Wednesday marks my first full year as a real live, actual factual children's librarian. Now, I like to think that I got some pretty good schooling when I did my MLS. I also tried to make conscientious decisions about working in children's services and the information field when I did internships and looked for jobs to support myself through that degree, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for. Hoooo boy, was I wrong. I love, and at times hate, this job way more than I ever thought possible and believe me, there has been an incredibly steep learning curve.
Below are a couple of the most important lessons that I've taken away from this first year. Lessons that were definitely not included in my coursework, but which I wish had been mentioned somewhere.
1) Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think "I want to wear every single piece of tye-dyed clothing that I own today." And that's totally acceptable. In fact, it might even make me a bit better at my job. Kids are way more likely to come talk to me when I'm dressed in what is basically a costume than they are on my (few and far between) ironed blouse days. I have also applied this logic to an Elvis print sundress, neon tights and even the swimsuit coverup that I am currently wearing as a dress.
2) If you're going to wear a skirt, wear shorts underneath it. At some point a child is going to stick his/her head up underneath your skirt (or just try to lift it up for all the world to see) and it is up to you what they'll be getting an eyeful of. Same logic applies to necklaces and dangley earrings. They will get tugged on and your neck/ears, not to mention the integrity of your jewelry, depends on what you decided to put on that morning.
3) Working weird hours is kinda awesome. Working in a public library means that a lot of the time you're at work when everyone else is off, so the public can actually visit the library. Makes sense. This early and late schedule with some weekend days takes some getting used to, but once you've been doing it for a few weeks, it's the best kind of schedule that there is. I mean, maybe if you have a family and like to eat dinner with them or something these hours aren't so hot, but for me? Couldn't be better. Working days when most people have off means I have days off when most people have to work. I love shopping for groceries or going to the post office or trying to get a new driver's license in the middle of the day on Friday. There are never any lines/ Plus, if you don't want to do something it is super easy to get out of it by saying "Oh, sorry, I'd love to, but that's one of my late nights." Trust me, no one ever bothers to remember what your ACTUAL late nights are and they make a great excuse.
4) If you want to learn a new skill, or just have a little extra time for your favorite one, build a library program around it. We had a super successful Mother's Day program because I thought that origami flowers look cool and wanted to know how to do it myself. And the knitting circle that I started is the only program at the library that attracts children, teens AND adults.
5) The internet is so freaking cool. Seriously, I have no idea how children's librarians found new ideas before the internet was around. From pinterest to blogs to reading challenges, there is such a wealth of knowledge and expertise out there. Discovering Flannel Friday not only gave me an outlet to share things that I am proud of, it opened up an entirely new world of story time and book ideas. We talk a lot about the negative effects that technology has had on traditional library services, but I think it's time that the good parts- like resource sharing- got a voice in the conversation too.
6) Embrace your community. This applies to many things, like the internet community I've mentioned above. Always give credit where credit is due and don't be shy with praise or suggestions. But it also applies to the physical community your library is in. I was recently banned from the community listserv because when I send out blasts about library programs and events it's considered advertising, which is a big no-no. But now I've got two super secret spy parents (one for toddler and pre-school programs and one for elementary programs) who do my dirty work for me. I just type up a blurb that I want out there and e-mail it to them for them to send on. I've had parents take me as their guest to Music and Movement Classes so I can see what I need to do if I decide to develop one at the library, and it's always fun (and a little scary) when kids come up and hug you in the street and their parents have NO IDEA what's going on.
7) Also embrace any down time that you have. I remember my first few days at this job having absolutely nothing to do. I was still in training, so other librarians were doing story time and I had no clue about elementary age programming yet. I was bored out of my mind. I actually voluntarily shelved books, and I hate shelving books. I remember thinking "Ah shoot, this is definitely just a job and not a vocation. How did I screw that up so badly? Okay, calm down, maybe I just won't be the type of person that finds fulfillment in my work." I was so so wrong. And while I'm happy that the days of thinking I'd chosen the wrong career are long over, sometimes I wish I could recapture some of that downtime from those first few days and spread it out. Because now it is go, go, go and I seriously need those few moments where I can catch my breath and meditate for a few seconds before moving on to the next thing.
8) Haters gonna hate. You can't please everyone. Some people are going to stop coming to story time because they don't like how you do it. Some kid is going to get mad and tell you that you're the mean one and they hate you. Parents will get up in your face about perceived mistreatment of their precious little darlings and no matter how many times you say it, people will always sneak food into the library. But as long as you are confident in your actions and consistent in how you apply the rules, people will come back. And if they don't, new ones will.
9) The good things about this job don't make up for the bad. It's not a scale to be balanced. No baby saying your name for the first time is going to make it okay when someone calls you a "white ass bitch" and knocks down displays on their way out of the library. No kid loving the book you recommended will make it worth it for a parent to call you a racist. So you learn to push through the bad times and keep the good moments it your pocket, so you can revisit them when need be.
10) You can make new worlds out of cardboard, tape, a glue stick and butcher paper. It really is all you need.