Thursday, October 27, 2011

The most personal thing to write about

I've been putting this off and putting this off, since it's one of those topics that's incredibly tricky to write about. But the further away from it I move, the more I realize it's one of those things that should be talked about. Even if it's for no one's sake but my own.

I quit my job.

My last day was almost exactly three weeks ago, and no, I didn't switch jobs. I quit without a backup plan.

There are a whole host of reasons why I decided it was time, but the real thing it came down to was that I wasn't happy. Me. My needs weren't being met.

I think part of what makes this so tricky to write about is that anyone who works in a field like librarianship is so customer focused. Everything is about our communities and meeting the needs of others. That's precisely WHY we get into the field as it is. We want to help other people and we want to do things that other people ask of us. We want to offer them the resources we can because we have the knowledge to do so. We want to provide programs that meet their interests because we have the skills to do so. We want to connect them to the world because we ourselves have made these connections, and really, there's nothing more exciting than watching someone else feel that spark of understanding, of curiosity, of excitement.

Librarianship is a giving field.

With how much we're dealt as a field when it comes to budgets (that is to say, we get none, and then it gets slashed more), when it comes to staff (we get none, and then it gets slashed), and salary (laughable at best, then it gets slashed), we still rise above it. We can run crazy good programs on shoe string budgets. We can count on colleagues to help us figure out a way to run a crazy good program on no budget because as a field, we thrive on sharing. It's the spirit of librarianship.

We drive ourselves to constantly outdo ourselves. We keep statistics and measure ourselves against ourselves. We look at holes in services and figure out ways to fill them in. We look at our community and figure out where what we do in our buildings can be pushed and brought to other places where the community could benefit. We build programs to bring in every age group we can imagine. We keep our collections up-to-date and we keep tabs on what's coming down the pipe so that we stay on our game. We want to keep our customers happy.

One thing we lose in the process though is ourselves.

We're all giving people by nature. That's why we dive into the field and that's why we strive to keep doing better all the time. That's why I don't know a good librarian who doesn't work 40 hours in the building and another 20 or 30 at home, reading, networking, planning programs, researching, developing, and much much more. All for their job.

We beat ourselves up over the things we can't control. If we aren't getting enough people in the door to our program, we blame ourselves. We could have done more promotion. Could have jumped on an idea quicker. Could have made the program stronger. Could have written that grant application better. Could have recruited and trained more volunteers. Shouldn't have missed that book in that series when it came out.

But do we ever step back and think -- is this making me happy and satisfied? Am I being fulfilled?

It was too easy for me to come home after a day at work, one where I'd easily have done 3 outreach story times, emailed with various teachers about collections or program plans, put together ideas for the next day's program for middle schoolers, done a 4-hour long shift on the reference desk, shelved, and feel like I accomplished nothing. Or worse, feel like I'd accomplished all of the wrong things. It was so easy to beat myself up, especially when I saw or heard things around me. You know what I'm talking about -- the grumblings you hear through the staff grapevine or the community members who'd come into the library and suggest that there be more programs at night, on the weekends, that there be more offerings for one age group. It was so easy to take those things to heart. To want to deliver. To never, ever feel good enough because I was only providing 3 story times at the schools a week, a weekly program for one age group or another, keeping my collection in tip-top condition, performing outreach, keeping an active teen book club fresh and fun, and so forth. I could do more! I could offer more! I should offer more because my community wanted it and isn't my job to serve my community? I'm a failure because I'm not doing everything I can.

I forgot I'm only one person.

But then there's the perennial argument: recruit more volunteers! Get more staff to help out with programs! And those are things I did and thrived on doing. I could do that. The more volunteers, the easier it'll be. The more staff that helps, the easier it will be.

Yep, the easier it'll be to offer more. And the easier it'll be to forget that training and supervising takes time and energy. And it requires being even more conscious and prepared for everything coming up than doing it solo. And sometimes, it means people who shouldn't get chewed out about the stupid things librarians get chewed out about DO get it. Knowing your summer intern got yelled at by a parent because our library couldn't offer every kid at a big program a glue stick of their own sucks. It sucks more than when they yell at you, the librarian. You're not only not doing enough now for your community, but you're not doing enough for your own staff.

You're not taking care of yourself in the process at all.

Offering a million programs is great. I was offering a million and a half as the only staff person for youth in my library. It never felt like I was good enough. I could do more. I should do more. I'm told to do more. I'm told I'm not doing enough. I'm not giving up enough. As a newbie librarian -- I'm 27, librarianship my only career, having gone for my MS as soon as I finished undergrad -- I felt I had a lot to prove. I wasn't trying to prove anything to myself, but rather, trying to prove myself to my job, to my community, to the field as a whole. I was justifying coming home feeling crummy every night with the notion that it was just how it was. It was going to be hard and unsatisfying sometimes. It's easy to run yourself into the ground. Especially when you're new and unestablished. Especially when people are skeptical of you. If, for example, you've entered into a position after someone who left a legacy. Who people loved because of what they brought to the job. To what they brought to the staff. You feel like you need to fill that hole and then do it even more. Because that's how you establish yourself in a job, right?

