Tag: inspiration

Have Fun – Beyond the Numbers in 2020

While 2020 has been a divisive year, I think we can all agree on the fact that nothing’s normal—and that includes our statistics for program attendance. Sometimes it’s up (at my small rural library, we gave away 373 Grab & Go’s in August alone), but frequently our numbers are down. People are simultaneously wanting something to do and burnt out on the enormous variety of online options being offered. What we want, the opportunity to socialize in person (and this coming from a die-hard introvert), is just not on the table right now. And for those of us (myself included) whose jobs revolve around creating, advertising, and hosting events, this sucks.

What is our job when the main part of what we do is off the table? Online events and take-homes are major options, but enthusiasm for the former can die down even if you start strong, and there’s only so much budget for take-home activities. Not to say “don’t do them” or “don’t try,” but remember there’s something else you can do as well.

Libraries are here to provide what the community needs, and right now beyond the essentials, everyone could use a laugh. A fun, bright moment in the midst of chaos and anxiety. You can’t count smiles, you can’t add them to a neat little tracking sheet, but finding ways to make your patrons smile right now makes a difference.

So what are some ideas to keep up spirits in 2020? It really depends where your library is in the opening process, but here are some fun ideas:

Picture of a bookshelf endcap with a poster that reads, "Social distancing library edition: stay two bookshelves apart." and shows the silhouettes of 2 people with 2 bookshelves between them. Below the poster is the printout of a meme with 4 pictures of a black cat, three of which are wearing a mask wrong with the word "NO" on the picture, and one wearing it right with the word, "YES".

  • Print out memes/comics and stick them to your end-caps/empty wall space. Switch them out after a few weeks!
  • Create a funny display.
  • Design or print fun bookmarks and stick them in books during checkout.
  • Make an outside game.
  • Provide sidewalk chalk (make sure you’ve a way to sanitize between uses).
  • Create amusing flyers for the door & in the library.
  • Decorate your drop box, since it’s getting extra use anyways. What about a monster’s mouth? A wormhole? Something else!
  • Make a word cloud out of the most popular authors to share.
  • Create a pixel artwork in post-its/index cards/construction paper squares in a window.
  • Post amusing pictures on Instagram.
  • Make a stop motion video—you can do it in PowerPoint!

Honestly, the options are endless and just depend on your time and resources. Do what you can for your numbers, but don’t get lost in them. Take moments to find laughter and share those moments with your patrons.

And something that costs no time or money? If you have the energy for it, don’t forget to smile! It seems so stupid and small. Definitely trite. But it’s so easy to forget or get lost in your head. I’ve certainly been there. You’re at work, things are stressful, you’re just not thinking. As someone who’s worked retail, though, smiling can become a habit. And ok, you’re wearing a mask right now (I hope). But I can still tell when someone’s in a good mood or not, even if they’re wearing a mask. If nothing else, smiling can trigger the customer service orientated mindset! Seriously, though, I can’t tell you how many times just smiling at a customer/patron has not only helped me, but helped them.

Little things, little moments, make a difference. See how many differences you can make today!

What’s Saving Your Life Now?

A person holding a cup of coffee next to flowers and an open book

If you’re familiar with the TSU blog, you know we post about programming, share book lists, feature display ideas, and discuss life in the library while working with teens. We’re always talking about how we can best serve our teen patrons (and rightly so), but today I want to talk about how we can best help ourselves.

2020 has been a challenging year for all of us. Our libraries have been closed. Many workers have been furloughed. Our sense of normalcy has been disrupted. And returning to work brought its own stress: Will I be safe? Will I get sick?

As I thought about this post, I kept thinking about these words from author Barbara Brown Taylor: 

Many years ago now, when I was invited to speak at a church gathering, my host said, “Tell us what is saving your life now.” It was such a good question that I have made a practice of asking others to answer it even as I continue to answer it myself. 

My question for you today is this: What is saving your life now? What person has been a lifeline? What practice has eased your worries? What self-care habit has helped keep you feeling sane?

Maybe your answers will include something meaningful, like deep conversations with a close friend. Perhaps it’ll be something that might sound silly, like DoorDash or sleeping in on your days off. All answers are valid as long as they bring joy and peace into your life. 

Here are some of the things that have been saving my life lately: 

  • Making new playlists on Spotify
  • Listening to my favorite podcasts
  • Taking breaks from reading the news
  • Spending time with my family
  • Cooking and baking
  • Organizing stuff around the house

I’ve had to be intentional about finding joy this year. When I know what’s saving my life, I can try to fit more of those things into my schedule. As Mary Oliver reminds us, “Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

So how does all of this relate to library work? If you’re reading this blog, you care about your job, and you want to do good work for your patrons. You might have the best vision, the best team, the best budget, and the best work environment, but if you’re exhausted and full of stress, your achievements will probably fall short. We can’t be the best versions of ourselves at work if we’re a mess inside. 

