Beyond the Shelf: La Jolla Library’s ‘So You Want to be a _?’ lets kids expand their dreams

Beyond the Shelf logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

The series of presentations for children features different professional guests showcasing their jobs each month during the school year.


Beyond the Shelf is a monthly column about the activities and people at the La Jolla/Riford Library.

The jar resting on my desk at the start of the school year begged a simple question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It was a pleasure to review the 41 responses on the slips of paper submitted by children, especially because the most popular answer was “teacher.” There were many other replies, including biologist, veterinarian, singer, Olympic skier, movie maker and ninja turtle.

Why did I pose this question, you ask? Well, it’s because children spend quite a lot of time mulling it over, and who am I but someone who is there to encourage them to be whatever they want to be when they grow up? That’s the logic behind the series of kids’ programming at the La Jolla Library.

Now in its second year, “So You Want to be a _?” calls for different professional guests each month during the academic year to showcase their jobs to elementary-age children. The guests read an appropriately themed picture book, discuss what they do and why they do it, and present visuals.

The La Jolla/Riford Library's "So You Want to be an Astronaut?” program was led by James Hansen Newman.
The La Jolla/Riford Library’s “So You Want to be an Astronaut?” program was led by James Hansen Newman, a La Jolla High School alumnus who flew on four space shuttle missions and teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
(Katia Graham)

These programs are very popular. To date, “So You Want to be an Astronaut?” drew the most people, with 96. The program was led by James Hansen Newman, who currently teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. The La Jolla High School alumnus shared a riveting PowerPoint with some of his most special photos from his four space shuttle missions and discussed helping build the International Space Station. Library patrons were delighted when he played the astronaut song to simulate what it’s like to be in space.

Sometimes, guests like the San Diego Humane Society veterinarian bring animals. Others, like the Natural History Museum paleontologist, bring fossils. And still more, like local firefighters, bring their magnificent work vehicles so kids can get up close to them.

The guests in 2021-22 also included Neda Iranpour of CBS/8 news, La Jolla Historical Society board member and architect Marouane Abdaoui and, thanks to the La Jolla Music Society, award-winning bass player Xavier Foley.

Firefighters participate in the “So You Want to be a _?” program for children at the La Jolla/Riford Library.
(Katia Graham)

It’s fair to say even adults come away having learned something. When we teamed up with Torrey Pines Elementary School to bring master beekeeper Kendal Sager of Sager Family Farm and her transparent beehives loaded with thousands of bees to the library, we learned facts like how the bees we see on flowers are female worker bees and how male bees, or drones, don’t have stingers. I can still hear the groan from parents when Sager explained that the queen bee lays up to 2,000 eggs a day!

September saw our first guest of the 2022-23 academic year — an officer from the San Diego Police Department’s Northern Division Juvenile Services Team.

As I write this, we are getting ready for “So You Want to be a Scientist?” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, and “So You Want to be an Archaeologist?” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, in partnership with the San Diego Archaeology Center.

Senior research scientist Callen Hyland tells me she has just the book to read about the organism she studies at the University of San Diego (kids also should expect to see a hydra via microscope), while the archaeologist is excited to show off tools and relics at the November presentation.

More and more, the role of public libraries is to connect the people who come through our doors with their interests. The “So You Want to be a _?” series exposes kids to a variety of professions, not only to encourage them to follow their dreams but also to allow them the opportunity to check out various dreams.

We are still planning the lineup for winter and spring, but rest assured a teacher will be part of it!

Katia Graham is the youth services librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Library. You can email her at And follow @lajollalibrary on Instagram.