[Series] So you want to be a Children’s/Youth Librarian?

Do you love working with kids? Is storytime your “thing?” Do you do a great Hagrid impression? If so, a career in children’s/youth librarianship might be for you! To get an idea of what this job is like, I reached out to a few alumnae of my program who are currently working in the field.

Meet our contributors:

Hillary Rains has a BA in History and Secondary Education, and she received her MLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May of 2014. She has worked at the Vigo County Public Library since May of 2012, first as a Youth Services Assistant Librarian, then as a Youth Services Librarian. Her previous experience includes working at an after school and summer enrichment program, substitute teaching, and working as an RTI reading specialist.

Madeline Helser-Howard is the Youth Services Manager at the St. Helena Branch of the Beaufort County Library System in South Carolina. It is her second month on the job. She previously worked as the Children’s Programmer at Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, IN for 4 years. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Earlham College and a Masters of Library and Information Science from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Mary Dubbs grew up near Minneapolis, MN. She has a B.A. from Marquette University (’07) in English Literature and Spanish Language and Literature. Following undergrad, she moved to New York to pursue children’s publishing. After getting her feet wet there (and then deciding she didn’t like soggy socks), she decided to pursue children’s librarianship. She earned my MSLIS from the University of Illinois in August, 2013. While at Illinois, she was a GA at the (now) SSHEL library for the School Collection. She began part-time youth services work with Oakland Public Library in December, 2013 and was hired on full-time in November, 2014 as the children’s librarian at the Elmhurst Branch. Recent highlights include taking on the co-chairmanship for the Distinguished Books List published annually by Bayviews review journal, presenting a poster at ALA Annual 2015, and running (and running, and running…) her first Summer Reading Program.

1. What inspired you to work as a children’s/youth librarian?

Hillary: I have always known that I wanted to be a librarian, from the time I was 7 years old or so. When I began working as a tutor at a local after school program, I knew that I wanted to work with children. I also worked as a page at my high school library, and thought that I wanted to work in a school library. When I moved to Terre Haute, I applied for a part time lending clerk job at the VCPL, just after I had been accepted at GSLIS. They called me back to see if I would like to apply for a full time position, and the rest is history!

Photo from San Mateo County Library on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Photo from San Mateo County Library on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Madeline: I was always a person that was interested in and succeeded in almost anything I put my mind to. I have also always worked with kids, from age 13 on I was a babysitter, then a camp counselor, then a substitute teacher, then finally a children’s librarian. I struggled with what to do when I went to college. I thought I wanted to be in Musical Theater or play in a professional orchestra, but I also really wanted to study the environment and cultures. I ended up at 3 different colleges for all of those various interests and finished a music degree because that’s what I could do on time. After being a substitute teacher after graduation, I got a position as a part time library assistant in the children’s department of the local library. I always loved reading and I always felt the library was a second home. The job was perfect. I felt as though I could work with kids, be a performer, help the environment, help build community, learn about cultures, and pursue anything I wanted, all in the library. After the first few months I knew it was meant to be. So I was never really inspired, I think I just was one all along and it just didn’t dawn on me until then.

Mary: In high school, I decided I wanted a job that would let me read a lot of books. I also wanted a job that would make a positive impact on the world. I found out I’d need a master’s degree before becoming a librarian, so I thought I’d try being a book editor first. I eventually got a job in the children’s publicity division at Penguin, and I found that both the pace and the lack of interaction with kids was not a good fit. I wanted to be able to meet the kids for whom we were working so hard to make great books. I would need that masters degree, after all. I also care deeply about improving equal access to information and providing everyone with the tools they need to participate fully in our democracy. It’s extremely satisfying to provide cool, innovative, diverse programming and materials to the kids in my branch’s neighborhood; hopefully we’re helping to bridge the gap for them and turning them into life-long library users.

2. Describe a day in the life of a children’s/youth librarian.

Hillary: First off, there is no such thing as a typical day as a youth librarian, at least not where I work. There are three librarians, five assistant librarians, and five lending clerks that work in our Youth Services Department, and we each do a little of everything. Every day is different and unexpected. We all do programming, weekly storytimes, as well as reference and assists at the desk. We all order and reorder materials, collection development, check in materials, and shelve materials. One of our assistant librarians is our Mother Goose on the Loose, and the bulk of her job is going out into the community to do storytimes. Four of our staff put together collections of materials to take out to 90 daycares we serve.

