Sunday Reflections: On Being Appreciated and Making a Difference
I spent the first 21 years of my career as a school librarian. First, I served in an elementary school where 97% of the students lived in poverty. The smallest things I did in the students lives were noticeable, from keeping school supplies and personal wellness items available to them at all times, to advocating for free reading time, I knew I was making a difference. I felt appreciated by my students and their parents, to be honest I always have. On the other hand, the school administration tended to treat me as a catch all employee. Whenever something needed to be done, it was assigned to me, regardless of the fact that my time was completely scheduled. They had little understanding of what it took to run a library and teach classes all day, as well as support instruction and advocate for students, and no interest in learning.
Next, I served in a middle school with a 65% poverty rate where teachers generally survived 1 to 3 years. I lasted 5. My administration mostly left me alone to do my job, which was nice, until a new administration came in and made it difficult for students to leave their classrooms, even to come to the library. There was a general lack of understanding of my role and the role of the library on campus, and no interest in learning. But the same things were true. Whether or not my supervisor (aka the principal) understood my role in the building, I knew I was making a difference. It was there in the eyes of the students who told me, “I never thought I liked reading until I met you.”
Finally, I was librarian at a middle school with only 40% of the students living in poverty (the district average.) It was not as easy to see the difference I was making in the student’s lives, as many of them came to me already loving to read. I did, however, have more time to do my actual job of running the library, teaching classes, and supporting instruction. Until the administration changed. Before the change, I was evaluated on a regular schedule and received ratings related to how I was performing my actual job duties. After the change, I was evaluated sporadically, but always received the highest marks in everything as long as I willingly took on every job that was sent my way. I became tech support for a school with 800 laptops. I managed the student log ins to every platform available to them. I lost my assistant. And gradually, I became less and less of a librarian. It was sad. Not only was I unappreciated by my administration and coworkers, I could no longer see the difference I was making in the lives of my students.
Now, ideally, one would be both appreciated and able to see the difference one is making in the population being served. And by appreciation, please let me be clear, I mean that coworkers and supervisors understand and value the contributions you make to the organization while performing your primary functions as a librarian. Having one or the other would be enough, but having neither is the signal that it is time to leave.
I am currently working as a children’s librarian in a public library system. I’ve been here for 5 months. I am mainly working with preschool aged children, but I also get to work with all ages doing STEM programming. Am I appreciated? Yes. My supervisors have all held my position at one time – even my branch manager. I am treated with respect and my contributions are valued. Am I able to see the difference I am making? Yes. It’s there on the faces of the children I serve and the faces on their parents. I am seeing little minds grow and learn, and it is beautiful.
I know this probably isn’t the normal Sunday Reflections material you come to read, so thanks for getting to the end of it. And, if you find yourself in a similar position to the one I was in, neither appreciated nor making a visible difference in your position, I would respectfully suggest that it is time to consider a change.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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