It happens to the best librarians, sometimes you just don’t have any more to give. Here are some thoughts on what leads to youth librarian burnout and hopefully it can be prevented.
How To Burn Out:
1. Adopt every controversial library and kidlit issue on a personal level.
We should know what is going on and, of course, we need to advocate for our kids and teens. However, it seems like there is a new library controversy every week and that’s not even counting the internal drama at our places of work. We need to ignore some of it. Just don’t click the link. Youth Services librarians will still be around when everything else turns to ash. We can probably spend less time validating our existence to other librarians, since the PEW study makes it clear our patrons totally get it.
2. Compare your collections, services, and programs to other libraries constantly.
There is nothing wrong with learning from each other, it’s one of the things I think youth services librarians do really well. On the other hand, comparing ourselves to better funded, staffed, or located libraries or libraries with a very different patron base then our own just leaves us feeling inferior. Take a minute to celebrate what you are doing for your community. When you envy another library program consider how your resources and patrons differ. It might be good but it might not be possible. It might not even be what your patrons need. On the other hand, if they match up then go for it!
3. Be so focused on the big picture and/or administrative issues that you don’t get to actually interact with patrons.
If you love being a librarian because you enjoy working with kids and/or teens and helping them get what they need then make sure to make time for doing that. Especially as we become coordinators or managers it’s all too easy to spend our days on meetings, training, budgeting, and other things that don’t have the same magic. Find a few hours to be on the reference desk, work an outreach event, or offer to do storytime next week. You’ll feel much better.
4. Say yes to everything.
We want to help people. We want to serve our patrons. We want to be visible members of the community. That’s all great but if we say yes to every outreach event, group program request, partnership suggestion, and grant-writing opportunity we can’t possibly do all of them well. Work with your supervisor to prioritize these opportunities so they fit your library’s goals. Maybe you can even connect some of those groups to each other so everyone wins.
5. Judge yourself by program numbers alone.
This is an easy trap to fall into. Big splashy programs with big numbers are easy ways to show our impact to administration. They make great blog posts, tweets, and conference programs but what percentage of your patrons does that measure? Don’t forget about all the other ways that we serve people. The biggest impact you made this week might be the struggling reader who finally finished a book you helped them find, or the middle-schooler that passed algebra because you showed him how to use online tutoring.
6. Read only what you “should” read.
Sure, it’s not all about books but most of us do this because we love books to one extent or another. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of reading the “big buzz books” or the “starred review books” or what you need to get done for programs and forget to make time to read books because you actually want to read them. At some point our reading slows down, then we feel guilty for not reading enough, and that makes it even worse. Read for fun. You never know when that will be the perfect book for work anyway!
7. Do everything yourself.
Yes, we know best but sometimes we need to delegate. What jobs can be left to a volunteer? To a paraprofessional? What book can we skip and just read reviews instead? It might not be as perfect as if we did it ourselves, but it will be done. If it doesn’t make a difference in service let it go. Don’t forget that your assistants/clerks/volunteers can’t develop skills if they are never challenged.