Sunday, July 14, 2024

And the Survery Says..... We Are Busy & We Are Burning Out!

A few months ago when I was feeling particularly stressed, overworked, unappreciated, and frustrated in my position as a solo children's librarian being expected to do all the things and be everything for everybody, I put together a survey to see how many others were in the same boat. I posted a link to the survey on my page as well as in two Facebook groups for youth services and summer reading, and collected 228 responses over one week. It's taken me a while, but I've finally finished going through the results. To be clear, this is a casual opinion survey, and not proper research.

All but two of the respondents currently work in public libraries in a youth services capacity; one described working in a mixed-use academic/public library, and another had very recently left the field. Most were employed full-time as either a youth services librarian or manager, though various other positions were represented, as well as a few part-time staff. The remaining survey questions related to experience, job duties, work-life balance, compensation, perceptions of how well supervisors and upper management understood and supported youth services positions, what respondents wish management better understood, and how they could be better supported.

Position & Experience:

Job Duties:

Survey participants were given a list of job duties and asked to check all that applied; additional duties not listed could be written in under an "other" option.

*Various forms of social media, promotion, marketing, and/or communications were written in by 14 respondents under an "Other" option. That number would possibly be even higher if it had been listed as one of the original choices. Other items written in under the "Other" option were (each listed once unless otherwise indicated): transferring materials to other locations, helping patrons in other departments, serving on book award committee, storywalk installation, translation, grant writing, special projects, state committees, library committees (2), person in charge (2), branch management, greeter, cleaning & sanitizing (2), soliciting summer reading coupons, departmental management, volunteer recruitment, budgeting, resource sharing within consortium, cataloging, and other duties as assigned. 

These results clearly show what those of us in youth services already know: we are spread very thin, being responsible for a wide range of tasks, many of which are time-consuming and require specialized skills, knowledge, and experience.  
As anticipated, programming is a primary responsibility of almost all youth services staff, with over half of respondents being responsible for 2-4 programs per week, and over a quarter being responsible for more than four programs per week! That is a lot of programming!

Work-Life Balance:
I also wanted to look at not just what we are doing, but how long it takes us to do it, how many extra hours we are putting in, and especially how much free labor we are doing on our own time.

I have to admit, these results surprised me, in a good way. I really expected that more of us would be putting in more 'overtime' at work, and doing more work-related tasks at home on our own time. So maybe we are starting to be better at having healthy boundaries and limits as a profession, though I must admit I still struggle in this area, partly because it's easier to concentrate at home, I can multi-task and look for program ideas or read over book lists while watching TV, and sometimes I have to take care of something to ease my anxiety or I will never get to sleep. I also can't help but wonder if people may have under-reported unpaid work from home because they don't consider trolling Pinterest, Facebook, Tik-tok, and Instagram as work, but if you are in library-related groups, looking for crafts, program ideas, book reviews, etc., that IS a work-related task.

Though almost two-thirds reported working less than one extra hour per week at the library, and nearly half reported spending less than an hour per week on work-related tasks at home, there is clearly still work to be done in normalizing a 30-40 hour week week (max) and maintaining healthy boundaries and work-life balance. Nearly a third were averaging 1-5 extra hours a week at the library, and a few individuals were putting in as much as ten or more extra hours a week! Then looking at unpaid work from home, a third of us are averaging 1-2 hours of unpaid labor per week, 17% are averaging 3-5 hours per week, and a small, but significant number are spending 5-10 hours per week, or even more, on work-related tasks at home for which they are not compensated.

Misc - Time, Staffing, PTO, & Compensation:
The survey had all of the remaining topics listed as statements with which respondents indicated how strongly they agreed or disagreed. I divided them up into 3 separate figures for the sake of visibility, and tried to group statements in a way that made sense.

