Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

What they didn’t teach you in library school: burnout edition

Let me preface this by saying I love my job.  Really.  When I imagine a world in which I needed to choose a different job, even the same job in a different library, I end up just sitting there with a puzzled look on my face as if I didn’t understand the question.  I. Love. My. Job.



But just because you love your job, just because you have found a niche that suits both your needs and interests, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel burnt out now and then.  And here’s the lovely Catch-22 that’s both the cause and the solution: when you love your job this much, it’s going to get to you after a while.  You can’t throw yourself into anything with complete abandon, day after day, year after year, and not hit a wall and feel burnt out eventually.

Unlike burning out on a hobby or a casual relationship, you can’t just put it aside or take a break and see if the spark is still there in a month.  Teen librarianship burnout requires you to power through. Here are a few strategies.


Coasting is not giving up or throwing in the towel.  Coasting is still moving forward, just relying on momentum and the things around you.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.  If you need a little more personal time, need to dedicate a little more mental space to other aspects of your life, or just aren’t bubbling over with great new ideas, it’s ok to fall back on what’s been done before.  Need programs?  Pull up a list of your best loved, most attended programs and do a “back, by popular demand” series.  Summer Reading got you down?  Use a prepackaged program that comes complete with graphics, lists, and logs like the Collaborative Summer Library Program or your statewide reading program.  Use the Teen Programs in a Box that you’ll find on this site.  Pull your book lists from this or other reputable blogs, libraries, or publications (crediting when necessary, of course).  People create these resources for you!  Use them!

Recruit help

Is your TAB ready for a little spark too?  Entrust them with program creation or summer reading themes.  Give them parameters to work with that you will be able to carry through on (no more than X programs/week, no more that X dollars/program).
Maybe there is a local library school or LTA program from which you could draw a skilled volunteer to make new book lists, design a logo and materials for a SRP, or puzzle out the particulars of an idea that you have but haven’t been able to make happen.
Alternately, recruit some librarian partners!  Maybe what you need is to be reinvigorated by librarians nearby, or by the ideas and innovations happening across the country.  Work on developing your PLN, or find a local, regional, or national library conference or meeting or book fair to attend.  It’s the difference between the 200th mile on a treadmill that same mile in a beautiful nature preserve.   It’s rejuvenating and opens new possibilities.

Take a break

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and if you’ve been months and months without a day off, now is the time to draw on that personal day, vacation day, or upcoming long weekend and totally unplug from the library.  Check back in with yourself.  Do you have a nonfiction book you’ve been meaning to read?  A recipe you’ve been meaning to try?  A project you’ve been meaning to finish?  We serve our teens best when we are whole, complete people.  Don’t forget that you are more than your work.  Your teens are out there pursuing their interests and that makes them the interesting people we love to work with.  Be an interesting person to them; don’t neglect your own interests.


Part of taking a break means unplugging from your job, but also from the library world.  That means take a Twitter holiday, force yourself not to check your work email, and don’t even check this blog.  One thing that can contribute to burn out is the constant social comparison we are able to do, that we do without even thinking, because of the ubiquitous access we have to other librarians and their successes.  It’s easy to feel inadequate when it seems that everyone around you is doing amazing things.   (Erfolgtraurigkeit anyone?) It’s easy to feel insufficient when your situation doesn’t allow for the big WOW FACTOR programs or prizes that you see elsewhere.   And it’s easy for those feelings to lead to feeling burnt out – that the small things you do just aren’t good enough.    But that’s totally not true!  Just think about all of the libraries that don’t even have a teen librarian, or even someone on staff interested in teen services.  You – just by showing up to work and sitting at that desk – are improving access and service to teens in your community.  Good job you!  Now stop paying attention to what you’re not doing and focus on what you are doing.


If you have tried your best to get out of your burnout funk and it’s just not working, think about what drew you to teen librarianship to begin with.  Is your life’s dream?  Did it just happen?  Do you need a change of scenery? Clientele? Work? … Career?  If your passion is really archives or teaching or fine art or writing or, gosh, gardening or accounting or roofing – you’re not serving anyone well, yourself included, by forcing yourself to love teen librarianship.  Our time here is too short to spend it languishing in a job you dislike (or is it too long to spend in a job you dislike?  It’s both.) so make it count!


Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School: Crafting Programs by Stephanie W.

We are excited to welcome the fabulous Stephanie Wilkes back to TLT after her maternity leave.  We have missed her.  Today she is sharing with you her first ever installment of Things I Never Learned in Library School.

How to do crafts. Or in my case, crapfts.  I completely suck at being an artsy fartsy person in so much as being able to do certain types of programming.  I am a master seamstress and I quilt but the few programs where I’ve tried to get teens interested in those things didn’t go so well and the cost per person wasn’t justifiable to administration.  So…for other types of crafts, I’m expected to just whip things up.  And let me tell you…at no time in my MLIS instruction did anyone teach me how to varnish, paint, make shrinky dinks out of plastic cups, braid lanyards, make Hunger Games parachute drops, or make duct tape (insert name of any object here).  

So, like any brave YA librarian, I started my programming career by Google-ing crafts.  Now, remember this was before the days of Pinterest and DIY blogging.  So, I would get random hits from Disney Family Fun and other websites where the crafts were primarily for children.  No bueno.  
You newbie librarians of today have NO IDEA how valuable the Internet has become in providing programming resources for crafts.  Pinterest alone has fueled all of my SRP programming and even made me a bit of an addict.  Late night feedings with my daughter turn into 3 hour Pinterest browsing…

Also, now there is a wealth of DIY blogging sites out there for you to not only copy their crafts but they even have tutorials, videos, and they give you the supply list and sometimes tell you where to go to buy the supplies…genius!!!!  I remember living in a small college town and trying to find a leather stamp for a leatherworks program and clear glycerin for a soap workshop.  NOT EASY.  
Also, you tend to overestimate the level of crafting that some teens have done.  I thought that my teens would immediately be able to use an exacto knife to cut things.  Negative.  Most teens have NEVER had an art class or are used to crafting.  At least most of mine…now that is a generalization and there are quite a few crafty teens in the world.  So, don’t think that your next program will produce budding Picassos or that they won’t need some serious one on one time.  Also, work that one on one time into your program planning time.  A craft that only takes you 45 minutes to an hour could take a group several hours to complete if you are the only person there to help.  Trust me.  Those paracord bracelets in a room full of 15 teens?  Took us 2.5 hours and half of them had to leave early.    

Sunday Reflections: What They Didn’t Teach Me in Library School – When the Finances Hit the Fan

As you may have heard, in 2008 the economy of the U.S. went boom.  Or maybe it went bust.  Either way, the proverbial crapola hit the fan.  Having worked in libraries for a while already at this point, I was used to campaigns begging community members to contact their local congressman and tell them they support libraries.  In fact, Ohio libraries are really well organized when it comes to legislative days.

But this time, it was different.  This time we weren’t putting signs up reminding patrons why they should support libraries, how and who to contact down at the state capital, or even asking them to vote for a local levy.  No, this time, words like pink slips and lay offs and reduced hours were floating around.

Ohio has traditionally been considered a landmark state for library support.  When my family would ask me if I wanted to move back to California, I would always say no for one simple reason: Ohio libraries have traditionally been well funded and at the state level (I do not know how they currently rank for funding, I do know that it has been cut).  Libraries from Ohio consistency seem to dominate “best” lists, in part because of their funding structure.  Like the rest of the world, that all seemed to change in 2008.  As the old saying goes, you can’t squeeze water out of a turnip.  Or maybe it’s blood.  Well, somewhere there is a saying.

2008 began what I like to call the dark years for libraries, and there was nothing that we
discussed in library school that would prepare me for what came next.  For two months we knew that lay-offs were coming, we just didn’t know who.  We would see the director pacing in the hallways with his head hanging low, a cloud of pathos hanging over him.  People began to snipe at each other, and about each other.  While previously we had all worked together as a cohesive team to keep the ship floating on a pre-determined path, we were suddenly scrambling every person for themselves to be the last one standing when the ship went down.  It was not pretty.  In fact, it was hands down the most stressful period of my professional life.  To this day I mourn the loss of what was one of the best work experiences I have ever had and people that I genuinely loved.

