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.


  1. SO spot on at times. I think a lot has to do with our perception of ourselves - not even at our job but a culmination of all the situations we have had. It is hard, and something I struggle with every day too.

    I am not sure there are any true answers, not within our profession, but as you said, you'r not alone!

    1. I think you might be right on both aspects.

  2. I think professional envy can be a good thing, but only if being envious motivates you into growing more as a librarian yourself. I have a good deal of professional envy and I'm trying hard to grow and incorporate a lot of the new ideas into my library, but it's a struggle. I have a lot of professional self-doubt and struggle with finding a balance between a lot of the tasks I've taken on since I started here at the library. (Which will be 3 years on Saturday)

    Like you I love what I do, but there are days I question if this is the right job/profession for me.

    1. Oh I completely agree -- and I think there is something necessarily in a certain level of dissatisfaction and with envy in order to become a better professional. Then there are days when it's really and truly not about the motivation. It's about the envy.

  3. There's also the thing that individual communities are completely different. I have a successful book club in the summer but couldn't get a kid to read a book during the school year if I paid them. Four towns away, my friend's teens are still coming out in droves for the Wii; mine couldn't care less in September but it picked up again in March.

    I couldn't make a teen advisory board work in my town. Movie showings are completely unsuccessful. This summer something clicked with the kids and I think my programs are going to be more successful than last year, but the last four years my numbers hovered around 8, with 12 at the beginning of summer (for big, creative, labor intensive programs) and 4 at the end.

    I think there are some places where a 100% amazing teen librarian isn't going to be 100% successful. I wish I had your readers at my library (I have some but it's very limited to the summer). I buy awesome books, I've been booktalking at the school, I've been creating passive reader's advisory tools, but my circ is never going to be as high as the town next door.

    1. At least for me, that's PART of where the envy comes from -- the fact there are communities where there are such successful programs. I've never worked in one. We've had good programs. I've definitely been lucky in regards to READERS, for sure. But I have always harbored envy for those in communities where TABs flourish (never been in one either!) and where big programs draw nice crowds.

      I know I can't change stuff. But I get a pang of envy in wishing I could try more, new, different.

  4. I also work with teens as a school librarian. Teens are probably the hardest and most unpredictable group to reach. There are so much going on in their lives and most of it happens online. I am just happy if some of them seem to like the book I recommended in a school project where they had to read a book. Anything that`s not mandatory is a lot harder. I`m thinking that maybe the 5 or 6 people showing up to your programs are the ones that really needs a place to hang out and feel at home. It might be an idea to focus on the ones showing up and what they want and maybe letting them arrange their own programs and events.

  5. Here's another thing to think about... It can be really hit and miss even in communities that do get big responses to some things. But people don't tend to talk about the "failures", the programs that only bring out a couple of teens. (Point in case: we've had many successful teen programs here, especially since we hired our teen librarian, but then she tried a Beautiful Creatures program, a book series that has been BLAZING HOT here, and I don't think they had ANYONE show up.)

    Also... numbers definitely don't tell the whole story. When I started Anime Club at my library, we were getting 20-30 teens, which was AWESOME... and unsustainable (for us). We had some infighting in the group and it just wasn't a number that was truly successful. We had amazing numbers, but it was chaos and not something that was enjoyable for all the kids (and often staff). We made some changes and now I think we have a much more successful Anime Club, even though the numbers have dropped.

    ANNNND I just really echo what Keri said above. I remind myself of this ALL THE TIME with my own programs: my community is not the same as ANY community out there. And while I definitely think it's a great idea to know about what other librarians are doing, it's also just fine to say, "Okay, that's great but that's working for my community." Every library's definition of success is going to be different and we all need to find the definition that works for us.

  6. I so agree with that Abby. We had huge numbers the past two years and that was really unsustainable. 70 people at a storytime for our town and our demographic was not good. 100+ people at a program that I ran on my own was simply impossible (and I got the bruises to prove it). I keep telling myself (and my board) that bigger is not always better and the lower attendance numbers at our big programs this summer are what I was aiming at.

    That being said, I recently suggested, again, that a part-time teen librarian might be A Good Thing and a staff member said it would be a waste of money, since no teens came to any of my programs anyways. Teen programming is hard, especially when people expect toddler numbers for teens!