I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your answer to the question I asked: What’s saving your life now? 

Lean into the answers, and take good care of yourself. 

Remember Yourself: Vocational Awe and How to Avoid It

I had been the teen services person at my branch for almost four years, and had forged many great relationships with the teens there. One of my regulars, a sixteen year old boy who was one in a large family and always in with his younger siblings, came up to the desk and told me, in a tone inviting me to laugh, “Hey, wanna know something sad? One of my friends, he can’t read.”

In this moment, I could have done a few things. I could have laughed with him, something he was clearly giving me all the social cues to do. I could have lectured him on making fun of a friend that can’t read. I could have invited him to bring the friend in to the library.

But, something in me told me that that statement was a test to see how I would react. “Yes,” I said, with empathy. “That is sad. I would hate to not know how to read.”

He took a moment, looking down at my desk, rubbing the back of his neck. “Actually, I’m the one who can’t read. Can you help?”

The answer, of course, was absolutely. I talked with him more about what he could and couldn’t read. What he liked. He called himself stupid and I explained neuroplasticity to him, that your brain is a muscle to be exercised, not something you’re born with finished. I found him high-low books that interested him and helped him find books he could read to his young sisters to practice.

He came back the next week and told me how much he enjoyed the high-low book I’d suggested to him, asked for more suggestions, asked for homework help, came to all my programs.

I rode that high for months. I cried when I told the story to my family, shared the story with other teen people. This was what I was in this job for. This was what ALA means when they say “Libraries Transform.”

Now let’s pull back a little and talk about where I was at in my job at that point. I worked 12:30pm-9pm every week day, and then switched to day shift on the weekends, where I worked alternating Fridays and Saturdays. Most of those evening shifts we did not have a manager and I was the most senior staff member, so if a patron had a complaint, or if the police had to be called, or if there was incident report to be written, that was my job. My branch was chronically understaffed, and I never took 15 minute breaks because I couldn’t stand leaving my coworkers in the fray. I was a union steward, and I was embroiled in a battle for my coworker to be able to wear a badge identifying their pronouns. My stepfather had had a heart attack less than a year before and I had been counseled on “high utilization of sick leave” by my manager for taking a week off to be with him and my mother. I left work early one evening to take my partner, who I had lived with for at least 7 years at this point, to the ER, and was forced to use my vacation leave for the time because “sick time is only for spouses and immediate family,” even though it would be illegal for me to marry her.

And, a few months after I had bragged to everyone about the great experience I had had with that teenager, he began to sexually harass me. I couldn’t bring myself to stand up to it or tell anyone, because I had brought it on myself, hadn’t I? I had been far too friendly with him and led him on. Not to mention how much of my ego I had tied to that great Library Moment™.

What is Vocational Awe?

Fobazi Ettarh defines Vocational Awe as “the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in notions that libraries as institutions are inherently good, sacred notions, and therefore beyond critique.” In other words, when you believe what you are doing is Good and Right it becomes easy to endure more than you would at any other job.

Have you ever skipped your break?

Smiled through a patron saying something that hurts you down to your core?

Stayed after closing time to finish helping a patron, and not reported it on your timesheet?

Said yes to every single thing your manager asked of you, when you already feel buried under your tasks?

Worked at home to prepare for a program because you didn’t have time at work?

How many times have you cried in the staff bathroom?

What is Self-care?

What do you think of when you think of self-care? A bath bomb? A fun scented lotion? Maybe your workplace has done a mindfulness training, or yoga. Those are helpful, right?

Would it be as helpful as your workplace providing maternity leave? A pay raise? More staff? Safe work spaces?

self-care dog by @_pocketts

Today, I’m giving you permission to do a few things that will help you take care of yourself in a much realer way than a bath bomb.

Take your damn break. The whole thing. Preferably, outside of the library. Especially if your break room is like mine–a table in your office space where you can watch everyone else working and be asked questions while you eat.

Say no. Advocate for your time and what you can really do in the hours you’re inside the library. Tell your boss early if you’ve bit off more than you chew. Tell people if you need help. If your boss isn’t helpful, tell their boss. If your workplace is unionized, tell your steward. You’re allowed to ask for help.

Let go of things that are hurting you. If that’s your whole job, drop it. It’s good to have a back up plan, but sometimes it’s okay not to. Sometimes the only way you can come up with a plan is to get out of the bad place or situation that’s taking away all your energy.

