Q: What’s the best undergrad degree for a children’s librarian? (and more…)

Posted by Ellen Mehling

[This Q&A includes multiple questions, and we’ve enlisted the help of two info pros who work with children, Jennifer Spota and Abigail Garnett, to answer them.]

Q: I would like to become a children’s librarian, and I’m trying to figure out what kind of schooling I would need to complete to accomplish this. I’m thinking of getting my undergraduate BA in Education and then an MA in Library Sciences. Would this be a good path towards my goal? I would be fine working in either a school setting or a public library setting, but I want to specialize in early childhood literacy.

As to type of Education majors, would it be better to go through an early childhood education program (birth – kindergarten) or an elementary school education program (grades 1-6)? Which age group would be a better focus for a school or children’s librarian? 

A: I entered into the field of children’s librarianship without having a background in Early Childhood Education, but going through an Education program will certainly give you the skills you need to be a successful children’s or school librarian and may even give you a leg up when it comes to the job hunt.

Many Library Science Masters programs offer a specialization in school librarianship, which requires different and more targeted coursework than the generalized track. Some general masters programs will also offer electives related to children’s services—such as reader’s advisory for children—that are open to students who are not in the school librarian track.

Having an Education degree under your belt may also enable you to apply for other opportunities working in a public library in a position other than “librarian” – for instance, writing grants, managing projects related to children’s programs, or facilitating children’s programs as a contractor. These are great ways to get experience on your resume and explore what working for a public library system is like while you are still in library school.

Regarding which undergraduate program to choose, either one would be useful in a public library setting, and both will look good on a resume when looking for public children’s librarian positions. If you are aiming to work in a school library, you will most likely be working with students in grades K-5, so an elementary school education program will be your best bet.

With all that said, many people choose to change the field of librarianship they’re pursuing after getting partway (or all of the way!) through an MLS program. It all comes down to where your passions lie, and you should use your time in school to explore your interests further. Looking for internships or volunteer work while you’re in school is a great way to do that.

If your undergraduate program offers you opportunities to connect with school or public libraries, take advantage of them, and use your library school coursework to sample a wide range of professional duties. Your professors or Program Director may also be able to connect you with people working in school-based and public librarian positions for shadowing opportunities or for informational interviews. If you can get a sense of what it’s really like to work in public and school-based environments, you can make informed decisions about how to tailor your program of study.

Best of luck!

  • Abby Garnett is Library Information Supervisor and Children’s Librarian at the Cypress Hills branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in NYC.

Q: School librarians: What did you major in for your undergraduate studies? What would you recommend taking to start a successful career as a children’s or school librarian?

A: When someone asks what they should study as an undergraduate if they want to work as a Library Media Specialist or as a Children’s Librarian in a public library, my answer is a simple one: whatever you will enjoy and can be passionate about. I know this lack of a specific answer might be frustrating but one of the great things about becoming a librarian is that you can come into the profession with any undergraduate degree and become successful. I truly believe that it is more of a general mindset and approach to things that determines how well-suited one is for these particular tracks within the profession; you need to be flexible, creative, curious and analytical. Of course if you are looking to work as a Library Media Specialist or with children in a public library you should like kids as well!

I personally studied history and international studies as an undergraduate. My college also demanded that its students take a diverse set of liberal arts core classes. The great thing about this was that I was exposed to a cross section of knowledge and information. It’s important that these required core classes aren’t just written off as something to get out of the way. I have high school seniors with whom I am currently working across various classes and subjects. Having a basic understanding of a variety of topics and disciplines has proven to be invaluable. Even though as an LMS I’m not tasked with teaching subject content itself, my ability to talk knowledgeably about diverse topics gives me added credibility and impresses even some of the hardest-to-crack teenagers while we are working on research projects. History and international studies also helped me to develop critical thinking skills that are so important today. Library Media Specialists today need to involve themselves in supporting students in reaching the standards set for them by the Common Core. A lot of this involves inquiry, critical thinking and an increasing focus on interpreting informational texts. If you choose a major that helps you to develop these skills you will be much better-suited to help your patrons develop them as well.

You can always also consider majoring in education. This will give you a head start on the pedagogical theory and practices that you will cover when you enter library school. This is even true if you want to work in public libraries with children. Storytime and programming involve a lot of planning with the aim of helping children reach various developmental goals and skills.

Regardless of what you choose to study remember that if you show a genuine enthusiasm for reading and learning your students and patrons will be much more likely to look for that within themselves.

  • Jennifer Spota is School Library Media Specialist at Hampton Bays High School in Hampton Bays, NY and former Head Librarian at the Conjuring Arts Research Center in NYC.

Many thanks to Jen and Abby for sharing their expertise and advice!

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