Want to Write for Children? Become a Children’s Librarian! Seriously, Do It.
Choose a day job that benefits your writing career every day
As writers, at some point we all have to choose the dreaded day job. For some, that might mean working at a coffee shop or waiting tables, but if you have to work to support your passion, why not chose a day job that benefits your writing career? Besides being literally surrounded by books, librarians experience a world of benefits that will leave even the most casual writer salivating at their computer.
Librarianship is rarely a first career, and like many librarians, I began my professional life doing something completely different. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in television production, I dreamed of working in children’s media for networks like PBS or Nickelodeon, but I soon discovered that most of the steady, available jobs were in reality television. My first job out of school was as an assistant video editor for shows on HGTV and the Food Network, where after years of sitting in a dark room putting pictures together, I discovered that I really just wanted to write for children and that television wasn’t the field best suited for my own personal happiness.
When I realized that I wanted to write books for a living, I was both practical and terrified in response to my decision. I took to the Internet and read interview after interview with some of my favorite children’s authors looking for advice on how to make a living as a writer. In an interview with AVI, he was asked what he would do for a career if he hadn’t become a writer, and he answered that he would be a librarian. Everything clicked after reading that interview, and a week later I applied for library school and the rest is history.
How does being a librarian help me as a writer?
One of the major benefits of being a children’s librarian is the access to library conferences and fellowships. I have been fortunate enough to attend the Arizona Library Association Annual Conference, and the American Library Association Annual Conference on several occasions for free! These conferences have so many amazing sessions dedicated to literature for children that are put on by some of the biggest names in children’s publishing. Conferences also give you the chance to have face-to-face time with editors and authors who are usually more than willing to chat after sessions.
Once you are a librarian, you also have the opportunity to apply for grants and fellowships that allow you to study children’s literature and librarianship abroad. I was lucky enough to be awarded the Horner Fellowship in 2015, which allowed me to study Japanese children’s literature and Japanese library services over a three-week stay in Japan. I visited libraries and museums in Kyoto, Tokyo, Nagano, Fukushima and several other small villages. I even squeezed in a trip to the Studio Ghibli Museum and Tokyo Disney Sea. I now serve on the committee to pick the librarian from Arizona who will travel to Japan in the fall of 2017.
Most libraries purchase books through vendors, who tailor online shopping carts for librarians based on positive reviews and popularity. As a librarian with access to these online shopping carts, I am able to read reviews and see what children’s books will be released months and sometimes up to a year before publication. Because purchasing materials will likely be part of your job as a children’s librarian, you also learn about all of the different publishing companies, what kinds of materials they tend to produce, and the catalogue of different authors and illustrators. I like to think of my online shopping carts as a crystal ball allowing me to preview the next award-winning titles before they hit the shelf.
Booking author visits for children’s programming will also likely be part of your job as a children’s librarian. I have been fortunate enough to host amazing local authors like Molly Idle and Lori Alexander. Author visits are a great way to network and to stay connected to the world of children’s publishing.
Advanced reader copies
Publishing companies are nice enough to send librarians advance reader copies of new children’s fiction. Every month I look forward to receiving a stack of new books on my desk. I make an attempt to read the first chapters of these new books to find out what my next read will be and to be ready for recommendations when the books are released.
Direct access to reader trends/feedback
Another major benefit of children’s librarianship is the direct access you have to the reading community. Every day I see what books children and families are checking out, and I am able to ask them about what they like, what they are looking forward to, and what titles they may have given up on. We also take requests from the public, which gives me a glimpse into the kinds of books that kids are most excited about.
I also assist the public with every electronic reading device and eBook format known to man. As a librarian, it is part of my job to keep up with the latest eReader technology and to observe the ease of use and frustrations that users have in regards to the changes in format and functionality of the reading experience.
Getting paid to read
If you already spend hours every week reading children’s literature, why not get paid to do it! I hold two weekly storytimes for younger readers, where I read almost exclusively new picture books. Being aware of what books exist in the realm of children’s literature is great in case you also want to write a picture book about vegetables in underwear, or sasquatches who ride the bus. Reading picture books to younger readers also helps you to gain a better grasp of pacing and humor, it helps you to understand why children laugh, and why they might have questions.
