Children's Librarian

Tina, 26, is a children's librarian currently working for the Chicago Public Library. She has her BA in history and philosophy from Trent University (1998) and her MLIS from the University of Western Ontario (2001).

Stephanie: What made you decide to become a children's librarian?
My motivation was two-fold. To begin with, I've always been a voracious reader, and have always enjoyed books of all kinds. One of my favourite things as a child was visiting the library, exploring the books and other sources of information and chatting with the staff. I decided early on that one of the most important things I could do was to share my love of and enthusiasm for books and information, and help children to learn how to navigate the library to enable them to know anything they would ever need or want to know.

Also, I love information and learning new things. When someone comes to me with a question, it's always exciting to help them track down the answers. I get to learn several new things each day, and be a bit of an expert in everything. I wanted a job that would let me keep learning.

Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
The one truly satisfying thing is when I know I've helped someone, and they show gratitude for that. Neighborhood librarians become intimately involved in people's lives, providing information for every aspect of people's lives. I'm on a first name basis with many of my regular patrons; they think of me as a resource in the community. I get hugged every day for sharing something that I love with a community that needs me.

As well, it's incredibly fun to discuss books with children, read books to children, recommend books to adults and children. If you've ever watched a 3-year-old learn something new, and seen the way their eyes light up, you know what I mean.

Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
The most stressful part of my job is also what keeps it so interesting; I must wear many hats each day. Although my title is Childen's Librarian, I'm also required to be a social worker, advocate, mentor, representative of the Mayor, book buyer, reader's advisor, parental resource, and disciplinarian. I spend my day assisting children, teenagers, parents, teachers, caregivers, and other librarians.

I have to know everything from where the bathrooms are to how to construct a bibliography to how to find out the capital and population of Finland. I've been thrown up on, dealt with angry patrons, plunged toilets, and called the police while calming a mugging victim. The difficulty comes from doing all of these things simultaneously. Switching one's whole demeanor in seconds is very challenging, and I sometimes wind up confused as to what role I'm in at the moment.

I also assist in managing the branch, dealing with staffing and scheduling, conducting outreach in the community and in schools, planning programs and performing storytimes, etc. You can get very busy and there are a lot of demands made on you in a short period of time. We have limited resources, and that means no funding for programs or special events, too high expectations and too little staff, no money for ergonomic chairs, etc. Working with the public is challenging, and working for a municipality means constant fear of budget cuts, slow-moving bureaucracy, and other hassles.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a children's librarian?
A lot of children's librarians burn out in the first couple of years. To enjoy this job, you must love children, and you must love children's books. Read all that you can, because the best asset in this profession is a sound knowledge of children's literature. Throw out the 'theory' of children's literature and concentrate on the fun aspects. You must love this job, because the pay isn't great considering the education that you need and the work that you do.

Some major library systems do not consider children's librarianship a specialty - they employ generalists. I disagree strongly with this approach, as there is a highly specialized body of knowledge that you must have to do this job. You must know and understand children at all ages, from early child development to teen angst, and tolerate the strangeness of each age group.

Having a sense of humour every day is an important asset. Love children, love their literature, and you'll have access to their world in a way that few adults can. This makes the job and it's hassles worthwhile.

Stephanie: What kind of an education did you get to be a children's librarian?
I have a BA in history and philosophy, and an MLIS (master's of library science). This is the minimum education required to become a professional librarian. Libraries also employ people with less formal education, but these people always report to the librarians.

Stephanie: What is your favourite children's book?
Oh, I can't answer that, I have so many. I love so many books and so many characters. It depends on what I'm reading at the moment. Right now I'm in love with Toot and Puddle, two characters created by Holly Hobbie. And I love Wodney Wat by Lynne Munsinger (he's a rat with a speech impediment!). And all of my childhood favourites are still around, influencing today's children, like the Ramona books (Beverly Cleary), Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh), and Encyclopedia Brown (Donald J. Sobol). And I always favour animals who act and dress like people; there is a whole genre devoted to that sort of thing, in YA (young adult) literature.

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