“But I Work with Adults”: What Academic Librarians Can Learn from Working with Children

As a college librarian and a self-described “not a kid person,” I do not feel equipped to work with children of any age. Therefore, one of the great things about our joint-use library (part community college library, part city public library), in my opinion, is that any kids in our library usually head straight for the children’s room, run by public library staff.

Despite this, I have made a concerted effort to work with kids in our building anyway, and I’d like to offer some opinions on why you should try it, too.

Our community college hosts a series of week-long summer camps for different age groups with themes like career exploration or creative writing. The kids learn from different areas of the college, like the planetarium, the technology labs, and, yes, the library. We usually give them a tour and have some activities related to their theme, most of which are tried-and-true public library program favorites: usually STEM experiments or art projects.

My experiences with these camps have run the gamut from “what a sweet and polite group of young people” to “I am never doing that again, and if you ask me to, I quit.” The most common question I get from my coworkers about this work is some version of, “But why? You’re a college librarian; you work with adults.”

It is true that I was not hired to give pre-teens a tour of the library, highlighting features such as our 3-D printer and the young adult manga collection, guide them through writing a mystery, or teach them how to most effectively stack old encyclopedias to make a book tower. However, part of our college’s mission is “life-long learning.” The college usually talks about this in terms of senior citizens enrolling in classes, or teaching job skills to adults, but doesn’t it also include learning that takes place before college?

Our summer camps began as a way to boost enrollment. The idea is that, although these kids are ten years away from graduating high school, they have family who might be prompted by the summer camp experience to take some classes, and it gets our name out there. I think, though, that it’s valuable to give the kids a good college (and library) experience too.

The kids feel empowered when a college librarian, who usually only works with adults, shows them library services and resources that adults and college students use, and teaches them how to use them for their own purposes. I hear from them that they feel special, getting to do things that most kids their age aren’t normally doing, whether it’s touring the inner workings of the library or using a career database we show the first-year college students.

Kids are smart. Given the opportunity, they can make good choices, develop creative solutions to problems, and learn complex subjects. They deserve to have agency and respect like anyone else who walks into the college library. The kids appreciate being treated more like adults, and associate that empowered feeling with our college and our library.

The kids and the college aren’t the only ones benefiting from this situation, though. I have found that working with such a different audience has improved my reference and instruction skills.

As many of you may be, I’m accustomed to seeing our library, services, and resources in a certain way: through the eyes of our college-level students doing college-related work. The problem is, children don’t want to hear about scholarly journals, citation, printing, or any of the other things we frequently show our college students. In order to give an engaging library tour to children, I had to step back and think about our library in a new way. We have a 3-D printer, circulating video games, a giant chess set, downloadable comic books, and many other things I don’t normally mention at the reference desk or in the classroom. Now that I think about those things more often and have some practice talking about them to library patrons, I think of them while talking to students. A student might begrudgingly admit that they need the library’s help to finish their paper, but they’ll be delighted to learn that we have a digital media lab where you can make stop-motion videos.

My approach to instruction has been, for a long time, to use games, humor, and fun active learning activities to appeal to a student’s inner child to get them engaged with the class, making it easier for them to learn the library instruction content. Working with actual children in the same library space has taught me new ways to do this more effectively.

Now that I realize this, I make a point to attend more of the public library’s programs in the building, to observe how children and families use and think about our spaces. (The added bonus is that I get to see a magic show, listen to the opera, or pet cows and goats, while I’m at work!)

You don’t need to have a joint-use library partnership with a public library to gain these benefits. Just step back and look at how a child might engage with your library. Better yet, create opportunities to see it in action. Consider offering child-friendly programming, a partnership with your college’s early childhood literacy or K-12 teacher programs, hosting your local school district’s Battle of the Books or a Summer Reading Program event, or start a summer camp. Have you brought kids into your college library? How did you do it? What did you learn from it?

Let It Go: A Non-Frozen Story

Editor’s Note: We welcome Hailley Fargo to the ACRLog team. Hailley is the Student Engagement & Outreach Librarian at Penn State University, University Park campus. Her research interests include peer-to-peer services in academic libraries, critical librarianship, digital and information literacy, outreach, and undergraduate research.

I’ve always had a hard time letting things go. I remember when I was in high school, I was the Student Council (Stuco) president. I got elected as a junior and ran for re-election as a senior. At the time, it was unheard of for someone to be the Stuco president twice. In those two years, I got a lot done, put a lot of things in place, and documented the heck out of what I did (I was using binders before Leslie Knope). I was proud of what we were able to accomplish and was so excited to see where my predecessor would take the group next.

When I came back from my first year in college, my younger brother (who was still in Stuco) filled me in on what had been happening. My predecessor hadn’t followed any of the documentation and took the organization in a completely different direction. I got physically worked up, annoyed and frustrated that all I had done was for nothing. My mom, who always had the right things to say, told me, “Hailley, you need to let this go. You did your best and you don’t have any control over what happens after you. And that’s okay.”

