“In the Field” is a monthly blog series here on the iYouth Blog featuring living and breathing, AWESOME librarians in the LIS field. I’m Rebecca Z Dunn, a fellow MLIS student at the UW iSchool, who will be interviewing these successful and innovative youth services professionals from all across the country. So hold onto your hats, and get ready to be inspired by amazing individuals doing amazing things for children and teens in the library-sphere.
We are kicking off the 2014 year with librarian extraordinaire Anne Clark, head of the children’s department at Alice and Jack Wirt Public Library in Bay City, Michigan.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you work, and what you do there?
Sure. Hi, future colleagues! My name is Anne Clark. I’m 29 and have been working in youth services for almost 7 years. Since April, I’ve been the children’s department head at the Alice and Jack Wirt Public Library in Bay City which is the main branch of the Bay County Library System in Michigan. As a youth services manager, I split my time between programs, reference desk hours, school visits, like most children’s librarians and then I also have supervisory responsibilities like performance reviews of my staff and dealing with issues as they arise. My children’s department serves kids from birth to about age 12. We have a separate teen department at my library.
I’m married to my incredibly supportive husband, who I met at storytime 5 years go. It’s not as scandalous as you may think. Brian is the uncle of one of my very first storytime kids. Now we have a kid of our own, our toddler daughter, Nora.
What project or program have you recently completed/are currently working on at work that you’re proud of?
So many! I’m currently planning a youth services unconference in February with two fellow Michiganian youth librarians, Andrea Vernola (Kalamazoo Public Library) and Lisa Mulvenna (Clinton-Macomb Public Library). I’m really excited about the chance to work with YS staff members from all over the Wolverine state.
Probably my favorite project that I’m involved with is Flannel Friday (http://flannelfridaystorytime.blogspot.com, a weekly event where librarians (and other early childhood people, but primarily librarians) post storytime activities like flannel/felt board stories, puppet shows, draw and tell stories, and crafts, among other things. If you haven’t heard of Flannel Friday, at the very least, you need to check out our Pinterest boards:http://www.pinterest.com/flannelfriday/. We have over 6,000 followers and counting! Not bad for a little project started in 2011 by a few librarians on Twitter. For our 2nd anniversary, we put together a map featuring our bloggers and some of our readers, which I think is so cool:http://www.catchthepossibilities.com/2013/03/flannel-friday-unveiling-map.html.
I’ve been really inspired by Flannel Friday to push myself into expanding my storytelling repertoire. I’ve gone from a very limited pool of extension activities to draw from to writing my own original draw and tell stories and making shadow puppets.
When did you realize you wanted to work in libraries? And specifically with youth?
I was never one of those kids who had a clear idea what they wanted to be when they grew up. In high school, everyone had to take this test that gave you ideas of careers you may enjoy given your interests. I was the only kid whose results came back stating that I had TOO MANY INTERESTS.
Like many college seniors did, I panicked when I realized I would soon be graduating and didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do for work. I thought back about my previous work experience and remembered how much I enjoyed being the aide to my K-12 school’s librarian in high school. So I looked to see if my local library was hiring and they were! I started off as a shelver, and then worked the circulation desk. I started library school and was eventually promoted to a paraprofessional job in youth services.
I never knew that there were librarians in public libraries that were dedicating to serving kids before my job shelving books. One day I was sitting on the floor in the library, shelving books on the bottom shelf. To my surprise, a little girl came and sat in my lap. Without thinking, I grabbed a picture book of the cart and started reading to her. When we finished the story, she got up and ran back to her mom. My then-boss said “You should be a children’s librarian!” And that’s how I got the idea. I’m pretty glad that I’m in a field where having a lot of varied interests is a tremendous asset.
Looking back, what do you wish you’d learned in library school that you could utilize in your work today?
I wish I had more formal education in child development. That would have been an invaluable background particularly when I was just starting out. Now that I have more experience I have learned some things just from observing kids at work, but I have learned the most reading parenting blogs/books and observing my own daughter.
What advice do you have for library school students looking to… Well… Do what you do?!
I encourage library school students to get as much hands-on experience working with kids as you can while a student. This does not have to be in a library, necessarily. If you have experience working with kids as a tutor, Sunday school teacher, or in any group setting, that will give you some valuable insight.
The thing that has helped me most stand out as a job candidate has been my blog. It was the subject of a lot of positive feedback over the months I was looking for a department head job last year. I really recommend building a professional network (start with your library school classmates and expand!) to help you. You’ll have non-coworkers to bounce ideas off of and vent all of your frustrations with.
What one skill do you think is necessary to be a successful working in youth services?
People skills are critical in all areas of public librarianship, but especially youth services. You will serve far more people than just children—you’ll be serving parents, caregivers, teachers, homeschooling families, grandparents, college students studying children’s literature, and adults with special needs among others.
Favorite part of being a youth services librarian?
As the years go by, if you stay in one library you really build wonderful relationships with the families. You’ll watch the kids grow up.
How can we keep up with what you’re up to? (Do you have a blog, a Twitter handle, etc.)
I started writing my blog (sotomorrowblog.com) in 2006 in my first semester of library school. It was actually a class assignment and then I used as a space to keep track of my storytimes and other programs since I found it easier than having a million Word documents. No one was more surprised than I was when other people started reading it.
Twitter has been immensely helpful to me in my career, so I really recommend it. You can follow me @sotomorrow. I tweet a lot about libraries, storytime, and Dinosaur Train. Because I have a lot of unanswered questions about its worldbuilding.
Rebecca Zarazan Dunn is a first-year MLIS student at the University of Washington and a Youth Services Library Assistant at the Lawrence Public Library. She blogs regularly about children’s books and adventures in the library, among other things, at Sturdy for Common Things. You can follow her on twitter at @rebeccazdunn.