I was a bit surprised that more respondents had not disagreed, even strongly disagreed, with having adequate time to perform the myriad of duties and large number of programs shown above, and that responses to having adequate staffing were so mixed, though the results do indicate that while staffing and time may be somewhat sufficient to meet management's expectations, they are generally not enough to fully meet the community's needs.

I was slightly surprised that those feeling they are fairly compensated for the work that they do outnumbered those who did not, and I was very surprised that taking PTO did not seem to be a problem for most respondents. While I am fortunate enough to have a salary I feel is fair and is a living wage for the are in which I live, being able to take time off when I want or need to has been a problem, especially the last year and a half. No one ever told me that I couldn't, but since I had no staff who could cover storytimes or other programs, I always felt like I couldn't; when I did take off I would sometimes regret it because the work would just pile up and I would be so behind and overwhelmed when I got back it almost wasn't worth it. 

Supervisory & Managerial Support:
Now to what I REALLY wanted to know! I have observed out-of-touch management, particularly upper management, in every job I have ever had; it is not unique to libraries. But, when combined with the strong sense of vocational awe our field commands, it creates an even more stressful, unhealthy environment than I had observed in my previous career, and Youth Services in particular seems to be more affected by out-of-touch management who have little understanding of what we do. Even when management is made up by former youth services staff, over time they tend to forget how much time and work go into things like programming and collection development. I wanted to see how pervasive this problem is, and whether youth services staff felt their supervisors and upper management really understood what their job entailed and the time and skills required, and gave them adequate support.

The results indicate that most respondents felt that their immediate supervisor understood their job duties as well as the time and skills required, and felt supported by them (though there was a slight drop when it came to understanding the time required). However, the perceived understanding (particularly the time required to perform duties) and support from upper management/administration was noticeably less. This is likely due to the fact many youth services staff are supervised by a youth services librarian or manger who is a former youth services librarian, while many directors and other members of upper management and administration do not have a background in youth services. Understanding the time required to perform all the duties of a youth services position seems to be the area of greatest disconnect.

I also asked open-ended questions about what survey participants wished their supervisor or upper management better understood about their job and how they could better support them, and finally invited them to leave any other relevant comments. The vast majority related to wishing management understood the overall workload, the number of tasks and the time required to complete them (and more specifically to how much time, work, and energy go into programming), and the energy require for interacting with that many people, and sometimes difficult people. Others mentioned unrealistic demands, understaffing, struggles with mental health, neurodivergence, understanding the needs of children and teens, quality over quantity, understanding that what we do requires special knowledge, skills, and expertise; the need for appreciation, recognition, acknowledgement, and adequate compensation; and more. [I will provide more detailed analysis and quotes from the several hundred comments collected in a follow-up article tentatively titled "What Youth Services Staff Wish Directors Knew", coming soon!]

And in a final question to assess how pervasive burnout is in youth services, participants were asked to rate their level of agreement with the following statement: "I am feeling some effects of burnout."

It is very evident that burnout is a real problem among youth services staff, with 84% of survey participants reporting that they are at least feeling some degree of burnout. While this is not really surprising in and of itself, it is somewhat inconsistent with the responses to other questions on this survey which indicated more positive feelings about supervisors, compensation, PTO, having adequate time and staffing. 

I am not sure what the explanation is, perhaps it has more to do with the mental and emotional labor involved that cause burnout even with working conditions we feel are generally favorable? Or has the pervasive culture of vocational awe conditioned us all to perceive heavy workloads, low pay, and unpaid labor as normal, so we know we are feeling burned out, but aren't sure why, or feel like we can say we're burned out, but feel like we can't complain about specifics because we have been ingrained with the "do all the things, be everything to everybody" attitude? 

Whatever is going on, I am confident in saying that if this many people in our profession are experiencing burnout, there is definitely a problem with library culture and management. People do not burnout if they have reasonable workloads, adequate staffing, a living wage, adequate PTO, and management that truly supports them and enforces healthy boundaries and work-life balance. 