While I reluctantly agreed at the time, I still have a hard time letting projects go, especially the ones I invest a lot of time in. I’ve spent almost 10 years trying to be better at this skill, and I can’t say with full confidence I’ve got remarkably better. This story is all leading up to the fact that even though I had to give up projects when I left graduate school, I had this weird idea that projects in my professional life might be different. That I might be able to hold onto everything I created, organized, and ran.

Boy, I was in for a surprise. Just like high school student council and graduate school, priorities change. People change. Job descriptions evolve. You might spend months or years working on an idea or writing in niche and then, suddenly, you stop doing that. You change directions and move on. Sometimes you ask other folks to step in, to take it forward, other times the project ceases to exist, and sometimes you don’t get the choice and the project is given away. This task of letting projects go doesn’t stop just because you’re not in school anymore. And unlike the luxury of graduating (and therefore moving on to a new location), in your professional life, you might have to watch your project evolve right in front of your eyes. For someone who has a hard time letting things go, this can be tough (and a time suck).

With two years at Penn State under my belt, I’ve had to give up a few projects. My job position has changed, as well as some of my priorities for the job I’m currently in. I can’t say it has been the easiest process for me, but I’ve had good bosses to help me navigate this new terrain. In conversations with them, they have reminded me that when you give up a project, it should be able to be carried on without you. You want to have created a project that people can get fired up about, and have left the project in such a way that folks feel empowered to make it their own. I just have to stop letting my perfectionism get in the way of their work once I hand over the reins. I’ve also been lucky in the fact that I’ve had plenty on my plate, so giving up a project is tough, but does open the door for me to devote my time on something new.

Recently, I’ve felt myself go back into my old habit of getting all worked up about a project I’ve given up. In some deep reflection (and channeling my mom), I came to a realization about projects like these. At the end of the day, projects are just made up a bunch of ideas strung together. These ideas might be connected by a vision, by a context or history, or by a person with some serious spunk. Ideally you want a project that reflects, builds, connects, and responds to the context but ultimately you want a vision to drive those ideas forward. A vision you can pass on, a person, on the other hand, is a little harder to pass on. As I think about the leader I want to be, I need to make sure I’m creating projects that have a vision and don’t need me to be successful. I have to find ways to set up that framework, and trust my colleagues they can take the project where it needs to go. When I spin projects that way, it opens up the possibility of me using some of my best strengths — organization, documentation, and intentionality. So, in theory, it becomes a win-win for everyone? I sure hope so.

I also think what my mom was getting at was that I was spending too much time and energy worrying about a project I no longer have control over. Time and energy that could be spent in better ways, working on new projects, spending time with new people coming up with new ideas, and in general, not working myself up into a tizzy. There are only so many hours in the day to work on these projects. The more time I waste spinning my wheels, the fewer opportunities I get to do the work currently on my plate. It’s a lesson that I’ll still be learning today, tomorrow, and next year. But I’ll keep trying to just let it go.

Do you have a hard time letting go of projects you start? Do you have any good strategies for dealing with this sort of change? Comment on this blog post and let us know!   


Featured image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Academic Library Job Search Roundup

The fall semester is in full swing at most U.S. colleges and universities. While many folks finish up their graduate library degree in the spring, others finish at the end of the summer or after fall. And as I was scrolling through Twitter last week I was reminded that the academic library job search can happen anytime during the year, and is not necessarily tied to the semester schedule:

Seeing this tweet — and the super useful library interview questions database that Gina links to — made me think about all of the job searching posts we’ve written here at ACRLog over the years. Here are a few I’d like to highlight that might be of use to recent LIS graduates looking for positions in academic libraries:

Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve: The Library Job Hunt: Last year recent ACRLog alumna Quetzalli Barrientos wrote about her experiences both as a job searcher and as a member of search committees.

First Generation College Students and the Job Search with an MLIS: During our second Hack Library School/ACRLog cross-blogging collaboration last year, HLS blogger Chloe Waryan wrote about looking for academic library jobs from a first generation college graduate perspective.

Academic Interviews from Both Sides: This post, co-written by Brenna Murphy and me during our first Hack Library School/ACRLog cross-blogging collaboration, explores job interviews from the perspective of an interviewee (Brenna) and an interviewer (me). While I’d add a few things to this if I could rewrite it — for example, we now send our interview questions to all candidates before the interview — I think it still holds up fairly well.

For interviewees, I’d also recommend browsing Hack Library School’s entire archive of job searching posts. And for interviewers, Angela Pashia’s fantastic piece Seeking a Diverse Candidate Pool should be required reading (h/t to Angela for the suggestion to send interview questions in advance).

What other resources have you found helpful in an academic library job search? Let us know in the comments!

