I am about to finish my first year as a real full-time librarian. ‘ While my education was invaluable in starting my career as a YA librarian, it definitely did not prepare me for everything. ‘ I have learned a lot this year and am looking forward to applying these skills to next year.

First off, kids have too much energy. ‘ They like to be sassy towards authority figures. ‘ I expected some of this, but not to the extent I experienced it. ‘ I now have a very solid set of rules displayed and all of the kids and adults are subject to them. ‘ No matter what. ‘ I let one kid bargain with me once and it ruined the next two weeks. ‘ I know when to be lenient and when to be harsh. ‘ Most importantly, the teens now know exactly what my rules are and that they will be kicked out if they don’t follow them.

Second, parents really do not get why we have privacy rules set up. ‘ I heard about this in library school, but assumed that it was easily understandable, once explained. ‘ Not even a little bit. I’ve had parents use their children to get me to use the other (non-present) parent’s card, yell at me for not telling him what books his daughter has out, and make snarky jokes at my expense.

The main thing I learned this year is to listen to my teens. ‘ I may have a lot of ideas. ‘ I look at blogs, Pinterest, and DIY sites. ‘ Other librarians I talk to also have some fantastic ideas about programming and all the other issues I’ve come up against. ‘ The problem is that I think these ideas are great, but my teen patrons may not. ‘ I see other libraries doing programs that I would love to run, but when I ask the teens who come in every day what they think, they look at me with pity. ‘ My community is unique, as is yours. ‘ It is important to be sure that the ideas I love that work in your town will work in mine. ‘ More than a few times, I’ve found they haven’t. ‘ I will certainly never do pumpkin decorating here again. ‘ Justin Bieber is not welcome with my teens and a Twilight release party will never be heard of. ‘ Teen Summer Reading will just never be a big thing here. ‘ By talking to my kids, however, I have found the best ways to let them know about programs. ‘ I have learned which teachers to get in touch with at schools about assignments. ‘ I know the names of some of the more problematic teens that come in. ‘ My teens are my greatest resource.

This has been a big year for me, for obvious reasons. ‘ For a few months, I really felt like I was floundering. ‘ I am finally starting to find my feet. ‘ Largely in thanks to all of you, through this blog and the YALSA listserv. ‘ What are the most valuable lessons that you learned when you were starting out?

5 Thoughts on “Learning as I Go

  1. My most valuable lesson was that it’s okay to fail. I started working in a library and created their FIRST teen department. I wanted everything to be perfect when I started out and my first year was a HUGE flop. But that was totally okay because after a year of failure, I knew what didn’t work and could eliminate that from my workload.

    So, FAIL AWAY! You learn awesome lessons and it’s totally okay. Because everyone else has failed mercilessly as well.

  2. Something else to keep in mind is that certain programs may not work with the teens you have now, but with kids and teens our population is always in flux as teens “age out” and new kids enter teenagerdom. Summer Reading might not be a big thing with your teens now, but in a couple of years you’ll have new teens and it might be time to give some things another shot.

  3. “First off, kids have too much energy.”–Word. I’m three years into my position at a joint library. In the beginning I was way too nice. Now, I know when and where to draw the line. My supervisor calls it the “sweet spot” and the most important thing one can master. Remain approachable, but firm. It sounds like you’re on your way!

  4. One of the things I learned about rules is that it’s important to make sure that we can explain the why of every rule and not just expect teens, or anyone for that matter, to simply say “OK, I’ll do that.” Teens think for themselves, they are thinking human beings, and that means that they wonder, “Why can’t I do that?” It might seem obvious from a library perspective but not so obvious from a teen perspective. If a teen asks that why and I can’t really explain it then I wonder, is the rule really something we need to have in place?

    I also have found that if I can have conversations with teens about the whys of the rules that we have in the library, then it helps them to better support those rules and help their friends support them as well. These conversations have also given me the chance to think differently about the rules that the library has and maybe even work to change what’s in place as a result of teen feedback.

  5. Laura Bernheim on December 21, 2011 at 2:07 pm said:

    Great post, Abby. I’m a department head at my library but also the acting YA Librarian and some of the issues that you’ve presented have been discussed here, quite recently. I was so happy to have something like this to share with my staff and co-workers.

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