You can love something you do and still forget you're not loving your job.

After summer reading this year, I felt let down and unsatisfied. I wasn't getting what I needed to be getting. I didn't feel like what I needed to be doing was being done, and I came to realize that this wasn't the right job for me. I wasn't fitting into the hole that I felt I should be. I was wearing myself thread bare with little satisfaction. Pressure inside and outside made me work harder and longer, but I wasn't feeling happy. I wasn't finding the challenge something worth pursuing. Instead, every day became another thing to get through. Another obstacle in the way of a weekend of reading which, you know, is another way of saying more work.

I worked hard to build my own knowledge, my own connections, establish a wealth of ideas worth trying. I was lucky -- I got to try them. I was in an ideal situation where nearly any and all of my wacky ideas were not only not laughed at, but they were implemented. It never felt good, though. It never felt like it they were mine or that my knowledge was valued for what it was. I don't expect parades, but not as much as a thank you for programs, for the hours of toil and worry and stress, it hurt. It hurt a lot.

I took it took personally.

I didn't take it personally enough.

That breaking point made me realize it was time to go. That jumping out while I still had most of myself in tact was what I needed to do to be happy and satisfied.

It wasn't easy.

More than one person got the oh-shit email from me.

More than one person told me I made the right call.

Three weeks later, I'm still wavering on whether I've dove into the crazy end of the pool or not. But I do know one thing, and that's that I don't feel awful at the end of the day, even if I've not achieved anything. Even if I'm not working. Even if I know that finding a job that fits my needs as a librarian might be challenging. What I've walked away with is an intense understanding of what I need in a work place. It's so easy to ignore our own needs. It's so easy to ignore our own happiness and need for fulfillment in the name of serving others. In the name of the idea that it's just how it goes. That work is work and isn't meant to be a place where we're going to be satisfied and happy.

I beg to differ.

I love librarianship. I love working with teenagers. I want to continue on that path specifically. But I need to find that place where what I bring -- my knowledge, my skills, my talents and my passions -- meld with what the library/community needs are. I wasn't melding in my last job. I was coming home fatigued, not energized.

I want to be energized by what I do.

This is the world I know I do well in and in which I can thrive. It's a field where there is much to do and explore. A field where what we bring as individuals matters a LOT more than we're ever admitting. It's a field where you can go on and on and do any and everything.

Stepping away from a job was the scariest thing in the world. Admitting it this openly was the second scariest. I've always been a hyper-involved person. Even in this sabbatical of sorts, I'm keeping myself busy in the librarianship world. Last week, I submitted an article with a colleague to be published in February's issue of VOYA. I purchased my tickets to attend ALA in Dallas this winter, and I'm presenting at ALA Annual this coming summer in Anaheim. I've also got plans to put together a proposal for Yalsa's Lit Symposium next fall. I'm always willing to go the extra ten miles for anyone.

Except myself.

I'm going to write more about this in the next few weeks, pointing out the triggers that made me realize it was time for a change, hoping it helps anyone else who might find themselves in that position. I realize, too, that there's an opportunity to talk about what would have made this work better for me, and there's certainly the knowledge that in posting this, I'm putting myself out there to be asked what I've learned from the experience and about myself. These are all things I've mulled over for months, and, I think, things worth sharing. When we own our feelings, it makes them easier to talk about and distill them into knowledge.

After crying on your shoulders, seeking your ever-brilliant advice, and sometimes annoying you to no end with my near-daily crises, a huge thank you goes out to those of you who know who you are. Without your pushing, without your encouragement, I could have never made the plunge. And as much as sometimes the days have sucked and as much as I know more days will suck hereafter, I'm -- for the first time in a long, long time -- happy. I have the best network of colleagues, both those in librarianship and those outside it, I could ask for, and for that I know I'm lucky.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Falling into Art

This fall for programming, I decided I wanted to reach out to a new group that wasn't being reached as much as I'd like -- the preschool to 2nd grade demographic. This is a fun age to work with, as these kids love trying new things. I thought long and hard about what sort of programming would work well for this group; I'd had luck with our stand alone programming, such as our Princess Tea and our Superhero Party, but I wanted something more regular.

Then it hit me: art! We're not talking about crafts here. We're talking art. The kind parents hate doing at home because it's so messy. Since we're a library, and we're used to messes, this seemed like the perfect outlet for these kids to express their creative urges. I wanted more than simply projects, though. I wanted this program to be about tactile experience, too. I wanted to give kids a ton of different options for creating and I wanted it to be done through means that would be unique and develop some of those fine motor skills that are so important at that age. Of course, these programs translate well for older kids, too, and at my library, sometimes big brothers or sisters have stopped in with their younger siblings, and they've found making art just as fun as the little ones.

I bought a few key supplies before fall and winter programming began to prepare for this program, and I made sure on all of our advertising that it mentioned these art projects can get messy and to dress for it. I've had no complaints about that, and by purchasing large, pump-lidded paints (pictured above and purchased through Discount School Supply), as well as large plastic lunch trays (also through Discount School Supply), I've ensured that what could turn into a very messy project is actually very manageable. Washable trays keep tables from becoming makeshift art pieces quite nicely.

