Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Where’s My Library School Class For This? (by Christie G.)

There are some days where everything they teach you in library school goes completely out the window, and does nothing to prepare you for how to handle things.  There is no reader’s advisory class, no technical services semester, no reference or database class, no children’s and young adult literature class that can prepare you for when one of your kids (because really, they consider me theirs, so how can I not consider them my kids?) comes to you in tears because death sneaked into their lives somehow and stole something precious and irreplaceable- a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a parent.
This happened to me this week.  One of my kids came in to my office in tears looking for a safe place to break down.  Someone special to them had been killed accidentally two days before, and they only learned about it earlier in the day, and needed somewhere quiet and safe to grieve and to try to make sense of something so senseless.  There are no words that you can give that they haven’t heard from their parents/guardians, their teachers, or their guidance counselors.  The old standbys of “Everything happens for a reason,” “They’re looking down at us from heaven,” “They’re in a better place,” “Soon you’ll remember all the happy times you had together,” don’t work and get thrown by the wayside.  All you can do is to listen and to let them get things out, and be perhaps the one person in their life who doesn’t judge or give platitudes that have no meaning to a twelve year old whose encounter with death may in fact have been the first in their entire life.
Nothing in library school can teach you this.  There is no class.  This is not a reference interview.  There is no practicum.  There is no thesis paper.  This is the downside to being part of the beating heart of your community– in order to experience the magnificent highs, you have to share in the shattering lows.  But the fact that I *am* a person my kids feel they can turn to when they have problems means that I am doing something valuable within this community.  And that is worth the heartache.


  1. You say it is a downside. I don't see it that way at all. I see it as a benefit to all, knowing that you care enough and are respected enough, to be the adult they can go to. Life prepares us for difficult times in different ways.

  2. Oh, yes, the downside isn't that they feel comfortable enough to come to me, or that they feel that I'm a part of their lives- the downside (to me, at least) is that it *hurts*. I feel their pain, and can't do anything more than be their safe space. I want to take everything away, and wrap these kids up in cotton and protect them, and I can't. *sigh*

  3. While it's true that it hurts to see their pain, I also know that a lot of teens and kids don't have to place/person to go that's non-judgmental. Being able to offer a safe space does more can you can imagine.

  4. I literally just had 2 kids in my office today one of which was crying because of a fatal car accident involving a friend. I instantly remembered this post and yup you are right… library school can't teach this as answers aren't found in a database or book for this, some times we just use an old fashioned tool….our gut and compassion.

  5. I'm so sorry (I think I saw your post on a listserv, BTW)- that's heart rendering. I hope that they were able to find the shoulder they needed in you…

  6. Audrey S. says:

    This is definitely not something library school can teach you, but having been that kid and once upon a time turning to my school librarian for similar comfort, in a way this is why I want to work with teens and young adults. I've been there and I purposefully keep a handy list of tween/YA resources for hard situations like these. In a public library you have the opportunity to increase your reach. In situations like these it is important to dig deep and put yourself in their shoes. If you have never had to live through a similar experience, it is good to try to read the YA books out there that will give you a little insight. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume is a good start, though it is specific to parent loss and gives an idealistic outcome. Library school teaches us about what the library organization be work for will expect of us, but I feel like keeping current on YA media and topics, reading about teen psychology/social research, and befriending teens is what really prepares me for my patrons.

  7. Janet G says:

    I so agree with all these post above. For me I want my students to know they have a safe haven in the library to retreat to when they need to break away and have a good cry or that shoulder to cry on or talk to. Sometimes for my students here in this remote High School Library it’s the only place they have to go to have that chat with someone who cares if they are here or not and what went on at home last night or if they had a safe place to sleep. Or whatever else is going wrong in their world.
    I am one of the luckier ones who has an extra room that all know they can go back there to decompress and if the doors shut. NO ONE …NO ONE goes in there except me. Sometimes that child just needs to be left a lone but other times they need to just talk. . .

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