Monday, January 28, 2019

You Know You're A Children's Librarian When...

What does it take to be a children's librarian? An MLIS? Maybe. Knowledge of children's literature? Absolutely. Knowledge of child development? Preferably. The ability to relate to children of all ages (even teens) and their parents? Most definitely. But there's a whole lot of little unexpected things that go along with working in youth services that are rarely mentioned in job postings or taught in library school.

Somewhat recently a colleague and I were discussing materials needed for a program we were helping to plan, and she made the comment that "You know you're a children's librarian when you have three bins at home: trash, recycling, and trash you're going to upcycle for a children's program."

A couple of weeks later, I thought about her "you know you're a children's librarian when..." comment when I found myself planning my family's meals around my need of metal cans for my "Icy Experiments" program. I wondered what other things people found themselves doing that could only be explained by being a children's librarian [and in this case I use the term "children's librarian" loosely, to include all youth services professionals and paraprofessionals], so I posed the question in a large online group of children's librarians and other youth services people, and got over 100 comments!

A number of the comments, like my colleague's and mine, had to do with coming up with supplies for programs, including the ubiquitous staple: toilet paper rolls. Others had to do with going home or to after-work events only to find they had remnants of the latest library craft on them, everything from paint to glitter to googly eyes; sometimes days later. 

Several comments had to do with all the assorted crap we seem to carry around with us everywhere, filling our cars and tote bags. Still others had to do with being recognized away from the library, or not being able to turn it "off" and finding themselves reading to or playing with kids elsewhere, or providing reference or reader's advisory to friends and strangers alike outside the library. 

Here are just some of the comments on "you know you're a children's librarian when... 
  • ... you never go on vacation at normal times because you're even busier at work during school breaks."
  • ... you go out to dinner with the unibrow penciled in with eyeliner because you were doing spy school make up with the kids that day and forgot about it."
  • ... you find glitter in places you didn't think glitter could go."
  • ... you have a "work" ukulele and a "home" ukulele."
  • ... someone hands you a toilet paper roll, 2 coffee filters, a glue stick, some pipe cleaners, a sharpie, and a fluorescent orange marker and you make a work of art monarch butterfly in less than 2 minutes."
  • ... your friends and family's mouths drop open when their normally shy/quiet/introverted loved one goes from that to the rare creature they've never seen called 'Ms. Ashley'."
  • ... you sing "Five Little Ducks" [or other children's songs/rhymes] in the shower."
  • ... you sneeze glitter."
  • ... you have the urge to discuss books with any kid you see with a book in their hand, no matter where you encounter them..."
  • ... you start entertaining someone else's kid while standing in line at the store."
  • ... you have an iron, a hack-saw, and a 5 pound bag of flour in your work bag."
  • ... random children run up and hug you in the library....the grocery store, the eye doctor's, and the local day care center."
  • ... the trunk of your car looks like an old time general store. Tools, books, grocery store items, art supplies, and pool noodles."
  • ... you ask for puppets as birthday presents, as an adult."
  • ... you clap your hands when someone does a good job and then you notice there are only adults in the room!"
  • ... you go clothes shopping and one of the criteria is 'can I do storytime in this?'."
  • ... you [go to a bookstore] and try to fix the shelves."

Of course these are all fun and entertaining, but you know what else they tell me? That children's librarians are incredibly creative and resourceful; they often operate on shoestring budgets and are able to come up with an amazing number of different crafts and activities using everyday items, often upcycling discarded items. Children's librarians are dedicated and like to help people. Many comments referred to performing librarian-type work while not on the clock or at the library, just to help people. Others also showed that people in youth services are ALWAYS thinking about how things could be used for programs, often planning and preparing materials on their own time. Children's librarians are able to laugh at themselves; I mean, going out to dinner with forgotten fake unibrow? 😆

But most of all, I think these show that most children's librarians love their jobs! Out of the over 100 comments, not a single one referred to the generally low pay, lack of respect much of the rest of the library world seems to have for youth services, or student loan debt many may have. Rather, pretty much everyone thought of funny, quirky, and rewarding parts of the job, which is pretty incredible.

I am technically not quite a children's librarian yet, but I count myself as part of the tribe. I have worked in library youth services for 6 years now, first as a page, then an early literacy outreach specialist, and now as a library associate. I actually did my first library program back when I was a teen, assisting my high school biology teacher run a natural science program at my childhood library. I am *almost* finished with my MLIS, just 3 classes to go after this semester, and after that I hope to be a full-fledged, card-carrying, glitter-wearing, toilet-paper-roll-hoarding, silly-song-singing children's librarian! 

Please feel free to add your "You know you're a children's librarian when..." in the comments below! 

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