What they didn’t teach you in library school: burnout edition
Let me preface this by saying I love my job. Really. When I imagine a world in which I needed to choose a different job, even the same job in a different library, I end up just sitting there with a puzzled look on my face as if I didn’t understand the question. I. Love. My. Job.
But just because you love your job, just because you have found a niche that suits both your needs and interests, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel burnt out now and then. And here’s the lovely Catch-22 that’s both the cause and the solution: when you love your job this much, it’s going to get to you after a while. You can’t throw yourself into anything with complete abandon, day after day, year after year, and not hit a wall and feel burnt out eventually.
Unlike burning out on a hobby or a casual relationship, you can’t just put it aside or take a break and see if the spark is still there in a month. Teen librarianship burnout requires you to power through. Here are a few strategies.
Coasting is not giving up or throwing in the towel. Coasting is still moving forward, just relying on momentum and the things around you. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you need a little more personal time, need to dedicate a little more mental space to other aspects of your life, or just aren’t bubbling over with great new ideas, it’s ok to fall back on what’s been done before. Need programs? Pull up a list of your best loved, most attended programs and do a “back, by popular demand” series. Summer Reading got you down? Use a prepackaged program that comes complete with graphics, lists, and logs like the Collaborative Summer Library Program or your statewide reading program. Use the Teen Programs in a Box that you’ll find on this site. Pull your book lists from this or other reputable blogs, libraries, or publications (crediting when necessary, of course). People create these resources for you! Use them!
Is your TAB ready for a little spark too? Entrust them with program creation or summer reading themes. Give them parameters to work with that you will be able to carry through on (no more than X programs/week, no more that X dollars/program).
Maybe there is a local library school or LTA program from which you could draw a skilled volunteer to make new book lists, design a logo and materials for a SRP, or puzzle out the particulars of an idea that you have but haven’t been able to make happen.
Alternately, recruit some librarian partners! Maybe what you need is to be reinvigorated by librarians nearby, or by the ideas and innovations happening across the country. Work on developing your PLN, or find a local, regional, or national library conference or meeting or book fair to attend. It’s the difference between the 200th mile on a treadmill that same mile in a beautiful nature preserve. It’s rejuvenating and opens new possibilities.
Take a break
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and if you’ve been months and months without a day off, now is the time to draw on that personal day, vacation day, or upcoming long weekend and totally unplug from the library. Check back in with yourself. Do you have a nonfiction book you’ve been meaning to read? A recipe you’ve been meaning to try? A project you’ve been meaning to finish? We serve our teens best when we are whole, complete people. Don’t forget that you are more than your work. Your teens are out there pursuing their interests and that makes them the interesting people we love to work with. Be an interesting person to them; don’t neglect your own interests.
Part of taking a break means unplugging from your job, but also from the library world. That means take a Twitter holiday, force yourself not to check your work email, and don’t even check this blog. One thing that can contribute to burn out is the constant social comparison we are able to do, that we do without even thinking, because of the ubiquitous access we have to other librarians and their successes. It’s easy to feel inadequate when it seems that everyone around you is doing amazing things. (Erfolgtraurigkeit anyone?) It’s easy to feel insufficient when your situation doesn’t allow for the big WOW FACTOR programs or prizes that you see elsewhere. And it’s easy for those feelings to lead to feeling burnt out – that the small things you do just aren’t good enough. But that’s totally not true! Just think about all of the libraries that don’t even have a teen librarian, or even someone on staff interested in teen services. You – just by showing up to work and sitting at that desk – are improving access and service to teens in your community. Good job you! Now stop paying attention to what you’re not doing and focus on what you are doing.
If you have tried your best to get out of your burnout funk and it’s just not working, think about what drew you to teen librarianship to begin with. Is your life’s dream? Did it just happen? Do you need a change of scenery? Clientele? Work? … Career? If your passion is really archives or teaching or fine art or writing or, gosh, gardening or accounting or roofing – you’re not serving anyone well, yourself included, by forcing yourself to love teen librarianship. Our time here is too short to spend it languishing in a job you dislike (or is it too long to spend in a job you dislike? It’s both.) so make it count!
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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