Monday, June 11, 2012

Guest Post: On Being a Mom and a Children's Librarian

Hi everyone! I'm on maternity leave and some friends have graciously written guest posts to keep my blog from getting too bare while I'm off. Today's is by the amazing Melissa of Mel's Desk. As a mom-to-be I was very curious how my perspective on youth librarianship would change once I had children of my own and Mel was kind enough to talk about her experience. This is a topic I haven't seen covered much (at all?) in the library-world, so I found it fascinating. I hope some of you will chime in and comment about how your status as a parent (and not a parent, whether you want to have children of your own or not) has impacted your perspective and career. I would love to see some honest conversation on such an important topic. Thanks Mel for getting it started! --Anne

On Being a Mom and a Children's Librarian

Just about the same time as Anne headed off on maternity leave with her brand new baby, MY baby, my younger daughter, graduated from elementary school. My family is entering a new tweens-and-teens only phase, and the impact of that will not be only felt at home! For the first time in almost a decade, I will be working as a early childhood and children's librarian without a young child of my own in my house.

Now I don't believe in the slightest that one must have children in order to be an excellent children's librarian—any more than I think my vet must have cats of their own in order to take excellent care of mine. But I can say that in my case, being both a children's librarian and a mom with young children turned out to be a fun and beneficial overlap.

Here's some of the reasons why:

Reader's Advisory

Reading books a few times a week to real kids in storytime is one thing; reading books to real kids a few times a DAY, every single day, for YEARS, kicks it all up a notch. Reading to my girls gave me a chance to learn my Ranganathan all over again. Every reader her book? Every book its reader? Absolutely. It's not that I didn't already know that a library should have a wide variety of materials, but spending hours of my life (I kid you not) reading, for instance, this book really drove the point home. For a time at our house, the critical features of children's literature were lift-the-flaps and animal noises, not plot, characters, or Caldecott-worthy illustrations. Being reminded of this on a daily basis at home made me a much better reader's advisor at the library; more flexible and willing to think outside of the box to meet a family's needs.

Program Planning

Guess what I discovered? Library programs = birthday parties. At least, one kind of library program! As my kids grew, I found that the same basic formula that worked for designing birthday parties worked just as well for planning library programs. While my daughters were small, pretty much any idea my husband and I could come up with for a birthday party activity, I could recycle into a kids' program element. Crafts that I developed for the library, I used again at home. As the girls got older, a fun dinner time conversation was “planning Mommy's next program.” I totally relied on them for using their experience at dozens of parties and programs for whipping one of my vague activity ideas into shape! For a few years there, I lived in a sweet spot of brainstorming, where what I did with children at the library gave me fresh ideas to try with my girls at home, and ideas I encountered with my girls—at the zoo, at playdates, in their classrooms, on vacation—all funneled right back to the library.

Children's Development

I didn't come to library work from the education world, and I have never taken a class in children's development in my life. So having kids of my own, and watching them grow and learn and develop, has added such a valuable dimension to my understanding of what books, materials, programs, and services might be appropriate for children and their families. I do not make the mistake of thinking that because I know my particular two children well, that I know every child well, or that because I know my family's home life, that I am aware of what everybody's family is like. But being right there while my girls learned to crawl, and point, and walk, and draw, and tell stories, and learn letters, and make friends, and read...those marvelous experiences have given me a scaffold on which to build as I continue to read and study and learn about brain development, educational competencies, early literacy skills, and new directions for family library services.

Guess what I discovered? Library programs = birthday parties. At least, one kind of library program! As my kids grew, I found that the same basic formula that worked for designing birthday parties worked just as well for planning library programs. While my daughters were small, pretty much any idea my husband and I could come up with for a birthday party activity, I could recycle into a kids' program element. Crafts that I developed for the library, I used again at home. As the girls got older, a fun dinner time conversation was “planning Mommy's next program.” I totally relied on them for using their experience at dozens of parties and programs for whipping one of my vague activity ideas into shape! For a few years there, I lived in a sweet spot of brainstorming, where what I did with children at the library gave me fresh ideas to try with my girls at home, and ideas I encountered with my girls—at the zoo, at playdates, in their classrooms, on vacation—all funneled right back to the library.





