We are children’s librarians. We can step in front of a group of 200 elementary school children gathered in a multi-purpose room and act out Pizza Man without reservation. We lead hoards of preschoolers in A Tooty Ta Ta. We don yoga clothes and bend our bodies for Stretchy Storytime. We might not be the best singers or crafters, but we happily conduct these programs for our beloved library patrons in house.
But to watch ourselves on YouTube? View a playback from Facebook Live? Sit through a Zoom video without despairing over the state of our neck or nose! I don’t know about you, but I personally pick out every single flaw in my voice, my face, my body. I watch the playback of every single program, and I am not a gentle critic.
There are other elements to contend with: views, hits, likes, shares, heart buttons, like buttons, and the dreaded crying and angry faces. Normally in programming, our regular patrons show up, we interact with them, and it’s a perfectly balanced equation. We are face to face. We are focused on their needs during the program. We adapt if someone can’t see the book well, or if someone is having a melt down in the corner. We interface. We flow. We do not wonder if they will share with their friends just how awesome we are, although we’re really pleased if they do.
But now? The numbers count. The hits count. If they’re good, we congratulate ourselves. If we put our heart and soul into a virtual program, and post it, and no one really watches it, it can feel deflating. It’s sort of like being in high school again… do they like me? How many like me? Why don’t they like me? How can I get them to like me?
In normal programming, our focus is NOT ON OURSELVES. It is on our patrons, and they are usually lovable for various reasons, , and they are frequently down-right adorable. They require all of our time and attention. In virtual programming, because we are so often alone in a room, we turn all of that energy into scrutiny of ourselves. And, if you’re like me, it is hard.
Body image is a complicated subject, and a negative, unrealistic body image often starts at a young age. Various studies have found that over fifty percent of girls aged 6-8 have a body ideal image which is thinner than their own. These are the kids that we interact with everyday. So when we agree to display our glorious, imperfect, flawed selves on whatever media platform we use, we have the chance to take away the power of the beauty industry and other “influencers” on our youngest patrons. We can influence instead! Yes! Real people have double chins! Lumps happen! Hair has good days and bad (particularly 8 weeks after a trim. Thanks, COVID). And the great thing is that we are not displaying ourselves just to focus on some body positive message, wonderful and necessary as those are. Instead, we are working and reading and singing and creating! Real people have real bodies, and these real bodies advocate for literacy!
Another important element in turning the horror of seeing ourselves on a screen to a positive is the concept and study of vulnerability, made most well known through the work of Brené Brown. She finds that the willingness to be vulnerable, and bravely display our imperfections leads to growth, insight, creativity, and fuller life. It is hard, but it is worth it. And, interestingly, our perceived flaws and vulnerabilities can make us more attractive to others. I love the lines from the song “Weakness Makes You Beautiful” by Petree:
Weakness makes you beautiful
When it wears you like a jewel
Makes your mask unsuitable
Opening door to the invisible
Where you fly free again
Spread your wings and breathe again
Just be again
You’re stronger than you’ve ever been
Most importantly, our patrons NEED us right now. We are their librarians. They need us to show up. They need to know we’re still there for them, that we care about them, that we are working for them, and that they are not alone. They have already seen us, and they keep coming back despite our real and perceived flaws! We might be their lifelines to literacy and normalcy in this strange time.
So let’s keep showing up. Let’s be present with all of our goofiness, all of our flaws, and with all the energy, creativity and talent we can muster. We matter. Our patrons and communities matter, and they are worth our vulnerability. We are each someone’s librarian, and that is an honor. Let’s serve our communities, and turn the eye of kindness that we show to our friends and colleagues and patrons onto ourselves. Get out there and be amazing! Let yourself fly! We are here to catch each other. We are CHILDREN’S LIBRARIANS! We can do anything!
Today’s guest blogger is Liza Purdy. Liza is a children’s librarian at the Old Town Newhall branch of the Santa Clarita Public Library.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Commitment to Client Group and Programming Skills.