What you may not know about your local children’s or young adult (YA) librarian could fill, well, a library.
“Librarians are much more than stuffy ladies who check out books,” says Katherine Peery, a former children’s librarian in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who now teaches first-year librarians at the University of Texas, Arlington. “In fact, there is a science behind selecting materials and using them to engage children in reading and the world around them,” she says.
Yup — it’s called library science for a reason. And the staff manning the YA desk? They know more about what tweens and teens are plugged into than you think, making them an invaluable resource.
Here, eight things children’s librarians do that’ll make you look at your librarian with fresh eyes and renewed respect.
1. They’re reading trendsetters: Children’s librarians see the new books before anyone else. “If we love a book, we promote it to kids, parents, and teachers in our neighborhoods,” says Rebecca Schosha, children’s librarian at New York Public Library’s Jefferson Market branch. Schosha grabbed hold of the wildly popular Wonder by R.J. Palacio and loved it, so she made sure everyone who came through the library got an earful.
2. They’re writers: Did you know that Beverly Cleary, author of tons of children’s books, including Ramona the Pest and Henry and Ribsy, started her career as a children’s librarian? It makes sense, of course, that the profession would attract people who flat-out love kids’ books. But kids’ librarians write as part of their job, too — they may write book reviews and articles for their own library’s blog or website, says Lauren Younger, librarian at the Battery Park City branch of the NYPL. Librarians may also pen reviews for peer journals like the School Library Journal.
3. They’re event planners: Concerts, clown shows, scavenger hunts, summer reading program kick-off parties, games, and crafts … Just take a look at your own library’s calendar of events. Much of it is coordinated by the children’s librarian, who has to have a knack for scheduling, attracting and booking talent, managing volunteers and crowds, coming up with themes, designing flyers, and more.
4. They’re storytellers, singers, performers: The classic image of a children’s librarian, of course, is storytime: a group of rapt tots listening to the librarian read The Polar Express out loud at holiday time, say. But it’s more than that. Given their innate love of stories, librarians are often eager to tell them, read them, even sing them if their talent goes there. Some librarians have been asked to perform at children’s birthday parties!
5. They’re tech resources: Is your tween or teen heading to the library to research his science fair project or history term paper? He’s wise to ask the librarian for assistance formulating an Internet or database search, says Peery. “We can help students evaluate sources so they will know whether the information they find is accurate and authoritative or not — a growing problem in the digital age.” Librarians are skilled in finding the right information.
6. They’re school liaisons: Back to that science fair project or other major classroom projects like book reports: Chances are good your local librarian already knows the details and the due dates, and has pulled relevant books and other resources, because they’ve talked to the teachers assigning the term papers and projects. Librarians also work with local schools throughout the year to promote literacy and library use.
7. They’re detectives: “My daughter wants to read the small book with the purple elephant on the cover.” “My 6-year-old is reading at a third grade level and likes historical fiction with animals but nothing too scary.” “What do I suggest to my 11-year-old who is stuck on Diary of a Wimpy Kid?“ You can try plugging those questions into Google. Or, you could ask the librarian. She’ll know — or know how to find it.
8. They’re community builders: Libraries function as a meeting place for families with young children and a gathering spot for tweens and teens. Far from a sleepy, reading-only landscape, most children’s and YA libraries are hives of activity, with babies crawling over board books or participating in Mommy & Me classes, young kids checking out laptops and iPads or watching movies. Much of that welcoming atmosphere is thanks to the efforts of children’s librarians, who work to maintain their domains as a no-bullying, warm, safe, friendly zone.
Now that you know a little more of what your librarian is doing, stop by the desk to say hello and ask a question. Or better yet, encourage your kids to bring their queries right to the source. Putting aside all of their technical know-how and talents, what children’s librarians love most is … children