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!


We NEED YA books for Teens….

Question: Does the adult interest in the YA market push teens out of the equation? Are publishers publishing for true young adults?  Are libraries building collections for young adults?

Adults should read YA for a variety of reasons, but teens need and deserve titles written specifically for them.  Read more.

So, I came across this article from the Digital Book Wire the other day.  In it’s entirety, it says (bolding mine):

For the next generation of readers, the genre classification system might be a tad out of date.
“The genre classification system is becoming irrelevant to teens,” said Elizabeth Perle, editor of the Huffington Post Youth Network speaking on a panel at the Publishing Perspectives YA: What’s Next? conference at Scholastic headquarters in downtown Manhattan.
As more people are discovering books online and through ebook retailers, the “teen” section of the bookstore and its commensurate sub-sections are becoming less important to how teens discover books. And the idea of what is young-adult literature is changing as more adults are reading books like The Hunger Games and kids have more access to adult books.
“There is very little that YA can’t cover now,” said Dan Weiss, a Scholastic veteran and current publisher at large at St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan. He added that teens are “probably” reading Fifty Shades of Grey.
The key to the YA market might not be building books that fit certain genres but exposing literature that has universal appeal to both children and adults to the right audiences. “Reaching teens is a marketing challenge, not an editorial challenge,” said Weiss.
Does this bother you like it bothers me?  It should.  It means that teen/young adult materials are facing a crisis, and if something isn’t done about it, the way we have it now will be a faint memory.

A publisher for a major house (the house that started the New Adult trend, by the way) has publicly said that reaching teens is a MARKETING challenge, and that YA is changing because ADULTS have finally discovered what we as teen librarians and specialists have known all along (that it’s excellent reading) is extremely disheartening.  It means that YA will be shaped not by what topics and trends teens need or want to be reading but what ADULTS are finding to be in vogue.  We’re already seeing this at a library level, with collections being shaped by what type of YA is being checked out- if adults are the ones checking out materials from the YA collection, and as teen librarians we aren’t aware of it, we could be ordering materials to feed the adults, rather than our teens.

The fact this publisher thinks that teens are “probably” already reading Fifty Shades of Grey is disturbing in that a) they don’t know their audience, b) they don’t know the appropriateness for their audience, and c) they think that Fifty Shades of Grey is OK for teens.  Older teens maybe, and that is the whole purpose for the term “cross-over.”  However, I don’t know any parent who is involved in their teen’s reading habits would would let their thirteen or  fourteen year old read 50 Shades of Grey, and that is the starting point of most teen collections.

The idea that the future key to YA market is not “fitting genres” but doing things with universal appeal is heading right back to the 1960s, when there weren’t teen novels.  We’ll have adult, New Adult, juvenile and picture book, and teens will be right back to not fitting in anywhere.  This is such a huge step backwards!

We NEED teen books FOR teens.  Teens can always find adult books if they want something beyond YA- that’s a given, and has been there forever.  The fact is that discussions about fitting in, finding oneself, first loves, first crushes, identity, sexuality, culture and many others NEED to be written for teens, with teens in the protagonist roles so that there are books where teens are not invalidated, belittled, or marginalized.  Otherwise, we will be doing the greatest disservice to teens that I can imagine.

5 Reasons We Need YA Books to be for and about teens:

1) Teens are a unique developmental age group, they need and deserve developmentally appropriate books

2) The teen years bridge both the children and adult realms in unique ways and teens don’t like being classified as either children or adults

3) The teenage years are very formative years with unique challenges, they need books that recognize this and speak to them in authentic ways

4) Teens already feel marginalized by society, they need libraries and the literature they read to validate their life experiences and send the message that they have value

5) Seriously, if you haven’t heard me say it before: The 40 Developmental Assets

Current research from PW indicates that adults are buying a lot of teen titles. I love teen fiction, but we can’t let adults and their purchasing power overtake the needs – and interests – of teens to the point that they are once again marginalized in both publishing and library services. Teens deserve – and need – age appropriate books, collections and services.  Adults, read YA titles because they are well written titles that help you understand and remember the teenage years or even because you enjoy them – I encourage this – but let’s keep making sure that YA titles are written for and about teens, because their place in the world needs to be recognized and affirmed.

