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.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post! Congrats on your first year (and vacation!) and thanks for sharing your insight.