Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: How to Balance the Divergence in Us All

For those who haven’t read it, or don’t care to look it up, here’s the basis for the dypstopia of Divergent in a nutshell.  Divergent is set into the future Chicago, after a war that destroyed nearly everything- across the entire United States, and possibly the world. Tris’ people are divided into Factions- societies where the people fall into based onto the trait they most value: bravery (Dauntless), honestly (Candor), intelligence (Erudite), peace (Amity), and selflessness (Abnegation). You are born into a Faction and strive to uphold their values, and choose during your ceremony to either stay in your Faction or join another, and Serve your Faction to maintain the Harmony of the City. To do less, everyone is told, is to challenge the rule and order of the City that keeps them safe.

And Tris is Divergent- having traits of more than one of the Factions- and that, history tells them, is what lead to the destruction of the world.

Now that you’re caught up, you’re thinking, Christie, what does this have to do with teen services?

Because I think out of all of the different types of libraries, teen service specialists have to be the most Divergent of all, and that takes a huge toll on us, mentally and emotionally.

Take a minute an really think about the different virtues represented in the Factions, and about what you do in teen services.


ABNEGATION: The Selfless

We don’t think of ourselves as Selfless- in today’s world, we think of that more for those who go on Mission Work or Peace Core or Red Cross work. Yet when you take a step back, when we’re advocating for teens, ALL teens, we are helping a hugely undeserved population in the library world- one that’s consistently lost. They need strong adults to listen, to understand, to help them and be a strong force for them, to encourage them, and that’s what we’re doing by being their voice in the public world. we may be the ONLY voice they have in a city- teen services can be few and far between, and unless you have someone yelling for you, you don’t get noticed. WE are that voice. We are the ones helping with homework when they don’t understand, staying late to get papers done, taking notice when things don’t seem right and making the connection to make sure that we’ve done everything we can to make sure they’re as safe as we can make them.

Yet we also tend to run ourselves ragged, never taking breaks or eating at our desks when we should be taking breaks, pouring personal time into work ideas and tracking down resources when it should be spend on family or ourselves. 


A lot of times we don’t see ourselves as Brave either- that goes to police, fire, front line responders, and those constantly putting themselves in harms way. Nonetheless, we’re the ones facing the age group no one else wants to face. How many times have you heard, “Oh, man, I wouldn’t want your job!” “I don’t know how you do it!” We do the crazy programming- the lock-ins, the gaming, the Fear Factor and Silent Library programs. We talk to the awkward and bring them out of their shell, we talk to the ones that don’t look all cute and pretty and fluffy. We sit and chill with the ones who just want to be at the library, and we approach the ones who others deem “scary” and find out what’s going on behind the veneer. We learn their lives, we become their second family, and they tell us about their day. We learn their loves, their heartbreak, and their losses, and that becomes our own. They’re “our” teens.

And that takes a toll, because when they graduate you miss them. When something wonderful happens you celebrate with them. When something bad happens, your soul hurts.


CANDOR: The Honest
Working with teens forces you to be as Honest and as Real as you’ve ever been. While you have that public face that’s always there in front of patrons, they KNOW when you are putting up a front. If you work with smaller kids you can pull off cheery and happy, and with adults you can pull off polite and reserved- with tweens and teens they KNOW in an instant if something’s off.  And tweens and teens will be completely honest reflections with you as well. You know if you’re doing things right because they will either show up to programs or not. They will tell you to your face is something sucks or something seems OK (read, awesome but they’re too cool to say something). 
You can’t make promises you can’t keep because they’ll remember, and pull them out at different times- and once you break a trust, no matter how small, it’s broken for life with tweens and teens.

AMITY: The Peaceful
And while you’re having to be Honest, teens look to you to be the Peace. Not only are you the rule enforcer and the limit setter, they are looking to you to be a constant in their lives. In a world that’s constantly changing, having someone who is always listening and always there for them is huge- especially when they don’t have that at home.  They need you to be the one solid thing, a touchstone that they can come back to time and time again when the world doesn’t make sense. 
Never mind that your world may be falling apart, personal or professional. You could be sick, you could be falling to pieces, but they need you, so for them, you are the Peace.

ERUDITE: Intelligence
Finally, teen services specialists are always the Intelligence. We are the ones that are coming up with programs on the fly, and usually with limited or no budget. We’re keeping up with trends (Rainbow Loom- orthodontic bands and crochet hooks, who knew?), learning school paradigms (STEM, STEAM, STAAR), and balancing it all against the demands of the job and the systems that we work in. We can be youth librarians (balancing out teen services against all the ages), teen specialists (less than a 1/3 in all public libraries), school librarians (growing smaller daily), managers…  doesn’t matter what the title is- we’re all striving to keep teens engaged, our directors and city happy, our funding growing, and keep ahead of the curve on everything new.

All within 40 hours or less a week.
So is it any wonder that we’re Divergent? We are everything- and at times we are just exhausted. We need to remember during our time off that it IS our time off. It is our time to take time for ourselves, whether that’s through dinner dates, lunch dates, a spa day, or just scheduling out time for ourselves. No errands, no doctor appointments, just whatever makes us happy and rejuvenated. If that’s turning off the phone/tablet and having a Netflix marathon, or curling up with a book that is not teen related, fine. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION.

During the workday, take these tips to heart:

And remember, your Divergence is wonderful.

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