Melaina Squicciarini (she/her) MI'22, SEBS'06 is currently a Youth Services Librarian at the Highland Park Public Library in Highland Park, NJ. In 2006, she graduated from Rutgers with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, and she earned a Master of Information from SC&I in 2022.
During her undergraduate years, Squicciarini was a part of the Alpha Phi Omega chapter at Rutgers, a Co-ed Community Service Fraternity.
Below, Squicciarini discusses the most rewarding aspects of her current role and her favorite experiences from her years as a SC&I graduate student.
SC&I: Introduce yourself! Do you have any particular interests, passions, or hobbies?
MS: A quick intro, I am an out and proud queer vegan librarian who loves working with queer teens! My husband and I got married on Star Wars Day 2019 because I’m a total nerd. We have two cats and own a home in Warren County, NJ. I love to read Young Adult (YA) books and to knit, even though I’m not very good at it. I enjoy attending professional development to further my lifelong learning and also traveling within and outside the United States for leisure and for conferences.
SC&I: Describe your education at Rutgers. How did your undergraduate studies compare to your graduate studies? Were there any classes/programs that you particularly liked? Were there any professors that especially helped you?
MS: My original degree was in Animal Science and after a 16-year career in that field I was finally ready to make a change by pursuing my Master of Information. I consider myself a lifetime learner, and therefore I have never stopped growing my knowledge in the science field through professional development. Changing my focus to working with children and teens is not such a big change from working with animals and their human families, but the learning process was a huge difference.
My undergraduate studies included classes where I sat in large lecture halls or spent days working with animals outside at Cook College. My graduate classes were online, with classes that were much smaller and centered on creating a welcoming environment, proper search techniques that don’t involve Google, collection development, focus on Diversity Equity, and Inclusion, and community outreach.
My favorite classes lined up with my favorite professors and I don’t believe that is a coincidence. Children Reading and Literacy taught by John Schu was a serious life changer, since I learned how to create displays and formed a real connection with picture books. I cannot wait to read his own picture book, “This is a School,” coming out in March 2022. I also met my best friend, Kaley, in this class!
Young Adult Reading and Literacy (and also Emerging Literacies) are taught by Jennifer LaGarde, an amazing librarian and author. We learned so many intricacies about YA literature including authors' inspirations, passion, and how we can relate to teens now as adults and as professionals.
Another favorite class of mine was Search and the Information Landscape taught by THE Dr. Joyce Valenza! Dr. Valenza was my mentor and advisor as well as the head of the School Librarianship program. In this class, we learned how to navigate databases and how to find information with advanced searching techniques.
SC&I: Describe your current role as a Youth Services Library Associate. What are your favorite parts about the role?
MS: I’m currently working as a Youth Services Librarian after being promoted after graduating in January. Every day I have the opportunity to introduce a child or teen the book their heart needs. I manage the monthly Take & Make program for children and teens where they are given materials and instructions to create a fun themed craft at home. We have had up to 73 participants in a month! I also create infographics for our social media, create displays, help patrons with the computers and provide reader advisory including doing on the spot book talks. All of the librarians work together to answer reference questions, help out at the circulation desk, and run programs.
SC&I: Do you feel that your classes with SC&I were helpful in preparing you for this role? If so, how?
MS: The classes provided me with many skills, especially in regard to collection development, assisting patrons with books and information, graphic design, and creating a welcoming inclusive environment for ALL users. Even though experiencing the “real thing” is always going to be different from classes, I felt confident that I would always have someone from the program, either a teacher or another student, who was willing to help out.
SC&I: How did you decide you wanted to pursue a master’s degree/ career in Library & Information Science?
MS: It was important to me that I would continue to make a difference in a service-based role. The library has always been my happy place, however as much reading as I did as a child, I never felt that I was represented in the books as a quiet queer child. As a librarian I am able to proudly display books representative of all people. When I decided that that would be my next career, a quick search told me I would need a master’s degree to achieve that. I was thrilled that Rutgers had a great program and contacted them to get the process started. I got married in May, took my GRE and got accepted in July and started in September! It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
SC&I: Were there any projects you worked on (either as a student or in your current role) that you particularly enjoyed?
MS: During my field experience in the last semester of my program I was able to take charge of the Maker Monday in a middle school library’s Makerspace! It was so fun watching the kids make crafts and complete challenges. At Highland Park Public Library, I am able to really dive into my crafty side! Pride Month (June) is such a fun time of the year and my library trusted me to really have some fun with it even though I was hired the month before. My favorite craft was a rainbow butterfly heart which was a Take & Make for the children and a larger version as an in person craft for the teens. We kept the teen’s craft and displayed it inside of the Youth Services section of the library. Every month since then I have enjoyed choosing and assembling the Take & Makes for them. My favorite project was a Staff Stuffed Animal Sanctuary in the library’s large glass display case. Staff members brought in stuffed animals from their houses and provided a quick bio. They each got their own little name card and patrons could guess which animal belonged to who. It was so much fun and the little kids loved it!