Guest Post: What I Wish I’d Learn in Library School

Today we have Alison from Naperville Public Library talking about what she wished she had learned in library school.

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Becoming a teen librarian was something that I decided I wanted to do about halfway through library school. I was already working part-time at a public library when I started my MLIS, so I felt that I already knew what that was all about. I tried to keep an open mind about which aspect of librarianship I wanted to get into. And by open mind I mean I was looking into the most obscure and unique jobs out there. A music librarian? A librarian at a museum? There was one point where I applied to be an archivist at Pixar. It wasn’t until I started working with teens and technology in the public library that I realized being a teen librarian was still something specific that I was passionate about, but not so obscure I would never be able to find a job.

I really wish there were more teen-focused courses period. While there were several courses offered on Youth Services, Children’s Literature and Storytelling the only true Young Adult course was about YA literature. By the end of the course I was hopelessly obsessed with YA titles, but I didn’t seem truly prepared for anything except recommending authors and books (which are now about 4-5 years old). Sure this experience was necessary and I still use it to this day for collection development and readers’ advisory, but by the time I graduated I was lacking hands-on programming and outreach experience.

Teen librarian things I wish I would have learned in library school:

How to survive programming that was planned before you arrived: While this sounds like a no-brainer, if you had a boss who didn’t communicate with the last teen librarian, there might not be anyone who knows what materials need to be purchased, if an outside presenter has already been hired, etc.

How to run a program solo: You and a room full middle school and high school students, ALONE! (Somehow after four years this still strikes a tiny bit of fear into my heart.) As a teen librarian, I would be more than willing to let a library student come and run a program alone, or with me assisting, just to get a feel for the process. Maybe this is what I missed out on by not doing an internship. But every program is different, and just getting a feel for it before going it alone would have left me feeling more reassured.

How to discipline rowdy teenagers: Did you cringe at the word discipline? Being a teen librarian is tough because you want to be someone that the teenagers feel they can approach, but you also need to enforce the rules of the library at the same time. In recent years I have gone to seminars on this topic, but a class in library school on discipline and security would have been extremely beneficial.

How to get teenagers involved in the library: When I think about teen involvement in the library the first thing I think about is having a Teen Advisory Board or Group. Volunteering, gathering input, outreach and passive programming are some other ways, but I didn’t learn about these things until my first day as a teen librarian, when I sat staring at the program calendar wondering what TAG meant.

More guest speakers and hands-on experiences are what this all boils down to. Hearing others’ anecdotes about what they did or didn’t do in a particular situation is something that I find helpful. Also, being able to experience something for the first time when it’s not the real deal is so much less stressful.

Teen librarians need programming drills, or some sort of experience to take the pressure off the first time. And now my brain is running wild. I’m thinking of a class where you get to pretend to be the teenager, try out different crafts and video games, where you get to host a program of your choice at a public library, where you have to run a program that has already been written for you – just wing it! I guess the course I’m thinking of that we all missed out on in library school is…Teen Librarian Bootcamp! Let’s do it!

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