Tuesday, September 4, 2012

10 Things I Never Learned In Library School, part 2 (Christie G)


So, in another post I talked about times when library school doesn’t prepare you for real life in public libraries.  When you are working closely with a community, you definitely become part of their world, and are shown things that you wouldn’t see as an outsider- there are things that I know that I’ve encountered during my years as a librarian that others haven’t, whether it’s because of where I was working, or how closely I was working within the community. 

 

I Never Learned In Library School

I Never Learned How to Lock Down the Library During a SWAT Maneuver
Once we had to lock down the library I was working in for three hours while the city’sSWAT team raided the apartment complex next door.  We were contacted by the commander, we were not allowed to let anyone in or out, so we had extra programming that day for the kids that were there- I had my PS2 there at the time, so we had a spontaneous gaming day with the console and other board games until we were given the all clear.  To this day I don’tknow what they were searching for.

I Never Learned What To Do When You Find The Teens Having Sex
I worked in a branch that had a very large and very open floor plan, but the information desk (where the librarians worked) wasn’t placed where you could see all areas of the library well.  And teens, thinking that if they couldn’t see you, the coast was clear for anything and everything.  One day as I was walking around I discovered some teens definitely enjoying the view of the courtyard while engaging in … “extra-curricular activities” in the comfy chairs.  They were excused from the library for the next few months.

I Never  Learned What To Do When You Have Kids At the Library All Day
While we,as a profession, say that we can have kids at the library all day, I have had this at *every* library I’ve been at. The worst case was a family of 8 siblings, the oldest twelve, the youngest only one, dropped off before we opened and picked up at closing.  They were never given any money for food for the day, or enough diapers or formula for the younger ones, so by the time lunch rolled round they were hungry, bored, and crying, not to mention in need of changing.  None of the phone numbers we would call would work, and the oldest told us they didn’t have a key to get home.  We finally had to call social services because no one was taking care of these kids- then we got complained about by the parents.

I Never Learned What To Do About Death
We had one of our teen volunteers struck down by a car while crossing the street and killed while he was walking home from volunteering.  We gave statements to the police, we pulled his sister (who was still in the library) in our staff room to give her space with the manager, and when his mom came we puller her in there as well.  It took hours for the police to clear the scene and finally move his body.  I can still remember the sound as he was hit, and how he looked, his voice and his laughter as he walked out the door.  No class every taught me what to do about that, or how to forget.

I Never Learned What To Do About Obscene Callers
I have had people ask me reference questions on the phone about things that I did NOT want to know about in a million years.  One guy evidently knew my schedule, or knew what times I would be likely to answer the phone on the reference desk, and would call only on those times, asking me questions about different positions and nicknames for things that I will not post here (let’s just say they would make Shades of Gray blush). The library finally tracked down who it was and it was a 13 year old I worked with after school tutoring. Needless to say, he got a different tutor.

I Never Learned What To Do About Bad Home Situations
The kids I work with come from all different walks of life, but most of them don’t have the Ozzie and Harriet home life that we all want for our kids.  I’ve had kids tell me about alcoholic parents, drug use, gang involvement and threats, guns, theft, bullying, abuse- you name it.  Some days I go home and just dissolve into tears in my husband’s arms because it’s just too much.  Yet I know there’s nothing I can do except make my library a safe place.

I Never Learned When To Interfere
I’ve had to learn on my own when to call for help in situations where teens where hurt or hurting themselves.  I’ve worked with teens who were cutters(self-mutilators), anorexic/ bulimic, drug addicted, and suicidal.  I’ve had to educate myself on warning signs and triggers, and learn when the right time is to call in authorities and when is the right time to just be the voice, or listening ear, that they need.

I Never Learned How to Handle Teens Dealing With Sex
Completely different from FINDING them having sex, I have had teens wanting to talk to me about dating, asking others out, and when would be the right time for them to have sex.  Or about what birth control should they use.  And the hardest one I had was a teen who was struggling with whether or not they were gay, and if that made them a demon like their church said they were. No class ever prepared me for these talks.

I Never Learned How to Answer Personal Questions
The kids I work with get attached.  They love to hear how my day is going, they love asking about their day and their lives, and before you know it, we’re family and we get asked to birthday parties and quinceneras.  My staff and I are constants in their lives,and when one of us isn’t there, a bunch of questions follow.  When I go on vacation, or when I was out for medical leave, I always have to prep the kids on how long I’ll be gone, and when I’m coming back, and yes I will be back, and the others that will come through to help out will be very nice but yes I will be back.  And still they want to know what happened,where did you go, how did your surgery go- tons of personal questions that no class ever gave me lessons on how to answer. 

I Never Learned That You Need Laughter To Get Through
The library profession as a whole can take itself so seriously- we discuss books and practices, debate copy write and ILS, whether or not eBooks are a savior or our downfall.  Nowhere do we learn that we need to inject laughter into our daily lives in order to make it through.  If there isn’t that laughter and joy, if there isn’t that brightness then we’re not doing something right- we’re going through the motions and the youth that we’re working with can see that right off, and will stay as far away as possible. They have enough of their own problems.

Please check out part 1 of 10 Things I Never Learned in Library School by Karen J.  And share the things you never learned in library school in the comments.

