Thursday, August 27, 2015

Essential Skills for Youth Services Librarians, by Natalie Korsavidis


I graduated from library school in 1997 and began my full-time job in 1998. Through the years, I’ve learned things that library school didn’t cover. Here are a few of the skills I think are important for every youth services librarian to have.

1. Have Enthusiasm
This is a must. Delivering a storytime in a flat monotone voice will immediately turn any child off. Be energetic. Show your love for what you do.

2. Embrace Your Inner Child
Get silly. Sing and dance. Know the words to the songs. Yes, this means you’ll know the words to “Shake My Sillies” by heart in no time and yes, it will be running in your head for hours after. Use different voices when you read stories. Ignore the parents and center on the children. Embrace play.

3. Know the Literature
No, you don’t have to read every single book that’s ever been published. No one has time for that. However, you should know what the popular authors and series are. Use databases if you’re stumped. Ask your fellow librarians. Ask the kids what they are reading. Read the books they keep asking about.

4. Practice Your Readers’ Advisory Skills
This takes time to perfect and everyone has their own way to recommend a book. Ask broader questions than what other books your patrons like. Find out what their hobbies are, what TV shows they watch, their favorite music. For my teens, I ask two simple questions: I ask them to rate how much they like to read on a scale of 1-10 (unsurprisingly, I usually get a 2 or 3) and then I ask what was the last book they read that they actually enjoyed. Based on the answer, I can usually find them a read-alike. There are also great listservs out there. Subscribe to them.

5.  Working with Children
Not every child is an angel. We all know that. Don’t expect children to behave all the time... they are children after all. Personally, I rank my storytime kids into three categories: the silent one, the interactor, and the runner. The silent one stays planted in Mom’s lap and barely blinks. The interactor reacts to the stories & songs, sings and dances along. The runner as the name would imply, doesn’t stop moving the entire program. Each one of these get something out of the program. If a parent apologizes, tell them not to worry. The only time I would say something is if the child was completely disrupting the group.

You will have a favorite child. There are special kids that burrow into your heart. I’ve been at my job since 1998. Some of my toddlers are now in college. You will also have a child you don’t like. Some children are plain terrors. There’s not much you can do about them but get them to behave as best as you can in a program. Regardless, you have to treat them all fairly. Treat them all like your favorite.

7. Teens
Teens can be a rough bunch. They’ll come & hang out at the library, but getting them into a program can be hard. Food programs are always a big hit. Who doesn’t like to eat? Talk to them and ask them what they want. Have a survey in your teen area asking them what programs they want. If you have a group of really interested teens, create a Teen Advisory Group.

Know the pop culture. You don’t have to watch the shows or listen to the music, but know what it is. If you try to fake it, teens will know. If you’re not into any of it, admit it. They’ll respect you more for being honest.

You are going to see all kinds of teens enter. If you can’t accept any of them, you are in the wrong job. They will be loud, they will create havoc. They are teens after all. Make sure to establish firm, but fair rules for behavior. In my teen area, I have a three strikes and you’re out policy. If a librarian has to go into the teen room three times to tell them to quiet down, they are asked to leave for the day. If it happens again, a week and so on. I’ve never had to do it more than once.

8. Parents
They have to learn the storytime rules. Have them typed out if needed. At the beginning of the program, emphasize that this is a special time for parents and children to interact together and we need everyone’s attention. No cell phones. No tablets. No chatting. I’ve stopped in the middle of a story and waited until the parents quieted down.

As with the children, there are going to be some very annoying parents that come into your world. They sometimes don’t understand the basic rules of our programs in terms of registering, residency, or age. When you try to explain, they get angry and usually try to get us to make an exception. If they get too irate, that’s when you get your supervisor to help back you up.

9. Network!
Create a professional learning network. Go to as many continuing education meetings as you can and meet the other librarians in your area. Find librarians online. Follow their blogs. Have great conversations with them. Attend a conference, even a local one, if you can. Share your programs; borrow theirs. Don’t be afraid to e-mail or tweet someone with questions about a program they ran. If you are thinking of running a program and don’t know where to start, ask the listservs.

10. Be Prepared for Anything
I found this great dream catcher craft to do with my teens a few years ago. Once the program started, I realized the craft was far more difficult than it seemed. We all laughed about it and made the best of it. This has happened a few times in my career and you have to make it work somehow. I am not a super crafty person by nature, so I usually end up learning along with the teens and children.

Plenty of other things can go wrong. Do not take it personally. Even if you only reach a few, those few kids are still getting a great experience and if the program was cancelled, you know there isn’t an interest for it at the time.

My last tip: try to avoid burnout. Take vacations. Talk to your fellow librarians when you need to vent. Don’t bring work home with you if you can help it. You never want to be a librarian that people don’t like. It’s an exhausting job sometimes dealing with the public, but if you remember to take care of yourself, the rewards are worth it.

Natalie Korsavidis is the Head of Young Adult at the Farmingdale Library. She has served on the NYLA YSS Board and is the Past-President of the Nassau County Library Association. Follow her on Twitter: @bookslover.

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