I work mainly in the new Teen Space, and between myself and a part time assistant librarian, we staff that space. We oversee video gaming, tablet check out, shelving, collection development, ordering, reference, assists, and programming.

Madeline: I clock in at 8am and sometimes have to bring my breakfast if I don’t wake up on time. :P. I generally research different blogs for new articles on the field to see what others are doing and to expand my knowledge base. I spend time at different preschools sometimes doing outreach storytimes where I am swarmed with hugs and love. I am always trying to find just the right book for the kiddos and teens. Also, on top of managing the department, ordering books, and playing the ukulele, I try to focus on community outreach and developing partnerships with other organizations that strengthen the opportunities our community offers kids. At some point I eat lunch and read, ans sometimes shelve and shelf read too to make sure I have a good grasp on what the collection has. 🙂

Mary: A sample summer Thursday:

  • 9-10am (before the branch opens). Check & respond to emails, chat about the weekend with coworkers, plan priorities for the day.
  • 10-11am (branch opens at 10). Set up children’s room for storytime. Preschool storytime!
  • 11-12pm. Re-set for Toddler Storytime. Toddler Storytime! <<Answer patrons’ questions in small breaks between storytimes.>>
  • 12-1pm. Lunch.
  • 1-2pm. On the ref-desk: Start ordering books for the month, prep for performer. Answer any question from any patron.
  • 2-3pm. Performer! This week, the East Bay Symphony is bringing about a dozen instruments for a “petting zoo” for kids to try out. I expect about 40-60 kids ranging from 0-13. Re-set room from performer. Get kids signed up for Summer Reading/give prizes for those who have completed their           calendars. Chat with families. Get out coloring sheets and board games. Help kids find books and use       the computers.
  • 3-4pm. Work on regional library association committee stuff (spreadsheets!)
  • 4-5pm. Check new kids’ books to make sure they were processed correctly. Fill out time sheet. Contact next week’s performer to make sure they’re on the same page. Work on monthly circulation/program attendance report. Check & respond to emails.
  • 5-5:30pm. Whatever’s left! Help tidy the children’s room and get folks out the door so we can close. Whew!

3. What advice do you have for LIS students who are considering a career in this field?

Hillary: Think big. If you want to try something new, make a plan and present it to your superiors. The

Photo from Cockburn Libraries on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Photo from Cockburn Libraries on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

worst they can say is no. Think small. What small changes can you make to improve services? The devil is in the details. Be sure you know what you’re getting into when you think big.

Also, be willing to try new things. Never used a new technology before? Jump in, get your hands dirty. Even if you never become an expert, you’ll still learn something. Be flexible. I am not a young children person, but I still fill in for baby and preschool storytime occasionally.

Madeline: Make sure to take your time in deciding that this is the path you want to take. For me, youth advocacy starts in the library from age 0. I am very passionate about the kids I work with and to me there aren’t bad kids, only bad circumstances. It’s my job to make sure I provide what they need, and in doing that make sure they can provide for themselves by being literate. Make sure that this career is what your heart wants, and you’d be willing to get fired over something like feeding a kid who you know doesn’t have food at home. Be in it for the kids. The job is a mix of being a teacher and a social worker, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Mary: We have some San Jose students (and one LEEP GSLISer!) who attend our regional library association’s meetings. Not only are they getting some great collection development training (we mostly discuss our book reviews), they are familiar faces and names to everyone in the room — the people who hire new librarians (or at least could put in a good word). So look for your local association and try to get involved: Working librarians will already see you as a peer.

Also, I wish I had gone to more storytimes as a student. Now that I’m working, it’s hard to sample other people’s styles because I’m running my own show. During my training with Oakland, we toured a few branches’ storytimes, and it was so cool and inspiring to see how different they can be, but now that I’m working, I don’t have the flexibility to “field trip” myself to see new ones.