When time allows, I also attempt to read middle grade fiction at least 30 minutes a day on work time. I usually just read the first couple chapters of new books to get a feel for the writing and style in order to give better recommendations to children and families. Reading also allows me as a writer to explore different genres and perspectives that I myself may not be comfortable writing.
Getting paid to write
After storytimes, I also perform two weekly puppet shows for kids, which feature fractured fairy tales that I write and record with the help of other library staff. I write and record a new puppet show every month, which allows me to write on work time. Writing puppet shows for kids is often some of my favorite creative time spent at work. I also write summer reading skits for school visits, and even a children’s television show that airs on our local public access channel. As a librarian you will also have to write press releases, social media updates, magazine articles, and other assorted projects, all of which will benefit you as a writer.
Awesome benefits and steady work = less stress
Public librarians enjoy really great benefits. I have an awesome health insurance plan that I don’t have to pay for, and the city where I work matches a percentage of my retirement contribution. A city job is also really steady, with sick time and vacation time provided. All of these benefits allow me a degree of comfort and relief while I work on writing my next novel or picture book.
How to become a children’s librarian
But I don’t want to go back to school
Just do it! To become a children’s librarian, a master’s degree in library and information sciences is required and can be easily completed online in two years or less. I finished my degree from San Jose State in two years while taking classes at my own pace and on my own time.
If you decide to become a librarian, go all in. I took almost exclusively classes related to children’s literature and programming, and I also volunteered with my local library and got a paid internship working as part of the library system’s public relations and marketing team. By the time I graduated, I had enough hands-on experience to easily get an entry-level position. My degree cost around $20,000, which I took loans out to pay for. I have recently paid them off, and $20,000 for an entirely new career was well worth it for me.
My first library gig was as a library assistant at a university library in Berkeley, California. After working as a library assistant for a year, I began applying for full-time children’s librarian positions, and within a month, I had three Skype interviews lined up in Oregon, South Dakota, and Arizona. Most children’s librarian positions require a minimum of two years of library experience, and with my library assistant gig and paid internship I had what I needed to be considered for most job openings.
What you need to know before becoming a children’s librarian
Loving literature is not the only requirement for becoming a children’s librarian (though it is important); you must also love helping others. I like to think of children’s librarianship as this weird hybrid career of part information/literature professional, part social worker, and part entertainer. If that sounds like you, then you have officially stumbled upon your dream job.
Since being a children’s librarian is hands down the best job in the world, there are a million people who apply for job openings, and there a million more who keep their library jobs until their very last breath. So you may have to move to find that dream job. I moved from Oakland, California to a small town in rural Arizona, and I don’t regret a thing. Also, when you go to apply for jobs, try to get a job at a public library as opposed to a school library if you can. Public librarians tend to have higher wages, better benefits, and job security. It is a sad reality that school libraries have been fading away, while public libraries have managed to stay.
Last but not least, being a children’s librarian is fun almost every single day. Sure there are times when you have to clean up baby pee or deal with a frustrated patron who couldn’t watch season two of Downton Abbey because their pet ferret scratched a disc (this really happened), but I look forward to going to work every day, to reading, hanging out with the kids and families in town, and being an important part in the world of children’s literature and in the lives of kids in my community. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, and if the day comes when my writing is published, I don’t think I will leave my job as a children’s librarian. I think I might just be one of those librarians who keep their job forever, because I love it, and I think you will too!
Good luck with the rest of WriteOnCon and thank you for reading.
If you have any questions, comments, or are in need of advice about a career in librarianship, please reach out to me, I would be happy to help.
David Brown is the Youth Services Librarian at the Vista Grande Public Library in Casa Grande, Arizona. He has a bachelor’s degree in Television Production from California State University Northridge and a master’s degree in the field of Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. He has worked in both academic and public libraries over the course of his seven year career in the field. He has also worked as a Video Editor for shows on the Food Network and HGTV, and is a trained puppeteer having worked with performers from Sesame Street and the Muppets. In 2016, he won Arizona Youth Services Librarian of the Year.