I manage youth services in a large urban public library. Up until last year, we had not hired youth services librarians in almost five years. While we aren’t hiring at the pace we were ten years ago, and we aren’t creating new positions, we’ve opened up a number of youth services positions in the last year or so. It hurts to see how many extremely talented librarians are looking for work – and it’s tough that we can interview such a small percentage – and hire an even smaller segment of those.

I hope we can continue to hire, and I hope other systems can, too. Here are some of the qualities that I see as most desirable in youth services librarians. As a caveat, this is just my perspective. I can’t speak for other hiring managers in my system or others.

Flexibility and resilience. Even in our most specialized positions, nobody serves just teenagers or just little kids. I need you to be phenomenal at customer service regardless of the age of the patron. I want to see that as responsibilities and needs change, you’re willing to do whatever type of work is needed – that you’re willing to learn and try new things. The more open you are to working with patrons of all different types, the easier you are for us to hire.
System-thinking and patience. We are a beautifully big and diverse system—we work hard to balance local community needs within system-wide strategy and actively identify opportunities for staff to work in a system-wide capacity in addition to their local library. It’s your job to understand the needs of the patrons in your community, but I need you to be open to understanding and acknowledging the bigger system.
Ability to work in a team In addition to the team in your library, large systems have workgroups and project teams and committees and cohorts. Working with others is a part of the job – you have to understand your strengths and how you can collaborate with others for the benefit of patrons.
Ability to manage up It’s an art you need to master. Learn to understand how your supervisor approaches work so that you can speak his or her language. Pay attention to initiatives and strategic direction at the administrative level and work within that framework.
Spark and passion I want to understand what you love and where your energy is. You don’t have to be an extrovert, but find a way to show me what you’re truly passionate about.
It’s not just books Most of us love books–it goes without saying. I need to hear that you know that our work isn’t only about connecting books with readers—it’s about the needs of families and young folks in front of us. Create opportunities that connect them to the books, sure, but show me you know about teens – not just teen books.
Do your homework Do you know the demographics of the community you’re interested in working in? Have you visited our libraries? What did you see our youth services librarians doing? What questions do you have?
Keep trying If you got an interview, reach out to the person who interviewed you and ask for advice or tips on what you can do differently next time. And keep at it.

What other qualities are you looking for in your colleagues or your staff?

About Maureen Hartman

I coordinate youth services at the Hennepin County Library in Minnesota and serve on the YALSA Board of Directors.

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