No amount of coursework can prepare you for the experiences you will have as a children’s librarian. In one week you might make mermaid slime, wear a giant inflatable dinosaur suit, connect a parent with resources about cystic fibrosis after their child’s unexpected diagnosis, host a dance party, book an alpaca for an upcoming program, and teach a math class.
In March, we contributed a post to the ALSC Blog about the need for more free, accessible professional development resources for children’s librarians. The profession is evolving and, more than ever, we need solid training to stay current and knowledgeable. While it’s no secret that many of the skills are learned on the job, there are some actionable steps a budding children’s librarian can take to launch their careers. Neither of us planned on being children’s librarians in library school. It just so happened that the positions open when we graduated were in children’s departments; so there was a steep learning curve!
Here are four steps you can take to begin to immerse yourself into the world of children’s librarianship. These just scratch the surface; so if you have any more ideas, please respond in the comment section!
1. Find a Mentor or Peer Mentor
Connect with someone who is working as a children’s librarian. Having someone who has been or is in the field can help you navigate the job search process and the expectations of children’s librarianship, as well as provide emotional support when needed. Your mentor doesn’t even have to be in the same age group as you! In fact, one of the most beneficial mentor relationships Allie ever had was with a teen librarian. Although she was interested in a different age group, this mentor gave her a plethora of advice about interviewing and resumes, taught her great reference skills, and helped her learn how to plan, execute, and evaluate programs. As a children’s librarian in the public library setting, you are likely to work with every age group. So, having access to experienced mentors can help you when asked to step in to help with other age groups. While most mentor or peer mentor relationships happen organically, you can also seek out mentorship programs like the ALSC’s mentor program.
The programs and services offered by libraries is far-reaching. So, observation is a great way to get a better idea of what a children’s librarian actually does and how they do it. Most librarians are more than willing to chat with a library student, so don’t be afraid to reach out and schedule a time to shadow. This can also prepare you for the interview process, as you may be asked to describe how you would conduct a program or what a successful program looks like.
3. Know the 5 early literacy skills
Every Child Ready to Read is an initiative by the ALSC and PLA intended to codify, provide consistent language for, and train librarians in early literacy skills. Their first iteration released in 2010 introduced 6 early literacy skills: vocabulary, print motivation, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, narrative skills, and print awareness. The second iteration, referred to as ECRR2, brought the early literacy skills down to five with actions verbs that are easy to remember and teach: talk, sing, read, write, play. These five verbs support all of the services and programs offered by children’s librarians. Know them inside and out and be ready to talk about them in an interview! The Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy have a wonderful summary on their website.
Know what professional organizations are out there and what online sources to follow.
- ALSC Blog: The Association for Library Service to Children provides a blog with content provided by librarians, children’s literature experts, publishers, and library school faculty members. It’s a great resource to stay up-to-date on what’s new in the field.
- Storytime Underground: This Facebook group will connect you to children’s librarians across the globe that share job vacancies, craft ideas, and storytime help. Their content has a wonderful social justice bent that will help you tailor services inclusive of all of your future patrons. You can also check out their blog.
- ALA Think Tank: Another great Facebook group that connects you to librarians of all types. Members post articles and questions and it can be a great way to stay current on library trends.
- Jbrary: Jbrary has all things storytime and children’s programming. Check out their excellent YouTube videos for storytime songs and their blog for the best storytime books.
- The Cardigan: The Cardigan is a monthly newsletter that covers a variety of different topics related to children’s librarianship. We developed The Cardigan because we are passionate about providing relevant and current professional development resources for children’s librarians. Our motto is, “It takes a neighborhood to nourish a children’s librarian,” because we know that we need to rely on each other in order to become excellent children’s librarians. You can join the Neighborhood here and follow us on Instagram @thecardigannewsletter.
Katherine Hickey and Allie Barton are both children’s librarians in Oklahoma City, OK.