Who Am I If Not a Children’s Librarian?

For the first time in a long time I took a vacation and completely disconnected from work. I’m talking didn’t check my email, didn’t worry about looming deadlines, didn’t wonder how programs were going, didn’t think about community partnerships. Just…didn’t.*

And it was absolutely glorious.

I’ve been thinking about why this is the first time in 10 years(!) I’ve been able to do this. I know it’s partly due to having a good work situation right now. I feel confident in what I do, I’m able to manage my time well, and I enjoy the people I work with. I’m excited and engaged but not overwhelmed. But I think there’s a deeper tension that exists that I’ll try to explain to the best of my ability.

It probably comes as no surprise that I love being a children’s librarian. Like LOVE love. I love programming, collection management, outreach, public service, research, mentoring others, all of it. I especially love the variety of tasks in my job description and that every day looks different. I love the emotional payout I get from helping others and from interacting with children and families. I love that I get paid a pretty good wage compared to most public librarians. I feel like I’m contributing to a society I want to live in. And what I’ve realized is that when you love your job so much it’s easy to take on your job title as a key part of your identity.

I did a group retreat a few years ago and we went around the room to introduce ourselves. I was struck by the fact that I was the only person who mentioned their job. And if I’m honest I was a little put off that others didn’t share this information. Wouldn’t their job title reveal some crucial information about who they are as a person?

No, no it wouldn’t. And that’s okay! Possibly even better. What I learned on my recent holiday is that when I can disconnect from my role as a children’s librarian it frees me up to experience life in a different way. A way that I would like to tap into more often. I felt the happiest I have felt in a really long time. Instead of being a children’s librarian on vacation with her family, I was Lindsey, a person on vacation with her family (and who works as a children’s librarian).

There has been much written about vocational awe and our culture’s obsession with work by people smarter than me. I’ve read about these things in depth and it still took me this long to re-evaluate my own relationship to my job. I want to keep loving my job, but I also want to let it go as such a big part of who I am.

I hope this shift will allow me to have a healthier balance in my life. A better sense of my priorities. A renewed sense of freedom within myself. And with any luck I’ll be able to say I still love my job years down the road.

*The only exception is when I bought an Ariel bubble wand at Disneyland because those bubbles are LEGIT and I had a vision of walking around the room at babytime watching their faces light up while “Under the Sea” plays in the background.

**Remember when I said I would be sharing more spitballing posts that I don’t spend hours writing and editing? Here it is; please be kind to me.

44 thoughts on “Who Am I If Not a Children’s Librarian?

  1. Thank you thank you thank you for this! I am so glad to hear how much you love your job. I’m so glad that you want to keep loving it. I’m so glad that you were able to disconnect for a minute. Honestly, this is the first thing I’ve read that even mentions “vocational awe” that doesn’t make me feel sad. You are awesome and funny and great and we want you to keep loving what you do because it makes a difference to the rest of us.

    1. Liza, your words really touched me. I have also felt disheartened by the writing on vocational awe though I do understand the legitimacy in naming it to fight against low wages and burnout. Thank you so much for the compliments. I will try my best to live up to them!

  2. Amen! I connected with your post because it described as well! I honestly don’t know if we can fully disconnect ourselves from our passion. I find myself constantly recommending books to children and parents that I randomly meet on the street, supermarkets, even while on vacation! I do wish you all the best in obtaining that shift. I believe there is no shame in being proud of the tremendous work we do as children librarians. My job title always comes up first when I have to introduce myself in a group setting. It not only my title, but a part of who I am.

    1. I think this is one of the first vacations I took where I didn’t visit a library, ha! Always trying to sneak in some professional development by learning from others. For sure, we should be so proud of our work. Thank you, Florence, for being an advocate for our profession!

  3. Sorry the errors! This: it described as well! should read, “it describes me as well!” The last “It” needs to be changed to “It’s.”

  4. I can relate to everything you said. A Children’s Librarian is not just a job to us, but something we are called to. It gives us freedom to release our inner child, let imagination soar and really contribute to society in a meaning way- nurturing our youth.
    But as I near retirement, I have had to struggle with the idea of leaving my work and missing it dearly, balanced with the enticement of new possibilities , like those creative projects I have put on the back burner as I poured my passion into my kids. Much to ponder in the next year or two.
    P.S. I totally understand your need for a bubble wand.

    1. I’m pretty far from retirement but I totally get you. Especially the part about the inner child. I think I have a tendency to veer to the serious side, and my job helps me live in the moment – you just can’t help it with kids! I hope you find something as equally fulfilling in your retirement. And thank you for the bubble wand solidarity 🙂

  5. I love this take! I just started my job as a children’s librarian and I love it so much but think I could be in danger of letting it take over my life in unhealthy ways. Thank you for voicing this!

