Guide / Overview

Children and Youth Services Degree Program Overview - 2024

by Staff

Updated: December 11th, 2023

Pursuing a Master’s Degree in Children and Youth Library Services can pave the way for a rewarding and exciting career. To consider whether or not this career path is the right fit for you, it’s helpful to consider the common traits of children’s librarians. Perhaps the most important aspect is that these specialized librarians enjoy working with youth and their families. They are dedicated to promoting a love of life-long reading through the development of an up-to-date library collection, through readers’ advisory services, and by developing and holding programs that are based on the interests and needs of their community.  These programs are often creative ways to connect with their communities, and may include infant or toddler story hours, or programs for older students centered around makerspaces or cooking.  

A passion for reading is also necessary, particularly focusing on children’s literature. Being up-to-date on exciting literature and nonfiction books helps librarians connect with children, and allows them to provide great readers’ advisory services.  Librarians also commonly enjoy researching and service to others, including helping others learn information-finding skills and supporting the development of literacy. Children’s librarians are also generally interested in new technologies, and are excited to share them with children and their families.  Outreach is an important aspect of public librarianship, and children’s librarians often form strong connections with local schools and agencies that support youth. 

Children and youth librarians are also committed to upholding patron’s privacy, and are committed to upholding the First Amendment, or people’s right to access information.  Children and youth services librarians should enjoy supporting and responding to the needs of youth patrons and their families, by researching, recommending, or organizing programs targeted on their populations’ interests and needs.  They are advocates for the needs of their patrons, whether advocacy is centered around access to information, or is focused on ensuring their patrons have equitable access to learning materials and educational resources.  Librarians also are committed to supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work, and incorporate this work into the development of their collection, as well as the programs they develop.

What are the Standard Requirements for Admission into a Children Services Degree MLIS Program?

Although requirements for acceptance into a Children and Youth Services MLIS degree program can vary depending on the institution, the standard requirements for acceptance into a Children and Youth services program are as follows below.  Requirements for a specific program are listed on institution’s websites, so be sure to research any particular programs to which you are interested in applying.  

  • A GPA of 3.0 or higher, or a B or higher, from any Bachelor’s degree program; generally, any undergraduate major is accepted
  • Accreditation of a bachelor’s degree program
  • Letters of recommendation (usually 3)
  • Completion of an online application for the program
  • Transcripts of undergraduate education (can be unofficial)
  • A Statement of Professional and Educational Objectives
  • GRE scores (taken within the past 5 years)
  • A personal interview (required by some programs)
  • TOEFL test scores for students who may be from outside of the US
  • Resume/Curriculum Vitae

What should one think about when deciding on a Children and Youth Services Librarianship Degree Program?

There are several factors to consider when deciding which graduate school is a right fit for you.  When considering which program to apply for, it’s important to search for MLIS programs that are accredited by the American Library Association.  Accredited programs are required to provide coursework that leads to a Master’s Degree. Should you choose to attend a program that is not ALA accredited, your future job prospects may be limited, as many employers search for graduates of accredited programs. 

The cost of the program will also factor into your decision.  Factors to consider when calculating cost include tuition, cost of living, books, and other materials necessary to complete the program. Prospective students should also consider alternate sources of funding, including loans, graduate assistantships, and scholarships. Graduate assistantships can be a great way to defer costs while also gaining valuable experience prior to graduation.

The courses that are offered, as well as the format in which they are offered, can make a considerable difference in your experience in the program.  As a children’s librarian, you’ll want to enroll in courses focusing on children’s literature, children’s programming, and public librarianship.  Classes focusing on educational technologies, budgeting, and storytelling may also be helpful. 

You may also prefer online courses rather than in-person courses, so researching how courses are delivered would be wise. The timeline of when courses are offered is also worth investigating, as some classes are only offered one semester per year; if you are on a strict timeline, ensuring you will be able to take the courses you need when you need them is important.  Researching whether field experience through an internship or job shadowing is required may be worthwhile.  This is a wonderful way to gain experience and confidence before entering the workforce.

The overall quality of the program and your experience can also depend on the quality of instructors and the opportunities available for students.  Researching the instructors at a university, including reading reviews by current or previous students, can provide valuable insight about the quality of the programming.  Researching alumni networks and support available after graduation can also give you perspective as to how robust a program’s offerings are. 

Visiting a school in-person to attend information sessions, or to gather information for your decision-making process is also highly recommended.

What you should be learning in a Children and Youth Services Librarianship Degree Program?

The following competencies below are guiding standards for understanding what skills should be learned while in graduate school. These competencies were developed by the American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children.

Commitment to inclusion, diversity acceptance and support for cultural values/awareness that exists in the community

Youth services librarians are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion work, and promote acceptance, awareness, and support for the cultural values that exist within a community. Librarians should learn how socio-economic, environmental, and additional factors can influence a community. They should also learn methods of how to work to dismantle oppression by practicing acceptance and respect for diverse cultures and traditions. Librarians will need to be aware of the cultures, traditions, and needs of the children and families they serve. While a commitment to continual learning in this area often requires continuous professional development, librarians should leave graduate school with a strong toolbox of resources, strategies, and a deep understanding of how to promote acceptance, awareness, and support for diversities that exist within communities.

Children’s librarians will draw upon this knowledge during collection development, in the evaluation of services that are offered, and in their advocacy and outreach efforts. This could include utilizing a variety of collection development resources to ensure they are representing diverse voices of authors and illustrators in their collection. A commitment to this competency will lead to a librarian’s success in connecting with their community, and will allow them to best meet the needs of the children and families they serve.

