Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What I didn't learn in library school...

Awhile back, the ALSC blog ran a series on What I Wasn't Taught in Library School. It's a great series, but I've been thinking of some additions lately and that's what today's post is about.

What I didn't learn in library school...

You get better with practice. I guess that's probably obvious, but it wasn't obvious to me the week before I did my very first preschool storytime for my internship. I was so nervous I couldn't sleep! Now that I do storytime all the time, it seems silly, but that's the kind of ease that comes with practice, with familiarity. You won't know everything when you first start and that's okay. That's what more experienced librarians can help you with. And as you keep reading and doing programs, you'll get better at picking books that suit your audience and you'll learn from your mistakes, too. The best thing is when you have a more experienced librarian to mentor you, to bounce ideas off of... I know that not everyone has this. I recommend joining PUBYAC or a state or system listserv to find a supportive community of librarians. Or, if all else fails, you can bounce ideas off of me (though I have to say that I don't have that much experience - I've been a librarian for three years now). 

Even though you're better with practice, new things may still make you nervous. This is okay. You'll get better at them, too, with practice. I've been doing programs for various ages for three years now, but I was still nervous before my first Mother Goose on the Loose baby program last week. I got through it. It wasn't perfect (I forgot the words to "This Little Piggy", among other things), but that's okay! I'll do better next week. And the week after that. And the week after that. Until this program becomes as comfortable as the programs I've been doing for years. And then we'll start something new... ;) 

Attendance at programs can be cyclical. So, you planned an awesome program, you advertised it, you were certain you'd have a huge crowd... and you only got two kids, one of which is a coworker's son. Is it you? Maybe. But probably not. So many things can affect attendance at programs - the weather, kids' extracurricular schedules, holidays, fear of the swine flu... So don't take it personally if no one shows up to your awesome program. File it away and try it another time.

Librarians share programs ideas. Like, all the time. Okay, not all the time. But very frequently. It's what we do! We have a successful program and we want to share it. We don't mind when others recreate it. And we're often borrowing our program ideas from other librarians. This is one of the reasons for listservs, library journals, and blogs. Sure, you'll come up with some news ideas and try them out, but you don't have to worry about coming up with original programs from scratch every single time.

You do your programs your way and that is okay. Librarians get inspiration from each other. We share ideas. We read journals and blogs and listservs and decide to copy these fantastic programs at our library. But just because one librarian does it a certain way doesn't mean you have to. Put your own spin on it. Do what works for you and your patrons. There's no absolute right way to do a program or a storytime. That said, if you're open to new ways of doing things you'll probably stumble across some great ideas that make your programs work even better for you.

No one knows what you're doing if you don't advertise. (This, of course, is different in every community.) Maybe you're the person in charge of promoting your programs and maybe you're not, but one thing I've especially learned over the past few months at my new job is that you have to get the word out! My library does not have the resources to mail out a newsletter or program schedule to all patrons in our district. We make use of the local papers, write blurbs for our website, send emails to district teachers, create signs and flyers (which I hand out to community members at appropriate networking meetings), and send word to area homeschooling groups.

And how about you, librarians? What have you learned on the job that wasn't covered in library school? Put it in the comments!

19 comments:

Cat Fancy said...

I couldn't agree more with your first point. I think I spent a whole month preparing my first storytime as an intern. Now I can throw things together pretty quickly if I need to and it is only 3 years later.

Jennifer said...

I just learned, courtesy of Ellison at ALA Midwinter, that you can cut things other than paper on your diecut machine! Who knew? I am now experimenting with felt and cardboard...

Elisabeth Marie said...

Wow Jennifer, what kind of die cut machine do you have???

Sarah said...

I've definitely learned the hard way that attendance at programs can be cyclical. I'm in a very active upswing right now but the past few months it wasn't like that at all. I've had to force myself to learn not to take it personally and I know I shouldn't but part of me still does.

Also, I forget lyrics for my storytimes way too often but that's what the kids are for. They know those songs way better than I do right now since I don't have kids.

Katie said...

For my first program, I spent three weeks researching every activity that had anything to do with fall. I wound up choosing four books, six games, a craft, and a back-up craft.

And wouldn't you know it, but the kids kept wanting to play the very first game -- "Sleeping Squirrels."

We played that game for the whole program and they loved it.

Now, I plan a program about a week in advance with maybe an hour whole of research before nailing down my outline.

