Facing the Shortage of Children's Librarians: Updating the Challenge

By Somerville, Mary R. | American Libraries, October 1998 | Go to article overview

Facing the Shortage of Children's Librarians: Updating the Challenge


Somerville, Mary R., American Libraries


TO CREATE A NATION OF BOTH READERS AND TRAINED YOUTH LIBRARIANS TO SERVE THEM WILL DEMAND WORK & REEVALUATION

Looking back is not my style. I believe in celebrating the present and anticipating the future. Still, when asked to update an article on recruiting and keeping professionals in the field of children's librarianship (AL, June 1987, p. 418-428), I said yes because I believe that children's librarianship is an important part of this nation's past, as well as essential for its future.

Thirty years after I became a librarian, and 11 years since I wrote the previous article, I now know that early literacy fosters crime prevention and a productive work force to fuel the economy. I recognize the importance of having trained professional librarians to ignite young spirits. And I know the budgetary power of library services to children and youth, having seen Miami-Dade's mayor get behind the library's budget when we renamed Summer Reading "The Mayor's Summer Reading Express."

To track recruitment and retention trends, I surveyed colleagues all across the country, directors and children's coordinators alike, questioning them about the training, recruitment, retention, and importance of children's librarians. Responses arrived from 24 public libraries from Massachusetts to California, with the Lone Star State weighing in heavily.

Q. Is there still a shortage of children's librarians?

Most respondents agree that recruitment of children's librarians is still a problem. Salary and amenities, proximity of an accredited library school, and attractiveness of the surrounding area, however, all affect recruitment. Minnesota and Oregon report fewer problems. Caroline Ward Romans, children's coordinator at Brooklyn Public Library, comments that many public libraries lose children's librarians to schools, which usually offer higher salaries and summers off. Contrastingly, Jeannette Larson, director of the library development division of Texas State Library, cites the "pressing problem" of the shortage of school librarians, a subject outside the scope of this article. At any rate, creating a nation of readers without youth librarians to serve them will be a losing proposition.

Many respondents report, at a minimum, longer time spans required to fill children's positions. Leslie Edmonds Holt, children's coordinator at St. Louis Public Library, says, "We normally get only two to three applications for new people where five years ago we got nine to 10. It takes us 10 months to a year to recruit an experienced youth services person." Several respondents commented that would-be reference librarians have been cajoled into accepting children's positions when those represent the only vacancies. One wonders whether children's librarians converted by the employment sword will eagerly embrace the faith of their newfound field, or whether they'll desert children's services as positions in reference become available.

Library representatives in Brooklyn, New York, and Norfolk, Virginia, mention that they are working to reinstate the children's specialty. Caroline Ward Romans says, "Brooklyn took the generalist approach 15 to 18 years ago during New York's financial crisis, but the 'jack-of-all-trades' position just didn't work. We're now recommitting to the trained children's specialist position, and seek librarians with pride and ownership in the specialty." Sno-Isle, Washington, cites the addition of 12 children's positions during the past decade.

With increased demand and fewer applicants, it's a seller's market. Liz Huntoon, children's coordinator at Chicago Public Library, says of recruitment, "You can't take a passive approach. At CPL, our efforts have been enhanced by a fairly new position in human resources, a recruitment officer who does everything from maintaining our job information on the Web site to walking people through the complicated hiring procedures. This position has made all the difference in our hiring! …

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Facing the Shortage of Children's Librarians: Updating the Challenge
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