One of my beloved minions is stepping into the fracas of library service and I thought this would be a good time to review those items that will frustrate even the most experienced librarian. Do I have the magic answer? A no-fail process or procedure? Not at all.
What I do have is a list of things that you cannot possibly control, no matter how good you are and how well you know the situation. The only thing that I can promise is that you will get better coping with the unknowns in your professional life. I also know that even the most talented, laid back person in the world will have days where coping is just not happening.
2016 (and while we are counting, 2015 too) were both years in my life that were rough. I had a lot of unfixable problems and I worried too much. I also have serious regrets for not recognizing problems ahead of time, underestimating situations, and over-reacting (or under-reacting) to situations both professionally and personally. I am always Monday morning quarterbacking the “should have” and “could have” of just about any project or program. Maybe if I spent more time on “X” it would be better. I am sure everyone does this from time to time. The danger is when you can’t get past the mistakes, and worse, the perceived mistakes, and you find yourself stuck. I still struggle with this after nearly 20 years in library service.
For new librarians it is important you know from the start that no matter how much preparation you do, things will go wrong and you will make mistakes. Even experienced people working in a new situation will have the same things happen that a rookie might face. Lack of experience can work hand-in-hand with chaos. So, newbies, with all my apologies to Ranganathan and his five laws, here are the real laws of library science:
- There will always be someone who makes things more difficult in your work life. It could be a co-worker, patron, or boss. It might even be all three.
- At some point, someone will blame you for something.
- No matter how many signs you hang, training opportunities you offer, processes in place, etc. there will always be people who won’t read a policy/procedure or a sign or attempt training (or even Google a solution) to address a problem.
- No matter how many signups there are or reminder calls you make, the headcount will never be predictable.
- You will misinterpret a directive or an instruction from a supervisor or misunderstand a patron’s request.
- You will bite off more than you can chew.
- Someone will complain about something.
- You will forget something important or miss something that should have been obvious.
- Someone will mess with your budget.
- You will probably burst into tears or have murderous thoughts about something or someone at work.
- You can do everything right and it will still turn out awful.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Try these strategies for coping:
- First, just assume everything will go bad and try and plan accordingly.
- Be an active listener. Take copious notes and confirm your understanding of a problem by following up with an email or conversation
- Be kind and give the benefit of the doubt to your co-workers, patrons, and bosses.
- Make sure you connect with other librarians regularly and share your frustrations. Even in a small library you can ask for opinions in library forums or social media. I also meet regularly with a group of library workers that are not employed at the same library as me, and we have an agreement that nothing goes outside our group. They have been my go-to group for support. They are also a good reality check when I think I am losing my mind. Newbies, particularly, need to be able to touch base with more experienced librarians as a sounding board. (Caveat: Don’t get sucked into negativity with someone heading toward burnout.)
Libraries work because of collaboration. Take this to the next level by sharing concerns with your fellow professionals. Be supportive and forgive slights, knowing that no one is perfect. Don’t assume you know all the facts, and remember that no one ever has ALL the facts.
Because everyone needs a librarian in their corner.