15 comments:

Sometimes I worry that over time, if I never have kids of my own I'll become really disconnected with what is "trendy" with parenting and kids. Right now, many of my friends are becoming parents or anticipating becoming parents in the next few years so they are paying attention to those things and help me keep on top of the curve. So right now, it's easy to be in the loop. But with all that we have to do, it feels frustrating at times that what should be my "personal" time gets turned into "professional development" since parenting and cartoon characters and what the trendy classes/experiences for babies and tots are aren't things I use in my life outside the library.

Amy, I'm starting to feel that now as my girls get older. I used to have a good idea which TV character kids were asking for, now I'm totally at sea. I guess it's not much different than readers' advisory: if you don't read science fiction or romance, you should still have read one or two and be able to recommend several more with confidence...and boning up on those things doesn't always get done during "work hours" either.

That's very true, Mel. Maybe I feel more pressure because at my library, I'm really the only one who cares about these kinds of things. If I can't come up with a good title for an adult, there are 3 other librarians who can help them, but it doesn't work in reverse. They are very supportive of me, but if I were to be sick on a storytime day or want to take a vacation, even though I prepare written plans, they would cancel the program instead of pinch-hitting. If I were to ask the staff what Yo Gabba Gabba was, I think maybe the woman who processes all the paperback easy readers would know what that was, but the rest of them would look at me like there were antennae coming out of my head (a look I know quite well! :) ). Mel (and everyone), any idea how to change the culture?

Great post, Mel!
Amy as a non-kid having children's librarian, I hear you. When I worked in a very small library as the only youth librarian (only youth person, period) I had the same issues you describe. I was never able to get staff to pinch hit for programs, and I didn't really want them to. They woudln't have thepassion and enthusiasm and to me, it's better to cancel than for patrons to have a bad experience and not come back. Instead, I recruited a librarian turned stay at home mom to be a storytime substitute. My director could call her if I was sick and I would schedule her to take over when I was on vacation. It was a SWEET deal. Bonus: she wanted to be paid in coffee. You might not get that lucky, but it might be worth seeing about some kind of sub.
AS far as staying on top of things... honestly, I just ask parents and kids. I have no shame in admitting that I don't know all the popular stuff and they LOVE being the first to know about a series and getting to tell the librarian about it. So empower your community to tell you these things. Honestly, I've not watched a single Yo Gabba Gabba and never will. But a little boy was running around one day saying "gabba gabba gabba gabba!" and mom explained it was a popular TV show. I ordered a million copies right on the spot. I read review journals, look at Amazon's best sellers, read blogs, and mostly TALK to EVERYONE.
To keep staff up to date on hot items, maybe make a "Hot Off the Press" sheet to put in your staff area (we had a clipboard) so they can see what's new. That will make them better reader's advisors for when you're gone, too.
Or maybe ask them what would be helpful for keeping them in the loop. It's all about communication in those small libraries!
If you've stuck around for the world's longest comment...I'm curious about whether you librarian moms and dads out there brought your kids to library programs regularly.

Hmmm, I have so many things I could say about this...I'm tempted to write my own post! But, alas for the lack of time... I'll just make a couple points:
1. I have gotten the "you don't have kids and I do so I am automatically good with children and you don't know what you're talking about" thing. I don't agree with it. At all.
2. Working with large groups of children is very different than working with individuals, esp. when they are your own child. While I appreciate and use the suggestions I get from staff and patrons with children, they often don't understand the differences between "my child liked it" and "100s of children will like it" for example.
2. I think culture is more a thing than whether or not you have actually given birth. For example, I'm from Austin, TX. I have a somewhat...unique background. I really appreciate the insights our adult services librarian offers because she's from a more "normal" background. Doesn't have anything to do with her having kids and me not having kids - she has a better idea of how the soccer moms will react to things, while I relate better to the homeschooling/religious/alternative/hippie parents and have a better idea of their wants and needs.