4. What is your best “kid story” (cute or surprising things that the children at your library have done)?

Hillary: Oh man, where do I start? Last week, I hosted a villain party for the summer reading program, and a teen’s younger brother joined us to play Smash Up. He was using the zombie deck.

Me: (Reading card) Okay, it says to take the top three cards off of the top of the deck and bury them on the bottom.

Kid: Well, mine have already been buried, but okay.

Today, a regular patron, a trans boy, let me know that he had chosen a new name for himself, Oliver. He told me that he got the idea from the villain party when he was coming up with a villain alter ego. He thanked me for always making him feel welcome in the space, and for hosting such great parties! Haha.

Madeline: There are SO many kid stories! I don’t really have one particular one, but the comments they say always crack me up! I think one of the funniest was when I was doing a storytelling of the 3 Billy Goats Gruff. Of course I didn’t have a book, but no props in this case either. It was during the preschool lunch storytime so we were all just sitting at the table eating lunch. When I got to the part where the biggest billy goat defeats the nasty troll, I just had the troll fall off the bridge and float down the stream. When I said this one of the 4 year olds said, “And he gouges his eyes out with his horns!” I died. Of course that is the original telling, but we were eating and there were 3 and 4 year olds present. I recovered by saying that in some versions that happens, but in mine he floats down the river to the hospital. I couldn’t stop laughing. Never underestimate what the kids know! Hahaha!

Mary: I have a million little stories just from the first year of being on the job. One time, I was at the reference desk, and the phone rang. My co-worker picked up the phone: “…Yes, I think so. Let me check.” To me, “There’s a woman on the phone who says her preschooler absolutely insists there’s something REALLY BIG happening at the library today. Is that true?” And I was like, “Heck yeah!” We were having ice cream, free books, and a storyteller for our DIA Celebration, and I had told his preschool class to tell their grown-ups to come to the library. I don’t normally hear back in such a concrete way that my outreach is working, so it was really cute to hear that this little guy was raising a stink about it. They came to the event, and the parent told me they didn’t even know the library was here and that they’d be back. Woo!

For more advice on pursuing a career in children’s/youth librarianship, check out our starter kit.


Are you pursuing a specialization in children’s/youth librarianship? What other questions do you have for these librarians?

8 replies

  1. Super-helpful advice – thanks! I’m curious about the balancing act that is being both a children’s librarian and a branch manager, which is something I see frequently in smaller branches. What kind of support do you need/get in order to make that successful? Is it possible in your system to be one but not the other?


  2. Great question! In my library system, there aren’t currently any children’s librarians who are also branch managers (unless they’re filling in on a short-to-medium term basis). I think it’s possible to do both if you have support staff or other librarians who can take on some of the children’s duties. That might look different based on your staff’s strengths — maybe someone does all the storytimes or other programs, or is able to take on a good portion of the collection development. Without that help, I think service to children would definitely suffer. I’m busy all the time, and making room for the duties of being a branch manager would mean things would have to get cut otherwise. The adult librarian at my branch is the manager, and she has far fewer expectations regarding programming, outreach, and collection maintenance, so it makes sense for that position to be the one that has the extra responsibilities.


  3. In our main library, that just wouldn’t be possible based on our administrative structure. At our one branch library, our branch manager does a little bit of everything, including youth and teen services. She oversees two permanent staff people and three or four clerks that we share with them. Of course, at the moment, our branch is only about 350 square feet. As we build our brand new replacement branch, one of our associate librarians is moving over there to oversee youth services, especially early childhood events.

    Support with programming is key, I think. You can’t very well staff a desk and perform a storytime at the same time. Planning time is also something that people don’t think about. You need some off desk time to get programming bits together.


  4. I’d like to submit that “Do you love working with children?” is the wrong question.
    A professional librarian is about serving communities through the provision of information services, not about “liking” this user group or that. It helps that you might not hate kids. But if you are in that position you’re still a professional delivering information services – you study, learn, evaluate, and improve the services that do that the best.


    • Hi Anthony. I see your point. Working in youth services is definitely a lot more than just liking kids. I began my post that way because my intended audience is students who are considering this specialization. I think a lot of people might start the process of deciding to become a youth librarian by thinking “well, I like working with kids…” I hope that the responses of the three people I interviewed showed that the job is much more than that.


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