--

I've learned that the little thing YOU might stress about -- "oh my gosh, I forgot to show the pictures to both sides of the room AND I forgot to dinosaur growl with the kids" -- no one else even sees as a mistake.

3T said...

I learned that when you do make mistakes, like forgetting the words to something, it makes the mommies love you. I remember my first Christmas program, when I was letting the kids pick songs to sing between stories. "Frosty", great, here we go...the whole room starts singing and when we get to "and two eyes made out of coal," there is dead silence. Not a single person in the room could remember what came next. The silence turned into hysterical laughter, and it is now tradition to hand out the words to "Frosty" and sing that first. Parents who were there six years ago feel part of the 'club' for remembering that first night.

As unprepared as you may feel, parents often come in thinking of you as the 'expert', simply because of your title. Be human, share personal experiences, become their friend, and they will stick around to help clean up, or volunteer to fill in when you are out sick. They will also continue to forgive any mistakes they do notice, or cut you some slack when you are just having an off day!

Marge Loch-Wouters said...

Great post! I'll be linking people to it. What I didn't learn is just how intrinsic great customer service is. I learned at the knees of incredible mentors at my first library jobs how to have fun and have your families have fun each and every time they come to the library!

Jennifer said...

Elizabeth, we have an AccuCut machine. But, apparently you can use both Ellison and AccuCut dies - they're interchangeable. Also, having tested it now, cutting felt with dies works GREAT! We made wiggly little felt caterpillars to go with our butterfly masks for storytime today!

Bridget said...

Great post, Abby. As this is my first job outside of grad school, I've been learning that my classes weren't as inclusive as they claimed. Everyday I learn something new.

I'm a planner so I probably do more prep than is necessary for programs, but that will be a hard habit to break.

My program attendance is finally picking up. I've been in my current position for about 6 months. Yesterday, I had 24 people at preschool story time. That's a record for me.

MillyMarie said...

What an excellent post and series on What I Wasn't Taught. For a while I had thought about going into librarian services (especially working in the children's section). Sometimes I still think about it, but I'm not so sure. ;)

btw: you won an award at my site ;)

Miss Pippi said...

Thanks for the post!

I've learned over time...always wear comfortable clothes and don't forget your belt!

Bibliovore said...

Be prepared at all times for the cleaning up of fluids, bodily or otherwise. It'll happen. Yes, it will. To you. Yes.

All cynicism aside, thanks for this. I always feel a little like I'm making this up as I go along (shhh, don't tell my bosses!) so it's a relief to know that it's okay.

Elisabeth Marie said...

Bridget - were your 24 attendees from an actual preschool or is that just the age of your group?

Jennifer - Wow, that's impressive. We have an Accucut also, but if we try to put anything thicker than two-three pieces of paper through, we get yelled at. haha

Kristi said...

These are great tips. I'm almost two years out of library school now, a year and a half into my first job as a YA librarian, and I'm still running into things all the time that my SLIS education, good as it was, did NOT prepare me for. I struggle all the time with having faith in my own abilities, especially when I clash with librarians who do things so very differently than me. I do wish that my library school had offered more courses in public and YA librarianship, but you're right, there are some things that you're just going to have to learn on the job.

missprint said...

So true. I'm in my last semester of library school and it's totally terrifying even knowing, in the back of my mind, that part of being a librarian is learning as you go.

Fun Mama - Deanna said...

So many of your points hit home for me as a former activities person for a bookstore. I know it's different because I didn't go to school to do it, but so many things are similar. I remember seeing you do storytimes when you were in high school, though, and you were so amazing then that I can't believe you were nervous for your first preschool storytime! I'm sure the moms in your program love you. I wish we lived close enough to attend some of your programs!

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Those are all great! I need to keep the cyclical one in mind because my story-snack time is in a low phase at the moment and it's making me a bit sad.

Ms. Yingling said...

Someone should have mentioned in library school that you can get a slightly damp book dry if you put it, open, in the freezer. And that blow drying can work, too. We won't even talk about the need for an entire course on putting on Mylar covers properly!

Marian Schembari said...

A friend of mine just sent me the link to this post and I'm glad she did! This is a great post that illustrates it's not just school that teaches us the ways of the "working world". I especially like what you say about taking ideas from other librarians but also not feeling like you have to do it their way all the time. Great points!