By Christie Gibrich and Karen Jensen

The Animaniacs guide to being a (Faboo!) young adult librarian

Remember how a while ago there were those books “everything I needed to know about life I learned in Kindergarten” or from Stark Trek?  Well, you may be surprised to discover that the Animaniacs are the perfect framework for discussing young adult librarianship.  For those of you who are young pups, the Animaniacs was an awesome but irreverent cartoon created by Steven Spielberg that appeared in the 90s.  They starred the Warner Siblings – Wakko, Yakko, and Dot – and featured their adventures on the Warner Brothers studios lot.  They were sarcastic, witty and full of snark (in other words: brilliant!).  Here are some of my favorite Animaniacs quotes presented to you as a true and accurate guide to the fine art of young adult librarianship.
How the Animaniacs Explain Teens

Yakko: “We protest you calling us ‘little kids’.  We prefer to be called ‘vertically-impaired pre-adults'”

Teens are not technically adults, but every day they are one step closer and they really hate being thrown in with kids.  That doesn’t mean they don’t like to sometimes act like them, because they do and they will. Sometimes on purpose even, so be sure to allow opportunities for fun.  But recognize this weird, hazy limbo land that teens are in and give them the respect they deserve, even when it sometimes seem that they don’t really deserve it.  They’ll appreciate the fact that you are meeting them where they are and it will help you build a good relationship.

Ned Flat: “Why are you acting like this?”
Yakko: “We’re not acting, we really are like this.”

In many ways, teens are easy to work with because they are honest about who they are and what you see is what you get.

Brain: “The workings of your mind are a mystery to me.”

The teenage brain really is different.  Scientific scans show that teen brains aren’t developed like adult brains so when they engage in reckless behavior it’s not necessarily that they aren’t thinking, it’s that their brains don’t think the same ways that ours do.  Take the time to study brain research and you’ll be that much better at understanding and meeting the needs of your teens.  Whenever possible, try to remember (and remind your staff) that we were all teenagers once and really – we did a lot of the same things. (NPR: The Teen Brain)

Dot: “Your breath is like the breeze off a land fill.”

I hate to mention the stink, but you know – it is often there.  Especially with middle school boys.  Those bodies are a changing, hormones kick in and they have not yet learned the fine, consistent art of showers and deodorant.  Most of them eventually figure it out.  But seriously, I have been in a program with like 70 teens and been called out for something.  When I walked back in, the wall of stench that assaulted my nostrils was enough to level small cities.

Dot: “Oh, oh, my heart aches with the sorrow of a thousand scouts. No merit badge. I mourn my loss.”

Yakko: “Say, those acting classes are really paying off.”
There can be so much drama in the teenage years.  Particularly it seems with middle school girls. I have the benefit of having been a middle school girl and I do in fact remember there being a lot of squealing (cute boys), phone slamming (fights with friends), and slammed doors (parents and siblings).  Like boys with b.o., a lot of the girls eventually figure it out.  But some people are just prone to drama.  The important thing is to acknowledge feelings and validate while sometimes helping teens put it in perspective.  When all else fails, give them a book – nothing helps put your life in perspective like a book.
Brain: “Promise me something Pinky. Never breed.”
Look, many adults – especially parents – want to pretend that teens don’t have sex.  I have spent enough time with teens to know that almost all of them are thinking about it, and far too many of them are doing it.  But here’s the thing, it’s kind of not surprising given biology.  These teens have these hormones raging through their body saying “sex sex sex sex sex sex sex”.  At the same time they are living in a world that says “sex sex sex sex food sex sex food sex”.  (I mean, apparently we have to sexualize and objectify women to sell a BBQ hamburger – I’m giving you the stinkeye Carl’s, Jr.) So I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised, and yet for some reason we are.  Be prepared, if you are doing your job right that means you are spending time with teens and if you are spending time with teens you WILL hear them talk about sex.  It’s best not to freak out about it.  You can, in fact, find ways to answer questions without 1) being overly personal and 2) saying anything that a parent will come back and yell at you for.  When all else fails, give them a book.

How the Animaniacs Explain the Key to Good YA Librarianship

Yakko: “But let this be a lesson to you all, wherever there is candy . . . we’ll be there a lot quicker.”

What is the secret to getting teens to show up?  Apparently it is food.  Even though I wrote an article for VOYA (February 2012) about the increase in food allergies in today’s youth and the need for food free programming, even I have to admit the power of food.  You have to say that in a really cool announcer voice in your head: THE POWER OF FOOD. Especially when it is 3:30 and everyone has just gotten out of school.  They may come for the food, but if you do your job right, they learn some things along the way.