Reference and User Services

The reference and user services competency focuses on the librarian’s ability to provide children and their families with the best possible resources and service. To be competent in this area, librarians should learn about various reference resources, ways to engage with patrons, and different ways to provide support, instruction, and information.

Librarians will support children’s research needs by modeling and teaching appropriate research skills; they will also assist children and their families with technological needs by teaching them how to utilize new digital tools safely and responsibly. They will be able to respond to information requests for materials by conducting unbiased and non judgemental reference interviews, and will be able to recommend materials and other community services that would be suitable to meet the needs of their patrons. 

Developing skills in providing reference and user services will allow a librarian to provide great customer service to their patrons, and will forge a great relationship with children and families who visit the library.

Children and Youth Program Development (Including new technology implementation)

A main component of a children librarian’s job is to design and implement programming for children and their families. Librarians entering the profession should have an understanding of children’s cognitive, social, and physical development, and how to appropriately select engaging and culturally diverse activities and books for these programs. They should learn how to evaluate the interests and needs of a targeted population, and develop activities and programs accordingly.

Programming for adults who work with children also falls within the scope of a youth services librarian’s role. Including families and adults in these programs is an effective way to model early literacy skills, such as how to engage with children during a read-aloud. Great programming is also an effective way at targeting gaps in equity, such as providing education for children and families who are lacking resources. Programs should utilize developmentally-appropriate technology, and may be presented in a variety of modalities, either in person, or digitally depending on the community’s needs.  

Collection Knowledge and Management (Children’s Literature and other types of children/youth collections)

This competency includes learning how to evaluate and understand the existing digital and physical collection, and performing acquisitions to update the collection. New librarians should learn how to conduct collection analysis through inventory and collection audits; this information will allow them to cull titles that are irrelevant or are no longer circulating. Librarians entering the profession should be aware of a variety of resources that provide reviews of new titles and materials to add to the collection; these resources should aid the library acquisition process, which includes evaluating digital and print resources to ensure content is high quality, culturally aware, and matches the needs of the community. When new materials arrive at the library, librarians may be responsible for cataloging these and adding them to the Library Management System. A knowledge of how to complete each of these steps is helpful to a children’s librarian. 

This competency also includes understanding, developing, and maintaining library policies. This includes collection development policies, which guide how librarians build and evaluate their collection, and also includes their challenged materials policy, to ensure they are able to support the inclusion of resources in their collection should a challenge be made.  A deep understanding of these policies, as well as a comprehensive selection process, will ensure that their collection is relevant and is based upon the needs and interests of the children and families who use it. 

Outreach and Advocacy

A large part of the work public children and youth services librarians perform is community outreach; graduates of an MLIS program should understand the value of community outreach and should learn strategies to develop outreach efforts and programs.  

Librarians spend time making connections with local schools, early learning programs and agencies that support children’s education and literacy; oftentimes, they will visit these establishments or collaborate with staff to run programs and make access to the library equitable.  Developing and running programs for youth and their families is also a large part of the outreach efforts of children and youth services librarians. These programs may include movie nights, book clubs, summer reading programs, or digital literacy programming.

Librarians are advocates, and librarians who serve youth have the interests of children and their families at heart.  Graduates should understand how advocacy can be furthered through library programs and policies.  For example, librarians are strong advocates for children’s access to information, and advocate for children’s early learning needs. Through visits to schools, programs that focus on children being read to and modeling to caregivers how to engage with children while reading books, librarians are able to advocate for children’s literacy.

Administration and Management Skills

Administration and management skills are crucial to the success of any library program. This competency includes understanding the daily operations required to successfully manage the library. This includes participating in the planning process of the library’s strategic vision, and may include collaborating with the Library Board or administration on long and short-term goals for the Children and Youth Services Department or the library at large. 

A new librarian will need to understand how to develop, enact, and maintain library policies to effectively run the library; these will need to be in compliance with legislative regulations and should reflect cultural awareness. Children’s librarians will also need to develop and maintain a budget. This includes documenting and evaluating the budget, programs, services, and outreach to assess their efficacy.  Learning how to effectively manage a budget, as well as resources for acquiring additional funding from grants or alternative sources, can help set an MLIS graduate up for success in the profession. Additionally, children’s librarians may also be in supervisory roles, and may need to delegate tasks and work to subordinates. 


The competency of professionalism refers to a children and youth services librarian’s constant evolution in the field, through a commitment to professional development, and contribution to the advancement of the profession. A children’s librarian should be a member in local and state library association chapters, as well as ALSC. Beginning in graduate school, MLIS students should participate in professional associations, and begin making connections to librarians throughout the field. To evolve as a professional, they should stay abreast of current literature and technologies in their field, and participate in continuing education opportunities. Collaborating with other librarians, or mentoring new professionals is a great way to share ideas and continuously learn. This should be modeled for MLIS students during their time in a program, perhaps through an internship when a seasoned librarian mentors them and provides opportunities for collaboration and real-world learning.

Children’s librarians should also understand the effects of inequities and systems of oppression in our country, and specifically how they affect children and their families.  They should actively work to disrupt them by providing resources and opportunities for community members to become culturally aware.  Additionally, they should follow the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics and be a staunch advocate for their patrons’ rights to Intellectual Freedom.

Additional Resources:

ALA Children and Youth Services

What Library Science is and How to Become a Librarian

Association for Library Service to Children

Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Libraries

Professionalism in the 21st Century Library