Ever wonder if being a teen librarian is for you? Cindy Massre, a longtime FYA reader and commenter, is here to take us through a typical day at her job. (Apparently it's not all 90s jams and slumber party squealing over book boyfriends/girlfriends, even though it should be. But boy, is there a lot of chocolate.)
I love my job. I am exhausted by my job, but I love my job.
I come in at nine every morning. At the moment I’m working at a small community branch, in a town with one street and some railroad tracks. These branches don’t need a lot of extra staff dedicated to little nitty gritty things, so even though I was hired to do teen programming, my “other duties as assigned” involve...pretty much everything required to run a small library. So when I first arrive, I help with all the little duties to help run the library, which can include counting money, reshelving, or even picking up trash outside. Once those are done, I’ll either help man the desk or start working on my programming list of to-do’s, depending on how busy I am.
Today, I get right to work on my program. It’s a big one that I’ve been advertising a lot, via handout flyers, posters, and Facebook events: the Chocolate Olympics! We will be playing games involving various forms of chocolate and chocolate eating. This sort of program is the kind we can only get away with every so often--after all, generally, we’re supposed to impart some sort of knowledge, even if it’s fun knowledge. Eating chocolate doesn’t really teach you anything new, but since it’s going to encourage teens to socialize and to come to the library, it’s getting a pass.
One of the most difficult parts of doing teen programming is getting teens to, well, come here. We get plenty of kid and adults to programs if they’re interested enough, but for teens, a program has to be really special if they’re going to come. After all, they’ve got plenty of other things going on, so why would they want to come to the library? Or if they do come to the library, how can you convince them that making a bracelet is worth their time? When I’m making up programs I’m trying to think like a teenager, trying to innovate new ways to program, and stay on a budget--which is hard. It’s also difficult because we actually can’t usually use food--my District has special restrictions on food and how it can be used. Like I mentioned before, Chocolate Olympics is a special exception, which is why I’m expecting it to be much busier than normal.
I spend the morning dividing M&Ms from four share-size bags into snack bags for a Chocolate Olympics sorting game, and then I go to lunch. I usually use lunch to talk myself down from the nervous butterflies swirling in my stomach. I always get nervous before I do programs--it’s a combination of the pressure to perform as well as the hope that it’s well attended (and sometimes, secret relief when a program I didn’t plan well doesn’t get any attendants!). I’ve had some disasters before; I did an oatmeal can pinhole camera program that was a total bust when the pictures wouldn’t develop, despite the fact that we did everything right. I’ve also planned interconnected, intricate programs that never clicked with the patrons, so they didn’t show. The more effort I put in, the more nervous I am that I picked a dumb idea and that no one will come, or that something will go awry. Luckily, this time, I know that I can fix anything that comes up with the liberal application of chocolate.
After lunch I cover the desk for a while. I really enjoy working the desk; I really like answering questions. I think a lot of introverts go into this job thinking it’ll be a great chance to be somewhere quiet all day and read books. There is some of that, but a lot of it involves working with people! After all, the library is where questions come to get answered--not just book questions, but every question under the sun. I get a lot of people coming to me because they need to use our computers and they don’t know where to start, or who have something they want to know but no idea how to find it out. Some people are creepy and some are assholes, but it’s really satisfying to connect someone to what they need and to see them leave happy, especially since, more and more, we are having to rise to the challenge of helping people apply for jobs, government assistance, and other really, really important stuff.
While I’m on the desk, I’m also reading the book I’ll be passing out at the next Teen Book Club, which will be Light Years by Emily Ziff Griffin. I go to the local high school once a month for the book club, where the media specialist passes out snacks and we, well, book club it up. We started out the year with The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon, which turned out to be a great choice, because the girls in the book club actually have a lot to say about pretty complex subjects. After we’d read The Sun Is Also A Star, we got into a really deep discussion on hair, and how the way we wear our hair changes how we’re perceived. One of the teens matter-of-factly revealed that she had recently beaten cancer, and talked about how her hair had changed in texture when it started growing back in. I think the girls (it’s all girls in the club) really appreciated that I was open to hearing their thoughts and talking to them without judgment, because the club has flourished since that meeting. The girls overflow with words, with enthusiasm and things to tell, and I like helping each girl have a chance to find her voice. I think the Teen Book Club is probably the best thing I’ve ever done as a teen programmer; watching these girls fall in love with new books, and even hate new books, makes my heart feel overfull!
