Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Professionals, pressure, perfection

Today I want to talk about something nasty that affects YA librarians but we only talk about in whispers: Insecurity.

Not long ago I posted on my Twitter: "I am a bad librarian because I don't craft. I don't knit, cross-stitch, ANYTHING." I don't make origami. I don't even draw stick figures. I am just that bad at art and all its related fields.

And then, my Twitter friends picked up on it. They confessed to being "bad YA librarians" because they don't craft, don't like fantasy novels, prefer that libraries be quiet places, and many other things that are often seen as being in opposition to delivering quality teen services in libraries. These people who responded, however, are some of the best librarians I know.

As much as I love my job, there are some days when I feel like throwing in the YA towel because I feel I'm sorely lacking in YA librarian skills when compared to my colleagues. I wish only for quality professional, not personal, relationships with my teen patrons. I don't believe a library can be all things to all people. I like old rock bands, boring clothes, vintage jewelry, and crime shows. I thought Twilight was one of the worst books I'd ever read. I have no interest in gaming; the only video game I play is Guitar Hero. I don't read manga. I don't watch anime. Intellectually, I know that it's impossible to be interested in all of these teen trends at once. No one has the time or the inclination. Also, diversity of interests is what makes the profession strong. Still, because I'd rather watch Numb3rs than Gossip Girl, I feel like I'm not doing what I should do to be the best teen librarian out there. There are days I feel like I can't read fast enough or come up with any kind of decent program.

Most importantly, there are days I feel like I am a bad YA librarian because I cannot save the world.

This is not a cool thing to admit at all, but I became a YA librarian because I love the literature. I believe that the quality of YA literature is only going up and I love to match books and readers. It's not that I don't enjoy other aspects of librarianship, either. I considered becoming a cataloger in library school (which speaks to the skills of Arlene Taylor, my cataloging professor) and find reference and adult services work rewarding and interesting. When asked about my greatest strength as a librarian, I always respond that I am one heck of a collection developer. I am great at weeding. I am great at keeping up with literature trends, reader's advisory, pop culture, and generally shaping what patrons see on library shelves. I am not great at solving other people's personal problems. I am not everyone's best friend and advisor. I listen when people talk, sure, but ultimately I know there are better people than I to give advice to teens on things other than homework or reading interests. To me, being a great YA librarian means staying on top of teen culture and literature, and helping teens to become fluent library users and advocates. It has never meant advising teens with problems better handled by a social worker, being a therapist, or saving lives through literature, although if that last one happens incidentally I'm certainly happy about it.

There is no one right way to be a teen librarian, though there are certainly lots of wrong ways. Every day, I do my job as best I can, advising my colleagues on collection development and YA services. I think I do all right, but there are times when I feel like it was wrong of me to want to be a YA librarian because I love the literature. In my most insecure moments I feel there is a widening rift in the profession between those who believe that books are the least of what we should do as YA librarians and those who believe that without the books, we have lost the foundation of our jobs. I can't say which answer is right, though I know which one I believe. Hearing responses from my Twitter friends makes me know that I am not alone in my thoughts about where the profession is going and how well I fit into it. On bad days I worry I'm becoming irrelevant, and I don't think I'm alone.


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