Years ago when I was interviewing for a librarian trainee position, I had this idealized vision of my future as a children’s librarian.  I imagined myself sitting on a chair reading aloud from Charlotte’s Web to a group of children sitting at my feet.  I’m not making that up, I mean that’s EXACTLY how I imagined it.  Little did I know that the job of a children’s librarian involved working with a variety of age groups, and that each group would require a different skill set.  Little did I know that children’s librarians spend a small percentage of their time doing cool stuff like reading aloud to children, and an unfortunately large percentage of their time doing stuff like fixing computers / printers / copiers and monitoring the room to try to enforce the rules that are constantly being broken.  And little did I know that I wasn’t going to be a children’s librarian after all.  Although sometimes I might at well be.

My first interview with the library system was mostly unmemorable.  Except for the fact that the interview was held at the end of the work day, and my interviewer yawned continuously through the conversation and kept repeating the same questions.  At the time, I was convinced that he was repeating the questions because I’d answered them incorrectly.  But looking back on it years later, I figured that he must have been falling asleep and lost track of which questions he’d already asked.  In any case, I did end up being accepted for a trainee position, and went on to the next interview at the borough office to determine which branch I would be sent to.  And that interview would be the one that derailed me from my original vision.

To this day, I don’t know why the second round of interviewers steered me away from children’s services.  Maybe it was because I had prior experience working with college students as a tutor and a teaching assistant.  Maybe it was because when they asked me about my favorite books I thought of more young adult titles than children’s titles.  In any case, towards the end of the interview they asked me a question that surprised me: “How do you feel about working with teenagers?”  And since I didn’t want to keep working at my dead-end receptionist job and I DID want to be a librarian, I put my dream of children’s librarianship aside and said that I would be fine working with teenagers.  And so my career as a young adult librarian began.

While I’ve spent most of my time in the library system doing young adult work, I did take the children’s specialty training and I have served as an “acting” children’s librarian every time one of them quit and we waited for a replacement.  And that’s when I got to experience some of the nicer aspects of children’s work, like reading picture books to elementary school kids, and I also discovered that I don’t have the right skill set (or personality) to work with toddlers.  I enjoy singing per se, but I’m just NOT cut out for that interactive fingerplay stuff.

Anyway, since I did take the children’s specialty training and since several of my colleagues have been unwilling to work in the children’s room, I end up covering most of the hours on the children’s information desk whenever the children’s librarian is unavailable.  Which is how I’ve ended up experiencing even more of the highs and lows of children’s librarianship.  Day-to-day interactions with children and their parents can be very sweet or very annoying.  The sweet part is when I’m able to find just the right book/video/etc. for a child, and I get that reaction of genuine unguarded happiness.  The annoying part is when I have to tell the same kids the same rules every single day (How hard is it understand the “no eating in the library” concept?)  Or when their youthful exuberance escalates into pure chaos.  Or when they ask me to help them find something truly horrifying, like that Alvin and the Chipmunks “Squeakquel” movie.  Which I have to re-learn how to spell every frigging time, which makes the question even MORE annoying.  But working in the children’s room also makes me dwell on larger issues, as well.

Recently I was reading an article in School Library Journal called “Boy Story: Do You Really Want Guys In Your Library?” and it made me think about my own experiences in the children’s room.  First, I can unequivocally say that I have no desire to attract MORE boys into my library.  I believe that we have more than enough.  Yes, I’m coherent enough to understand that not all boys are behavioral problems, and that girls can be problem patrons, as well.  But in order to make you understand my point, let me share some key examples of things that I have witnessed boys doing in the public library.  And before you ask if I really mean teenagers, I don’t.  These are all things that CHILDREN grade 6 and younger of the male persuasion have done in the library right before my eyes:

  • fistfight
  • call each other by anti-black and anti-homosexual slang terms over and over and over again
  • hold a smaller boy upside-down by the ankles
  • lean over the railing overlooking the children’s room and SPIT on the books

Yes, I’ve had problems with girls in the library (in fact, some of my all-time worst patrons have been girls), but THIS kind of behavior?  I don’t know.  Maybe I’d need a testosterone transfusion for me to even CONSIDER doing any of these things in the privacy of my own home, much less in a public library!

But anyway, if you do decide that you don’t have enough boys in your library, go check out that article.  Some of the suggestions are more labor-intensive than others, but overall it’s got some good ideas that will help attract boys (and maybe even some girls) to your library.  Just be prepared to face the consequences!