Friday, October 28, 2011

Ask A Librarian: Melissa from Mel's Books and Info

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 Melissa, a teen librarian in charge of teen collection development at a public library, as well as a blogger at Mel's Books and Info!

First off, could you tell us a little about yourself?

I guess we are starting with the hard questions first! I am a teen librarian at a public library where I have worked for eight years. I do teen programming, collection development, and even update our Facebook, Twitter, and Teen Scene Blog. I also spend a lot of time working the adult reference desk. In my personal time I am a wife and mother. My son is 3 years old and completely adorable. In my spare time, what little there is, I read and blog about books at Mel’s Books and Info (

Did you always want to be a librarian? What first drew you to the career? What other options did you consider?

Actually, I never really thought about being a librarian until I was a few months away from graduating from college with a Bachelor’s in English. My mother kept asking me “What are you going to do with a degree in English.” At first I thought I would stay in the business sector where I was currently working, but then she handed me an article about how librarians were aging and there was a need for new librarians. Shortly after I was applying to grad schools!

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?

This is a tough question and I think it really depends on where you live and what area of librarianship you plan to pursue. (I’ll address the digital part of the question in a minute.) Public libraries and school libraries are both run by tax dollars. With the Economy not doing so well in recent years, you see a lot of cuts and changes that can really influence staffing and hiring decisions at public and school libraries. I have seen so many of my school librarian friends downsized, or schools eliminating librarians all together, so I would advise caution and research before looking into the school librarian positions. Public libraries are in a similar situation. We too, lost a lot of money when the economy took a hit, which is changing how libraries are staffing themselves today. When I first started you had librarians working the desk, while that is still true for our reference department, we are beginning to see a shift towards paraprofessionals working the public desks and librarians taking a more supervisory role. Many librarians are still retiring, and rather than replacing them with professional librarians you might see a library choose a paraprofessional instead. Again much of this depends on where you are living and what the need is in your area. Our state government now requires that anyone paraprofessional or professional librarian have state certification. This means I have to earn Library Education Units (LEUs). This adds a little security because not everyone is willing to meet the licensing requirements, and you have to have certain levels of education for the position you hold.

As to whether or not I would encourage people to pursue it, I would recommend that you look around the area where you want to work, see what the market looks like, and look in the newspapers see what is happening in those jobs. The layoffs of the media specialists have been pretty newsworthy lately so finding that information shouldn’t be too difficult. If you think it is a profession you will love, I say pursue it. I enjoy my job—not everyone is lucky enough to say that. It is worth having a job you like.

The digital media aspect of your question is another issue altogether. I wouldn’t say that it is taking away jobs, or downsizing public libraries. It is changing them, however. My library offers digital books and audiobooks through Overdrive. There has been a significant increase of interest in these formats since Christmas, and we are now not just providing the e-books and audiobooks, we are also teaching users how to use their devices to download books from the library. We spend a lot of time helping people get set up for the downloads, and even teaching them how to use their device. We now also have to select which digital titles to add to our collection—which adds another area of collection development. If anything digital media is giving us more work to do.

What is a typical day like for you?

I usually work one night a week—my night is Monday (it makes my weekend a tad longer). I also work an occasional Saturday (the librarians in my department alternate which ones we work). A normal day for me is arriving at work, I check my email, my mail box, answer any queries, and then head out to the reference desk. I spend a lot of time working the reference desk answering question, helping with e-readers, and computers. While I am on the desk I am often plowing through review journals and getting carts ready to order for the library. I may also work on scheduling programs or planning programs and anything else that comes my way. (Librarian Myth: Contrary to popular belief, a librarian does not spend all day reading books—in fact all my reading is done at home in my spare time because we are not allowed to read at work unless it is for a specific work related activity.)

What is your favorite part of the job? Your least favorite?

My favorite part of my job is collection development and readers advisory. I love getting new books for the library and then recommending them to my teens. My least favorite part of the job is the internal politics. We are funded by tax dollars and our board is appointed by government officials and the schools. Sometimes they don’t have the library’s best interest at heart, and can make things difficult for library staff and patrons. I hate it when we can’t help a patron because of rules put in place by the library board.

How is a teen librarian different from a regular librarian? What does teen collection development entail?

At my library there isn’t much difference between a Teen Librarian and a Reference Librarian. In fact, my job title includes both—officially I am the Teen and Reference Librarian. I work the reference desk as much as the other librarians, but when there is an issue that is teen related, books, collection development, programming, it comes to me. My department relies on me to know the teen materials, and what is happening in town for teens.

Teen collection development is in essence the job of selecting books, CD books, digital books and audiobooks, and playaways for teens in grades six through 12. I peruse review journals, follow blogs, look in catalogs and try to purchase the books my teens will enjoy. You have to know your community for this part of the job. I can generally tell how many times a book will circulate in my community by reading the description—knowing that helps you know if you should buy a book and how many you should buy. I also respond to the requests teens submit. We generally purchase most of what they request, with some exceptions. The biggest factor in collection development is knowing your collection development policy for your library. I am lucky ours is pretty detailed and specific, but still gives me enough flexibility to choose—this is my guideline for what I purchase. (Typically this would also include graphic novels, but we have a gentleman here who loves graphic novels, and who loves selecting them for all ages at our library. I will suggest something to him every now and then and he will buy it, but he does such an excellent job, I am happy to have him take care of the graphic novels.)

Can you tell us what it was like earning your Library and Information Studies degree?

I earned my library science degree in about a year and a half. To be honest I flew through the program because I was so nervous about being unemployed. I loved my classes. Reference class was like one big scavenger hunt where you had to find the answers of questions in various reference resources. Since I had a teen interest, I was able to choose classes that suited my interest and tailor my projects to things that would be relevant to that interest.

What books are you currently recommending to your patrons?

Everything! It really depends on the reader asking and what they like. My current favorite book is Divergent by Veronica Roth—I love recommending it to the Hunger Games fans. When Kiki Hamilton’s The Faerie Ring comes out in September I will seriously be pushing that one—I loved it!

Any additional comments?

If anyone has any other questions about libraries, librarianship, or teen books they are welcome to stop by my blog and contact me! I am always happy to answer questions!

For more about Melissa:

Thanks so much to Melissa for answering my questions! I think if I were to pursue this path, I would definitely be interested in being a teen librarian, considering how much YA I read!

You can check out the other Ask a Librarian posts here. Come back tomorrow for a new interview!


Melissa @ Mel's Books and Info said...

Thanks for interviewing me! If you love the Teen Lit, you definitely should consider being a Teen Librarian--it is a fun job!

Jo said...

Really interesting to read! I wish I had been able to whip through library school as fast.... but it all seems so far away now. :)

Jess said...

This is such a wonderful feature. I like learning about different book careers.

Man of la Book said...

Wonderful and creative feature.
Well done.

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