    1. Now is the time to set boundaries! I actually find it much easier than being a teacher which is what I did before becoming a children’s librarian. There are things I don’t do now like buy supplies out of my own money, stay late without pay, work on evenings and weekends when I’m not scheduled, etc. It’s good to think about how you will balance your interests and time when you are just starting out. Best of luck to you, Morgan! (And welcome to the best job ever)

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful insights; life is, indeed, a balance.

  7. I love this post! As a 64 year old who was new to early literacy programming in 2008, I’ve grown to love love love my work, too, for many of those same reasons you mentioned. For a while I was wondering who I would be after I retired. But during the COVID lockdown, while I was scared and worried for what was happening around the world, I also was lucky enough to have experienced that feeling of happiness and freedom to be just myself. (Although, on more than one hiking trip I saw patrons on the trail who shouted “Is that Miss Kelly???” Happy, happy times!) So I think that’s why I can relate so much to what you’re talking about here!
    Our situations are different because you have a long career ahead of you, and mine is almost over. But I hope you keep that feeling of being happy to be YOU – just you – where ever you are. I think it’s a great feeling!

    1. Thanks so much, Kelly! I really appreciate hearing from those nearing retirement as I have a lot to learn from you. I was spotted “in the wild” just today and it’s a special feeling. I hope I’m able to find that balance as time goes on. I’d love to know what you get up to once you retire!

  8. Once again, you give me hope! I felt just the same way when I had the JOY of being in children’s services in my own library days. Every bit of that job was fun and inspiring. Even shelving books because I had the chance to discover new books to share with kids.

    I’ve been watching your career for about 5 years now. I recommend your website to so many people. Your freshness and consistent devotion to public service is admirable. Yes, finding that sense of balance is good. And taking off the “I’m a Children’s Librarian” hat sometimes let’s other people look at you with more “adult eyes.” But then you’re back with a chance to put the perfect book into the perfect child’s hands. It can’t be beat!

    1. BZ, thank you so much! Firstly for following along for so long, and secondly for your kind words. You hit the nail on the head – being a children’s librarian lets me embrace my inner child, but sometimes I want to step out of that role. I feel so lucky that I have a job that allows me to switch between these things as long as I give myself permission to do so. And I feel extra lucky to have people like you sharing your thoughts with me as I continue to grow!

  9. Thank you for your post. I see you and feel seen as well. Being a Children’s Librarian is the best! I love that my super power is making a 4 year old laugh. I love when I’m out at the grocery store and receive a hug around the knees. I love it when I run into parents who want to reminisce about remembering when their highschooler was once a preschooler attending storytime. I’m 58 and have been a Children’s Librarian for 22 years. You are wise to notice the need for balance. It’s good to be a person outside of your job. You have gifts to give and interests to explore outside of work. I’m at the age when I’m thinking about my next chapter of life. What if I worked part time? What will my life look like? I don’t have definite answers but my list is ever growing on things I’m curious about and things I want to dabble in. May all of our journeys allow an ever increasing freedom toward fulfillment and rejuvenation both inside and outside of work.

    1. Hear, hear! What a beautiful wish for us all, Melanie. I love what you said and I love hearing about where you are in your journey too. It sounds like a few of you here in the comments are nearing retirement. No matter what you end up doing it’s clear that you will always be an advocate for children and libraries. It feels good to be known by this community and to see each other for who we are.

  10. Thank you for this! It’s so important to *just* live our lives and be present in the moment. I’ve been working on this too. I believe it does lower stress and increase happiness and contentment.

    1. I think my lifelong goal will be to learn to live in the moment. I’m prone to worry so it’s harder than it sounds. I’m right here with you, learning as I go along.

  11. Thank you for this post! I also struggle with disconnecting. I LOVE my job and came to be a children’s librarian as a second career now that my own kids are older (why didn’t I discover this sooner?!). However, I find that it often invades my downtime. I would love to hear how others manage this.

    1. I ask that question all the time! How did I never even consider librarianship in general?? Teaching was a million times worse in terms of invading my downtime (weekends, what weekends?). My workplace actively discourages us from taking home work and working outside our scheduled hours so that really helps me leave work at work. I also try to remind myself constantly that I always seem to get things done even when it feels like I won’t. I’ve also found connecting socially with my friends and family outside of work helps me take my mind off work – it’s a good reminder that there are other things going on that have nothing to do with me!

