NYPL Program Helps MLS Students Gain Practical Experience

The Librarian for a Day initiative gives candidates a chance to learn about library life within a branch community with the help of a mentor.

Juliet Sanchez reads to children at St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL).
Photos courtesy of NYPL

The kids scooted closer to Juliet Sanchez on the floor of the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL). The pre-K storytime on Manhattan's Upper West Side was in full swing. As Sanchez, a Queens College MLIS student, read a book about an owl family and asked questions, kids moved about the room, interjected personal stories, poked at younger siblings, and sometimes even talked about owls and the book.

When conversation and activity threatened to take things too far off track, St. Agnes children’s librarian Jessica Agudelo knew just the right thing to say to return everybody’s focus. Sanchez taught some vocabulary, finished the story, and introduced a craft.

As the kids created their owls from felt and paper, she walked around the room, handing out materials and compliments. Once in a while, she would check in with Agudelo to make sure everything was going OK. Agudelo was Sanchez’s mentor in the NYPL’s new Librarians for Day program that offers MLIS graduate students a chance for practical experience at a branch.

The NYPL’s two-month Librarian for a Day program, which began in September, focused on children’s and youth librarians in this pilot session. (In the future, it may take on difference areas such as reference or cataloging or adult services, says Terry Neal, vice president of human resources at NYPL. Eight graduate students from five schools (Queens College, Valdosta State University, Pratt Institute, Syracuse University, and University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill) took park in the program). Participants received virtual workshops put together by NYPL staff, an NYPL mentor, an in-person day at a branch, and created a final project and present a program to the public. 

“The whole experience it was very rewarding,” says Sanchez who works in a small library while pursuing her degree but wanted a chance to experience the larger NYPL system. “It was awesome. I got to do everything that day.”

From circulation to tech services to holds, and storytime, Sanchez was everywhere.

“The work was very intensive,” she says. “We were on our feet the whole day.”

The program’s goal was not only to give future librarians this much-needed look into what the profession is really like, but also give the NYPL a better chance to recruit and retain qualified and committed individuals. Sometimes candidates enter the field with misconceptions about what the day-in, day-out of library life will be, or even what a NYPL branch is.

According to Neal, most people—even library students—still only think of the main library building guarded by Patience and Fortitude when they think of the New York City library system. But it’s so much more, and every neighborhood branch has its own personality, its own community, and those patrons need to be served their own way. Each branch experience is so different, it can often only be understood by being a part of it.

“They’re in the community that we serve, the heart of the community, which are very diverse, growing, boiling over the side of the edges of the pot,” says Neal. “That real-life experience is nothing like what you’re going to experience in the classroom.”

In addition to working with the patrons, students work alongside a practicing librarian, learning in real time the kinds of resources, assistance, and support they will need to get the job done, Neal says.

Agudelo helped Sanchez see exactly what the job entails.

“She was explaining to me how they targeted their collections and how they did their story times. It just opened my eyes to see how diverse NYPL is, and how they have to target communities, and how one service might be popular in one branch but not so popular in another,” says Sanchez. “That really opened my eyes to how much work is put into the services.”

For Sanchez, the Librarian for a Day program has been a career-altering endeavor. She entered graduate school hesitant about working with children. At her current library job, she only works on the reference desk in the children’s room, not creating youth programming or interacting with the kids as she would in a storytime situation. Now, she says, after experiencing the NYPL’s youth programs and commitment to early literacy, she has been inspired, despite being so tired.

“I was exhausted, but I was so happy at the end of the day when I got home, I felt fulfilled,” says Sanchez. “I felt like at least the kids would remember the lady who read the owl books. I like to make those connections with the children. I feel like at the end of the day, that’s when I knew I really want to do this. I do want to be a children’s librarian.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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