Youth Services: Do You Have it in You?

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Recently I read Elizabeth Bird’s cover story in School Library Journal entitled ‘Role Call’. The subtitle sums it up pretty well: “Want to work with kids in a public library? Here’s the scoop.” In the article she gives gives a breakdown of your options (public vs. school), LIS classes she found useful, salaries and job prospects, and the importance of networking. She touches on the kind of personality it takes to be a public librarian.

I would have loved to have seen this article before I started school several years ago. While I started this program set on being a Youth Services librarian, it’s always great hearing another person’s perspective on what you need to know and it’s a nice overview. I’ve been working as an assistant in the YS department for four years now and I’d like to elaborate more on the skills (personality and inner strength-wise) you’ll need to have in you.

Patience

Of course, this seems obvious. Patience is something we all need. Betsy used a great phrase in her article “Have a short fuse?” If you do, than YS might not be for you. You might have a child come up to you 17 times in one night asking for Barbie DVDs and though you’ve showed her exactly where they are 16 times earlier on that 17 time you need to still have a smile and be enthusiastic.

Quiet vs. Kid Quiet

The kids department will never be “library quiet.” There are always babies laughing or crying, toddlers who don’t know how to talk quietly, middle school age kids who can’t be quiet, and a wide range in between. It’s a mix of voices and excitement but it will never be like the adult floor. So don’t expect pure silence. Also, be prepared for the few adults who will complain about the volume of your floor.

Know the Classics

Not the classics like Alice in Wonderland. Every library will have the top series that every kid seems to be reading. This was one of the biggest pieces of advice I got when I started in the department. Once I knew where Geronimo Stilton, Magic Tree House, Judy Moody, and Amelia Bedelia books were things started going smoothly.

Forget Summer

Summer is classic for vacations and relaxing, but not for Youth Services staff! This is when our customers are here. Again it seems obvious, but don’t expect to get much done through June and July. You’ll be running from one program to another if you’re not constently at the YS desk. You might forget what your desk looks like buried underneath your projects. Summer will fly by like that and the best part: it’s a lot of fun.

Plan for Summer in January

Seems early but it will save you a lot of stress come May. And since I’m a person who’s not the best at planning ahead, trust me on this one.

Be Friendly and Have a Big Smile

This goes with tip 1, but you should be super friendly and smiley when you’re on the floor. Say hello and have a nice day to everyone. Having a bad day? Fake it till you feel better. Kids do not care. But they will remember if you were grumpy. Besides, even if you’re having a bad day I bet you won’t be when you way goodbye to a toddler and they respond by blowing you a kiss. See? Things are looking up already.

Do you have anything you feel are key skills or things new or soon-to-be YS librarians should know? Please respond! And make sure you check out Betsy’s article “Role Call” by clicking here.

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2 responses »

  1. Cheryl, this is some great advice! I’m really glad you posted the link to the “Role Call” article, as well. Having very little experience working in a children’s library, it’s enlightening to hear from someone who knows the ropes. I was especially interested in your comparison of quiet vs. kids’ quiet, and think it’s interesting that patrons are often surprised by the differences in reading environments designated for adults and children. How can someone forget how great it is to be a loud, crazy kid? 🙂

    • Thanks Sarah! It always amazes me that they’ve forgotten what being a kid is like. I guess it has to do with perspective too: we’re accustomed to think of the library as a quiet place. Just not the kid’s floor 😀

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