The Children’s Side of Librarianing

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:18 am

I don’t believe, as some do, that my job is my ‘calling’.  In fact, if you’d said to me five years ago, “Aimee, you’re going to be a children’s librarian, and you’re going to love it,” I would have thought you were nuts, or at least having a lend.

But it turns out I love my job.  This blog, when I discuss it, will probably focus more on the youth side of things, since that’s where my passions lie, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about The Children.  Specifically, that oft-maligned portion of the Children’s Librarian’s job: Storytime.

My colleagues and I often joke that it takes a certain type of person to run a Storytime session successfully, and that being mildly insane helps.  This may be something of an exaggeration, but not much.  It takes skill to maintain a straight face and continue with the story while a toddler humps your leg (oh, I wish I was making that up.  Someone’s parents need to discipline the family dog).  You need to be able to perform, but you also need to be willing to reign children and parents alike in if they’re not quite behaving properly.  And you need to be comfortable with young children, obviously, and communicate with them in an honest and friendly way.  Including being able to explain the meaning of the word “naked” in a meaningful way when you’ve decided to read Mo Willems’s Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed at a Storytime.

Despite the early literacy and socialisation benefits of Storytime programs, they seem to be pretty disrespected by those who don’t deal directly with them, by other library patrons and sometimes – upsettingly – by other library staff.  Despite a host of experience and skills needed to successfully run a Storytime or baby rhyme time program, there is sometimes a pretty pervasive idea that what you’re doing is, well, a stupid waste of time.  Fortunately for me, I haven’t come across that view much personally, but I know that it’s a pervasive experience across the industry.

That said, children’s librarianship in general seems to get a bad rap.  The attitude that it’s not a “real” career seems pretty common, and indeed it seems to be a little ghettoised in terms of career path, despite that fact that a great number of senior librarians and library managers I’ve worked with were formerly children’s librarians.  There’s a perception that we just play around with craft all day.  Believe me, as a completely non-crafty person, if that’s all there was to the job then I would’ve stayed out of it.

I suspect that a lot of the antipathy comes from a combination of people projecting their fear of public speaking (because the number of times I have heard some variant of “I could never run a Storytime!” said with genuine fear is, well, it’s a big number), and dislike of children.  And while I am not someone who believes that every child is a Precious Giftto the entire world and blah blah Hallmark cards, I do think that our culture devalues and dislikes children in many ways, and that that dislike spills over into the realm of those who care for or provide services for children – things that are traditionally considered “women’s work”, a term used for allegedly unimportant things.  Any profession that could potentially be done by a woman, in the home, for free, tends to be undervalued – childcare, cleaning, cooking etc; and any profession traditionally dominated by women tends to be undervalued as well – nursing and midwifery, teaching and, yes, being a librarian (which is interesting considering that women weren’t considered to have what it takes in the profession’s early days).

Back on track, there is a lot to being a children’s librarian besides telling stories and doing craft – and there’s nothing wrong with those things, either.  Being a children’s librarian often means defending both your job and your key clientele to people who can’t or perhaps won’t understand the value of what you’re doing – and making that defence with a smile on your face.  In a lot of places, it means continually defending your budgetagainst those who would seek to cut it, so that you can actually develop collections and run programs that will serve your library patrons.  It means having a pretty clear idea of just what working with kids and babies can entail, and choosing to do that and working to do it well anyway.  It’s sometimes messy, often exhausting (particularly if you’re on the introverted side of things), sometimes thankless but most often rewarding work.

Oh, and it’s fun, too.  And the haters will be sorry when I finish amassing my itty-bitty army.