  12. I love this and felt like you were looking into my soul! Thanks for being so honest. I also adore my job for all of the reasons you just listed. Having a life outside of work is a wonderful thing as well. You can love your job and love your life and the two can co-mingle and they can also be separate. Both can be true. Now I just need to go out and live this way. Easier said than done.

    1. Oh for sure! I am still learning to live this way too. I’m trying to hang on to this Disneyland hangover as long as possible, haha. Thank you for appreciating my honesty. I always get nervous publishing these posts, but then I see comments like this and know it’s worth it.

    1. Thanks, Laura! I’m glad it resonated with you 🙂

  13. Love this! What you said really resonated with me. I’m a child care provider for ages 3 – 5. I LOVE my job and it has absolutely become part of my identity. Your post was a lovely reminder that my job is what I do, not who I am ( well not all of who I am). Thank you for writing this

    1. Thank you for your work serving those preschool kids! And you’re right – it’s a part but not the whole. So glad this rung true!

  14. Yes Yes Yes! In agreement with everyone here! Thank you Lindsey for voicing this. For me, grief is compounding a lot of the stressors in life. Thankfully, I have a good therapist and lot’s of beautiful sunshine to help me cope. Let me gently remind everyone that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Do the things that fill you up again.

    1. I’m sorry to hear you are dealing with grief right now, Bobbie, but glad to hear you have the support you need. I could sure use some of that sunshine up here! Sometimes work is a good distraction from other life stress, but we must take care of ourselves first like you said.

  15. Great post! It’s wonderful when you have an experience that opens your eyes to a new way of thinking, in this case about something as important as your identity!

    1. And who would have thought that experience would be a family trip to Disneyland?! Not me! I am grateful for this experience for sure.

  16. “Instead of being a children’s librarian on vacation with her family, I was Lindsey, a person on vacation with her family (and who works as a children’s librarian).”

    Thank you for this post, Lindsey! This line really resonated with me. I have a LONG history of tying my identity too closely to work. I seriously had an existential crisis when I left teaching (who am I if I’m not a teacher?!), but soon after that I found librarianship and found something I could latch onto again.

    Then I got sick in 2019. At first, we weren’t sure what was wrong with me, or if I’d be able to work full-time anymore. Those early days of tests and getting a diagnosis and then going through months and months of vestibular rehabilitation therapy were the worst. I used to love my work; now it caused me actual physical pain. Storytime used to be the best part of my day; now it made me feel like throwing up. Internalized ableism told me I was worthless if I couldn’t work anymore. I honestly had no idea who I was without work, or how I would deal with my life if I couldn’t overwork – being too busy to think was how I handled my trauma at the time.

    Years later, I am SO GLAD my body let me know in no uncertain terms that I needed a better balance. I’ve been learning to love and listen to myself ever since! I definitely have more to figure out, but I’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years drawing boundaries and reframing my relationship with work.

    Wishing you much joy in your journey,


    1. Thank you for sharing your story here, Jessica. For me and other readers it is good to hear how you redefined your relationship with work in way that broke the toxic ableism our society perpetuates. I can only imagine how hard that journey must have been but you give me hope! I’m still trying to figure out how to make these moments of clarity last instead of slipping into old habits. Wishing you just as much joy!!

  17. Love it! I’m a Library Assistant that does Baby Storytime! I also do most Children programming for our branch. Took this job after retiring from another career of 35 years…I also LOVE love working in the library! I don’t do collection choice (That’s for the Librarians) However, I get to do most everything else mentioned above. I do like the idea that everyday is different and I enjoy working with the public! Great post!

    1. I use the term “children’s librarian” very loosely here. Every system has a different way of dividing up the tasks that make up our job. Sounds like you found the perfect job after retiring from your first career!

  18. Thanks for this post, Lindsay.
    A few years ago I was in a really bad situation at a previous library where I ultimately felt I had to leave to keep myself from falling off the deep end. It was REALLY hard because I loved my job so much, I loved most of my coworkers, and I felt like leaving was abandoning them and my patrons. I ended up working in a hotel for a year (the only place I could find that needed my skillset) and holy cow, it was an adjustment. Ultimately I knew it was the right decision for my mental health, but I hadn’t realized how much of my identity was tied up in being a children’s librarian. It was like this… slow, painful peeling of a layer that wasn’t necessary for where I was going, and I was left feeling exposed, angry, and devastated over the challenges that came with taking on a new role and temporarily abandoning that part of my identity. And it WAS part of my identity.

