Saying that I don’t like change is a huge understatement. And yet, when it doesn’t happen, I feel stifled. Change is something I force myself to undergo as often as I can, because I know it’s good for me. However, when your profession is very often something you use to define yourself (“Hi, I’m Pam! I’m a teen services librarian!”), how do you handle it when that has the possibility of changing?
I never thought I would work with kids, and then, when I kind of fell into my position as the de facto (and later just straight-up facto) teen librarian, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I made Sorting Hats and Minions and planned Star Wars events and that was my job. How could I trade that away? Or so I told myself.
On the other hand, I was feeling burned out. I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for projects anymore. I felt like I wasn’t being original enough, and that everyone else (yes, this is how I think–in absolutes) was a way better teen librarian than I was. So when I had the opportunity to be a circulation librarian instead, I took it. And I moved away. And I had to leave everything that was going well for something that was–relatively speaking–brand new.
If you are in the same situation, or if you are thinking “Hmm, I don’t know if I want to do this teen thing forever” or if you are thinking “I have to do this teen thing forever because otherwise people will judge me”: it’s okay. You can be a kick-butt librarian after changing jobs, whether you still work with teens or not. A change in job title or focus does not–I repeat not–mean that your worth as a person or an employee is any less.
If I could change one thing about librarianship, it wouldn’t be the stereotypes regarding eyewear or the frustrations of working with the public. It would be the rampant judgment within our own profession. There’s this unspoken code that if you don’t end up a “rockstar librarian” in your niche, or end up serving on a committee, or make the news in your town, that you are a “bad” librarian. This is patently untrue. You don’t need to be or do any of those things to be amazing. You know what? You’re amazing because you love people so much that you’ve dedicated your professional career to helping them. If, during the course of that career, you decide to work with teens (who I would argue are the most overlooked group), you are a super-awesome, self-sacrificing person. But you don’t lose any of that if you get a different job or decide that you want to change it up. All of the things you’ve learned working with teens will benefit you greatly no matter what you go on to do. Because guess what? You made and are making a difference. Even if you don’t get fancy awards or invites to publisher parties or quotes in newspaper articles: you. Are. Important. You matter. What you do matters. And whatever you go on to do–that matters just as much.
Once I got over that mental hurdle (and to be quite honest, it’s a hurdle that I have to get over at least twice a week, over and over again), I had to learn how to say goodbye to my teens. That’s how I saw them–they belonged in my heart. Even when they pulled really dumb stunts like prank-calling 911 from a payphone or skateboarding in the library. I felt responsible for their future success. It was exquisitely painful to tell the teen who had been confiding in me that I was going to leave. They said “You’re the coolest librarian we know! None of the other librarians like us!” And I challenged them and said, “How do you know?” I challenged them to talk to the other librarians when I left. To give them a chance. And they said they’d try, which is all I could ever want.
And now? Now my job, which isn’t necissarily a teen-focused one, allows me to program for whichever age group I wish. So I’m meeting with other youth librarians in the system to create an epic room escape. I have teammates now, when before, I was on my own. Everything I ever did in my old system is brand-spankin’ new in my current one. I get to succeed (or fail) all over again. Looking around, I see very few teens in the library. And thinking back, that’s exactly what it was like when I started in my previous position. Then, a few years later, we ended up with the “problem” of too many teens in the library. I want that problem again. I want to make it happen.
So don’t feel guilty about moving on. Do what you need to do for you. But see every opportunity as a fresh start. You get to introduce yourself and your awesomeness to an entirely new population–whether they are kiddos, teens, adults, or some mix of them all. Go for it!