Sunday, February 28, 2010

Career Profile: Children Services Librarian, Sarah MacLean

For future jobseekers, there are two eventualities: you will land a job or you will land your dream job. After spending the morning with Sarah MacLean, Client Service Specialist – Children Services Librarian at the Pickering Public Library (PPL), it was obvious that she is one of the lucky ones who has landed their dream job. When asked what she enjoys most about her job, Sarah exclaimed, “What do I not love about my job?”

Sarah brings an English background and a passion for working with children to her job. She loves children and even explored the prospect of teaching before arriving at the Dalhousie School of Information Management. She entered her Masters knowing that she wanted to be a children’s librarian. After spending a large part of her life as a member of Girl Guides of Canada, where she grew from a Girl Guide into a Guide leader, she knew that she wanted to work with children. Being a Guide leader gave her opportunities to develop programming skills, a vital skill for a children’s librarian.

One of the Sarah’s favourite parts of her job is programming: she works with the library staff to develop new programs and runs the activities, as well. She mentions that the most popular children’s programming trends today involve hands on activities, such as crafts or science experiments. All programs have a corresponding display of books pulled from the library’s collection which relates to the programs theme. Tying the programming theme to the materials in the library is a vital practice which results in an increase in materials circulation. This makes budget time easier for the children’s department because Sarah can point to her programs and the increase in circulation and show how important it is to continue having funding to do great programming.

Working within a budget is a requirement for Sarah – she coordinates both the material acquisition budget and the programming budget. We often hear about the trials that librarians go through to secure adequate funding for their departments. As programming costs can be quite hefty (the cost of an author visit starts at $250), Sarah advocates to the higher-ups to secure her programming funding: “it takes good money for good programming”.

Other components of Sarah’s job are materials acquisition, class visits, and reference desk shifts. She also runs an after-school club that provides homework assistance; builds computer skills and increases use of library resources for children aged 8 to 11. In her role, Sarah is also responsible for training and managing staff that works in the children’s department. Despite having a diverse range of responsibilities, she admits that there is “not a single aspect of my job I dislike”.

Now for some advice for aspiring children’s librarians! The number one skill a children’s librarian must have, according to Sarah, is customer service. The public library is looking for employees who can produce positive experiences that motivate patrons to become lifelong library users. We have all probably had jobs that are customer-oriented (it’s time to be grateful for those retail jobs you worked); make sure to highlight this in your résumé. Also important, and perhaps a little obvious, is having programming experience with children. If you’ve been a leader with Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, summer camps, etc. then you are a strong candidate. And Sarah suggests that if you do not have this background, go out and find the experience through volunteering or a practicum.

If you’re interested in the professional reading practices of a children’s librarian, Sarah offers her list of frequented materials:


Early Word

Annoyed Librarian

Stephen’s Lighthouse

List Serv:


This is a great resource for Children’s Librarians. It covers everything from materials, to programs to reference question stumpers.


Library Sparks

This journal is intended for children’s librarians. It provides programming suggestions, calendar with important dates (author birthdays) and a “meet the authors” section.

Kirkus Reviews - Children's titles

This review journal is a great source for children’s librarians when they are selecting materials for their library. Kirkus is always very honest in their reviews which is invaluable when dealing with children’s titles.

School Library Journal


TD National Reading Summit

How does Sarah see the future of children’s librarianship? She believes that the role of the children’s librarian will not change drastically over the next 20 years. The proportion of non-digital to digital materials will likely change but the fundamental role of the librarian will stay the same: “A children’s librarian connects children with books and with library materials and helps them with their homework.”

CYA would like to thank Sarah McLean for generously donating her time to and imparting her knowledge on aspiring children’s librarians.

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