Saturday, March 25, 2023

Has It Really Been Ten Years?


As of today, I have been working in public libraries for an entire decade! 

For the first seven years I held various part-time support and paraprofessional positions, but the last three years were as a full-time professional librarian. I started out as a page in the children's department, which is where I fell in love with working in public library youth services. Then I moved into an early literacy outreach specialist, which is where I really honed my storytime skills. After that I moved to a paraprofessional position in a very busy suburban branch. It was there I got to do other types of programming, collection work, and really developed my reader's advisory skills.

Then, just a few days shy of my 7th anniversary in that library system, and just weeks from finishing my MLIS degree, the pandemic hit and the library system let go ALL of its part-time staff, over 100 people. That jump-started my search for a full-time professional position, leading me to become the branch librarian/assistant manager of a small neighborhood library. It was here I learned how to adapt programming to rapidly changing conditions, doing virtual programming, take-home kits, and outdoor in-person programming. It was also here that I got a great deal of experience with more challenging customer service situations and found I was pretty good at de-escalation. Finally, I ended up in my current position as a youth services manager.

I can't believe it's already been 10 years! I have done hundreds of storytimes, dozens of other programs, made countless recommendations and suggestions, shelved thousands of books, and in my current position I have transformed a cold, sterile, unwelcoming children's department into a vibrant, welcoming environment and improved a very neglected collection. Along the way I have worked with a number of great children's librarians, and learned something from each of them. I have watched the field grow and change, seen trends come and go, and come back again, but I have seen the greatest and most rapid change in the last three years, and sadly, not for the better, which makes this anniversary very bittersweet.

The divisive politics of the last 15 years combined with social unrest, clashing beliefs, and the Covid-19 pandemic to create a perfect storm of hate, intolerance, and ignorance. People have become meaner, more selfish and entitled, more openly bigoted, racist, and intolerant. Willful ignorance abounds as people ignore science and facts in favor of rumor and misinformation, actively and knowingly pursue confirmation bias. This not only makes customer service more difficult, but makes simply being part of society more difficult and unpleasant. While library staff have always been underpaid and overworked, they are even more so now as out-of-touch and uncaring or unwise administrators and boards downsize staff while still demanding more and more from them. [I should add that I am fortunate that I am not subjected to the constant demand for more and more programming as many others are.]

On top of all that, now libraries and librarians are under attack from greedy politicians who want to raid our funding for their pet projects, and from extremists who want to impose their beliefs on everyone else and control what books others can read. Laws are being passed that interfere with how libraries are funded, governed, and run. Libraries and library staff are targets of protests and threats, harassed and attacked physically, not just verbally or electronically. Laws are being passed to censor books, and laws have even been proposed that would allow librarians to be charged as criminals simply for having books in the library that a certain group of people don't like.

Ten years ago when I first started my library career, it seemed libraries were in a golden age of growth, change, service to the community, and community support. But now that's all changed; now is not a particularly good time to be a librarian. We are all carrying various degrees of trauma from the pandemic, the stress of trying to rebuild, only to find that the rules have changed. The public is fickle and unpredictable, more demanding and less appreciative, and some downright hate and want to destroy us. It is no wonder people are leaving the field, especially youth services, in droves. 

Of course, it's not all bad. There are still communities that support their libraries, and many patrons who are kind and appreciative. I still love seeing all my library kiddos, and there are still the highs from programs that went really well, the pride in knowing I have made a lot of positive changes and that we do get a great deal of positive feedback. I do love many things about my job and my patrons. It's just that everything seems a little harder, the stress a bit more, the highs not as high or frequent as they used to be, the lows come more often, and I find myself feeling a bit like Tinkerbell, whose light begins to dim as she feels people no longer believe in or appreciate her.

While I don't regret my career choice, I regret that I came to it so late. I wish I had had the chance to be a librarian back in the before times when it was easier and more joyful, before things got so hard and upside down. Though I don't regret my choice, I don't think I would make the same choice now if I were first starting out, with the way things are now. But, I keep trying to move forward and focus on the good, try to find the joy where I can. I remind myself of all that I've accomplished, all that I've overcome. I pull out the little gifts and notes kids have given me over the years, look back at photos of all the kids from programs, the smiling faces, the open-mouthed faces full of wonder, remember the compliments, and block out the haters and the things I can't control. But it's still hard not to feel sad and jaded, too.

Will I make it another 10 years? In all honesty, I don't know. I will be eligible to retire by then, but I might stay in the field a bit longer in a part-time capacity after that. Maybe things will be on the upswing by then. Lets all clap our hands and say "I believe!" and maybe it will come true!

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