Library school didn’t prepare me for losing a teen.

Everyone hates teenagers. We all know that, I more than most, as their champion and advocate. They’re mouthy and hormonal and loud and mischievous… and that’s all most people see. Unlike the villainous dislike of children, everyone’s allowed to voice their disdain for teens… and they do, usually within earshot of their subjects.

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Adults don’t care about teens’ confusion and widespread abandonment issues, the extreme self-consciousness caused by the live streaming of their very existence, from their friends and parents and enemies. They don’t care that they’re coming into their sexuality in a minefield of consent and its constantly changing definitions, that their most private texts and photos are often traded among their peers like collectible playing cards, that they’re expected to trade them, themselves. No… most people just assume that if they could overcome their adolescence X years ago, then so can today’s teenagers.

Last night, I learned that one of my daily library kids didn’t overcome his teenage years. I don’t know the circumstances of his arrest, his guilt or his innocence… but I knew him and I liked him. I hadn’t seen him since a program in January. I was beginning to worry, but I was looking forward to having him as one of my teen volunteers this summer. I knew he was looking forward to it, too, since he was the first to register… but I won’t see him this summer. I won’t see him ever again, because he died this week. He was alone and scared and thought he had no future… a self-fulfilling prophecy, because he was discovered hanging from a light fixture in a county jail cell… and that’s all anyone will remember. They’ll whisper about rape charges and suicide and they won’t question why or how it could have been prevented. They’ll only condemn… and my heart is breaking, because I couldn’t help him. I wasn’t that person, wasn’t in a position to do so, but I wish I could have helped him navigate whatever it was to which he was lost. Could I have been clearer, that time on the patio, when I talked to him about the rumors the girls were spreading and the behavior that might lead to them… about respect and consent? Could I have been clearer with the girls about the consequences of such accusations, when upon further investigation, I realized their terms weren’t entirely fair or accurate? I tried, within all my power and professional boundaries, to explain it as thoroughly as I could, without accusation or dismissal… and one of them is still dead.

I wish I could help my teens more, without crossing a line. I wish we were all more invested in protecting them, providing them with the love and care we were so intent on giving them just five years earlier. I wish we were more comfortable and transparent in guiding them through their social and sexual interactions. Mostly, I wish a sixteen-year-old boy hadn’t killed himself in a county jail last week… that whatever landed him there hadn’t happened… that he had a chance to make better decisions and figure out who he could be… that I had any idea how to process this.

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Roots

Roots are a funny thing. For most of my life, my roots have been shallow, at best. As a child, I suppose I took stability for granted, as all children will and should do. Our trailer house on five acres, with my grandmother living next door, was all I knew. My parents were never… happy, but they weren’t overtly miserable, either. Besides, Gramma was right next door and seeing her was the end game of literally every day. Fuck parents.

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When I was 8, we left the trailer and my grandmother moved to town. After a year or two of finally having all the things, my parents still began their Lifetime Original Movie level divorce and my brother and I were more or less left to fend for ourselves. Stability was a thing of the past and I wouldn’t claim to have gained anything resembling it until after my divorce at 23. My new roots were shallow, indeed, as I worked two jobs to afford my single girl apartment and attended grad school part time. I hoped that, in time, all my efforts would pay off and my roots would deepen. I dated on and off, at times wondering if I even wanted to try the marriage thing again. At 24, my brother told me I’d better get on it, because the good ones marry early. At 25, my aunt offered to set me up with some cute musicians, to which I responded that that’s exactly what I needed, another man without a job.

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At 26, the cynicism began to fade and the panic began to set in, as I wailed to my Gramma that I was going to die alone. All the while, I worked to climb the ladder in my library system and shared my dating stories with you fine folks. At 27, Jake showed up, fucking finally. At 29, I married him; and at 30, we bought our own home. In these six or seven years, I found myself at six different libraries, living in three different dwellings. In short, it was a crazy time. I yearned for stability.

Today, I’ve begun to set down new roots. I’ve been stationed at the Cherokee library, heading the teen programming for all five satellite locations, for almost two years now. Jake has received a promotion to crew chief, with the city. We’re fixing up our home and planning on children soon. We’ve formed some tentative friendships at church. Still, not three months ago, I was in tears, because the connections feel so insubstantial. We live near no one. My family isn’t nearby and if they were, I wouldn’t be especially close with them. As wonderful as my step-siblings and their spouses are, Jake and I have vastly different interests and are simply in a different stage of life. I have delightful friends, but they have different goals, dreams, worldviews. Jake’s friends, who are much more relatable, in these regards, are in another state. His family is scattered across both states and again, are largely in different stages of life. I love my husband and feel entirely secure in our marriage, but I can’t help but wonder, will I ever feel anchored in any other area of my life?

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The first couple of months of the year were hard for me. As much as I love working with my teens, my library system doesn’t provide any additional compensation for working in the satellite branches. We get such varied experience, it makes us obvious candidates for promotion, something many gladly take, because working at five libraries is substantially more stressful than working at one. Even small issues, such as sharing supplies, covering the desk, and filling out mileage forms, often become huge stressors. Naturally, this results in much higher turnover and every time a position is filled, another is vacated. We finally get a strong team, in which everyone works well together, only to have to train someone new. It’s exhausting, particularly when coupled with the general chaos of the system as a whole, which was turned on its head nearly five years ago and has never quite righted itself. For literally the first time in eight years, I’ve begun looking at my options. Yet… my library system is all I know. I’ve worked there since I was 23 and the idea of leaving is scary… but since I don’t seem to have set down any deep roots, just yet, perhaps this is the right time.