I also really like setting up my programs, but that’s mostly because I close off the door to the meeting room and turn up some music while I haul tables and chairs around. Working as a teen programmer has inspired me to really acknowledge music as the background rhythm of life, and to remember how vital it was to me as a teen. I’d gotten so used to filling the background of my life with podcasts that there was a long time where I was hardly listening to music at all, and I didn’t think about music as an aspect of my programs. But it’s actually really important, especially when you’re working with teens!
On a whim I decide to put on Now That’s What I Call the 90s. The teen volunteer that comes in to help me with my program looks at me funny for singing along to Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” and I want to explain that I was a little kid when this song came out, but I think that’ll just make me seem like a cranky old lady. Just the fact that I know the words automatically qualifies me as an “old.”
[ed. note: KIDS THESE DAYS. -j]
The Chocolate Olympics program pretty much goes off without a hitch, which is rare. Like I’ve mentioned, we’re kind of working against the tide when it comes to capturing teen interest, so a lot of the time, you end up gambling on a program and failing. It’s also a simple reality that things often don’t go as planned. For this reason I like to plan a lot of flexibility into my programs; at my programs, there’s always at least two things to do, even if one of them is the greater focus. I also put a lot of thought into where I’ll be, what I’ll be doing, during a program. If a certain aspect of a program needs a lot of oversight, that means less time I’m able to help with other parts of the program, or answering questions, which detracts from the experience. For one of the “events” at the Chocolate Olympics, we have a Chocolate Mystery, where I’ve taken eight candy bars, cut them in half, and placed them in bags labelled with numbers. The kids at the program get a list of the eight candy bars used and an answer sheet, and they have to guess which is which--they get a prize for getting more than half right. I wanted to include this game because the rest are team-based, which are great for socializing, but it might be harder for a teen who came by themselves to feel comfortable just diving right in and joining a team. This game is solitary, but it requires oversight, since answers need to be checked and prizes distributed. I opt to ask one of my coworkers at the front desk to check answers and give out prizes between patrons, which works well and frees me up to do more. Working with a strong team, who you can trust and work well with, can solve a lot of little problems!
After the program is mostly decompressing. I’m lucky that, at the moment, I have the luxury of having some free time--at other, busier branches, I would need to rush my cleanup so that I could get back to the desk. Here, I clean up, enter the attendance into our event planning system, and take some time to catch up on the latest in YA news (from FYA as well as library-centric sites like the YALSA blog) before it’s time to leave work at 5:30 PM.
AT THE END OF THE DAY
Not every day is like this, but a lot of them are. I don’t know if I could recommend this line of work for everyone, in that I think a life dedicated to public service isn’t for everyone. This kind of work occupies a lot of emotional and psychological space--it’s the kind of work that’s easy to put too much of yourself into, and equally easy to burn out on. It’s also way, way more challenging than it seems from the outside. I wouldn’t say our job is as hard as, say, a nurse’s, but it’s got more in common with a firefighter’s job than it doesn’t. I have chosen a career where nights, weekends, emotional involvement, physical labor, working with the public, and dealing with weird stains are all pretty basic components of the job. If I was in an office job, I would have a lot less stress. But I would also say that I’m happy pretty much every day and when I feel down about myself, I remember all over again that I’m making the world a better place, 40 hours a week. And that’s not a bad job to have.
Cindy Massre is a library employee from Florida. In her free time she lives for Star Trek, her dogs, and writing about various modern media on her blog, pagedeep.com.
Thanks for stopping by, Cindy!
Do you have questions for Cindy, or a book-or-publishing related job that you'd like to tell us about? Let us know in the comments!