Goodbye, Friends: The Life and Times of an On-Call Librarian

Lindsey and I work as on-call librarians in a large urban library system.  The nature of being an on-call librarian here is impermanence and change. Constant change. We started by filling scheduling holes across 22 branches either on the fly or landing a set of shifts. We have both been fortunate to take on larger stints at various branches, allowing us to catch our breath and even get to know some of our storytimers. While we cherish and appreciate these opportunities, we have both done a fair amount of goodbying lately, enough to get me thinking about all this moving on and how to do it with grace.

While I’ve sung Goodbye Friends a bazillion times, it’s never felt quite the same way as it did last week when I said goodbye to my preschool storytime crowd. Come April, I will be swapping Friday programs with another librarian in my neighbourhood and will be doing back to back Babytimes instead. But gosh darn it, I’m going to miss all those little Preschool sized faces, and the way they make me feel funny, brilliant and important all at the same time. As I prepared to say goodbye to this group I wrestled with some pretty prickly feelings which are difficult to own up to, but for the sake of this post here goes: I wanted the children to create small signs and protest until I returned; I wanted parents to whisper about how they hadn’t known what a storytime could be until I’d come along. In short, my ego made a horrible self-celebratory flannel story while my rational self slept. How embarrassing to wake up to this mess and not have the elves to blame.

I think we can all relate to the fact that while we might not be making the big bucks, we deal in the currency of giggles and singing-as-they-leave-tots, aka Golden Moments. Golden Moments would not exist if we did not open ourselves up to real relationships with our patrons young and old; these are often what keep us going. But, as an on-call librarian I have clearly struggled to balance my hunger for Golden Moments with what would realistically best serve my community. So I have arrived at this post full of angst and questions, lots of questions! How do you juggle wanting to deliver shiny short lived programs while ensuring families are connecting to your library’s services and programs in a long term way, a way  that means they will be coming through the doors long after you’re gone?

While I come bearing no answers, here are some things I found along the way which soothed my fiery heart. The first thing which struck me after reading Amy’s post on Storytime Underground was that it serves nobody to hold back, to not be your awesome self. In the words of Sir John Green (he’s been knighted right?) we cannot forget to be awesome, there’s simply too much at stake. Amy writes “[e]very day at your job, you are working to make meaningful connections between kids and literacy” and focusing on this is way more important than worrying about the what-ifs of moving branches or losing a storytime group.

Next up I found some extremely classy and useful advice from both Ingrid, The Magpie Librarian and Storytime Katie writing on the ALSC blog. From On Leaving Your Library: What to do When It’s Time to Move On and Leaving Your Job with Class and Care I gleaned the following wisdom, but please read them for yourselves for more nutritious tips!

  • Give lots of notice in order to catch all the families and talk about your move with branch staff so they are also prepared to field questions
  • Work with your replacement to maintain consistency and also get the kids excited to meet them (all kinds of bigger person points awarded if you can successfully do this)
  • Get more comfortable with the idea that you represent a system/library and are not personally responsible for the happiness of each and every patron (no matter how cute they are.)

That about does it for this angsty librarian. I’d love to hear your perspectives on the relationships you form with your community and how you manage these in times of change, and also the felts your ego would make.

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10 thoughts on “Goodbye, Friends: The Life and Times of an On-Call Librarian

  1. So glad to hear someone else admit to the mortifying deep down feelings of “what will they do withOUT me, Storytime just won’t be the same?!”

    And then there are the changes that occur when families age out of storytime, move away, or (gasp) start patronizing someone ELSE’S storytime, for whatever reason. I will read through all your suggested posts for help with my angst, hope yours is healing. Perhaps it would help to know that I am addicted to this blog, and use the videos for inspiration regularly! Thanks!

  2. Laura, just hearing that someone else has had the same feelings is all I need! Thank you so much for your comment, it means so much to know that people are actually reading this stuff AND relating. If you ever have anything you’d like us to cover or ideas for videos send ’em our way. In the meantime thanks for keeping it real with me 🙂

  3. “self-celebratory flannel story”…I love this visual image! Phew, now that you’ve said it I can own up to having the same feelings. Especially now that I work with a partner librarian, since I want the parents and kids to love her…but secretly love me BEST ;-p

    1. Erin, I figured if I could come clean at least other people might feel slightly less crazy about their own tangled feels?! And the amazing thing is wanting to be adored results in awesome storytiming! Thanks for reading and sharing.

  4. I think it’s really hard to get used to the idea of representing your library and your department, and not having storytime be “The Miss Katie Show!” I have had experiences on both end of the spectrum–from a preschool mom sheepishly giving me the note her daughter had dictated after the last week’s storytime, in which her child said that she love storytime, loved me, and wanted to come live at my house so we could have storytime everyday (I mean, doesn’t that sound like a party?!) to a parent’s whispered comment one of my first days at a new job that they all loved the current lapsit leader and, although I seemed nice, they really hoped I wasn’t going to replace her……which, at the time, was the plan….. 🙁 My department has 2 looooooong time staff members who will be retiring this year, so I’m hoping that our staff and patrons will keep an open mind about the people who end up filling those positions, and that everyone will be welcoming as we shift staff around to cover different programs. Which is so not easy to do! So now that we have all of these lovely departing posts, we need some “welcoming new staff with open arms–like, really” and “convincing patrons that the world won’t end when their favorite library lady leaves” posts! 🙂

    1. Katie, thank you for sharing this! Also yes, that DOES sound like a party 🙂 I feel like it happens fairly often but we don’t necessarily talk about the competing feelings that happen when programming staff changes. It sounds like you guys are doing all the right things though and best of luck with the switch over!

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