Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Public Librarianship vs. School Librarianship

When I started out life as a librarian, I knew public libraries were for me. I loved visiting them as a patron. I supported the democratic ideals behind a public library. I loved books and helping people. It was the perfect fit. I spent eight years working at two large urban public libraries. I was a children’s librarian and a teen services librarian.

At some point, I decided I want to change career tracks somewhat, and became certified to be a school librarian. I am now in my third year in a school, and I’m going to highlight some similarities and differences between working in a public library and a school library.

When you work in a public library, particularly a branch, you may be asked to do many things beyond your job description. Filling in at any desk at any time, acting as manager when necessary, and cleaning up messes that nobody else wants to deal with. As a school librarian, particularly one who works alone, you are responsible for running the whole show from collection development to shelving books to lesson planning. Your principal may ask you to do any number of odd jobs that aren’t under the umbrella of the library.

Building relationships with your patrons is the most important part of the work you do, and in this regard I think the school librarian has a leg up. You see the same students every day, so it’s easier to learn their names and faces and ask them questions about their lives. You may have the same opportunities in a public library setting, but since people voluntarily visit a public library, you may not see them as often or have the opportunity to build a rapport with them. I feel that I have made the biggest difference in the lives of individuals in my role as a school librarian.

In both positions, you may feel the weight of administrative decisions or worries interfering with your vision for your library. School librarians in public school districts are constantly rearranging schedules around practice testing, district testing, state testing, and federal testing. Public librarians may feel they have excellent ideas for changes to programs or services that would benefit patrons, but find roadblocks when it comes to approval from managers. Both situations are frustrating and can take some of the wind out of your sails.

There are certainly pros and cons to both positions and there are many librarians out there who have spent their lives in various kinds of libraries. If you’re curious about what life is like on the other side, reach out to someone who works in the job you think you’d like. See if you can shadow them for a day and get a feel for their daily routine. Most importantly, do your best work in the position you currently occupy, and see what you can make of it. Your patrons or students will reap the benefits.

MNPS Librarian

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