This is the second work-centric post I’ve written, but don’t worry, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about my day job in the future. Yes, I spend forty hours a week there, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. It’s a means to an end. I was forced into quite a lot of reflection and reevaluation recently though, and I wanted to share a few of those thoughts.
I hosted my first storytime at my new branch yesterday. As a part of my slow segue out of children’s services, it was decided that I would just fill in as needed instead of doing them as a regular part of my responsibilities, and yesterday was the first of these instances. I’d heard horror stories about how difficult the crowds at this branch can be, unwieldy and overwhelming with kids of all ages attending, making it nearly impossible to keep everyone entertained for duration of one story, let alone a whole thirty minutes. I was prepared for that; it’s what I expected. What I didn’t expect was for it to be one of the best storytimes I’d done in a long time. Yes, it was a large group, and yes, the kids spanned all ages, but that didn’t stop me from trying to engage everyone like I usually do. I have a pretty laid-back approach to storytimes, and it served me well in this scenario. Everyone – kids, caregivers, myself – had fun. I even had some parents ask when I would be hosting again so they could make it a point to come that day. I left at the end of the day feeling elated, like I’d just done something exceptional and worthwhile, which doesn’t happen as often as you’d think. Unfortunately, the job I have can be a pretty thankless one. It’s public service – of course it’s thankless. You stand a much better chance of being vilified when something goes wrong than congratulated when something goes right. It doesn’t help that, personally, I’m self-effacing. The thought of looking for attention or soliciting a pat on the back is horrifying to me. But in this one instance, I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished, and since this chapter of my life is coming to a close anyway, I don’t see why I shouldn’t own it.
I’m a damned good children’s librarian.
Lest you think me arrogant, let me expound. I gave you a bit of the history behind my career a few posts back, and I mentioned that, despite it not being at all what I’d envisioned doing as a 22-year-old college graduate, I have an aptitude for my job. But it’s more than that – over the years, I’ve gotten exceptionally good at it. A role that felt so ill-fitting at the start came to feel as comfortable as slipping on a well-worn glove. And that’s important – if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last fourteen years, it’s that you can’t fake this job and be successful at it. Kids aren’t stupid – they know when they’re being condescended to and they know when someone is uncomfortable around them. You have to be genuinely happy to talk to them. You have to treat them with kindness. And this, I think, made all the difference and is the reason kids respond well to me. There are a lot of aspects of children’s librarianship that I never learned to like – the crafts, the paperwork and prep work, the crafts, the assumption that I only want to read children’s literature, the crafts…- but the kids themselves and my interactions with them transcend the “just a job” mentality. It gives me joy. It might have taken a little while to find my rhythm, but I started to enjoy storytimes as much as the kids (for the most part. Any librarian can tell you that you can have nine good storytimes and the tenth will be horror of screaming, discontented toddlers). And my favorite task, as you might have ascertained in my previous post, was visiting the local schools. This makes me an anomaly among my colleagues. Most of them dread having to spend a day standing in front of classrooms filled with upwards of seventy kids and (*shudder*) talk to them. But I loved it. And based on the hordes of kids who came into the library in the days following my visit, asking for the books that “the library lady” recommended, I’d say they enjoyed it too.
So yes, there are things I’m going to miss. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my first day at my new branch, having to relearn everything that I’d come to take for granted, was tough. But at the end of that long day, as I was sitting at the reference desk, I spotted a small boy and his young mother gathering their things to leave. The mother and I made eye contact and recognized each other right away – she and her son, Nathan, had been regulars at my old library for years, coming to storytimes until he grown out of them. I hadn’t seen them in ages, certainly long enough in a child’s life to have forgotten all about those days. But when the mother bent down to him and said, “Do you know who that is? That’s Miss Colleen!”, his recognition was instantaneous. His eyes lit up, his hands clapped over his mouth, and with no hesitation whatsoever, he ran around the desk to throw his arms around me. He knew me. He remembered. And was delighted to see me again. I held myself together until I left for the evening and was sitting behind the wheel of my car before bursting into tears. Despite feeling, for a variety of reasons, that I haven’t made a bit of difference in this world, Nathan showed me that that’s just not true. I know that most kids aren’t going to grow up and reminisce fondly about their favorite librarian. The role I play in their lives is too small for that kind of recognition. But that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. What I’ve done all these years matters. Knowing that, my heart is glad. And I’m okay with moving on.