Monday, November 4, 2013

On Burnout

The main focus of this blog is to be a storytelling resource. I firmly believe that what busy children's librarians need is information and ideas that will help them do their job. I have enjoyed sharing my original storytime ideas as well as those I have learned from others. This will continue to be the main reason for this blog. However, occasionally I will be writing posts like this one, offering my opinions as well as some unsolicited advice. You have been warned.

This will probably be my last year as a working librarian. I plan to be retired by this time next year. I will leave the job but not the profession. I hope to continue participating in Flannel Friday and to keep telling stories.

I have worked in libraries since 1971 with an eleven year break to be a stay-at-home mom. I have seen many changes since I started out as a trainee. The fact that I am at the end of my career has made think about my younger colleagues and the challenges they face. First, I would like to say that the future of youth librarianship is in good hands. Through social media (especially Twitter), I have gotten to know several dedicated, enthusiastic, and creative youth librarians. They are so dedicated that they talk shop on their own time - a lot. They spend personal time on work-related projects. The internet has made it easy to bring work home and the smart phone has made it easy to bring work with you wherever you go. I'm not sure this is a good thing. In the olden days (pre-internet), I brought work home but there was a limit to what I could do. Now there seems to be more pressure to get things done - now.

This pressure to get all the things done right away has me worried. I want these people to continue in the profession (because they are so good) and to continue to love what they do (so they will continue to innovate and create) and not burn out. Management is very good at piling on projects all the while citing budget woes so there will be no additional help. A personal drive to provide great service with limited resources also adds to the pressure. Increasing that pressure is a trend that I have seen lately which is the need to stand out in the profession and to do so early in one's career. (I'm assuming the tight job market is contributing to this need to make a name for oneself.) I admire those who want to quickly advance their career but I worry about them as well. Despite the public's perception (and that of some adult services staff), being a children's librarian is not an easy job. It is particularly challenging for those who are a department of one. All this pressure can lead to burnout.

The mediocre do not face burnout. Those that strive for excellence do. For this reason I am now going to offer some unsolicited advice:
1. Find a balance. Do not let work negatively affect your personal life. (Family has always been my priority though that did not stop me from drafting my daughters as summer volunteers when I needed them.)
2. Every library is different. What works for one library, may not work for another. It is up to each library to determine what works best for both staff and patrons. Libraries exist for their patrons but do them no service if the staff is stressed and disengaged.
3. Be realistic about your goals. Yes, you should strive for excellence but do not berate yourself for not being superlibrarian.
4. Slow down. Being older I have a different perspective. I didn't become a children's librarian until I was forty. I didn't feel like I was at the top of my game until I was well past fifty. For those of you in your twenties and thirties, you have plenty of time to develop your career.
5. Don't choose a path because you feel you should but choose it because you really want to. Decide if you want to spend the energy needed to become a name in the library world. If you do want to be a power in the library world, please try to make it an enjoyable goal, not one to stress about. Do not feel badly if you don't have that goal. I found this wonderful quote in More magazine (October 2013, p.25) - "I reject the notion that the job you excel at is somehow not enough to aspire to." - Lisa Fischer, back-up singer who has accompanied Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, and other music legends. Even once you choose a path, you can always change your mind and go in a different direction.
6. Never stop learning. Just a reminder, we children's librarians already know that.
7. Focus on the children. They are the reason our jobs exist!


  1. Yes, yes, and yes THIS exactly. There is time for all the THINGS!! I have been talking with younger colleagues about this. So happy to see them getting out of the box early but a career is a long and lovely arc. Been in it myself since 1976 and it has been a slow simmer of learning and doing to get to where I am now. Very much less stressful and very much more fun! Slowing down is good!

    1. Career options for women were much more limited when I started out. Now the pressures are greater and being so connected does not help!