Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Nameless Wonder

Do you remember a librarian from your teen years? I do.  One had kind of mousy brown hair and wore patchwork vests, and led a group of us in a radio play in which I did the sound effects.  It was the first group of kids my age I spent time with after moving to a new town.

Then there was the librarian at my high school who, while I was working on a personal social justice project, helped me get the full text of a bill that was working its way through the legislature.  She had it faxed to the school for me in this pre-Internet era.

Another was a bearded fellow who helped me navigate the clunky databases I needed early on in college, and later was a quiet presence, waiting to offer a hand, as I worked on the computers with an elementary school girl I was tutoring.

I don’t remember any of their names.

While I don’t remember their names, what I do remember of them has certainly served me well.

The first gave me a place in a group when I was new to town, painfully shy, and knew no one.

The second showed me the power of information and libraries as a place of democracy, and went above and beyond to get more than the answer to the question I asked – she got the information I really needed.

The third I remember mostly for his kindness and repeated, though never pushy, offers of help, suggesting simple adjustments that worked wonders despite my stubborn insistence that I would do it myself.

While being someone’s favorite librarian is nice, what we do is more important and longer lasting than who we are.  

In teen librarianship, we talk a lot about community building, relationship building, being the person that teens can turn to in times of need.  While not all of us have been the person to step in and find a crisis line, been supportive witnesses to a teen’s coming out, seen an insecure ten year old grow to a confident eighteen year old, most of us have been that person who found a teen a book she couldn’t wait for, or fixed a weird margin problem ten minutes before close so that a senior could print his last paper of the semester, or called out some homophobic language we overheard in the teen area.  And this can be just as important and transformative for our patrons – even if they don’t know our names.

Don’t discount the work you do, just because you don’t share inside jokes with a TAB.  Don’t underestimate your importance just because you aren’t invited to graduation parties.  Don’t sell yourself short if the only way they know your name is if they look at your name tag.

You serve your teens by ordering diverse books that they can find at their leisure, without pressure.  You serve them with welcoming gestures like relaxing and sharing a genuine smile when you see them walk in the door.  You serve them by making eye contact with them and directing your follow up questions to them instead of their parents as they stand together at the reference desk.  You serve them every day by demonstrating the most important tenants of our work: democratic, nonjudgmental access to information and the places where the information lives.  You serve them by treating them like the people that they are: people worthy of your respect and efforts.

So wear your name tag, keep extending invitations to your programs, build relationships, connect with your community, and remember that your name is not the most important thing that they will learn about you.


Extra! Extra! 6 tips for talking with local press

Don’t wait for the press to come to you – go to the press!

As hyperlocal news gains a foothold in more and more communities and grows in popularity, you will undoubtedly be called upon to offer a few quotes to local — or not so local — media in your position as a teen services librarian.  Teen programs can make great press and offer terrific photo opportunities – and since photo essays and slideshows are often what drives readers to these news sites, the likelihood of a local reporter popping in to snap a few pictures and ask a few questions is good.  Positive press is great publicity for your program, a nice feather in the library’s cap in the eyes of the Board, and a decent ego stroke too.  But if you come across poorly, bad press is really worse than no press at all.  How can you best represent yourself and your services in these situations?

1.  Get in front of the story

If you know you’re hosting a program with great photo opportunities, present it to your local Patch.com or neighborhood weekly representative.  Cosplay events, knitting for the troops, haunted gingerbread competitions, or live action gaming events like my large scale Angry Birds program all offer great visuals.  Promote the events that you want to see covered if you want to see them covered.

2.  Don’t be afraid to delay
Occasionally, the local paper has a few inches to fill and will call on the library.  Maybe they caught wind of a brewing YA lit controversy, or maybe a teen author is coming to the area, or maybe they just figure that it’s time to include a few great reads for the holidays.  If you get a call out of the blue and it’s not a good time to talk, or you’re not ready to formulate an answer, don’t be shy about it.  Ask the reporter to call back when you’re off desk, or when you’ve had some time to think about the questions.  There’s nothing worse than realizing twenty minutes after getting off the phone that you didn’t actually say the thing that would best represent your services.

3.  But don’t delay too long!
Be respectful of deadlines.  If you can’t be counted on to return a call in a timely manner, you just won’t be called back until there’s some kind of a controversy or a problem.  Far better to get your introduction to the community during good times!

4.  Don’t try to be funny
If you actually are funny, and that’s a known fact confirmed by someone other than your mom or four year old nephew, by all means – go for it.  My humor leans in the direction of self deprecation and sarcasm, neither of which translates well into sound bytes.  Remember, there are no emoticons in newspaperland.  Think carefully before you try to make a joke, because inevitably that awkward attempt at humor will find its way into the paper.  Like the time I compared my adult crafting group and my preschoolers — it doesn’t matter how hard you shake the paper and say, “But that’s not what I meant!”, that’s what people will read.