20 comments:

  1. Anonymous9/04/2012

    I never learned what to do if you get to work and find poop smeared all over your back entrance! No pun intended. Oh yeah, it happened.
    Thanks for sharing yours:)

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    1. Oh, ick. I think that tops the week people decided our bookdrop (which was NOT connected to the A/C) was the trash container, and dumped a lovely collection of a certain fast food chain's drinks in the drop. My aide and I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to salvage the materials, and then the rest of the afternoon washing hands.

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    2. That actually happened at my library too! Some girl couldn't hold it and as we were walking out she was at closing she was standing outside going. #2. It was just . . . Bizarre

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  2. Anonymous9/04/2012

    Although my profs prepared me for what a teen librarian is expected to do with/for the teens, not ONE ever mentioned that that full-time job description would need to be carried out in the 20 hours/ week--not 40--you are given to do them because the other 20 hours are spent on the general reference desk and handling your "other duties as assigned." Gee, you'd think someone would mention that. I've never been so exhausted--exhilarated--yet exhausted-- as I was as a teen librarian! Still loved it.

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  3. Absolutely! I couldn't imagine another career, even with everything going on. A post I'm working on talks about the challenge about finding a balance between home, work, and everything else in-between (committees, presentations, personal life, etc.)...

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    1. Yalsa just recently tweeted a stat that said only something like 47% of libraries have a FTE person(s) dedicated to teen services. Most of us do so much more than teen services but with the expectation that we will also produce the results of a full time services librarian. I am working on a post about how most teen services in libraries are designed to fail because they are underfunded, understaffed, under equipped and (miss)understood. It could be good.

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    2. I'm actually surprised it's that high- unless it's because they're counting non-degreed folks. I know that of the different *systems* I've worked at, only one had a teen services person, and that wasn't a MLS position. Everywhere else it was folded into the "youth services" description, birth through YA. I didn't see the stat, though.

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    3. I need to look for the stat and see what it is. I am going off of memory here.

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  4. I'm the children's librarian, but do some work in all departments, as I'm sure most of you do. We were never told how to handle people who never bathe or change clothes. We weren't told that sometimes people will clog the toilet for fun and see what happens. And although we didn't have a swat team show up we were called by a mother who said her daughter had just fought with her boyfriend and he came into the library carrying a gun. It took over 30 minutes for the police to come - they went to the wrong library. Then we were to evacuate the first floor and not to tell why. We almost had to drag people out because they just had to pick one more DVD before they left. Turns out there was no gun, just a revengeful girlfriend.

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    1. Isn't it crazy that they will *STAY* even if you are trying to get them to leave for their safety? I have had the fire alarm go off with actual *fire* (not an alarm pull) and yet people would refuse to leave the computers.

      Thank goodness there was no gun, and everyone was safe!

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  5. Laughter is totally needed for Teen Services. It can be hard not to take it all too seriously...especially when serving Teens brings many important/serious issues to your work desk on a regular basis.

    Hats off to all the Teen Librarians out there!

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  6. How about what to do when somone manages to pee on the ceiling. (Former library.). Or steals the bathroom tiles (someone is actually doing this where I am).

    I recommend some social work classes for teen librarians. The technical taught are super helpful.

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    1. How do they pee on the ceiling? I probably don't want to know.

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    2. I'm not sure, but we went in after this kid (they wouldn't let us ban him without PROOF so we had to wait outside the single restroom while he was in there defiling it) and there was urine dripping off the walls and ceiling. I can only imagine that he climbed onto the toilet. I don't want to think of him flinging it....
      It's kind of funny/gross now, but we were not amused then.

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  7. Anonymous9/05/2012

    I expected the extremes, after volunteering at the library for so long. What I wish I had learned in library school was how to help teens that are homeschooled. As a person who grew up in the public school system, homeschooling is a foreign idea to me.

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    1. I once had some Fab homeschooled teens on my TAB! It depends so much on who is doing the homeschooling and why. Some do a really great job with it.

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  8. I Never Learned That I Would Get So Attached to the Teens. I had an instance where two teens, brothers, on my advisory board were “staying” temporarily with a grandmother. While they lived with her they volunteered all the time and were a big positive force on our Teen Advisory Board. When they had no transportation they would walk 3 miles, each way, to get to the library. I was not prepared for the hole they left in our lives and library when they had to go live with someone else. We never saw them again. Our Teen Advisory Board really was a small supportive family and everyone felt their absence deeply. It surprised me how attached you can become.
    Working with teens has the ability bring out empathy and compassion for others, especially working with incarcerated youth and youth from difficult family situations. The experience of working with teens changed me forever; it developed in me a capacity for accepting and understanding others in a nonjudgmental way. For nearly every one of “10 Things” listed above I have been in that exact same place and wondered those exact same things. Great blog post.
    ~Ang

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    1. You absolutely get attached- I don't know how I could do my job without being attached. I am still in touch with some of the "teens" from my first teen job I had over ten years ago, who now have kids of their own. I really think you may not know what a difference you're making in their lives until there's something that happens, or something they say- and they don't know what an impact they make on yours.

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    2. There are so many teens that I have had the privilege of "loving" and they often bless me as much as I hope I am blessing them.

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  9. I never learned what to do when you find a gun in the book drop and blood droplets on the walkway leading up to the drop. It was loaded, sealed in a box wrapped with electrical tape. Inside was a note that said "Hot Gun".

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