Don't forget to follow or check back for part 2, "What Youth Services Staff Wish Directors Knew", coming soon!

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

New Books - Preschool Storytime

This was a bit of an "off" week, as it was the week of the Fourth of July. Our numbers are always low for this week, so we back off on the programming a little bit. The holiday fell on the day we would normally have had the elementary program, and instead of booking a performer I just did a very simple family Lego program. There was no weekly theme, and I had a couple of new books that I really liked, so decided to forego a theme for storytime and use them.

We started with a "Hello" song, followed by introductions and expectations, then this month's warm-up song, followed by our lead-in song:

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Head, shoulders, knees and toes; knees and toes.
Head, shoulders, knees and toes; knees and toes.
Eyes and ears and mouth and nose,
Head, shoulders, knees and toes; knees and toes.

If You're Ready for a Story?

If you're ready for a story, stomp your feet!
If you're ready for a story, stomp your feet!
If you're ready for a story, if you're ready for a story,
If you're ready for a story, stomp your feet!

(turn around, sit down, clap hands, pat knees, say "shh"...)

For our first book I choose The Wrong Book by Drew Daywalt and Alex Willmore, which starts out as a perfectly normal book, presenting objects/animals/people and saying what they are and what they say. On the first spread, a red apple is shown, and the text reads "This is an apple. And apples go 'Crunch! Crunch! Crunch' when you eat them." However, things soon begin to go hilariously wrong when the book says that a pretty flower smells good and says "Chugga, chugga, Chooo-Chooo!", followed by a puppy that the book says is a bicycle and goes "Buurrp!". The silliness and mis-information continue, much to the consternation of the serious bookmark.

This book is super silly, and super fun to read aloud! It would be even better if done with two readers, one reading the main text of the book, and the other reading the part of the bookmark, which I realized as I was reading it and really wish I would've thought of earlier, in time for a second person to prepare. This would be a great book for elementary classes, too.

After reading such an incredibly silly book and getting our sillies all wound up, it was time to shake them out!

Next up was another new book I ordered primarily to beef up my selection of beach/sand related picture books. The Squish, by Breanna Carzoo, tells about a poor little sandcastle that keeps getting knocked down. He gets stepped on, hit by a frizbee, rained on, wiped out by waves. He tries picking himself up, dusting himself off, and rebuilding himself taller, to no avail; he still ends up getting squished. Will he give up and just stay squished?

This story starts out a little bit funny, a little bit cute, and a little bit sad. The messaging about dealing with trauma felt a bit heavy-handed to me, and I felt took away from what could have been a fun, cute story (which is what I thought I was ordering). But the kids didn't really notice, and it might be a good book for someone who needs that message, and it can be interpreted as dealing with frustration when things don't work the way you want them to and trying again, which is the spin I put on it for storytime.

I decided to stop there rather than attempting another song, book, or rhyme and sing a quick "Goodbye" song, followed by activities and play time.

Since I expected a very small turnout, I just planned on two activities, figuring I could always pull out more if we needed to.
  • Kinetic Sand - I gave each child a couple of handfuls of kinetic sand on a tray, along with a handful of shells, 2-3 mini castle molds, and 2-3 animal molds.
  • Sensory Bin - This week it contained rice and several different kinds of beans, along with measuring cups and spoons.
  • Soft blocks - we got these out for the one younger sibling who was too little for the other activities.

How It Went
It was a weird morning, being the day after the Fourth of July. I expected a small crowd, and at start time only one family was there. I waited a couple of minutes to see if others would show up, but none did, so we went ahead and started. After we got going, 3-4 other families trickled in, the last one not arriving until we were almost finished with the storytime part. Other than that, it went well. I think kids that are a little older, 5-8 years old would appreciate the humor in The Wrong Book even more.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Wiggle - Toddler Storytime


My toddler storytimes often don't have a strong theme, since we use the same songs/rhymes all month, and I can't always come up with activities that are developmentally appropriate and strongly tie-in with the book, and this was one of those times. Themes can be fun and help give direction, but sometimes it can unnecessarily complicate things, so I don't worry too much about whether I have one or not (for a more in-depth discussion of themes, please see my previous "To Theme, or Not to Theme" post).

