I’m about four months in to my first professional position out of grad school. I was very lucky to land a YA position just a few months after graduating, and I really like my library, my coworkers, and the community that supports the library. But as a new librarian, I’m finding that even though I have my MLS, I still have a lot of learning to do in providing a strong teen services program.
I’m not just a new librarian: I’m also in a newly created position. Until I started, our head of collection development was selecting all of the teen materials and other staff members would occasionally step up to do a teen program, but there hadn’t been a coordinated, sustained effort to serve teens. During all of my coursework, I’d never considered the possibility that I wouldn’t just be stepping into someone else’s shoes and inheriting an already running program, but I was excited to accept that challenge. Building my own program has been thrilling, especially since I’ve been given a lot of freedom to try things, but it’s also been kind of terrifying.
There are some things that have been going really well. I embarked on a massive weeding project and made the case for interfiling the paperback and hardcover teen fiction, which has been well-received by both patrons and staff members. I’ve been cranking out book lists and series shelf labels and other readers’ advisory tools. I lobbied for a small desk to be set up in the teen area (which is really far away from the reference desk) and rearranged the furniture and shelving to make it feel more like a dedicated space. I’m proud of all of this and I think that it has greatly improved what we’re offering our teens.
But working on all of those projects took time, and it all seemed really important, and we never have enough time for everything we want–so what I didn’t spend as much time doing was sitting at that new desk getting to know my patrons. Sure, I did a survey within my first couple weeks to see what kinds of programs teens at the library would be interested in and what their pop culture interests were. And when I could, I was doing on-desk time and was always so thrilled when I had the chance to do readers’ advisory (I’m quickly learning it’s my favorite part of my job). It just felt like I needed to do those things before I could properly serve my patrons–except that that “must do” list kept getting longer.
So when I launched our new YA programming schedule and no one came to my events, I was heartbroken. I’d spent so much time brainstorming, collecting cool ideas, planning, justifying with the Developmental Assets, creating posters and fliers, setting events up–and then just cleaning up after a couple sad hours in a room by myself. It hasn’t been a complete disaster: while no one ever came to my drop-in crafts during after-school hours, the drop-in gaming on a different day is drawing a small but regular crowd. And my movie nights have been mostly misses, but the screening of Harry Potter 6 the week before the seventh movie came out was a hit. And I have a very tiny, tentative Teen Advisory Board that may or may not survive but at least exists for now! But every time I planned or set up for a program, I was worrying and wondering if anyone would come.
For the new year, I took a step back and sat down to evaluate how things have been going so far. I’ve had some successes and I’m very proud of how some of my projects have turned out, but overall, I think I’ve been approaching things the wrong way. I made the mistake of trying to build a program from the top down. Because circulation and book lists and visits to community partners and programs are all concrete, and because my coursework focused on programs and collection development and literature, that’s what I was focusing on. But there’s another side to this profession, the softer, people-focused side, that I’ve been neglecting. I need to be up on the desk actually getting to know my patrons–and letting them get to know me. I need to build relationships. Doing so may not be as measurable as the rest of what I do, but it’s the absolute foundation of successful teen services.
So for 2011 and for this next month especially, I’ll be spending more time on the desk. I’m moving my hours around so I can see different patrons who are here at different times on different days. I’m even going to be spending a little time at the adult desk and the children’s desk to make myself more visible to parents and to see how those departments do things. I may not make as many book lists or do as many programs, but it’s because I’ll be building a foundation on which those other aspects of my work can be built.
Both new and more seasoned librarians: what lessons have you learned the hard way?