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.


  1. As an anxiety and guilt driven youth services librarian who often mayor of the shame cycle, I appreciate this. I am lucky to have supportive co-workers/boss that work hard to help me accept those things out my control, it is so hard to keep pointed in a positive direction sometimes. I feel your pain! :)

  2. Burnout is VERY real. This is a very valuable post and while the specifics are about your job (librarians ROCK!), it applies across many fields. Thanks for taking some of your very rare free time to think about this and write about it. Did I mention YOU rock?