Brain: “It proved that radio was a powerful tool. And now, Pinky, the advance of technology has brought us an even more powerful tool. Do you know what that is?”

Want to be good at your job?  You have to know what the next technology rage is.  Play and read online frequently.  Talk to teens.  Talk to techy people.  If there is one thing that has proven to be the archnemesis of librarianship over time it is this: technology.  We adapt to new technologies far too slowly.  We are snails in the technology adoption race people.  I mean, we’re still trying to figure out what we want to do with e-readers and soon technology will have advanced to the point where books are just being downloaded directly into our brains.  We need to change this, especially if we are going to work with the most tech savvy group of people out there – our teens.

Brain: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Pinky: “I think so Brain, but where are we going to find a duck and a garden hose at this time of night?”

YA librarianship requires a certain “fly by the seat of your pants” ability.  One day Twilight is popular, and the next day it’s not.  Yes Heidi, young adult librarianship is kinda like fashion.  You want to jump on that bandwagon while it’s hot.  This means that you have to be adaptable, spontaneous, in the know and superman (or superwoman).  You need to be able to see a trend on Monday and have a program put together by Friday.

Ivan Bloski: “Shhh. Shhh. Do you know what that means?”

Yakko: “You got a slow leak?”
Librarians still have an image problem.  It’s cool to be the dog whisperer, not so much the library shusher.  I am not going to lie, I have shushed. But do so sparingly.  And if you must shush, approach with humor.  When all else fails, blame someone else.  “Look, there are some people around trying to do some reading, let’s keep it down so they can get their work done, okay?”  It’s not me, it’s them.

Mr. Director: “Oy! Too loud! Make with the whisper! Don’t with the loud-maker talk!”

I love programming because it means I get to hang out with my teens.  And then I go home, take some aspirin and crash on my bed.  There is a touch of performing that goes into being a librarian.  During a program, you have to be “on”.  Always be authentically you (they’ll know it if you aren’t), but in a program you have to be your best, engaging, often Oscar worthy you.  They don’t tell you that in library school.

How the Animaniacs Explain the Teen/YA Librarian Relationship

The Godfather: “I can have you all fitted for cement shoes.”
Yakko: “Could I see something in a perky pump?”

Be witty and have a thick skin.  You will not always be a teen’s favorite person.  Some of them will downright hate you.  Sometimes it’s a personality issue.  Sometimes it’s an authority issue.  Just remember: It’s not you.  It’s not even necessarily them.  Sometimes it just is.  Let is go right off of you and be ready with the witty quips.  For every dig, you will often get a teen that adores you as well.  And sometimes, we have those transformative moments and the teen who wanted to fit you with cement shoes is inviting you to his high school graduation party.  There is usually cake!

Dot: “Can we call you Dad-Doo?”

Then you get those moments where you really bond with your teens and build connections.  Christie’s teens call her Ms.  In public I often get “Hey Library Lady”.  But they are also thinking mentor and friend.  There are lots of rewards in working with teens, and these relationships are the best of them.

Mindy: “Ok lady, I love you, bye-bye”

You will watch so many teens grow up.  You will love them.  They will love you.  And even when you say good-bye, you do so with the proud knowledge that you helped to send them into the world informed, equipped and enlightened.  Some of them you will become friends with.  Some of them will name THEIR own children after you. (Okay, technically that has not happened that I know of.  But it’s feasible.)

And Finally, the Truth About YA Librarianship as Explained by the Animaniacs

Wakko: “Can you pull a rabbit out of your pants?”

Yes, you will be expected to be a magician.  You will be expected to put together amazing teen programs that have huge attendance with zero dollars, zero time, and zero support from anyone else in the building.  Sometimes, you will pull that rabbit out of your pants.  Sometimes, the rabbit craps on your hand.  But then those teens say “ok lady, I love you, bye-bye” and you remember why you are doing it.

Wakko: “Fabooo!!!”

And that is how I sum up being a young adult librarian.  It is “Faboo!”  And you are “Faboo!”

Please feel free to add your favorite Animaniacs quotes in the comments and tell us how they are a great guide to young adult librarianship.

The Animaniacs on IMDB

Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs, usually referred to as simply Animaniacs, is an American animated series, distributed by Warner Bros. Television and produced by Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation. (from Wikipedia).  All quotes and images belong to those people.