A look at the book business by the people who know it best.
Today we're joined by librarian Kelly Jensen. Name sound familiar? You may know her from her fantastic book blog, Stacked, or her brilliant articles on Book Riot. There are more links below, but first things first: What is it like being a librarian?
Describe a typical day as a librarian. What does your job entail?
One of the great things about being a librarian is that no day is ever the same. Since I work part-time, "typical" day for me might be a 3-hour reference desk shift, where I'm the person responsible for fielding questions and requests from patrons. So, one minute I might be looking up where a car repair manual is and the next I might be troubleshooting a computer in the lab and the next I might be tracking down a phone number for a local business. Then I might be putting a movie on hold for someone after we've looked up the correct title of it based on a vague description of the cover, signing someone up for a program, and offering a few books for a teen who loved Scott Westerfeld's Uglies and wants 2 or 3 books that are like that series.
In between questions, I'd likely be working on a book order and reading trade reviews -- I select and purchase all of the teen materials, from books to audiobooks to movies -- and planning out programs for our teens. Of course, other stuff sometimes comes up that can take priority and there are days when I am answering questions from the minute I walk in until I leave and don't get anything else done. But those days remind me that libraries are a necessary community resource.
What requirements does one need to meet in order to be a librarian?
It depends upon what you want to do and where you want to be. A "typical" path to be a librarian is to go to college (and major in whatever you want to), then go on to graduate school for a master's in library science or information studies. In between, you would want to get practical experience either through a paid job or internship of some sort.
I worked in a library through high school and college doing a variety of things, but I didn't know I wanted to be a librarian until most of the way through undergrad. I ended up doing an internship at my college's library, doing an internship at a museum library that summer, then applying to a master's program. While in grad school, I didn't know 100% what I wanted to DO in libraries, so I tried my hand at a lot of things -- I worked at a church archival repository doing digital collections and a research library doing research on historical newspapers, as well as volunteered at a children's hospital library. When I graduated, I realized working with teens in a public library was a good fit.
I know plenty of awesome librarians who never went to grad school, too. It's a much more challenging road, especially since most professional-level librarian jobs require one.
What advice would you give to an aspiring librarian?
Don't limit yourself or your career. Learn what you are interested in learning, and don't let people tell you that you cannot do something. You'll be happier all around.
In terms of practical advice, volunteer, work, intern, whatever you can do to get experience "in the field." Take total advantage of the resources out there for you, too. So many librarians blog or tweet or are otherwise in social media. Find them and talk with them. If you're passionate about working with kids, find the youth librarians online. Same if you're interested in working with teens or underserved groups or incarcerated people or in archives. Whatever you're curious about, it's out there. Also, know that being a librarian doesn't mean being in a public library. Businesses, museums, churches, hospitals, schools, colleges, and other places all have libraries too. One of my neatest jobs was in a museum library, and I always thought it would be neat to work in a newspaper's library (there are very few of them, but they do exist -- and there are places like NPR which have their own librarians, too).
Read everything you can get your hands on, and read widely. If you're not a typical book reader, that's fine. Read blogs. Read online news sources. Just read so you stay engaged and informed.
Don't get stuck in a hole. Develop passions and interests outside libraries. You'll not only be more well-rounded, but you'll open up more doors that way personally and professionally.
Also remember the power of a thank you. That's more life advice than career advice, but it is such an underutilized phrase.
How are libraries adapting in the digital age of publishing? What do you think they should be doing?
I'm not qualified to answer this question, though it is a good one! And I say that not to dodge it but rather to highlight the fact that there are so many duties librarians are tasked with and there are entire jobs in the library world that are tasked with figuring these things out.
I also say I'm not qualified because I've not worked in a place where this is really a huge focus. Yes, my library has patrons who read digitally. But it's a much smaller number than those who come in for a print book. If I were a librarian in different community, my answer might be much different. In my current position, my work with digital publishing has been in helping teach patrons how to access ebooks on their ereader from our website.
As far as what I think they should be doing, the answer is this: do what reflects what it is your community wants. Anticipate needs and introduce new ideas, but don't force things that your community doesn't want. I also think there will be a lot of doors open for people who DO want to focus on this aspect of librarianship.
What’s your favorite thing about being a librarian? Your least favorite?
Favorite: when I get that sincere thank you and I know I've actually helped someone find what they need. I also love when I make a connection with a kid, whether it's because we talk every time we're at the library together, we're laughing over something at a program, or when I can hand them a book I know they're going to love. I've had coworkers say to me that I am exceedingly patient with some of the kids. But I don't see it as being patient. I see it as connecting -- I may be the only person who gives them 5 minutes all day long, all for them, and to me, that is worth its weight in gold.
Least favorite: when you work with the general public, you see and hear everything. Sometimes it's challenging to not get emotionally invested when someone is seeking help for something personal or traumatic, and sometimes it's challenging not to get upset when you're being yelled at because the person you're helping is offloading on you. Or when patrons are too willing to tell you EXACTLY what they think of you/your hair/your clothes/etc.
How has blogging benefited you as a librarian or vice versa?
I started blogging before I got my first job (by a month!). It's benefited me since it's been a way for me to think about the teens I work with and the books that are out there for them. I know I've become a much better reader and reader's advisor because I've been blogging.
Blogging is more personal to me now than it was when I started, but I think in making it more personal, the more it's become a stronger professional tool for me and for those who read what I write.
Of course, blogging has also been incredibly beneficial in that it's the reason I have the professional learning network I have. I've made great connections with passionate librarians (and non-librarians!) who have helped push me to be better at what I do.
As a librarian, you specialize in YA. What are some of the most popular teen titles at your library and why do you think they’re so popular?
The most popular titles at my library have been the Divergent series, any of Ellen Hopkins's books, James Dashner's The Maze Runner series, and both of Ally Carter's series.
As far as why they're so popular, they've all been pretty popular for a while now, and I think they'll continue to be popular for a while longer. They're all fast-paced books with compelling stories, and they all have a sense of immediacy and timelessness to them, if that makes sense. So while most teens have read The Hunger Games, for example (and it still is popular), Divergent and The Maze Runner are nice "next reads" for Hunger Games fans.
Hopkins is perennially popular because she
writes raw, gritty realistic fiction and Carter is popular because my teens
love mysteries/sleuthing/spy stories like crazy. Plus, she's a great
introduction to YA for younger teen readers.
Just for fun question: What’s the weirdest question you’ve ever gotten from a library patron?
I don't know if I can remember the weirdest question I've been asked! But I do get asked a lot of interesting questions about local hauntings, legends, and conspiracy theories. It's ALMOST embarrassing to admit how easily I can answer or find the answers to them. One of my favorites was an older lady who came and was asking about a werewolf-type creature who supposedly lived out near a lake about 30 miles away from the library. I didn't even have to look it up because I knew immediately she was asking about the Beast of Bray Road. Another time, I helped someone look up all of the old residents of their home because they were convinced it was haunted by a former owner who'd died there (and she told me about all of the incidents she'd experienced while I tried to track down names).
If you work in the book business and would like to be featured, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Inside the Industry.” I would love to hear from you!