Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: My NaNoWriMo Month

sundayreflections1It’s official: I just validated my word count and am now a 2015 NaNoWriMo winner.

And you know what? It was hard. Especially this time of year, when the holidays are ramping up and my kids were getting sick and my work schedule got all wonky. But I did it. And after validating my novel, I realized that one of the teens in our library’s shared NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program classroom had validated hers earlier today, and a second is only about 1,500 words away from being done too.


So now I’m wiped out and I’ve got a list of projects to start and catch up on that’s about as long as my arm, but I’m proud of setting the goal and sticking to it all month long. I got in the habit of writing, of carving out that time–tired though I might have been–to work for a little while each day on it. I’m hoping to carry this over into other projects I have too: other craft projects, home improvement projects, spending time with friends, or just sitting alone in my room reading a book. It sometimes felt selfish, or frustrating, or fruitless to be spending so much time working on a largely self-serving project, but you know what? Everyone survived. The house isn’t any messier than it was on October 31st (well, maybe it is a little), the kids are no less engaged, and I found that taking the time (not finding the time; you have to take it) to work on my own project is an ok thing to do.It’s ok to take that kind of time for ourselves. More than that, it’s worthwhile, even if it never goes anywhere.

There’s more to say about NaNoWriMo, but I’ll be honest, folks: I’m done writing for the day. It’s time to take a break and celebrate (and let’s be honest: do laundry and play catch up on that stuff that I set aside and need to get back to now).

Good luck to all you WriMos burning the midnight oil to get your count in (the @NaNoWordSprints feed helped me immensely!) and to anyone who didn’t do it this year, or thought about it but postponed, or who started it but didn’t continue, I hope next year is your year!

Sunday Reflections: Flex time

sundayreflections1It’s Sunday and my family is at my nephew’s first birthday party without me. I’m at work.

When the library closes and my family goes home full of cake and baby snuggles, I’m going to the coffee shop down the street, where three or four teens will be waiting for me. I’ll treat them to hot cocoa or a latte, while my husband nurses a cold and settles our kids down. The teens and I will talk about I’ll Give You The Sun (at their request), then we’ll talk about NaNoWriMo (at mine). It’ll be dark when I get home, but that can mostly be attributed to the time change. My kids will still have plenty of energy and will be eager to tell me all about their cousin time.

This is how my teen book club works now that the participants are actually teens, not the eleven or twelve year old middle schoolers who had ample after-school time when we first started gathering. I’m busy – but so are they, perhaps even more so, and they have a lot less autonomy in their schedule choices than I do. So we meet at odd hours, off hours, off-site, in the shoes I garden in, in clothes fresh from Sunday morning family obligations, or in workout clothes. We skip months, and then find each other again, usually at their request.

I flex my time for them, more than I’ve probably ever flexed my time for work in the past. But this is the kind of work I don’t mind flexing for. I’m happy to flex for them because I know that what we’re building together will stay with all of us. It’s a connection forged over a love of reading, of sharing what we love, and now that we’re talking about NaNoWriMo, maybe we’re moving into yet another phase. These teens are fantastic, and if it costs me an extra hour of my Sunday, so be it. We’re building community together.

We talk a lot about being where teens are, but what we don’t often discuss is that we have to be willing – at least on occasion – to be there when they are there. Yes, it does cause some friction when it comes to work-life balance, which is why I don’t make a habit of holding general office hours at the ice cream shop on Saturday nights or volunteering to work every evening shift. But when it’s worth it, it’s worth it. Responding to an expressed community need by adding an extra hour on to my weekend shift a few times a year is worth it. Skipping I’ll Give You The Sun to the top of my TBR pile was worth it. And getting teens excited about writing their own books is worth it.

I just hope my kids save me a slice of birthday cake.

The Myth of Not Enough

The other day, a librarian I really respect was musing on Twitter that she wasn’t doing enough for the profession.  I was so surprised to hear that because I always think of her as super active and doing really great things for her community.  When do you know that you’re doing enough? Are we ever really doing enough?

A few days later, I had to compose an introduction for myself to be used at an upcoming speaking engagement.  Here’s what I wrote:

Heather Booth has been working in libraries since 2001, and has been the Teen Services librarian at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library since 2008.  She is the author of Serving Teens Through Readers’ Advisory, and one of the editors of the forthcoming Whole Library Handbook, Teen Services, both published by ALA Editions.  She is a regular blogger at the Teen Librarian Toolbox, a reviewer for Booklist, and a content contributor at Novelist.  This year she plans to spend her spare time learning about robotics as a part of ILEAD-U, in between playground visits and catching up on Phineas and Ferb with her two daughters since she “only” works part time.