    I’m really thankful I had the experience though. It was a raw ordeal, but in the end it saved my mental health, taught me I was capable of doing something else (I’d only ever worked in books), and forced me to look at myself without the shadow of my profession hanging over me. My coworkers were young and kind and funny and didn’t read at all (truly an adjustment), they were highly social and taught me a more about having fun, even when things were stressful on levels I’d never before experienced. They came to me with every problem and taught me more about thinking on my feet, and I slowly, slowly adjusted to being just me. A year later I moved to a new area, found a new library, and took every lesson they taught me along with me. I haven’t looked back, and if I catch myself falling too deeply into simply being a children’s librarian all the time, I take a step back and let myself breathe and be independent of it.
    I suspect many of us take on out profession as our identity! It is absolutely a thing, and I’m so glad you’re giving yourself the grace to simply breathe and be without it being pushed in any way. I hope others will read this and really think about it, give themselves this opportunity too!

    1. Halley, thank you so much for sharing your story! I feel like this needs to be written up as a book (or at least a guest post, let me know!). So much of what you said resonated with me – the painful peeling of a layer, the challenge of a totally different job, the lessons learned along the way. Wow, I am in awe of your ability to be so flexible and open to growth. Glad we’ve got you back in libraries in a much healthier sounding space. You’ve really inspired me!

  19. Goodness, I’m sorry, I misspelled your name! Lindsey. Alright, got it.

  20. Good for you!! It’s so important to remind ourselves that we are good enough just as we are, and that we don’t need to be producing, learning and improving all the time. By allowing ourselves time to rest, and enjoy our own lives fully, we’re able to offer so much more to others when it’s time for the giving. Thank you for all you do for others!

    1. I need to remember to apply this to blogging too! I think one of the pressures I used to feel around blogging was the pressure to produce, as you say. Now I’m without a schedule and just going where the wind takes me and it feels much more sustainable.

  21. Honestly, at the start of my career I used to feel like a “bad librarian” because of the ways my colleagues seemed to live, breath, eat and sleep their careers, like it was religious vocation. I felt like a fraud – like I didn’t belong in this profession because I wasn’t as committed as those around me. I didn’t read picture books after work, make felt stories on my weekends, or read professional journals on my commute. I did all those things on paid time, but not on *my* time. And I still don’t. The only difference is that I no longer feel guilty about it. I need my time away from my work to refresh myself, to fill my bucket, as it were. I need to disconnect, so I can come back full of enthusiasm and energy. I am so many things, including, but not limited to, a mother, a partner, a daughter, a friend, a neighbour, a community member, a person, a writer, *and* a librarian. No role is more important than the others, or makes me a more “worthy” or important person. All aspects of my life have value, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for giving them all space and time and energy. <3

    1. Well said, Jane. No one should ever feel like a bad librarian for not participating in unpaid labour!

  22. Hello everyone,
    I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I have been a Children’s Librarian for 38 years. I have loved every
    day of those years. Tomorrow is my last day. I am retiring at 73. I am still full of energy but felt it was time.
    But being a CL was my life. I had no children of my own so the children I met became my surrogate children.

    Tomorrow is going to be very hard on me. I have been emotional since I turned in my Retirement Papers.
    My staff is giving me a party. I work for the Detroit Public Library and quite a few of librarians that I worked with will be coming to say goodbye. I made a lot of friends working for so long. My coworkers were my daytime family. I have friends I will do activities with but 40 hours a week is a of time to fill. Not sure what I want to do yets.
    with will be coming to wish me good speed. I feel like I made a mistake in retiring. I know I will enjoy the first few weeks relaxing at home but I will need to find an activity to keep my mind active.

  23. I 100% identify with this (though I haven’t been able to disconnect from it and reach this level of enlightenment about it yet 😛 – but I shall try). “Librarian” is in my personal IG bio alongside “mother, sister, auntie, and queer feminist”. I think mostly because it instantly tells people a lot about me (or at least, I can assume what I hope it tells them about me): I love books/care about literacy and freedom to read, I love kids and think they are important enough to spend my entire career on, I love being an active part of / connecting with my community, etc.)… The one time I’ve found pause to intellectualize why I might *not* want to identify so inextricably is when I ran into a mom from storytime at a burlesque club. I felt defensive, like – “Don’t judge me! I’m also a human who enjoys adult fun and entertainment!” And haha, *of course* I am (and besides, she was there too 😉 ). “[We] contain multitudes”!

    1. We sure do! It reminds me of backlash I received on here once for using the word “shit” in a blog post. It made me realize how people view children’s librarians and the lack of distinction between who I am as a storytime leader and who I am when I am writing this blog. I’m definitely still a work in progress too!

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