If you see things are wrong, try to change them. I’ve mentioned unions a couple times in this post. As the president of AFSCME Local 3425, I am very pro-union, and I think without the support of my union and the platform union leadership has given me I would have been eaten from the inside by now. Don’t be afraid to talk to your coworkers about unionizing. Reaching out to AFSCME or SEIU or any of the other big unions might be what you need right now. I’m not going to pretend union work is easy– it can easily fall into the trap of Vocational Awe as well– but sometimes the only way you and your coworkers can have a voice is through unionizing.

I’m not perfect at following these rules, and I break them a lot. So here’s one more rule for you: Forgive yourself. I was in Frankfort on Tuesday advocating for unions and libraries, and I told myself I would also talk to the representatives about the scary transgender bill that will threaten many of the teens I serve. Then our bus ride started with a prayer, and I looked around at all the other union leadership that was there and realized I and the other library union leader I had come with were the youngest people there, by a lot. No one else looked obviously queer, either. Two more references to God and prayer once we were there and I couldn’t open my mouth to say a word about trans rights, or even LGBTQ+ rights in general. I spoke up a lot during the trip, but I left out the topic closest to my heart and I felt like a coward.

And you know what? That happens a lot. I mess up. I let things drop that are important to me, I say yes too much, I skip breaks. I don’t speak up because I’m afraid of confrontation. You remember what I told that teen a few years ago? About neuroplasticity? Your brain is a muscle, and just like you can’t just make a decision to run a marathon, you can’t just make the decision to take care of yourself. You have to make that decision, and then you need to practice, and fail, and practice some more.


And because we’re library people here, here’s some resources from me to you:

Fobazi Ettarh coined the term “Vocational Awe,” and you should go straight from this to Fobazi’s work. I recommend Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves. You can find Fobazi on twitter @Fobettarh.

For how a manager should be supporting staff in self-care efforts, here’s A Manager’s Role in Staff Self-Care by the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee.

Less is Not More: Rejecting Resilience Narratives for Library Workers by Meredith Farkas is about the damaging attitudes that lead library workers to feel unable to advocate for change in their workplace and the need to acknowledge that many of the factors that cause burnout are beyond the employee’s direct control.

And finally, I didn’t use the words Compassion Fatigue in this piece but you should be aware of what it is and acknowledge it in yourself. You can find resources for that at the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project.

Special thanks to Julie Howe (@unruly___julie) and Jessy Griffith (@plasticbird, @JessyLibrarian) whose presentation at KLA in 2018 introduced me to the term Vocational Awe (and provided some of the resources I link to above!)

Save Yourself From Burnout


As librarians we live to serve the public. We strive to ensure every patron receives quality library services through organized program planning, thoughtful technology instruction, and providing exceptional reference, and readers’ advisory services. Working for the public can be taxing especially during busy times or changes. Some components of the job can even get tedious and boring. If you find yourself stressed and headed toward burnout there is something you can try to take some control of your day. Focus on yourself- your professional self that is.

Self-care is a term that’s become a revolutionary act. It can be best described by the flight attendant instruction, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” Of course, it’s important to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy, and engaging in outside hobbies or activities. However one area you may not have considered in your self-care routine is your professional self-development.

It may seem counter-intuitive to add extra work for yourself when you are stressed, but focusing on passion projects or planning the direction of your career can give you a sense of power over your work life. Exploring different interests in your field can lead to connecting with new people, discovering valuable resources, and gaining new skills. It’s a major component of the job to stay abreast of new technologies and keep up with trends therefore it’s mutually beneficial to you and the organization to take the time to explore.

There are numerous ways to go after professional development. There are plenty of library centered conferences, workshops, webinars, and classes- many of them free. However, don’t forget about non-typical library trainings. For example- a training on creativity or business can inspire a new approach in problem solving. When you start to feel yourself headed towards burnout stop to make a plan and gain control. Set some time aside to focus on areas of librarianship you are interested in exploring further. Professional development will keep you abreast of new trends. It can help you stay relevant and make you energized. It can help you maintain your ability to keep on keeping on. Of course, this is just one avenue to explore for more serious or prolonged sense of burnout or job stress you may need to seek alternative solutions or support.

For more information on job burnout click here


Reclaiming Our Time Off

Those of us in teen and youth services are a dedicated group. We are hard at work planning and performing programs, selecting materials, working reference, and a host of other tasks that our coworkers (let alone the public) usually can’t even fathom. Yet we have the hardest time taking our earned vacation and sick time.

Some of it is self pressure- the feeling that there’s too much to get done, or that we just can’t take the time. Some of it is institutional pressure- that you can’t take the time or there will be issues, or you will be looked upon as lesser. However, YOU NEED to take your time off! There are a variety of studies that show that workers that take time off for vacation are more productive, and those that use their sick time actually come back healthier, with more to give to the workplace than those who go to work while sick. But how can you deal with these competing pressures? Here are some tips to remember: