Friday, January 31, 2014

When Things Aren't Perfect

There's a lot of guilt wrapped up in youth services.

I mean, this isn't news to any of us. It's just something I've been dealing with a lot lately.  The past few weeks at work have been really hard, for lots of reasons. I've had an open position in my department for almost 8 weeks. Everyone here keeps getting sick so we're all covering each other. I've been involved in really neat outside professional development things that take up some work time. I'm working a lot of extra hours on desk. These things are no one's fault. But because of situations out of my control, I haven't had as much time to do outreach and PR or get in contact with schools and teachers, or make myself seen in the community. And honestly, because of all these things, I haven't had the energy or frankly the motivation to work at it more, or harder.

My program numbers have suffered. And I know numbers aren't everything. But that doesn't make it easier.

I love programming. I really do. I love singing with my kids in storytime, I love watching their faces when I bring a really awesome performer in. I love bookclub conversations with teens about great YA books. I love it all. But many days it's also my least favorite part of my job, and a lot of that is because of the pressure that comes with it.  Some of the pressure is external, sure. If our programming stats are zero, well, my programming budget will be lower next year. That's a real-life cause and effect situation.

But there are other reasons it weighs on me. This would be the internal pressure, y'all. It looks bad when I spend money and lots of time on a program and no one comes. I know that's shallow, but we all think it, right? Your boss walks in and sees 10 kids in a program where you expected 40. You can't help but think that your superiors will be disappointed in you. You can't help but think that kids will have less fun with 10 other kids than if there were 40 there.  You can't help but be really embarrassed/guilty/nauseated when you have an outside performer booked and no patrons come.  You can't help but feel terrible that you've had your staff work like crazy on this program and then no one shows up.  And then your guilt about your situation starts to eat you up inside because if you really loved your kids, you would have worked just a little bit harder, right? Is this starting to sound familiar? I know a lot of you. I know how dedicated you are and how much you love your kids. I know you do everything you can do but it doesn't feel like enough sometimes. It's so hard not to feel like a failure.

And there's not a lot I can say here to console myself. I am the very worst at taking my own advice and once I fall into this shame spiral, it's hard for me to come back from it.  But I'm working on speaking truth to myself, and here is what I've come up with:

Things we can do:
  • Have a backup plan. This works for when you have a performer scheduled to come and they don't show. This also works when you planned a huge group activity and three people come. Just have something on hand that you can switch to. Even if you never have to use this plan, you'll feel so much better having it. It's like the Xanax in your purse that hope you don't have to take. My system requires a backup plan for summer reading and I used to think it was a hassle but now I wouldn't do anything without one.
  • Do the PR and outreach that you can do. Does your library have a dedicated PR person? AWESOME. My system has one PR person for 20 branches spread across 4 counties. She's got a lot on her plate. A lot of the day-to-day stuff is handled by me and my department as part of my daily responsibility. I know that if I do the things that I'm supposed to do, I will feel better whether or not my program room is full. And even if I don't feel better, I'll still know that I've done what was expected of me.
  • PLN, baby. P.L.N. Your personal learning network is so, SO important, and we as YS librarians are lucky to have amazing people everywhere to connect with.  So much so that Annie just wrote about this, and Julie just wrote about this, and Anna presents about this often, and I still want everyone to keep talking about how amazing we are and getting to know each other. Sara talks about how here. Because maybe then we can talk sense into each other.
  • Form relationships with your patrons. If these kids and parents know that you're invested in them, their families will come. This? This is the easy part. This is the part we excel at. Y'all are wonderful at this. Keep doing it.
Things we cannot do:
  • Force people to come to your programs. I mean, obviously. But it bears repeating. It's difficult because, for the most part, we target a demographic that can't drive. We want the kids to be excited about the programs, but if the parents don't buy in, no one's coming. It's a hard balance to find, and sometimes it doesn't work.
  • Everything. I want to. I wish I could. I'm a department of three: me, a FT specialist, and a PT specialist (the open position). Just in youth services in January (and winter is slow), I had 25 programs scheduled. I was present for about 20 of them. I ran 16. Plus I'm doing collection development. Plus interviews. Plus helping to run the library. I'm the only department head at my branch who isn't married/doesn't have kids. I'm delighted to help out/take extra shifts when other people can't, because I know my wonderful coworkers would help me. But it adds up. I want to be in the schools, I want to be talking to teachers and parents but...I just can't all the time. I physically can't. And I have to stop pushing myself to exhaustion.
I'm writing this as much for myself as anyone. Burnout is real and summer reading is imminent. Do what you can, friends. You can't do more.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Outreach Success

Much like a lot of you guys, outreach is part of my job.  It's actually a challenging part of my job, because as I've often said, I'm a one woman department.  I need to be visible and helpful to patrons who come see me at the library, whether they are regulars or only visit once every couple of months.

Of course, some of my favorite patrons to serve are those who attend my storytimes.  However, people in my town to tend to have large families, perhaps because many folks are religious, or because in areas with lots of farms, people tended to have more children.  Sometimes families aren't available to bring every child to storytime, or they can't make it to the library at all, so I interact with the kids through outreach.

We have a public preschool in town that has six classrooms in it, and there are morning and afternoon classes in each room.  When I go to see those classes, I see each class for about twenty minutes, which is why I only do this routine every other month.   Every class has a different chemistry: some are super bouncy, others are not as shy and tend to sit fairly. 

I always start my visits with "Finger In the Air" and end with "Teddy Bear Teddy Bear."  Even if they see me rarely, I like the idea of kids associating particular song with Miss Liz.  When I pick rhymes and songs between books, I try to pick whatever I've discovered lately that strikes me as particularly engaging.  For this last visit I consulted Amy Koester's blog post When We Get the Wiggles.  I thought I'd share what books worked and what didn't.

Let's start with the books that worked for each class.

With asking kids to count on every page, this book has a lot of great interactive components, and there's so much more you can do with it. If you do crafts with your outreach groups, there's a lot of potential for fun, developmentally appropriate crafts.  Also, the monkey sipping a cup of tea is basically what I would be if I was a monkey.

I may, from this day forward, stick a Jan Thomas book in my bag for every outreach visit I ever go on.  These books are perfect for kids with the wiggles.

And next, I have a book that I found worked better for some of the classes that were a little bit less wiggly and all over the place.  And that's not a judgment call!  Every class has bad days, just like I had a difficult storytime last week.  Some days certain books work better than others.
I have to admit, this one makes me sad because there's not a song to go with it.  Normally, Pete's other books are great for groups with any level of wiggles.  This is probably not my favorite Pete book. It is, however, chock full of a variety of animals, and kids love declaring, "Look! IT'S A TURTLE!"   For restless groups I swapped out another title, and I cannot remember what it was.

So those are some of the books I read and loved during outreach, what I used for different groups.  What books have you had a lot of success with recently?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Lessons From A Young Librarian

It's a glorious day in Iowa!  Not because it's a brisk winter day (-14 with a -40 windchill, I expect to see a polar bear at any moment) or because I'll be holding my first Baby and Me at this library.  And it's not just because we're finally back after a mini hiatus (little time off for the holidays and 16 hours of driving in one week are not conducive to blogging).  Today marks my one year anniversary at my job.

The position I currently hold is my first professional librarian position.  For that matter, it's the first position where I am full-time, not seasonal, salaried, insured, and have benefits (woohoo I finally get vacation time as of today!).

Having a year of experience behind me is rewarding. I've learned a lot but also get to wake up every morning knowing that there are more lessons to be had.

I wanted to share some of what I've learned thus far. 

To understand this post, there are two things you need to know: I live in a town of 11,000 and am essentially a one woman Children's Department.

Replacing someone who has been there for 25 years is hard.  If I had a dollar for every time someone said I had big shoes to fill, I could probably cover my car insurance payment for a month. When a librarian works in a library for that long, everyone in the community gets to know them, and they're involved in a lot of different areas.  People are used to their practices in terms of programming, caring for the collection, and outreach.

Not all of your patrons will love you right away.  Learning the names of lots of new kids and parents can be overwhelming, but it's overwhelming for them too.  Having a new children's librarian means the entire department has a whole different vibe.  Storytime is an adjustment period for some of them.  Likewise, some families may visit sporadically, so it'll take time to get to know them.

It's okay to retire the past and be your own person.  Even when you arrive at a new position, traces of the past might still linger.  In my case, George the monkey puppet lingered.  He was a darling monkey used often by my predecessor, and every time kids saw him, they'd expect me to use him.  But I wanted to be my own person, and I'll just be getting the nerve up to use puppets later this month.  I eventually retired George to a quiet place in my office.  He'll come out now and again for a round of 5 Little Monkeys, but he mostly stays on vacation. Putting him away lets the kids know that things are different, reminds me that I can do things my way, and let's us all know that things have changed and that's okay.

Be intentional.  Parents and caregivers will ask questions.  "Why do you sing so many songs in storytime?" "Do the kids get a snack today?" "Why does my child earn x amount of fake money for reading a certain book as part of summer reading?"  Always have a solid reason, but don't just say what parents need to hear.  If you say "We aren't having as many snacks because we've decided to devote a larger part of our budget to craft supplies," be sure you are in fact using that budget on craft supplies.

Everyone wants to know what you're doing. Okay, this isn't entirely true, but news can travel swiftly in a small town.  Be aware that in a small town, people may gossip, and news may travel in a path you didn't see coming.

Other people will tell you how to do your job. Listen actively, but stick with your gut.  This is by no means exclusive to librarianship. Some people who tell you how to do your job will have better ideas than others.  Whether they are right or wrong, be nice.  Listen to them.  Let you know that you hear them.  And then do whatever is right for you, your patrons, and your community.

Just because another library does certain things does not mean you must do them.  Sometimes I see other people's blogs or look at other people's blogs and wonder where they find the time and resources to do what they do.  Then I remember that we don't all have the same staff, budget, time, or resources.  The best way to get things done at your library is to move at your own pace.


You do not need the approval of others to be great at your job.  I love how many awesome opportunities there are to network online.  There are tons of great blogs to read and librarians to follow on Twitter.  I've been really blown away by some of the people I've met this year.  Sometimes, you really want the great people you meet to acknowledge how awesome you are, because it feels like getting admittance to a secret club.  Whether or not that happens, you are still great at your job.  It is what you are made of that makes you awesome, not what people think of your substance.


Grow your network.  Have support.  Having a professional network is vital. I heard about this job because Kelly sent me a link to it! And you also need your network for days when the kids are crazy in storytime or you cannot remember that one song. But don't forget your personal network.  You need people who you can talk to other parts of your life about, people to enjoy hobbies with, people who will sit and talk with you if personal problems try to take over your brain.

Kids want to be heard.  At the end of the day, it's about them.  Whether it's a regular patron or a kid you only see during classroom visits every few months, you'll never run short on kids who want to share something with you.  It could be an anecdote, them telling you about a book they read, talking about a toy, or asking you if you can have a certain program at the library.  Listen to the kids. Let them know that they are wanted and welcome.