A weeklong feature for those bookish types considering a career in the library sciences, or just curious about what it means to be a librarian.
If you're a librarian or someone with another kind of bookish job, and you're interested in being interviewed -- please email me!
Today's interviewee is Kristen, a Library Media Specialist in an elementary school, as well as a blogger at The Book Monsters.
First off, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Most definitely! I live with my husband in the western suburbs of Chicago. We were married almost two years ago and have a lot in common, we both love sci-fi and fantasy - whether it be books, games, movies, or TV shows. We have a lovely apartment stocked full of books (I believe we are up to 8 bookcases). Also, my husband is in college to get his criminal justice degree. We don’t have any kids or pets, but we visit often with my sister who has a little boy (8 months) and a little girl (5 years old).
As for work, I work at an elementary school closer to the city as a Library Media Specialist. We have over 800 students and it’s a four story building in which my library is located on the second floor. I see students from 1st through 5th grade, each class gets 30 minutes in the library once a week. I luckily have an awesome aide as well who has worked in the libraries in our school district for 20 years.
Also, as a hobby, I also am a book blogger. I was working on a blog by myself for two years - www.bookworminginthe21stcentury.com but am giving it up come August and will just be on two combo blogs - www.thebookmonsters.com which I run with Kate and is similar to Bookworming. Also, I am blogging over at bookblather.net twice a week which is run by myself and two other librarians from my area. Both of them mainly focus on YA and MG books for the most part and I talk more about my job over at Book Blather.
Did you always want to be a librarian? What first drew you to the career? What other options did you consider?
When I was a little kid, my older sister and I would play all sorts of games. Included in that, we also played Library and School. When we played school, my older sister was always the teacher, but when we played library, I was always the librarian. I always loved reading, actually I’m the only one in my intermediate family who does besides my mom. Both my sisters enjoy reading sometimes, but are lucky to read a book in a month. Actually, when I was growing up my mother worked as a library aide in a school as did my grandmother and I loved going to work with them on Take Your Daughter to work day.
I grew up in libraries, we visited the public libraries around us often. When we didn’t have air conditioning when I was a kid, I would walk two blocks to the library and stay there all day and read. So, there was always this notion in my head about libraries. But, as high school came, I forgot about it. I entered college as a pyschology major at a small college in New York, hated it, and left after a semester to come back home to Illinois and started classes at our local community college. Then I looked for jobs. I always thought it would be great to work in a library, so eventually I began working at the public library where I used to spend summers at. It was only part time, so I eventually got a second library job at the community college’s library as well.
So, at that time I just thought I’d get a Computer Information Systems degree or Accounting because I always loved technology and math. Well, one day I was talking to one of the ladies at the public library who also aided in a school. She told me to get my education degree because the librarians in public schools are hiring more and for full time. This woman told me about a high school librarian who made over $100,000! I was kind of astonished and started to think more about it. So eventually, I changed over to Elementary Education and lucky for me I was able to do a cohort program at a University Center across the street from my community college and was able to get my teaching degree. Now, I hated my student teaching experience, so I decided to take some more time and get what they call an Endorsement in Library Science. It’s basically a certain amount of hours in one field and then they grant you an endorsement to teach that subject. I became a library aide in a school for that year and then was lucky to find a job as a Library Media Specialist at the school I am currently at.
How is the current economic market and the transition to digital media affecting traditional libraries? I’ve heard that it’s a difficult field to enter right now, because of a lack of available positions – would you encourage people to pursue it, or possibly take a different path?
For teachers in general, times are tough right now. Also, I’ve gotten hired at my jobs because I have experience with technology, which is a huge plus. I never thought my little job as a Tech Aide for a few years would help me as much as it has. I think also, because of the problems in education, we will see another horrible shift into only having aides in libraries or no one at all. But that’s not always the case and because the school library is so specialized, there may be more jobs out there that have less people applying because of the requirements. What I would say to people wanting to work in this field is to have patience, get as much experience in the smaller jobs in libraries if you can. I loved working as a library aide and sometimes wish I had waited a while before I jumped onto a librarian job. I would also keep an open mind. Look at special libraries, college libraries and public libraries too. See what’s open there even if it’s only part-time. Every experience counts towards furthering yourself as a person and a librarian.
What is a typical day like for you?
Insanity usually. I don’t have a cushy job, I rarely have uninterrupted lunch breaks, and I often stay after hours to work on projects I could never get done during the school day. We usually have one light day where we only see 5-6 classes but the other days we usually have 8-9 classes that we see. I spend 30 minutes with each class which includes a lesson or a story and then checking out. We have two time slots where we allow students to come in for a book exchange. We call it AR exchange because our school runs a program called Accelerated Reader. The basics of it are, each student takes a test which puts them in a reading range. Their library books are picked from that range (besides their one free-choice) and they take short quizzes after they finish books. They have point and percentage goals. So if they finish their three books (AR starts in 2nd grade, not 1st) and have tested on them, they can exchange for one book, which we usually prefer them to pick a chapter book at that point.
