Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Professional Envy, Programming, & Summer Reading Club

It's been a challenging summer.

Part of it is simply trying to do a lot of things with not a lot of time at work. But another part -- maybe the bigger part -- is still wondering whether and how librarianship is still the right place for me to be in a career.

Don't get me wrong. I love what I do. I love working with teens. I love working with adults. I love working with kids who come in and spend 30 minutes asking me to look up every single horror movie they can think of so they can discover them for the first time (yes, it's sometimes a test of patience, but those kids want my undivided attention and I enjoy giving it to them).

It's been a hard summer, and it's been really hard not to beat myself up for not being good enough or not doing enough every minute that I am there. Being part time and having the responsibility for virtually all of the teen stuff -- programming, collection development, the summer reading club, and so forth -- I've had to make choices and let things go. And there are days where I'm on the reference desk for a three hour shift and don't get to sit and take care of pressing issues (like the inbox of urgent messages, for one). There are shifts when I do have a minute to breathe on desk, and I can't force myself to actually do the work I need to do. I need to just sit and wrap my brain around everything.

Coming off ALA, I felt refreshed and ready to head back to work with a clear head. I'd just spent days with people I admire and respect and felt their enthusiasm wholly.


I keep coming back to the same questions I have been wrestling with all summer long: am I doing enough? Why do my programs keep failing? What is failure anyway? Why can't I accept than six teens showing up for movie and a pizza is a good turn out? How could I reach more teens? What can I do differently in the fall to make it work? If I give up some responsibilities will it be better? Will I feel like I'm a quitter if I give up those responsibilities? How can I draw the sharp line between work time and me time, and how do I enforce it?

For some reason, I doubt anyone doesn't struggle with the same questions at some point.

But I think it's really easy to get mired with the idea you're not good enough because you're seeing people you respect and admire doing so much. I see such amazing programs being put on by people I know and know well. It makes me so happy for them. It thrills me to see great people achieving -- and not just achieving, but then sharing those things so others can achieve too.

It's not to say I'm not doing what I can with what I have. I think I am. I see my book displays emptied days after I fill them up. The box for teens to share what they read this summer as part of summer reading club is stuffed to the brim. Teens are not just filling out their small forms with the title of the book and the author; they're also telling me why they read the book. I convinced a 13-year-old girl to sign up for the reading club after she asked me about the third book in the Gallagher Girls series, and then she gave me an impassioned talk about the differences between that series and the Heist Society series and why she prefers one over the other.

On program days, though, I spend all morning fretting about whether it's going to be another failure. About what I did or did not do enough of to make it work or not work. And whatever enthusiasm I had, I've lost and I drown in a sea of self-doubt and . . . envy.

Envy for people who do it so well.

It's not easy to talk about nor admit. But I think on some level, we all feel it. A friend or colleague runs a creative program and has 20, 30, 50 people attend the event. Meanwhile, you put on a program your teens have been asking for and face a near-empty room. The three or four kids who attend have a good time, and while you try to hold on to that being the point, it's hard not to feel down.

It's also hard not to feel like you're phoning it in when things you've talked about yourself -- passive programming, for example -- continue to fail when you try them in your place of work. Logically, I know it's something that takes time and consistency to make work. Realistically, I'm impatient.

I'm not sure there is an answer to professional envy nor professional self-doubt. I'm not sure there are answers to the questions I think about all the time, either.

The number of people who've mentioned to me that they've been feeling that pang of envy lately -- and maybe it is summer when it is worst because we are all just stretched so thin, so close to the breaking point -- you're not alone.