I’m nobody! Who are you? Part 1 (Why us teen librarians should talk to one another)
If you’re the only teen librarian in your library, it can be a lonely job. You plan programs on your own, or with the hopefully enthusiastic, but sometimes grudging or misguided assistance of a TAB, you order and read books that you might not be able to gush about with anyone else you work with. You serve a population with distinct needs, and you’re on your own deciphering what those needs are and how to address them through your service. Depending on when you’re on desk and where that desk is, you may go days without having a really engaging conversation with a teen patron, let alone another colleague who shares your passion and focus. My library system has recently morphed from a regional system to one that encompasses half the state. What were once fairly local networking meetings are no longer as convenient – or possible – to attend.
The irony of this is that our job is all about making connections with people, and connecting those people to what they need.
A lot is written and discussed about why and how we can better connect with teens. But why and how should we connect with one another?
Just like attending a professional conference can give you new ideas and energy, having regular, informal meetings with other teen librarians can do the same. Why is this important? Think about your performance after you get home from conference. Do you try new programs? Order books you just heard about? Try new approaches at booktalking or reader’s advisory? Change your signage? Explore new websites or technology? YES, of course you do! Meeting the librarian down the street or three towns over for a sandwich or cup of coffee isn’t really the same as attending the YALSA YA Literature Symposium or PLA, but it serves a similar purpose. It breaks us out of our own way of doing things and allows us to share our knowledge and ideas with each other. It reminds both of us that while we’re doing this alone, we’re not really out there all on our own.
Working with teens takes energy. Some days, it takes lots of energy. Some days, it takes all of your energy. But we love it, right? And for every night we fall onto the couch at the end of the day with our coats on and the keys still in our hand, there are going to be other nights we drive home with the windows down, singing at the top of our lungs because it was so awesome. Not everybody understands that dynamic, but having someone who does, and with whom we can share these moments can pull us up when we’re down or use the positive momentum to push our programs or services in new and exciting directions. Who else understands the frustrations and awesomeness of being an unofficial department of one like someone else who is an unofficial department of one?
One is the loneliest number
We need to meet each other not just to vent and pat each other on the back, it’s really important for us to seek out the kind of camaraderie and information sharing that our colleagues in other situations come by naturally. If there are five people in the Adult Services department, they have each other to bounce ideas to, get a second opinion on a resource, share interesting articles, teach new technologies, and try new services. Working in a bubble will eventually lead to problems with our service. Stale programs, missing new trends in publishing, changing the dates and then reusing the same poster session after session… it’s poor service and our patrons will pick up on it.
Stop. Collaborate and listen.
Some projects are just bigger than you. Consider what you could do if there were two of you, twice as many teens, twice as many locations, (and dare we hope twice the budget?), and twice as much energy for the last great program you had. If you’ve seen programs or services offered elsewhere that seemed not possible because of the limitations of your own situation, think about striking up a partnership with another nearby library to make it happen.
If that’s an overwhelming thought right now, start smaller. You could collaborate and share information on…
- Book display ideas
- Slogans and activities for your TAB
- A joint book drive
- Thematic book lists
- Volunteer responsibilities and guidelines (it’s nice when there are consistent expectations across an area)
- Excess craft supply or leftover prize swaps
- What to do about all of these darn series?!
- Best times for programs
- Summer Reading Themes
- What’s hot for teens in your neighborhood
- Cross-promoting programs
Start by thinking about the areas of service that are difficult for you. We all have strengths and weaknesses, areas we love and areas we only do because it’s part of the job. Pick a part of your job that you wish you had a better system for, a better eye for, or a better understanding of, look around at what other libraries are doing in those areas, and make improving that aspect your goal.
So have I convinced you yet? Ok, good. Now you’re wondering how to do it, right? Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll give some suggestions on getting your own local group going.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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