5.  Brevity is better
You could go on for ages about your favorite authors, philosophies behind your services, the role of libraries in the community, and the importance of reading for pleasure.  But unless you are writing your own op ed, focus the core concepts you want to convey and phrase them neatly and briefly.  This is the time to fall back on the adage that if you really know a topic you can explain it at a 2nd grade level.  Shoot for simple eloquence.

6.  Say what you mean; mean what you say
You never know which line the reporter is looking for, what angle they already have in mind for the story, or how you fit in.  If you don’t say anything you don’t mean, you won’t be misquoted*.  Take a breath and pause before replying to a question that has you stumped instead of talking through your thoughts like you might do if a colleague asked the same question.  Remember that though you are the “expert professional” in the article, you don’t need to have all of the answers.  Only say what you know and what you believe.

*Ok, that’s not entirely true.  You can always be misquoted and you always have a chance of your words being taken out of context.   It’s the difference between, “It’s the best!” and “It’s the best in a field of really sub-par offerings on the topic.”  But this helps a lot.


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!


I’m nobody! Who are you? Part 1 (Why us teen librarians should talk to one another)

I’m Nobody, who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
-Emily Dickinson

If you’re the only teen librarian in your library, it can be a lonely job.  You plan programs on your own, or with the hopefully enthusiastic, but sometimes grudging or misguided assistance of a TAB, you order and read books that you might not be able to gush about with anyone else you work with.  You serve a population with distinct needs, and you’re on your own deciphering what those needs are and how to address them through your service.  Depending on when you’re on desk and where that desk is, you may go days without having a really engaging conversation with a teen patron, let alone another colleague who shares your passion and focus.  My library system has recently morphed from a regional system to one that encompasses half the state.  What were once fairly local networking meetings are no longer as convenient – or possible – to attend.

The irony of this is that our job is all about making connections with people, and connecting those people to what they need.

A lot is written and discussed about why and how we can better connect with teens.  But why and how should we connect with one another?

Just like attending a professional conference can give you new ideas and energy, having regular, informal meetings with other teen librarians can do the same.  Why is this important?  Think about your performance after you get home from conference.  Do you try new programs? Order  books you just heard about? Try new approaches at booktalking or reader’s advisory? Change your signage? Explore new websites or technology?  YES, of course you do!  Meeting the librarian down the street or three towns over for a sandwich or cup of coffee isn’t really the same as attending the YALSA YA Literature Symposium or PLA, but it serves a similar purpose.  It breaks us out of our own way of doing things and allows us to share our knowledge and ideas with each other.  It reminds both of us that while we’re doing this alone, we’re not really out there all on our own.

Start me up

Working with teens takes energy.  Some days, it takes lots of energy.  Some days, it takes all of your energy.  But we love it, right?  And for every night we fall onto the couch at the end of the day with our coats on and the keys still in our hand, there are going to be other nights we drive home with the windows down, singing at the top of our lungs because it was so awesome.  Not everybody understands that dynamic, but having someone who does, and with whom we can share these moments can pull us up when we’re down or use the positive momentum to push our programs or services in new and exciting directions.  Who else understands the frustrations and awesomeness of being an unofficial department of one like someone else who is an unofficial department of one?

One is the loneliest number

We need to meet each other not just to vent and pat each other on the back, it’s really important for us to seek out the kind of camaraderie and information sharing that our colleagues in other situations come by naturally.  If there are five people in the Adult Services department, they have each other to bounce ideas to, get a second opinion on a resource, share interesting articles, teach new technologies, and try new services.  Working in a bubble will eventually lead to problems with our service.  Stale programs, missing new trends in publishing, changing the dates and then reusing the same poster session after session… it’s poor service and our patrons will pick up on it.

Tada- now there is more than 1
TLT is a collaboration and we have fun together, inspire one another, & steal ideas
I mean borrow – we borrow ideas!!!

Stop. Collaborate and listen.

Some projects are just bigger than you.  Consider what you could do if there were two of you, twice as many teens, twice as many locations, (and dare we hope twice the budget?), and twice as much energy for the last great program you had.  If you’ve seen programs or services offered elsewhere that seemed not possible because of the limitations of your own situation, think about striking up a partnership with another nearby library to make it happen.

If that’s an overwhelming thought right now, start smaller.  You could collaborate and share information on…

  • Book display ideas
  • Slogans and activities for your TAB
  • A joint book drive
  • Thematic book lists
  • Volunteer responsibilities and guidelines (it’s nice when there are consistent expectations across an area)
  • Excess craft supply or leftover prize swaps
  • What to do about all of these darn series?!
  • Best times for programs
  • Summer Reading Themes
  • What’s hot for teens in your neighborhood
  • Cross-promoting programs

Start by thinking about the areas of service that are difficult for you.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, areas we love and areas we only do because it’s part of the job.  Pick a part of your job that you wish you had a better system for, a better eye for, or a better understanding of, look around at what other libraries are doing in those areas, and make improving that aspect your goal.

So have I convinced you yet?  Ok, good.  Now you’re wondering how to do it, right?  Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll give some suggestions on getting your own local group going.

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.