Q: I want to be a children’s or young adult librarian, but I have no experience. How do I make myself marketable?

Q: I graduated with my MLS in 1998 but when I returned to my home state, I could not find a job. I took a job in insurance and hoped a business librarian position would open up. I have never had a library job except during high school and as an undergraduate. I really want to get into children’s/young adult librarianship. I am trying to read as much children’s and young adult literature as I can (since I did not have any course work while obtaining my degree) and I am volunteering at my children’s elementary school. What else can I do to make myself more marketable? Should I take more continuing education classes? Is it more realistic to think I will have to move to secure a position? Any advice is greatly appreciated!

SM: Well, the job market is not any better today than it was in 1998, so I’m afraid you have some work ahead of you. I’m happy to hear that you have stopped hoping for a job to come along, which is the first step in making yourself more marketable…. and this means getting the skills and experience that employers want.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. If you had to choose, which would it be: children’s librarian or YA librarian? You should decide on one area of focus. There are many differences between the two roles especially when it comes to technology and to material/resources, but there are also many similarities when it comes to duties (outreach, marketing, preparing programs and book talks, etc.). Do your research and find out what each requires and which best matches your skills and interest. I’ve listed links to competencies below.
  2. Are you willing to spend money and time to make it happen? Ongoing professional development is increasingly important for gaining and maintaining skills, and it also looks good on a resume. I highly recommend taking classes that focus on YA or children’s librarianship, especially since you did not take any in library school. I also recommend technology classes (e.g., social networking, gaming, web site development, graphic design). Fortunately, many classes are now offered online. And, get as much library experience as you can. Look into volunteer opportunities, and jobs, at your local public library. Talk to the librarians there, ask them about their daily duties and see if they can offer advice. Find out what organizations they are involved in, and see if you can get involved (both locally and nationally) as well. Library organizations can be excellent venues for networking and mentoring.
  3. Are you able and willing to relocate for a job? Being geographically mobile will always help in the job search, because you will be able to apply for many, many more positions. If this is not possible, then you need to find all the libraries in and around your area and see if they are hiring, look at their jobs ads, and find out what you need to do before you can apply for positions. Most children’s librarians and YA librarians work in public libraries; and public libraries may require that a.) you take a civil service exam, and that b.) you reside in the city or county of that particular library system.
  4. Are you also considering school librarianship? The role of school librarian, or library media specialist, may be another option for you if you enjoy working with children, but you will most likely need to get additional education and/or certification to qualify for a position in a public school. Private schools usually do not require teacher certification.

Congratulations on pursuing your dream job. I hope you find it.

Sites to check out:

For Young Adult Librarians:

Competencies for Young Adult librarians, developed by YALSA, The Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association (ALA)

Online courses for YA librarians

YALSA wiki

YALSA blog

For Children’s Librarians:

Competencies for librarians serving children, developed by ALSC, Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association (ALA)

Association for Library Service for Children, ALSC’s blog:

New Grant Will Support Youth Services Students Seeking Advanced Degrees

Online courses for children’s librarians

Finding Your Niche as a Youth Services Librarian by Sophie R. Brookover

American Association of School Librarians (AASL)

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