We just wrapped our last day of Summer Reading with our finale. As the festivities came to a close, several patrons asked about next month’s schedule of programs. “When does storytime start again? What’s going on tomorrow?” Youth Services work is often very cyclical and at times quite regimented. Certain programs are offered on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. At the same time, our work prompts us to look ahead in our planning, purchasing, and anticipating what’s next. While there is some comfort to be found in familiar patterns and repetition, how can we keep a fresh outlook and focus in on the present moment? Additionally, how can we ensure that we continue to grow professionally, adjust within our evolving roles, and meet the needs of our communities?
Self-reflection is a tool and a practice that can help you to become more grounded. It serves as an opportunity to pause. When done on a regular basis, focused journaling or even a few quick notes can guide your progress or identify the need to consider a new approach. Patterns and trends will emerge, which can inform your decision making process. Youth Services staff wear many hats; dedicated time to intentionally consider our effectiveness can only benefit our work. Reflection may be a time to evaluate patron interactions, readers advisory discussions, or collection development observations. The time might be used to learn a new song, fingerplay, or to locate culturally sensitive and diverse titles for your next program. You might even think about small changes to impact program effectiveness or improve community engagement. Your self-reflection may help to identify areas that need a little more effort as well as those areas where efforts can be redirected. Speaking with other staff and gathering direct patron feedback can enrich the process with an outside perspective.
You are not (or should not be) alone in this endeavor. Seek out mentors, and ask for help when needed. Set goals and communicate those goals with your supervisor and if appropriate with your peers as well. In this way, you can help to hold yourself accountable and to receive support. Ask for and be open to constructive feedback. Try to remember that constructive feedback is not criticism; effective feedback is empowering (at times uncomfortable) and fosters positive change. Expand your network in a meaningful way by sharing your knowledge and building-up those around you. Foster and develop reciprocal relationships. Share your skills with colleagues, and offer to partner with them on projects. Serving as a resource for others strengthens your value within your organization and your community. In that same vein, practice professional and cultural humility as you seek out and connect with others to learn from and alongside them.
Make contacts inside and outside of the library across departments and levels. Invite community partners into your space and showcase what the library can offer their organization. Seek out those who have the skills and/or resources that you lack. Partner with those who “know how” and “can do”. If you hear of an opportunity that would suit someone else, then pass along the information so that they can benefit. This does not make you weak or lessen your future possibilities. Rather, a willingness to share highlights your ability to make connections and to bring people together for the greater good.
We advocate for our libraries and our programs all of the time. Do you advocate for yourself? You can actively advocate for yourself each time you share your knowledge, demonstrate your skill, and practice integrity in your work. Create a professional profile for yourself to look back on or to draw from as needed. Gather quantitative (statistics) and qualitative (positive verbal/written) feedback. This does necessarily not require any additional effort. If you report statistics for monthly or quarterly reports, then keep a copy of the data that directly reflects your work. Save emails of praise, positive reviews, and patron thank you notes. A portfolio might be as simple as a spreadsheet, copies of flyers, and/or event photos. On the other hand, you may find that creating a personal website or a blog meets your needs. Even if you decide not to share this portfolio, it will serve as a tangible reminder of your accomplishments and capabilities.
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Grow in place wherever you find yourself. Though our job duties may not necessarily change, the way in which we choose to view our roles can evolve in a positive way.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: VII.Professionalism and Professional Development.
Amalia E. Butler, Senior Children’s Librarian, is Chair of the Managing Children’s Services committee. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @amaelibu.