Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Becoming a Librarian Serving Teens and Tweens

From time to time I receive emails, comments, and questions from folks who are considering a career as a school or young adult librarian.  They ask for recommendations on courses to take, books/articles to read and what it takes to be a LibrariYAn*.  In response, I've put together my words of wisdom below.  If you're one of those interested in becoming an awesome librarian, read on to find out how.  If you already ARE an awesome librarian, add your two cents!

1. Get to Class!
Most libraries require their librarians to have a Master of (Information and) Library Science degree.  When I first started classes, friends (intelligent ones with their own professional degrees) asked things like, "So you go to school for two years just to learn the Dewey Decimal system?"  I, of course, told them with a straight face, "Yes.  It's a very complex system."  But seriously, there's so much more to the degree.  In my program, I took classes on materials for children and young adults, where we read books, looked at the evolution of materials available for young people, discussed related hot button issues (think LGBT characters and "banned" books), and considered the plethora of media available for young people (table top games, video games, movies, music, etc.).  There were also classes on cataloging materials, organizing information, providing reference services and how people search for information (the answer to this: not in a very sensible or organized way - that's why we have librarians!).

2. Get a Job!
If you're considering becoming a librarian, it might be a good idea to spend some time in a library before you take the leap and spend all that cash on the degree.  Look into becoming a Library Assistant or Circulation Assistant.  If you've already begun taking classes, many libraries will hire you as a Librarian, once you've completed 15 credits.  I had a terrific experience working as a Reference/Young Adult Librarian at the library in my hometown.  Since I was taking classes while working I found that each week, as I learned more in class, I became a better, more knowledgeable librarian for my patrons.  I taught classes on Excel, chaperoned teen programming and answered lots of random reference questions.  It was a great opportunity to put what I was learning into action at work and then bring questions, thoughts, and ideas back to my professors and classmates at school.  I also took a turn volunteering as an intern at a high school library.  In this role I got to do things like weed a collection, assist with purchasing/collection development, hand-key records for new materials into the database and create and deliver lessons on the research process.

3. Get Reading (Watching, Listening, Playing)!
Especially if you want to work with children and/or teens, you MUST have a sense for the materials available.  There are thousands upon thousands of books to read, games to play, movies to watch, and songs to hear.  Start yourself off with something that you find interesting.  Several years ago, when I was getting a Master's degree in Teaching and working part-time at the children's department in Barnes & Noble, I just decided one day to pick up a little book called Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  It was a slow day, and the cover looked interesting.  As a teen, I hadn't really spent too much time reading young adult fiction, skipping instead to V.C. Andrews and Agatha Christie.  The language and characters in Speak drew me in, and I was hooked.  Before long, I was reading Louise Rennison and J.K. Rowling.   By no means have I read everything out there.  I keep meaning to read Angela Johnson's The First Part Last, and Rick Riordan's Lightning Thief series, but it just hasn't happened yet.  Heck, I only hesitantly picked up science fiction a few years ago when I had to read Scott Westerfeld's Uglies for a class assignment.  And afterward, I kicked myself for being so closed-minded about what I would enjoy.  When it came time to watch High School Musical, compete in a Wii Rock Band tournament, or listen to Lady Gaga, I knew it was in my best professional interest to do so.

4. Get Connected!
No librarian is an island.  We need each other to be better at our jobs.  I may be the only staff person in my library most of the time, but my subscriptions to School Library Journal, Horn BookVOYA, and Booklinks are invaluable tools that keep me up-to-date on new releases, technology and programming ideas.  I also spend a lot of time tending to my professional development by attending conferences like BEA and ALA Annual.  Back when I was in NJ, I was also fortunate enough to have met many other YA librarians through my involvement with the NJLA-YA Services Section.  I also keep an eye out for FREE professional development opportunities, like SLJ and ALA webinars.  And what blog post would be complete without me recommending that you check out librarian blogs?  Bookshelves of Doom, The YA YA YAs, and GreenBeanTeenQueen are among my favorites (though I have MANY more).

And that's all I have to say about that.

* There can be only one.  That job is taken by me, but luckily, I love talking about myself, so you can learn a lot about what I do here at this blog, and then emulate!


  1. "classes on materials for children and young adults, where we read books, looked at the evolution of materials available for young people, discussed related hot button issues (think LGBT characters and "banned" books), and considered the plethora of media available for young people (table top games, video games, movies, music, etc.)"

    Thank you!

    I think I told you this, but for anyone else who might be interested, the syllabi and class blogs (packed with links and resources) are available in perpetuity at my website,

  2. And I don't think V.C. Andrews can be properly appreciated by anyone over the age of 14!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Boy am I being comment-y lately...

    Every emerging librarian should have the chance to attend a school that proudly values librarianship - where teachers can't be intimidated away from their core missions, and where attracting and retaining the best instructors is a priority. It's still my secret (okay, not so secret) dream to be a part of a place like that again.

  5. Wow-thanks for the shout out!:) I had people ask if I learn the Dewwey Decimal System too. I took a children's/YA lit class and a graphic novel class that were great. I'm taking storytelling next semester. School is a lot of work, but I think it's the best schooling I've gotten because I love what I'm learning. Also, I'm working in the library while doing my schooling, which helps so much. And of course, read YA and children's books, and know what shows are on Disney Channel and go see the Twilight movies! It's part of the job!;)

  6. Great post! I just finished my MLIS and I'm now actively seeking a position working with tween or teens. I really like the emphasis you put on connecting with other librarians and professional development. Library school students should take advantage of the discounted rates available to them for subscriptions, conferences, and PD opportunities. It's great that your state library association has a YA services section. I'm involved in trying to establish a Canadian network of teen librarians here in Canada.