While reading the August 2005 “American Libraries,” I ran across a surprising statement by youth services guru Mary K. Chelton. (On My Mind: Academia’s Two-Culture Dilemma, by Mary K. Chelton. p. 41)
I was surprised to read this article by Chelton, who I’m familiar with as an expert on providing good customer service to teenagers in libraries. She first discusses the dearth of youth services people in LIS faculties (I’m fortunate enough to have two at my school.) She discusses the demands that youth services specialists face in academia, and the difficulty of achieving “collegiality.” I can’t pretend that I understand academia. I had never imagined I would get a master’s degree, so I don’t really understand how the system works.
The stunner comes when Chelton says “One particular trap that affects new youth-services faculty in particular is being a site supervisor of school library interns. This is an extensive time-eater that uses up time better spent writing and doing research for tenure.” To paraphrase the rest, the school library students are “head counts” library schools need to have to stay in business and youth services faculty are stuck with the paper processing. I have tried re-reading and re-reading this passage to understand exactly what she meant, exactly what she intended when she wrote this. I can’t help but feel as if she just insulted me and my future colleagues.
I don’t know how it works in other LIS schools, but at mine, the school library students take the same required library courses that any other library student takes. We get the same grounding in reference, cataloguing, collection development, and information technology. In addition, we take extra reference classes, along with school library-specific classes. On top of that, those of us without teaching certificates take more than a dozen hours of education, teaching, and child psychology classes. I have seen public library youth services job ads that look at that kind of background as being a plus in hiring. (All of the students, not just school library students, do practicums, which require extensive paper processing.)
The article made me feel like Chelton views school library students as lesser librarians, if we even merit being considered librarians. On the other hand, I feel that I am becoming a school librarian because I want to do youth services. I deliberately chose the school library because it would give me access to the students who might never set foot in the public library. I will have to teach, and I will be involved in curriculum planning and coordinating, and I see that as a good thing. If I can show these kids that libraries are integral to their daily life and to their success, I will have won. If I can send these kids to the public library with an understanding of how to use the resources, and with the knowledge that it is their right to be there, I will have done my job. Maybe I’m a bit starry-eyed, but I got into this business because I want to connect people, specifically kids, with information. The challenges will be different in a school library, but to me, it’s still essentially providing youth services. And although I’m doing all this extra work and killing myself to get certification, I have not ruled out working youth services in a public library. I certainly hope I am not wasting my advisor’s time.