Very few people realize all the things that children's librarians do as regular parts of their jobs. My feeling is that the more you know about what a librarian does, the more they can help you. Do we spend all day reading? How about walking around and shushing people in stern voices? Not so much, no.
This post is the first in a series about what being a youth services librarian entails. I thought I'd start off with the biggest part of the job: research. Librarians don't know everything (although I firmly believe my colleagues do). Librarians are professional researchers. We may not know the answer, but we know how to find the answer.
Sometimes, the answers are easy. Questions like "what's the name of the new series by the author of Percy Jackson?" or "I need information about colonial musical instruments" or "What's that book about a fish that grows bigger and bigger until it needs a swimming pool as a tank?" can usually be answered quickly. (Answers: The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, take a look in books about colonial life or a music reference book and A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer.) Then you have the challenging ones that involve some creativity. Here's an example:
Several months ago, a 5th grader asked me for all our children's books about NATO. As it happens, NATO isn't a hugely popular topic for children's book writers and our juvenile section has exactly zero books on the subject. What to do? Use the internet, you say? No such luck. This assignment (like most elementary school assignments) specifically prohibits online sources. No problem, let's check the books on the 1940's, since NATO was founded in 1949. Nope, nothing there. How about the books about the 1950's when NATO became a larger entity? Still nothing. Let's take a look in the encyclopedia (which is still an excellent resource, by the way, even in the digital age.) Hmmm.... Dwight Eisenhower was the first supreme commander of NATO. Let's walk over to the biography section, and voila, there we find tons of information about NATO on a fifth grade reading level in biographies on Eisenhower.
Librarians can find you an answer to almost any question. Just ask.