There are so many obvious choices for this article– we are experts in children literature, early literacy research, school visits, outreach, programming, etc.; but the one thing that sticks out to me as I find alternative options for cranky adults when I cover the adult desk, is that we are experts in POSSIBILITY.
I can’t solve all your problems, but I can give your screaming toddler a sticker and calm them down for a minute.
You can test your possibility expertise by checking if you have accomplished some of these feats below:
____ Booktalked for 15- 30 mins to an uninterested tween and frustrated parent
____ Planned for a program for ages, pouring your heart and soul into something, and then had no one show. And then retooled it for another program, display, or just a great work story.
_____ Had to plan and execute a story time with less than an hour notice
_____ Calmed down a melt-down-y toddler and had them leave the library with a smile
_____ Coordinated an outreach event for months/weeks, had all the details arranged, and then got there and found out they wanted you to do something completely different.
______ Started reading a book that you love at story time and noticed that it was falling completely flat– and then picture walked or just made up your own story.
_____ Listened to a toddler’s long rambling half story/ half dream, so that they would know one adult cared (same for a tween telling you about their Roblox games)
These are just some of the ways that children’s librarians do the IMPOSSIBLE. Even if you haven’t mastered these areas, I know you have experienced them. And, done it all while there is a smile on your face, and are ready to grin and bear it.
There are lots of times when something can’t be done or when a patron makes a request that is out of your realm of control or ability. However, just because the particular thing can’t be done, doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. Something is possible. I try to keep that in mind with children and childcare providers because I know that they are developing their formative ideas on what a library is and the use and purpose of it. Most adult users often hark back on their treasured time in the library as a child, and I recognize that I am part of that. I want them to believe that the library is a place for them.
In these moments, we create a community. We create trust and a bond from such a small nothing– from just two strangers in a room, we create hope, connection, and love. And that is really powerful stuff. I think about that a lot as higher ups try to quantify the work that is done in libraries. Like if there are enough numbers then we can prove to money holders that we are worthy of keeping open– to me it seems inconceivable to quantify what I do as a resource or data set.
I like to think of my job as the old adage, as I recall it— “I’m planting the seeds of a tree that I will never see”… and take it further to think that I just get to know that there is a tree, flower, bush etc., and a little more good out there. We get the possibility of it all.
How do I capture the impossibles that I turn into possibility? How do you turn those small/big things into an excel spreadsheet of data? And even if we do, what is the point? To the person you help, the seed you plant, they don’t care if it’s been a day of 500 seeds or one, it only matters the connection you have to them.
That’s what I remind myself as I have to tell kids to stop running for the millionth time, deal with a cranky patron, or have a case of the story time blues. That it is all worth it, because of this interaction, someone’s life could have changed, and in many ways, it is also mine.
This post addresses the ALSC Core Competency VII: Professionalism and Professional Development
Amy Steinbauer is a Children’s Librarian for D.C. Public Library, where she does weekly baby and toddler story times and Toddler Exploration programs. She got her MLIS from University of Hawaii (it was an amazing choice despite the loans). She is currently on ALA Council. In her spare time, she is always thinking of new story time or early literacy ideas and rewatching Bob’s Burgers.
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