It’s all true, and it looks ridiculous.  It sounds like I’m some kind of 24 hour machine, but I’m really not.  The truth is, I often feel like I’m not doing enough.  I’m not serving on any committees, have let my regular meetings with my beloved PLN lag, don’t read enough, don’t play with my kids enough, don’t blog enough, don’t exercise enough, don’t go on dates with my husband enough, don’t host successful programs enough, don’t attend Board meetings enough.  I sleep next to my phone for the alarm, but also so I can see what I missed overnight as soon as I wake up, drink too much coffee, and regularly walk my daughter to the bus stop in my pajamas.
Despite my misgivings, when I take the time to step back and think about it, I have to acknowledge that I’m doing enough, with the caveat that “enough” is such a loaded term.  Could I be doing more? Do lots of other people do more. Undoubtedly. When do you know enough is enough? It’s easier when it comes to roller coasters and guacamole. Your body will let you know when you’ve hit your limit. But what about those things that don’t have that built in physical feedback loop? Something I’ve come to understand about myself is that I seem to thrive when I’m just a tad too busy, but will collapse as soon as that next thing is added on, which inevitably happens.

Are you doing enough?  I think you probably are, even though I don’t know who you are.  I know this because you are engaging on a professional level.  This tells me that

1) You are doing your job
2) You care enough about your job to reach out for more information.  And maybe someone sent you a link here; maybe you’re not reaching out so much as catching the low hanging fruit.  But still, you’re reading it.  You care.
3) You’ve gotten this far, so chances are you relate, on some level, to the idea that you’re not doing enough.  You worry about it.  You make lists of things you could do, but then realize that you don’t have the time, energy, or patience to do them.  Or maybe you do.  Maybe you’ve optimized your time and gotten exactly where you want to be, in which case I say, that is amazing and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.  For real, no sarcasm intended.

When it comes down to it, I think this Myth of Not Enough has to be related to Impostor Phenomenon.  They both seem to be more prevalent in women than in men, and in highly achieving folks.  We have to convince ourselves that we are not impostors; we deserve what we have earned and achieved because we worked hard for it, just like we need to convince ourselves that our best efforts are just that.  Your days are full, it’s just a matter of how you choose to fill them.  Balance is just as valid as prestige.


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.

What They Didn’t Teach Me in Library School: How to Find My Balance

Librarianship is one of those professions is more of a calling than a job.  Requiring at least a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, countless continuing education credits, thousands of hours of reading on personal time to familiarize yourself not only with your collection but also with new materials, and keeping up with latest trends in technology and culture, librarianship is not for the faint of heart, or for those who “just want to read all day.”

Unfortunately, while library school gave me a wonderful foundation for how to handle things professionally (cataloging, evaluating children’s and YA literature, reader’s advisory and reference, etc.), it did not teach me how to find my balance between what my professional (work) duties need and what my personal (life) wants are.

Library School Did Not Teach Me . . .
How to Say No (Without the Guilt)
I worked full time and took a full time course load during most of my master’s degree (so not the original plan) but while that made me the (mostly) well organized planner I am today, that did not teach me how to say “No” to everyone who needs/wants my time.  During the first few years, I was trying to fit everything people asked of me professionally into a very limited amount of time- outreaches to day cares, storytime at my branch, tween programming, teen programming, plus everything else that we had to do on a daily and weekly basis.  As I rose in the hierarchy that exists in public libraries, I had to learn where my personal limitations are- and I had to learn to learn the art of polite negotiation. 
My solution:  a huge paper calendar that lists not only work commitments but personal ones as well. I have certain days and times that I can do outreaches to schools; if they ask for a different day, I can say, “I’m sorry, I can’t that day but I can do this or that, or I can reach out to my counterpart who works these days and see if they’re available.” 

Karen’s Two Cents: As time goes on, I think most people learn to be better at this.  Without a doubt the higher up the ladder you go, the more they expect you to work outside the time clock.  This can be a double edged sword and I recommend that you help your employer develop appropriate staffing levels by being honest about the work you do.  When you take work home and work off the clock, your employers can fail to see that they may need to hire additional support staff.  Learn how to organize your time and make a professional case for your time management needs.  As Christie said, learn the fine art of saying no.  And of prioritizing.  For example, in April and May, SRC planning and promotion takes precident – all other activities are gravy.  Say it with me no, no, no, no, no.  You know you’re saying yes.  I have especially seen the importance of this as budgets have been slashed in the past few years due to economic times.  Libraries are important – vital – and it is our job to be advocates for libraries and for youth services in those libraries.  That means advocating for appropriate staffing as well.
Which Is Better, Local or National Committees (or Any)?
At least in YA librarianship, it seems that there’s a constant push to be *involved* in something.  Join a book committee, join a selection committee, join a round table, join SOMETHING and add to the hive mind of the profession.  All well and good, but what if A) I can’t afford it, B) I can’t fit another thing into my schedule without going insane, or C) I don’t care for anything that I’ve been selected for?  My monetary personal budget as well as my time budget only goes so far, yet the secret shame of not being an active part of something can be overwhelming, especially when you feel that you *should* be doing something to help your profession. 
My solution:  Know what works for you- if you want to join something, think about a local (workplace) or state committee, or a virtual committee.  Or be active on the listservs instead of a lurker.  Know your time and monetary budget before volunteering, and whether or not your workplace will sponsor your ambitions.  It may be that they can foot the bill for a state or local conference, but not the national one, or they might help pay for a webinar but not a conference.  Or you may be entirely on your own.