Question Everything: Librarian Research and #IRDL

How is the fall semester already in swing, but I’ve not yet shared my amazing research experience as an IRDL Scholar this summer?

IRDL stands for the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship.  It is itself the product of an IMLS grant-funded research project to develop librarians’ research skills specifically as researchers (in addition to our role as providers of research support).  Its primary investigators, Marie Kennedy and Kris Brancolini, co-direct this project with grant matching funds from their home institution, Loyola Marymount University William H. Hannon Library.  Their direction in partnership with the San José State University School of Information, the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC) and others are what make this life-changing experience for librarians possible. A 9-day workshop on the LMU campus (aka beautiful Los Angeles, CA!) kicks off the institute, but the experience continues for an entire year with progressive networking, mentoring, and collaboration opportunities built in to prepare researchers for disseminating their work.

When this opportunity first came to my attention, the timing of the proposal deadline fell (like so many others seemed to) way too late for me to pull anything together.  With ambivalent hope, I added this to my calendar and annual goals to apply for the following year.  Turns out, as I began approaching my application, I realized what great timing (falling from December to January) the call for proposal offers. Besides the usual window of downtime in academia, just the difference between a month-long window for proposals, as opposed to a single application deadline, is the kind of careful thought and facilitative detail that permeate everything about the IRDL experience and what set it apart.


I admit, there’s kind of a weird mixture of both honor and humility in becoming an IRDL Scholar.  We are by design:

“a diverse group of academic and research librarians who are motivated and enthusiastic about conducting research but need additional training and/or other support to perform the steps successfully”.

It takes an uneasy bit of vulnerability to recognize your own limitations in a skill so necessary for your field.  Maybe this opportunity seems natural and reasonable for librarians at the beginning of their career, or someone changing library specialization (say from public to academic).  The Institute’s generous interpretation of a novice researcher includes new librarians for sure, but also recognizes the variation and barriers that exist for library research support.  That could be in the variety of institutional resources, MLS program strengths, or even research methods education undertaken too many years and paces-of-change ago to adequately support today’s research needs.  What about librarians who have already published research?  Yes!  That too!  And we can call it all into question, which is a good thing.

At the same time that IRDL scholars recognize these limitations, we also must recognize — and are recognized for — the fact that our research is worth pursuing and generously supporting.   My unique brand of novice researcher stems from working primarily in technical services and leadership positions, on and off the tenure track, and directly involved a lot of organizational restructuring and change.  This has meant wide variation in available time, focus, and research methods application. Ever- “motivated and enthusiastic” however, I’ve sought out countless webinars, brown bags, mentor conversations, e-forums, and conference sessions on making time for research, developing research questions, networking for publication, and more. Yet nothing has been as effective as what I took away from IRDL.

The secret sauce (*winks to Marie*) that IRDL offers library researchers includes:

First, other motivated and enthusiastic scholars like you with the same (and yet unique) gaps in trying to cross their own research bridge.  You learn from others in a way you can’t learn in just a textbook, or webinar, or conference session.  Part of that is because the learning frames a specific and applicable need. But the other part is the community of expertise IRDL provides and how it includes the expertise of the novice researchers.  As these ITLWTLP blogging librarians discovered, it’s an important distinction between needs based learning (aka problem based learning) and critical pedagogy.   Taking the skills learned at IRDL, I am certainly more confident in my ability and ways to help my colleagues’ research.  However, I don’t approach this in a teach-the-teacher way, but as true peer researchers – vulnerabilities, strengths, and all.  This peer dynamic is what I think  we expect to happen professionally between colleagues,  but somehow haven’t always managed to achieve.

Secondly, IRDL intentionally builds real and ongoing research network relationships. Not just talking about networking or giving networking tips. Not just one kind of research network, or mentor, or just colleagues you know who are also responsible for research.  I mean a variety of differently strength-ed researchers in your network who are committed themselves to a network of research relationships, as well as committed to improving the design, methods, and impact of published library research literature.

Finally, IRDL (in true California style) offers the value of reflection. Throughout the week together with my IRDL cohort, we reflected on our research as it changed dramatically from day to day; reflected as a group as we learned and struggled to learn together; and reflected individually about our experiences, needs, and interpersonal growth.  Now we have begun reflecting on our progress and ultimate goals with an expanded network of IRDL scholars and mentors as we continue this year-long (life-long) endeavor.

If you are interested in applying to become a IRDL scholar, I encourage to follow @IRDLonline  and set a goal for preparing your 2019 proposals.  You won’t regret it and I will be delighted to meet you!

Seeking First Year Academic Librarian Bloggers

With the brand new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few brand new academic librarian bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank Abby Flanigan and Nisha Mody for their terrific posts this past year in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, please use the ACRLog Tip Page to contact us by September 10. Along with your contact info, please send:

– a sample blog post
– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog during your first year as an academic librarian

Please send any questions to msmale@citytech.cuny.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!