In the program, I like offering more than one project, allowing kids to do any of them they like or all of them, too. If you're looking for a fall project, here's what we did earlier this month!

I focused all of my ideas on leaves this month, and the day of the program, I went for a walk up and down the street where my library was, picking up leaves in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Though I felt a little like a crazy lady picking up leaves from people's yards, no one looked at me twice. Perhaps I've a reputation. Alas, as you can see above, I filled a small storage tub with them. Cost? $0.

Then I set up two of the three projects at one table:

I spread a pile of leaves down the center of the tables, with a project on either side. On the right, this:

Leaf rubbing! I pulled out a box of our crayons and made an example of what leaf rubbings looked like. This is a satisfying project for kids because they get to be a little messy with coloring and still enjoy seeing something that looks like a leaf. It's one they can make into something really artistic and it's one that they can simply enjoy doing without a plan in mind. We had a little of both.

On the left side of the table, this project:

Leaf collages. The kids were able to put leaves into any shape or design they wished to (and some simply piled them one on top of another) and then I put down a piece of contact paper to keep them in place. The nice thing about this project is that the leaves will stay nice for a long time, making it a piece of art they can hold on to for a long time. Supplies needed? Scissors, contact paper, and construction paper. All of those are things probably hanging out on a shelf in your supply area for free.

On the other side of the room, I set up our other project -- one that required the lunch trays, clothes that can get messy, and ample paper towels and hand wipes for the kids (and parents, too):

I pulled out a pile of paper plates, some paint brushes, a couple cups of water, and, as you can see on the far right, the remaining box of leaves. The third project was making these:

Leaf prints! For this project, the kids pulled out leaves, painted them however they wanted to (yes, right on the leaf) and then pressed them down on the paper. While the kids were doing this, I kept trying my hand at it, as my example didn't seem to do much to show the veins of the leaves. I eventually found -- thanks to the help of kids who were much smarter than me -- that painting the back side of the leave would highlight the veins a lot more. Lesson learned.

This simple-to-assemble program was a big hit, and even after some of the kids finished all of the projects, they went back and made second and thirds of some of them. The cost is little more than picking up the leaves, and we probably have plenty of those to spare this time of year.

These programs are great for the family, as often this age group wants a little help from mom and dad. But what I think is important to remember in doing a program like this is less about making the right kind of art piece and more about experiencing the process of making art. As you can see, my examples are extremely simple and even, if you will, lazy. I don't want the kids or parents to feel like they need to make things the way I do. Art is about expressing as you want to, and while kids are usually so eager to do that, it's often parents who insist on making things like examples (storytime crafters are probably familiar with this phenomenon). In these projects specifically, there are so many sensory elements to the art, and I think it's important to step back and let the art come to the kids. If they want to just paint a leaf and not press it, let it happen. If they want to just paint and not bother with the leaves? Let it happen.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Teen Read Week Program Idea

I had this crazy Teen Read Week program idea back during summer reading, and while I am sad I won't be running it, I wanted to pass it along for anyone looking for something exceedingly simple and quick to put together, especially if you're doing a last minute scramble.

If It Floats Your Boat is the name of it, and it's as straight forward as it sounds: feed your teens root beer floats. Buy some vanilla ice cream and root beer (or cream soda, red pop, etc.) and set the supplies on the table. Let the teens have all access.

In the mean time, pull together a pile of books -- both those that are new releases and those that might be lagging a bit on the shelves. Hop onto YouTube and build a play list of book trailers for those books. Put them all together so they'll stream one after another, then pull down your big screen and let the program be just that.

Is it subtle? Sure. Is it also straight forward book promotion? You bet. And the best part is that with the draw of free ice cream and root beer, you might bring in teens who would otherwise not go to the program. Since you're not putting together book talks yourself, nor are you pressuring kids to read or check out certain books, you might just capture their interest, even if by accident. For your big readers, what could be better than hearing about a bunch of good books, eating ice cream, then being able to check them out right away? It's all about whatever floats their boats!

The only tip is to make sure you pick good book trailers. It might take a bit of time on your part to pull the strong ones -- the ones that capture audience interest immediately and get to the point fairly quickly (under a minute usually) -- but the easy and low-cost aspects of the program should make it worth it. Bonus: it fits "Picture This" as a theme quite well.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book listing

I'm back from my (extended) hiatus with a ton of new content -- soon. I'm in the midst of an exciting career shift and have a ton of stuff to talk about. Next week, I'll be back to regular postings about programming for kids and teens.

In the mean time, I wanted to share a link to some of the book list/display ideas I've been building up at my book blog. Head over today to check out a book list perfect for this year's "Picture This" Teen Read Week theme, to celebrate birthdays, war, and more. You're welcome to borrow the lists for your own use, though credit is appreciated.

Coming soon: successful story times, preschool art-not-craft programs, teen lock ins, and more!