5 Things I've Learned in the Past 5 Years

Holy smokes. I realized lately that it has been 5 years since I started out in youth services. That's 5 years of storytimes*, teen programs, school visits, and putting Stephenie Meyer's books on hold for patrons. I have to say that the time has gone pretty fast and I am looking forward to seeing what the next few years have in store for me professionally and personally.

So, without futher ado, here are 5 things I've learned in the past 5 years.

1. When in doubt, make 'em laugh. This is a sentiment best summarized by this scene  from Singin' in the Rain. You can also learn a lot from this scene about committing fully to a performance. IMDB reports: The number was so physically taxing that O'Connor, who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day at the time, went to bed (or may have been hospitalized, depending on the source) for a week after its completion, suffering from exhaustion and painful carpet burns. Unfortunately, an accident ruined all of the initial footage, so after a brief rest, O'Connor, ever the professional, agreed to do the difficult number all over again. Can you imagine? I thought doing storytime in my third trimester was difficult. Incidentally, IMDB has a somewhat amusing (if too inappropriate for me to blog here) story regarding Cyd Charisse's dance costume that you may want to read.

2. No matter how many staff members proofread your flyers before printing, everyone will miss the program listing with the wrong day of the week. Other fun times in program marketing include:
  • Answering a phone call regarding whether storytime is at 11 a.m. or p.m.
  • Accidentally writing that sewing program participants will be making their own brick creations. (Another mistake no one caught until it was too late!)
3. It's okay to say you don't know the answer to a patron's question. It's not okay to not search for the answer. You might have to take their phone number and call them back when you find the answer out or it might be as simple as asking other staff members if they know. Get to know your co-workers interests and hobbies and you will have a sense for who the baking whiz or the techie is. Seek them out.

4. Don't take the complaints to heart. Extract the constructive criticism and see if you can apply that. Not all complaints are reasonable. For example, people might complain that the library isn't open 24 hours (but would never want to pay the taxes to fund those hours) or is closed on Christmas. Also someone questioning a staff member on a procedure or policy is not a complaint. I had someone ask me if the prizes for our carnival tended to be the cheap, plastic stuff and I said yes. She said that her family wouldn't attend as they already had way too much of that stuff. I don't consider that a complaint as she was very nice about it. I don't want a house full of plastic crap either.

5.  Hell is trying to walk patrons through their first use of OverDrive on the phone. Once they've gotten the hang of it, they really seem to like OverDrive, but the first time is a nightmare.

I'm curious, dear readers. How long have you been in youth services? And what have you learned in that time? What advice would you give a new librarian just starting out.

*Have I ever mentioned that I met my husband at storytime? He used to bring his nephew to storytime at my old library.


  1. I'm two months into my fifth year. All your advice is EXACTLY RIGHT. I would add - teens are NOT like toddlers - if they're being quiet, they're probably reading in beautifully photogenic poses. If it's uproariously noisy, they're probably doing something they shouldn't (like throwing around balloons made out of condoms). Also, communication is hugely important - never make changes without consulting every staff member, whether they're affected or not, especially when you're new.

  2. *scurries off to develop publicity targeting single uncles with adorable nephews (and/or nieces)*

    I'm in my 4th year, and would agree with all this. Also. You're going to plan a program that no one shows up to. Whether it's the weather, forgetting to check the community calendar (especially in smaller cities or rural settings), or just a miss, it will happen. It's okay. Pick yourself up, try to come to a logical conclusion about what happened, and throw yourself into the next one.

    1. Oh yes. LOTS of programs no one shows up to. Or one family does, at which point you have to decide if it's better to adapt the content to a very small group or if it can't be done. Very sad all the way around.

      Scheduling programs for kids in school is so hard! They are so over-scheduled to begin with. I'm becoming a big convert to passive programs the families can do any time they happen to be in the library for that reason.

    2. I am struggling with this now as I work on my fall schedules! I am the only one who does youth and teen programming (and I know I am not the only one) so my hours are limited. Would you share what type of passive programs you are doing?

  3. I have been doing this for 12 years. My advice is to read library, story time & early childhood/literacy blogs! I cannot tell you how much reading blogs almost every day is like a daily professional development for myself. Story times, crafts,flannel boards ideas, summer reading ideas, book ideas, new books coming out, book trailers, "how to do" ideas. It is so different from when I first began, I used to purchase books with pre-school story time stuff in it. Why do that anymore, when it is at your finger tips online? PS. what a cute story about how you met your husband!

  4. I can agree with all I've read so far. I'm always amazed how much my little preschool children know. I always make notes of all the fun things they've shared with me. In addition to the Overdrive observations you made, I've discovered that we've become the local "geek squad". We're 200 miles from the nearest technology store (Best Buy), so we are the go-to people for "how do I work this device?". Yeah, for search engines to find answers. But I do know we are very appreciated. The same thing goes for older people who are now required to apply for job apps onlne. It can be very frustrating to them. My job is very diverse.

  5. I love reading your comments and you're all right on target. Compared to all of you, I'm a dinosaur. I've been working with youth in libraries for over 30 years and I find that the kids (be they toddler or teen) keep me young. I love all the resources available on the web and the fact that youth librarians are so eager to share what they have learned, what they've created, and what pitfalls to avoid. With librarians like you, the library of the future is in good hands.

  6. I want to add one more thing. When you are planning outdoor storytimes, just talk really, really loud when the street sweeper is going by, someone decides to do a fly over in an awesome jet plane, or the porta johns are getting delivered to the parking lot for the Saturday Main St. Celebration!


Post a Comment