Karen’s Two Cents: Some workplaces pay for your membership into professional organizations and some do not.  At this point, I have had to let me professional membership into ALA drop, which breaks my heart.  The reason? When we moved and I got a new job the library is now replacing all full time people who leave with part-time people so they don’t have to pay benefits (Everyone’s doing it – yay for the economy!).  So, after 19 years as a professional librarian – with an MLS degree – I only work part time and all my professional development expenses come out of my own pockets.  Although, to be honest, librarianship like education, is one of those professions where you spend a lot of your own time and money out of pocket.  I have bought books, display materials and ,yes, program materials out of pocket – even in the times where libraries we’re better funded.  However, professional involvement is still really very important so find ways to make it work.  Be active in listservs, read blogs, seek out online webinars, etc.  Don’t forget to read your School Library Journal and VOYA.  Especially in tough times, libraries matter and we want to be relevant and top of current trends and changes so that we can serve our public well.  Be involved some way.
How to Leave Work at Work
One thing that’s been really hard to learn, and that I still struggle with, is when to leave work at work.  It’s not just the problems and issues that my kids deal with, but it’s the little things as well.  A new technology that I need to learn, that I haven’t had time at work to play with- do I bring it home and learn it on my own time, or do I hope that tomorrow is a slower day, and leave it?  Or the new grant application that I’m working on- do I bring it home to write it up in relative peace, or leave it for the next day, when I might have six students that need help on ten different homework assignments?  What do you do? 
My solution:  Learn what you can do without burning out, and learn how you personally can relieve stress.  If learning new tech is relaxing, then do it at home.  But don’t take the grant material or book order home unless you’re getting paid somehow to work on it.  If it’s relaxing to you to sing in the car, invest in a new mp3 player and some music and belt away- even drive a little longer until the stress is gone.  Make time to exercise or mediate when you first get home, or before you go to bed so that the stresses don’t carry over into your family time.  Make sure that you’re leaving time to de-stress and unwind for the next day.  You don’t want things to change to where you dread going to work.

Karen’s Two Cents: In many ways, I am obviously not very good at this.  I am passionate about this blog which, while technically is in no way affiliated with my job, is still a part of my “work”, the work of librarianship.  But I will ask people to do guest blog posts, I have learned to schedule posts . . . the big thing for us librarians is that in many ways, even when we are reading because we love to read (which I do daily), it is also in some ways our “work”.  So I’ll have to get back at you on this one as I try to get better at it.  I have never left work at work.
You (and Your Family) Comes First
One major thing that we as a profession and we as a nation need to change our viewpoint on is personal time.  We have guilt over taking time for ourselves, whether it’s our sick time or our vacation time.  And yes, it may be ingrained into the culture of the workplace where you’re at; I’ve been in places where they questioned you as if it were the Inquisition if you called in sick (which, by the way, was completely against HR rules).  I’ve worked at places where you had to schedule your vacation time AT LEAST 3 months out (which is where I get my current habit from, and can’t seem to break it).  We get trained somehow to think the following:  Oh, I need to come in even though I’m sick because I have a program (train someone to be able to step in if needed, or cancel it).  They can’t live without me if I’m not there (not true).  If I don’t show up, I’ll be showing them that I’m replaceable (really?  Do your performance reviews say that?). 
My solution:  I know it will sound simple, but in practice, it’s not.  Personally, as a manager, and professionally as a librarian, I follow these rules: 1. STAY HOME WHEN YOU’RE CONTAGIOUS. I don’t want your cooties, and if you get everyone else sick, that makes life harder for me.  If you’re out of sick time, we can usually work it out. If you can’t tell whether or not you’re contagious, consider the day-care or school district criteria for keeping a child home- do you fit those rules?  2.  TAKE YOUR VACATION TIME.  You come back happy and refreshed, and that makes everyone else happy.  3.  TAKE YOUR BREAKS.  Mental and physical breaks from whatever you’re doing mean that you come back ready for a new challenge.  

Karen’s Two Cents: When the tween was 3 years old, she got incredibly sick. It was devastating to see and no one knew what was wrong with her.  When I called off for the 3rd day in a row, my boss gave me an incredible guilt trip and I found someone to watch her for 2 hours while I went in before what would turn out to be her 5th doctors visit in 5 days.  At that visit, they told me that she had a life threatening illness called Kawasaki’s disease and told me to take her to Children’s Hospital immediately – after they did a test to see if her heart would be okay for the trip.  From that moment on, I have lived my life very differently.  The tween spent 2 nights in the hospital basically having her blood cleaned, she walked around for 2 months like an 80 year old with arthritis, and spent the next 3 years having routine heart checks.  It’s really important that you take care of health issues and hopefully your work has an environment that supports that.  If not, start a professional, polite and yet informed campaign for a work environment that supports a work/life balance.  Healthy employees with healthy families are productive employees.

What have you learned on the job about balancing work life and personal life?  Share in the comments.

Previous entries in Things I Never Learned in Library School
Where’s My Library School Class for This? with Christie G.
10 Things I Never Learned in Library School with Karen J.
These are a Few of My Creepiest Things with Christie G.