This was the first week of the month, so we have new songs/rhymes (other than the Hello/Goodbye and lead-in songs, which only change every few years when I get tired of them). 


Hello, my friends, hello.
Hello, my friends, hello.
Hello, my friends at storytime;
Hello, my friends, hello!

Followed by introductions, expectations (we have so many late-comers I've started saving expectations for after the greetings and hello song), then a warm-up song with movement, followed by two songs with manipulatives (scarves for this month).

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

 Head, shoulders, knees and toes; knees and toes.
Head, shoulders, knees and toes; knees and toes.
Eyes and ears and mouth and nose,
Head, shoulders, knees and toes; knees and toes.

(repeat 2x, faster each time)

This Is the Way....

This is the way we wave our scarves,
Wave our scarves, wave our scarves.
This is the way we wave our scarves,
Because it's fun to do!

(shake, twirl, scrunch, throw, look through)

(to the tune of 

Popcorn kernels, popcorn kernels,
(wave scarves overhead)
In the pot, in the pot.
(scrunch into ball)
Shake them, shake them, shake them;
Until they POP! Until they POP!
(throw in air)

(They LOVE this one so we usually do it three times.)

Then it was time to settle down for our story with our lead-in song:

If You're Ready for a Story

If you're ready for a story, stomp your feet.
If you're ready for a story, stomp your feet.
If you're ready for a story, if you're ready for a story,
If you're ready for a story, stomp your feet!

(turn around, have a seat, clap hands, pat knees, say "shh")

movement storytime, toddler storytime
I'm finding it is becoming more and more difficult to find books for storytime, especially toddler storytime, as kids' attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter, but today I settled on an older book that has toddler time written all over it! 

Wiggle by Doreen Cronin and Scott Menchin is a fun read-aloud that is perfect for those shorter attention spans as it encourages the kids to move along with the cute dog that is narrating the story, and it has a very pleasant rhythm and rhyme, which I've observed seems to hold their attention better. Wiggle is part of a movement trilogy, which includes Bounce and Stretch.

After that we worked on our ABCs and 123s with the "Alphabet Song" (to the traditional "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" tune) and "Ten Little Bubbles" (first counting up, popping bubbles, then counting down). Bubble time generally turns into a toddler mosh pit! 

Following bubbles, I announced we were done with the storytime part and would go ahead and sing our "Goodbye" song in case we didn't get to say goodbye to all of our friends later, but that we did have activities afterward.

I put out a variety of developmentally appropriate toys and activities afterward:

  • Busy Boards with various locks and fasteners to open and close
  • Puzzles - Chunky, simple wooden puzzles with animals or vehicles
  • Foam Blocks
  • Sensory Tubes
  • Sensory Balls
  • Stacking/Nesting Cups
  • Paper & Crayons
  • Sensory Bin - with a variety of beans and rice with measuring cups and spoons
  • Magnetic gears

How It Went
Everything went well, though I am finding that now that I am getting steady attendance, those that started as new toddlers a year or two ago are turning 3 (or already have), and I have a new bunch of 1-2 years olds, I feel like the age range (1-3) is too broad and the older kids are taking away from the experience of the true toddlers. 

I have started trying to gently suggest the older kids (who don't have younger siblings) move to the preschool storytime by changing the stated age range for toddler time from 1-3 years to 12-36 months and reminding the group that we have a preschool storytime for ages 3-5 and that it is usually a smaller group and less chaotic, but so far, no one has moved up. I'm not sure if it is a scheduling thing, they just like the toddler storytime better (more songs and movement, and less books than preschool), habit, or what. This is the conundrum I will be trying to figure out how to manage over the next few months.