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Jennifer Leland has had a lot of different jobs in her life, but only recently did she see how all of them fit together to prepare her for her career as a youth librarian in Manatee County.

She initially planned to pursue a career in sports medicine, but after a couple of semesters at University of Central Florida in Orlando, she realized, “I wasn’t super attached to it.” On a friend’s recommendation, she enrolled in a philosophy course at St. Pete College — and enjoyed it so much that she transferred to University of South Florida to major in it.

To some degree, Leland has always worked with children and adolescents. While in school, she found a job as an aftercare provider and summer camp teacher. After graduating with her BA in philosophy, Leland got married and soon had two kids of her own; she began working in a daycare, tutoring kids in math, babysitting, and hosting “Mom’s morning out” events.

As a young mom, Leland spent a lot of time searching for free activities to enrich her children’s lives; she even kept a blog to share her discoveries. Her two boys particularly loved the science club events at the Gulfport Public Library, and Leland herself enjoyed the film screenings and discussions.

Leland decided to pursue a master’s degree in library science. USF’s program was fully online, so she could keep her day job while taking two classes a semester. She graduated in 2023.

Leland loved that there was a lot of freedom in the program to become the kind of librarian that suited her interests. Her courses in community engagement got her thinking about outreach and partnerships to serve library patrons.

As a youth librarian, Leland has been turning student projects into real events. She has planned bilingual storytimes, trips to parks, alligator encounters, and teen cooking classes.

“This is my philosophy,” she says. “You see a need, and you fill it. If I can do it, or if I can help facilitate it, I do it. I love that that’s what the library does, too.”

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