a related issue not long ago, and I’m guessing this sort of thing is pretty common. Still it’s not the most comfortable feeling. What inspired this, my most recent bout of not-having-a-clue? A discussion prompt for a class I’m taking on YA services and programming. Here is the prompt in all its existential glory:

Do you think YA librarians are born or made?

That’s it. Seems kind of innocuous, doesn’t it? But it’s actually an interesting question. Is there something inherently critical in the personality of a YA specialist – some vital, natural quality that cannot be learned?

Before I get too far ahead of myself, which is a classic symptom of not having a clue, let’s back up and address the issue of what a YA librarian actually is.

According to the Young Adult Library Services Association, ( YALSA), a young adult specialist is a librarian whose primary professional function is to develop a library’s young adult collection and facilitate the library’s programming for teens, ideally with the participation of the teens themselves.

To be a young adult specialist, a librarian commits exclusively to patrons who fall between the ages of 12-18, so one might presume that the first requirement of the young adult specialist is that the librarian actually has to like young adults. Unfortunately, since a person can either naturally like young people or develop that empathy over time, liking teenagers doesn’t get us any closer to answering the born or made question. So let’s dig deeper. Let’s move on to self-perception.

Why is self-perception a factor? Topher noted the importance of self-perception in a post not long ago, and to expand a bit on his observations, how a librarian sees him or herself is fundamental to what sort of librarian he or she becomes. How we perceive ourselves, both as people and as purveyors of information, is at the heart of the “born or made” question, so what are some of the qualities a young adult specialist might see themselves as having.

There is a common perception that young adult librarians are, in fact, young themselves. That they are tattooed hipster tech-evangelists with a vast knowledge of counter culture, zines and graphic novels. And yet, for every specialist that fits the stereotype, there is a sweater-wearing fifty year old who advocates passionately for better services and programming for teens. So what are we left with? A person of indeterminate age, (tattoos optional), who advocates on the behalf of young adults; someone who facilitates programming and services that draw teens in and involve them in their community; a librarian who supports the mental and emotional growth of young adults, not just as readers but as citizens; a professional who wants to serve young adults at a time in their lives when, historically speaking, libraries have tended to lose them. In short, a person who likes and values teens.

And are these qualities born or made? In the end, I think it depends on the librarian. It could be either, it could be both. Even more to the point, does it matter? I don’t think it does – not as long as the librarian commits to young adults with passion and professional enthusiasm. Personally, I do like young adults and I always have. Does that make me a natural, pre-destined YA librarian? I have no idea, but I forward to the possibility of finding out.  Bottom line, if a committed passion is there, I don’t think it matters how you come by it – whether you’re born with it, develop it, or whether it falls out of a tree and lands on your head.

But that’s just my opinion. What do you think? Are YA librarians born or made? I’d love to hear your answer….

Categories: Specializations

4 replies

  1. I’m just starting my first job out of Library School as a Middle/High school librarian and for me its a mixture. I’ve brought to the school, my knowledge of books and technology practices but I’m learning so much about the school community and making sure what I do fits in here. I think as with all things, its really a balance and a mixture.

    There are some points where I feel like I know exactly what I’m doing and its easy, I can talk to kids about certain books. Then other points when I talk to teachers or administrators about using new technology and remember and rely on conversations and discussions from Library School.


  2. I am a YA librarian and I was born that way. I was lucky enough in my career to recognize my true talent would be better served if I moved from the classroom to the library and I went back to school for librarianship and changed professions. I rely on two things (which I did not get in library school): how well I understand YA books and how well I understand teens. When I connect with a student and find the right book for them at the moment, it is magic.


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