So besides class time, the rest of my time in the past has been spent somewhat in the computer lab. We have two labs, one in the library, one in a classroom next to it. And up until this year I have been helping when I can to also teach the tech curriculum. The younger grades need help more than the upper grades so I was called on often to assist. This year we should have a technology teacher, so I’m looking forward to having that off my plate. Other things I do are order books, catalog and process books, pull books for teachers, set up book displays, put away books, and also teachers call me with equipment problems - computers, printers, overheads, etc. It’s taxing some days, but it’s nice to feel needed.
What is your favorite part of the job? Your least favorite?
I have to be honest here, it’s a tie between ordering books (I just LOVE ordering books) and helping students find books during library time. Some of them have gotten to know me pretty well and ask me for recommendations all the time, which I love.
My least favorite is being tied to the AR program. I see it’s benefits, I really do, but it’s so hard to hear from a student “I need a book in this range, worth this many points to meet my goal...” and then the hunt is on. It’s a good program but a librarian’s nightmare. We want kids to be able to pick up books they want to read, not get stuck in a number. Which is why we do a three book check out and give them a free choice. Then they get to take home books like World Records, Ripleys believe it or not, and other fun stuff. I just feel like we are almost too into AR sometimes and lose sight of helping them find books they want to read.
How is a school librarian different from a public librarian? Does being a media specialist require different/additional training?
Oh, so different! I’ve only worked a circulation desk, but my mother is a Youth Services librarian so I have some insider info. A school librarian, depending on the type of school you work at, you have to teach. In elementary school, there is usually a set schedule, you see the same class every day, same time, every week. In middle school, there is usually a flexible schedule. Teachers sign up for times in the library, ask for your help to teach projects, do book talks, and whatnot. In high school it’s about the same, only you could have several librarians in one library, so the duties are split a bit different and there are bigger projects going on. A public librarian has two parts to their job. They have reference desk time where they answer patron’s questions, order books, answer the phones, and otherwise do desk type things. Then they run programs for their department - storytimes, book clubs, ice cream socials, etc. Also, school librarians usually have summers off and summer is the busiest time for public librarians because of summer reading. It’s a different forte. School librarians do a little bit in each department of a public library - we catalog and process, we teach/run programs, we order books, help students, and run after school activities and solve technology issues if there’s no tech in the building.
Being a media specialist you have to have an education degree. You must be a teacher. Now, there are masters programs that give you an education degree but only in Library Science. You couldn’t then become say a science teacher. Because you are teaching and in proximity of students, you must have an education degree that also comes with student teaching and either an endorsement in Library Science or a Masters. At least, that is the requirement in Illinois. But to counter that, public librarians, to usually find a full time job you right off need a Masters of Library Science.
Can you tell us what it was like earning your Library and Information Studies degree?
I did it very strangely. I went the route of getting an Elementary Education degree and then I basically took classes for an associates form of the Library Science degree just to get my endorsement. In Illinois, after you get your teaching certificate you can add on endorsements, which is basically a certain amount of credit hours in one area covering core topics. I was lucky to have a program for Library Science at my community college. I found a lot of teachers in that program as well trying to get out of the classroom and into the library. I am, however, going back for a Masters of Library Science come this fall, which isn’t required but teachers are expected to complete further degrees in order to show improvement in their careers. I can’t wait because it’s a cohort program, so you’re with a small group of people and get to know each other really well. I still talk to a lot of classmates from my Elem Ed degree because it was the same format and I was in a class of 16. As for the classes I took for my endorsement - Intro to Library Science, Cataloging, Ordering Materials, Reference, School Media Center and then a Children’s Literature class. Pretty much all the basics you need to learn.
What books are you currently recommending to your patrons?
I have some favorite series I will never stop recommending. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, IQ by Roland Smith, The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas, and I even got some students into Septimus Heap by Angie Sage. A lot of my students have been asking for books like Harry Potter and this is usually what I come up with. I have some other series I’m trying out this summer and will hopefully be a big hit.
Any additional comments?
I really think behind any great librarian is a person who loves to read. There’s a lot of politics in libraries that may get you down, not every job is perfect, not every place will you get along with everyone, but I always think about my patrons and it puts a smile on my face every morning. Although, caffeine does help... a lot. Especially on our more crazy days.
Thanks Casey for having me and I hope I didn’t go off too much!
For more about Kristen:
Thanks so much for answering my questions, Kristen! I hadn't thought about how being a school librarian also requires more teacher-like activities and responsibilities. This has been really informative!
That concludes the week of Ask A Librarian. People have expressed interest, so I think I'm going to look into making this a regular feature! Keep an eye out!
Read all of this week's Ask A Librarian interviews here.
Thanks to all the librarians who participated!