On-the-Job Learning

The public library I’ve worked out has been open to the public again since June 1st. Because I started at the library during COVID, except for some limited volunteer experience in the past, this has been my first time working with children in a public library setting. When I started, to keep up with curbside delivery I was mainly processing holds all day, so before we opened, I had to basically learn a whole new job.  

I was lucky to work in some settings with kids before I started this job including an internship in the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress, at an all-boys summer camp, and as a part-time Nanny. Despite experience with all ages of young people from babies to teenagers in non-library settings, working with kids in a library setting for the first time was still something new.

I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve already learned in a little over a month when it comes to youth services librarianship.

Stories or Facts?

One of the things I love is doing readers advisory. There are two types of readers advisory in the children’s room, the questions kids ask and the questions parents ask. Parents tend to ask for more specific requests such as books about sharing or books about potty training. Younger kids on the other hand tend to give you one-word requests such as “space” or “dinosaurs.” A trick that the librarians I work with taught me is to ask if the child wants stories about space or facts about space. This helps narrow down the request and let you know if you should look in picture books or in the nonfiction section.

Just take a second to listen

Listening seems to be harder than ever given that my library has us separated from the kids with plexiglass and masks. When you add in the noise of the children’s room, it can be really hard to feel like you can actually connect and communicate with patrons. I’ve learned that you can’t hesitate to ask someone to repeat themselves. Sometimes listening also goes beyond just working at the desk. Last week, I had a young patron who was in with his caregiver and he just wanted to show someone his public transportation map and to talk about different stations that he’d been to. It was less than five minutes out of my day, but I could tell after how conversation how excited the patron was. Listening and communicating is key when working with patrons and building relationships with them.

Creativity is a delight

Even though summer feels like it’s just kicked off (or to some like summer is almost over), summer reading has been in the works for a long time. I’ve been serving on the summer reading committee since February and in the lead up to our program, I’ve been working with some great coworkers on the shape that our program will take from how much we’d like patrons to read to earn prizes and what that prize is going to be. Working in the children’s room requires creativity from working on programs to creating displays. On top of tapping into my own creativity, I’ve also been able to feed off of the curiosity of my coworkers.

There’s still so much to learn

In the last month, I’ve still yet to see an in-person story time and I’ve only helped with one outdoor programming. Because we opened right before the school year ended, I never saw a really after school rush in the tween room or the teen room, I’ve just heard about them. I’ve learned a lot in my youth-services-oriented classes in library school, but I’ve also learned a lot since I started my job in December and more since we’ve opened to the public. I’ll be graduating in December and starting to look for full-time librarian positions at that point, but for now, I can’t wait to see what else I learn as a library assistant.

If you have any tips, tricks, or pieces of information for someone early in their youth services career, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Macy Davis is getting ready to start her final semester at Simmons University in the MA in Children’s Literature/MS in Library and Information Sciences dual degree program. She’s excited for all of the embroidery projects she’ll create this summer. You can find her on twitter @bookishlybright or through her personal blog.

Photo by Lina Kivaka from Pexels

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