Jennifer, I agree--there's a lot of experience that I have accumulated as a mom that helps me do my job better, but it absolutely does NOT give me a free pass to knowing what's best. Or even what WORKS. I keep learning that every day! And we all know there are parents who are really not that good at dealing with kids, and people without kids who are simply gifted at relating to them.

And having a little distance and objectivity to bring to collection development and program planning is actually a GOOD thing.

Amy--I have always worked in large branches that are part of large systems so I don't have great suggestions for you. I wonder if you could float the idea that staff take turns taking 3 minutes at meetings booktalking a new title or reference? It could benefit everyone, and when it was your turn, you could always choose children's materials to showcase. I like Kendra's idea about displaying stuff in the staff room, too.

That's an awesome idea klmpeace! We all work together pretty well and the staff are generally willing to help in programs (except baby storytime - no one subs more than once!), but I often feel like the only person with "specialized" knowledge. If we had a tip sheet, there wouldn't have been all that confusion over Bakugan Battle Brawlers last year...or Lego Ninjago which is throwing everyone for a loop right now!

My kids are 6 & 2 and they LOVE it when I bring new books home and that I can get them almost any book they want. I feel like the job is benefitting the parenting more than the parenting is benefitting the job. I do think having my own young children gives me a little credibility with the parents, especially if they don't realize I'm old enough. :) I work in a different city from where I live, and I am kind of glad I have that separation. I do feel guilty about not taking them to more library programs where we live, because that library does wonderful things, but there's just not time to do it all. However, that helps me understand when my attendance is not that great, just how difficult it is to get out to library programs.

Thank YOU for writing such an interesting post. I can't wait to see how my parenting experience informs my work (and vice versa!).

This is a great point, Kendra! I love to talk to the kids about what their favorite shows are. I really like watching some kids' shows too, even though that stubborn baby hasn't shown up yet--my husband and I are really into Good Luck Charlie and Phineas and Ferb (both Disney Channel shows and you can stream both on Netflix Instant).

Jennifer, definitely write your own post! I think this is a really fascinating topic and there really isn't just ONE experience out there. I know lots of children's librarians. Some are moms/dads, others are expectant parents, still others have struggled to conceive or adopt children, and still others don't want children of their own. But one thing they all have in common is a passion for working with kids in their libraries. All different backgrounds can inform our work. One reason diversity of all kinds (not just age, racial, etc.) is so critical to library work.

I live and work in the same town (although we live further out in the country and the library is right in the thick of town), so it will be interesting to see how that impacts my family. Right now my husband just refers to me as his "celebrity wife" when we run into patrons at the farmer's market, movie theater, etc. but it will be interesting to see how the kids react in the future.

Since we live in the same town as where I work, I'm not sure if my kid(s) will be able to go to many library programs at all. Especially since I am the one presenting the majority of our programs, I won't be home to take them! And there is definitely a difference between Mom reading to the kids at home and Mom doing storytime at the library with other kids and group activities.

I am definitely excited to bring new books home to our kids though. I like to think my library has a pretty good collection! :)

I used to live in the same town - but I got tired of running into some of our less...er...desirable patrons and the middle schoolers started following me home! I live in the next town over now. Still meet lots of patrons, but that little distance is nice.

I was a "Story Hour mom" for years and the job kind of fell into my lap when the teacher retired. A year ago I took over as Youth Services Librarian. I have been blessed to be able to bring my children to story hour with me. They are spaced so when it was time for one to go to Kindergarten the next one was ready for Story Hour. These are some of my most precious memories having my children with me. If you are able I highly recommend bring your children when possible. First off I live in the same town as both sets of grandparents so they help bring the kids and take them home which is huge. I also have a great fiend who brings her children and I put my child by her with complete understanding at Story Hour what she says goes. So I can be the "teacher". I hope it works out for you to bring your children too, it is so worth it!