Starting my job as a children’s librarian at the Public Library of Brookline was a little bit of a whirlwind. I finished class on a Thursday, started my string of back-to-back holiday travels on Friday, and in the middle of going to New York City, Kansas, and Colorado, I interviewed for and was offered a full-time job which I then started on the 27th of December.
It’s been just over two months now, and I sort of feel like I have the hang of things. Transitioning from school to a full-time schedule isn’t easy, and there are still things I’m trying to figure out about the way I’m spending my time at home now that I have less of it but don’t have the all encompassing demands of graduate coursework looming over my head at every free moment.
I love librarian blogs. From storytime tips and tricks to just descriptions of what a day on the job looks like. I’m not saying this is going to turn into a librarian blog, but you’re probably going to start seeing more library content than book content.
My one peeve with librarian blogs is that I feel like they’re too polished. You see the good ideas, the cool new things, the polished reflections on a program. I want to see the failures, I want to see the struggles, I want to see the fresh-out-of-grad-school librarians figuring out the things that the degrees didn’t prepare them for.
So that’s what this post is. Here are a few honest takes of my first few months of librarianship.
One of the things I’m most excited for is having a chance to do programming. I was able to do one in-person storytime while I was a part-time library assistant thanks to the random luck of when I was scheduled. That remains the only in-person storytime that I’ve done, because my second week full time, we had to move to back to virtual programs.
My first virtual storytime there was only one family in attendance. It was still an important program because it was that family’s first library program after moving to the area, but the virtual format is still hard in terms of getting the interaction that makes storytime so much fun for the kids and the librarian alike.
Doing virtual programs just takes a lot of mental bandwidth. I’ve been at it for two months, but my coworkers have been at it for two years. We’re also planning programs for at least a month in advance, so having to plan when you have no idea what the COVID situation will look like is not something that ever came up in library school (though I hope it does for future students).
That’s not to say that I’ve not had some wins. My first solo-planned and run program was a family trivia night in early February that had nearly 30 attendees and was so much fun! I’m working on a program for early March that had the registration limit met in about 30 minutes when signups opened up.
Library school also doesn’t teach you about the fact that programming isn’t all about having your own ideas and planning in-house run programs. Right now I’m trying to hire performers for April Vacation Week, and sifting through the variety of children’s performers in Massachusetts is causing me a lot of stress. That should have been an assignment in my programming class: Search for and budget for a week’s worth of outside programers.
Speaking of budgets, I’m shocked by the fact that we only discussed library budgets in one of my classes. One assignment in my public library class involved looking at a budget for a library and making budget cuts. While that was great in terms of thinking of the jobs of library management, it did nothing to prepare me for the actual budgeting that I’m doing in my job
I have a programming budget that’s to be used for both my library and the other two locations in Brookline. I have individual budgets for each of the collections that I’m responsible for ordering for. We have access to some trust funds that are designated to be used for certain things each year including a mix of collections and programs. There’s a discretionary fund for odds and ends. There’s a completely separate budget for our summer reading program. I use at least one budget in some form every day whether I’m actively making expenditures or seeing if something I want to do is feasible.
Why are we not talking about budgeting in every single library school class? Why are we not asking students to do collection development activities that work within a budget. My programming class spent a lot of time on storytime, which is a low cost program, but we never talked about the costs associated with other programs. I’m making do, and asking my supervisor a lot of questions, but I’m absolutely shocked that this very important day-to-day thing never came up.
And I guess that’s a larger complaint about library school as a whole. It focuses a lot on the theoretical underpinnings of librarianship (which don’t get me wrong, are important), but man the day-to-day stuff that’s just as important really gets shoved to the side.
My library has four full-time youth services focused librarians and two part-time librarians on staff which means I have a lot of awesome coworkers and we all get to split up ordering responsibilities. At the moment, I order for five collections: easy readers, intermediates, holiday books, world language books, and audio visual materials.
I really enjoy ordering books. It’s fun to look through our distributors website (despite its unfriendly user interface). It’s also stressful. There are so many books out there, and you can’t order all of them. Also because I have other responsibilities to balance at work, I often get close to the ordering deadline for the week and scramble. As I figure out what the average day/week looks like for me (if there is such a thing), I hope to work in more time to intentionally work on collection development rather than feeling like I’m scrambling to keep up the sections I was assigned.
Part of that is also getting familiar with what my collections have. I know what Easy Readers kids look for often and I’m familiar with popular intermediate series, but I’m less aware of what easy reader non-fiction I should be ordering and I’m completely out of my element in terms of world language books. This is a big area of growth for me.
One weird area of transition that I didn’t anticipate was the weird things that come up because I moved from part-time to full-time at the same library. I went from having to ask for permission for any special projects I might want to work on, to having (almost) free rein on planning programs and undertaking projects. I only have to check with my supervisor to get time in my schedule to work on projects or take meetings. I find myself wanting second opinions a lot about programming, or designing marketing materials, or collection things.
While some of those things are important to get other opinions on, especially from people more experienced than myself, I’m trying to remind myself that I was hired for a reason. There are things where I can trust my gut and just do the thing instead of double checking with someone else that they think it’s the right call.
I also went from being a part-time library assistant to having a small supervisory capacity of the library assistants (though not fully, that’s my actual supervisors job). But I can delegate projects to part-time people now, and they come to me for questions that I don’t necessarily have all the answers for yet in terms of how to handle problem situations.
It’s not been too bad, but sometimes I struggle with directing the work on the part-time folks are significantly older than I am. One of our part-time staff is also my roommate, so I have to sort of balance this professional/supervisory line while also living with and enjoying spending time with her outside of work.
This is one area where I have no idea how to manage my comfortability level other than just doing what feels best and right in the moment and checking in with my supervisor if I’m struggling or feel like I’ve maybe overstepped in some way.
Working full-time is definitely a different beast than working part-time while being a full-time student. It’s nice that work mostly stops at the library unlike school work. However, I find myself coming home tired and unmotivated to do anything other than scroll social media or watch TV. I’ve recently realized that I tend to have more energy to do things I enjoy in the morning, rather than at night, so I’m trying to figure out how to balance the things I enjoy (writing, blogging, embroidery) with the lack of energy that I feel by the time I commute home. I am still finding a lot of time to read for pleasure which is one plus, but I’m still working on figuring out how I want to spend my out of work time now that I have more of it, but I have less energy when I do have non-weekend time available.
I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot I want to work on professionally. I’m joining a few library-wide committees, I’m reading librarian blogs to get ideas, I’m chatting with my coworkers about books and professional things. A couple of them started in the same position as me, moving from part-time to full-time. Even writing this blog post feels like it’s helped me conceptualize some of the thoughts and experiences I’ve been having but haven’t actively worked to write down or explore.