No one prepares you to see one of your best friends lose their job after 10 years of dedicated service.  No one prepares you to help them go and pack up their stuff and move far away to be with family and watch them struggle to find a new job.  No one prepares you for the survival guilt that you feel, and the sheer relief that at least for today you get to continue to feed your children.

At my previous library, this is how the financial crisis shook out:
First round: 12 people were laid off
Second round, 2 years later: An additional 5 people were laid off, hours that we were open were cut back, and everyone had their hours reduced

Cost of living raises had already been a thing of the past for a while now.  And like everywhere else, benefits were cut (they used to match a certain benefit but stopped) and health care rates went up.  And it seems like the first place that gets cut is professional development, which means any continuing education you want to pursue, including professional organizations and conferences, is on your own (now much smaller) dime.

In my current position (at a little branch that I love), I am now part-time (and live in Texas, but that’s because of my husband’s job and is another story).  When the full-time youth services librarian left it was mandated that they had to hire 2 part-time people so they can avoid paying benefits.  To be fair, an unfortunate number of businesses are now adopting this practice (and I have strong feelings about this and how it negatively affects the both the economy and our future, because all these part-time people are going to have inadequate retirement funds).  But it is my understanding that larger systems around the area faced lay-offs and more, so I believe my current system has had it easier than some (though I am new and certainly can’t speak for them or tell you their history).

Many library systems have been or still are in hiring freezes.  In fact, all you have to do is pick up a professional journal to see the financial struggles facing libraries all over.  In one form or another, most libraries are trying to fulfill increasing demand for services, materials and technology (both new forms and sheer number of), with less staff, service hours and funds.

Not all libraries have been hit the same, and many libraries now have local operating levies if they work in an area that allows for them (I believe something like 85% of the local levies on the ballot in Ohio passed).  Libraries are operating with reduced budgets, which means fewer materials, fewer staff, and fewer open hours.  At a time when our local communities need us most, we have less resources to help them meet their needs.

This year will be my 20th year in libraries.  I love being a librarian, I love knowing that every day I am helping individual people take steps to make their lives a little bit better.  But like the rest of the world, the last 5 years have been a traumatic experience for libraries.

Here is where I should give you some practical advice for dealing with budget cuts, but I don’t really have any to give.  The truth is, they hurt.  They hurt staff morale, they hurt your pocket book, they hurt your ability to do your job to the best of your ability – they hurt your ability to serve your community.  It’s cliche to say stay positive and be thankful that you have a job, because of course you are thankful that you have a job, but you are also stressing out over the grocery bill that keeps going up while the money in your check size keeps going down.  And it’s a cliche to say make the most with what you have, because of course you’re going to keep doing your best even though you now have to come up with teen programming ideas that require no money whatsoever and you have to cut all your book orders by half.  Being a librarian is a service profession, most people understand that going into it and have that passion for service, and those of us that understand how much our communities truly need us – well, we find ways to be there.  So, keep fighting the good fight. And keep reminding communities why libraries still matter, now more than ever we need them to understand.

Okay, so here I guess is an attempt at some practical advice:

  • Address staff morale and try to keep it up.
  • Be honest and open at all times in your communication.
  • If people must be laid off, make sure it makes sense and that you communicate how the decision was made (seniority, for example).
  • Let people know that you are all in this together, you are fighting for their jobs and their community.
  • Ask staff for input on ways to reduce costs; if you have an idea – share it. 
  • Provide positive feedback – often.
  • Don’t give in to the gloom, reorganize and re-energize.
  • Communicate to the public why you are making changes and what changes are being made, sometimes this can help rally support.
  • Allow staff time to mourn and complain, it really is a big deal, but give them guidelines for doing so (come talk to me any time, but please don’t bring your co-workers down).
  • Seriously analyze services.  You can’t keep doing the same amount of work with less people and less hours and less money.  Evaluate, prioritize and make any necessary adjustments.  Then give the staff talking points to share with patrons because they are going to ask.
  • Create reasonable, and achievable, job expectations for the new paradigm.
  • Make sure cuts are thoughtful, fair and don’t affect one department or group of people tremendously while leaving others untouched; nothing beats down staff morale and causes division more than having the people on the lower rungs of the latter suffer while the people at the top make no sacrifices at all.
  • Community PR, Community PR, Community PR.

 How has the economic crisis affected your library?
Please talk with us in the comments. 

Things I Never Learned in Library School

Like most librarians, I stumbled into librarianship and worked as a paraprofessional for many years before getting my MLS.  I was very lucky in that I had an amazing mentor to help me in my journey.  But even with my MLS, there are things that come up that surprise and challenge me as a professional librarian.  In this look behind the scenes @ the library, we share some of our posts about the triumph and challenges of being librarians – the things we hate, and why we still love what we do!  These are the things we DIDN’T learn in library school.

Where’s My Library School Class for This? with Christie G.
Christie talks about the hard parts of working with teens, when bad things happen and teens just need a shoulder to cry on.

10 Things I Never Learned in Library School with Karen J.
I share with you 10 true stories that happened to me in the library that no amount of education would have prepared me for.

These are a Few of My Creepiest Things with Christie G.
Weird things happen when you work with the public.  Here Christie shares some of the things that have happened to her.

What They Didn’t Teach Me in Library School: Finding My Balance
When you work at a public library, you are called a public servant for a reason.  We work some stinky hours, forego elaborate raises and amenities, and spend a lot of our own money buying program supplies.  Not to mention all the time we spend reading to be better at our jobs – on our own time of course.  So here, Christie and I talk about trying to find a good work/life balance even when you are a dedicated professional.

Dirty Little Library Secrets: We Forgot to Tell the Staff Not to Ban the Books
In the desire to speak passionate about Intellectual Freedom, we had to share our experiences with book “banning” – which happens internally just as much as it does externally.

Dirty Little Library Secrets II: “I’m Not Buying That!” – Selection as Censorship
Deciding what to buy for your library is one of the most challenging parts of being a librarian; you have to know your market.  Sometimes, it is hard to get out of your own way and get past personal opinions and the fear of the censorship monster.

Building the Stacks: What I Wish Administrators, Publishers and Authors Knew About Collection Development
In a lot of ways, it seems like teen services are designed to fail, and it can be frustrating.  We often don’t get enough time, space, or money to do what we need to do successfully. This is one of the reasons why I speak strongly for internal advocacy as well as external advocacy.  Here, I share some of my experiences and wisdom (after 19 years I can say I have wisdom, right?) with administrators, publishers and authors.

What I Wish Library Patrons Knew
Thoughts on those every day interactions you have with your library patrons, and what I wish library patrons knew about the library.

When The Finances Hit the Fan
How the struggling economy affects libraries

A Tale of Two Libraries
Although libraries may reach them in different ways, but they have the same goals.

The Prediction Heard Round the World
Is 2013 the year we finally see the end of libraries? I don’t think so. Here’s why – and what everyone can do about it.

Weeping Over Weeding
Even though we need to weed, not everyone understands the why and how of why we do it, even staff.

Sexual Harassment in the library? It happens.

The Ins and Outs of Hiring Performers

Passive Programming in libraries, and why I prefer to call it “Self-Directed” Programming

Burnout Happens

Networking part 1 and part 2

Crafting Program Tips 

Thoughts From a Second Year Librarian (a guest post)

Changing Your Mindset, or how donating your time and money to help your library can often end up hurting it
A reminder to all of us that going above and beyond often means that communities and administrators don’t have a realistic picture of what all it takes exactly to make the library run effectively.

Why Turning Libraries into Wal Mart is a Bad Idea (aka Do We Still Need Reference? Do We Still Need Librarians?)

We’ll keep adding stories as we write them.  And please, feel free to share yours either in the comments or by e-mailing us and writing a guest blog post.