I’m reading Gone with the Wind and I find myself envying Scarlet. I’ve never had a Tara, a place for which I feel a true sense of home… and maybe, as hard as it’s been lately, that’s for the best. Just maybe, before Jake and I have children, get them into school, plant ourselves more firmly into our fields and our community, we could consider uprooting, once again. I still have a valid teaching certificate and I’ve kept my finger on the pulse of education for the last ten years. I could leave my system and work as a school librarian, my original goal, when I began pursuing my master’s degree. I could continue to work with teens, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and have more time in the summers, the most hectic time of year for public librarians. If we were to relocate to Jake’s home state, I could make very similar money. We could move closer to friends and family, before starting a family of our own, and be there to support Jake’s parents as they move into their seventies. We could even use the superior public school system and save money on tuition for Catholic school. We could transplant these shallow roots, in a way that might not be an option in five years.

And yet, I worry that the constant shifting within my library system, although beyond my control, has created a sense of professional wanderlust in me. Am I considering leaving so I can have something more consistent or have I just been in Cherokee for almost two years, which is about my turnaround per branch? Am I looking for a stronger commitment or a bigger challenge? Do I crave predictability or chaos? Have I spent so long with a shallow root system that, although appealing in theory, the idea of deep roots has me feeling trapped? I don’t know, but the prospect is terrifying. Roots are a funny thing.

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The Curse of Ambition

When I was in pre-school, I overheard my parents talking about my brother getting “straight A’s,” as though it were impossible. In my childhood literalism, I understood this as a reference to handwriting (“A” was, like, the easiest letter to write) and confidently declared that could make straight A’s. Something about the way my dad responded that he wasn’t sure if that were true, because getting straight A’s was hard work, alerted me to the idea that there was clearly more to it. Regardless, at four years old, admittedly uncertain as to what I was being challenged, I essentially clapped back with “It’s on, bitch.”

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Not verbatim.

As I grew up, I became used to being, if not the best at every subject in school, one of the best. I hated P.E., because it was rooted in the only area in which I couldn’t excel. It didn’t matter to me that I always got an A in the class. I wanted to be on the National or Presidential Physical Fitness Award wall. If I couldn’t, I didn’t want to fucking play.

I always viewed athleticism as simply unattainable… which to some extent, was an accurate assessment. I was born with asthma, in lieu of any innate grace. I was blessed with a broad rib cage and enormous breasts, at a young age, as opposed to a naturally svelte form. I couldn’t change the fact that I was slow and short of breath, so I was an inattentive daydreamer, which does not make for the best team member. If I tried my hardest, I was middling, so I chose to save my energy and just not try at all. Of course, this meant that I not only missed out on the sport itself, but all the benefits that might have come with it, such as exercise, sportsmanship, and teamwork skills, just to avoid the embarrassment of being not one of the best. 

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Intellectual endeavors, however, were totally my jam. I was overweight, antisocial, and lazy, but straight A’s came easy… more or less. The only time I received a C, was a 79 in reading, because I refused to follow the totalitarian Accelerated Reader regime, a stance I still proudly hold as a public librarian, today. While I struggled in math (a failing I credit to my parents’ claim that the Addin’ Muscle resides in the penis), I always managed at least a B. In high school, I was able to enroll in AP courses and, for the first time, I felt somewhat challenged. Not only was the subject matter explored more deeply, but my classmates were actually engaged and competitive. I was no longer certain of my status as the smartest person in the room and that sparked my sense of ambition. I wanted to continue to be one of the best, and I was willing to work for it, knowing it was at least possible. Unfortunately, these AP courses only made up two or three hours of my day, so I largely found high school to be only slightly more demanding than all that preceded it. Although Rory Gilmore promised college would be different, I did not go to Yale. I went to the third largest public university in my state, and while I did eventually feel engaged, I can’t say that I ever felt truly challenged, until I began my master’s degree.

Lacking social, musical, or athletic graces, prior to graduate school, my sense of ambition was almost exclusively rooted in academics. I’d have ceaselessly climbed that ladder, too, had I been offered more rungs, or encouraged to pursue the areas in which I struggled, like science and math. It should come as no surprise, though, that I gravitated toward an intellectual field and, in hindsight, that I eventually did so well… perhaps too well.

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When I started as a half-time circulation clerk, my goal was simply to gain experience working in a library. Originally, my dream job was to work as a middle school librarian, because I didn’t even realize that teen librarian was a job title. Once I learned what this job entailed, though, it didn’t take long to figure out that working in my system was both more stable and more lucrative, while lacking many of the headaches of working in the public education system. I set my sights on a new goal and for two years, I substitute taught, worked 20 hours a week at the Southside library, and pursued my MLIS.

After graduation, I was fortunate to move, almost immediately, into a half-time librarian position, no specialization… where I stagnated for two and a half years, because there are plenty of 70’s and 80’s feminists, who haven’t recovered from the mentality that women must tear each other down to succeed. Truly, this woman had a list of people she didn’t want to destroy and I was just one of many who failed to make that cut. When the time came for her to retire to her cave and eat puppies, however, my ambition was reignited and I jumped at the chance to move up, as surprisingly to some, there are many opportunities for upward movement in the library world.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know that at the end of 2015, I accepted a new position, advertised as 80% librarian and 20% supervisor… and rocked it for eleven months, before succumbing to the fact that I just could not be a manager any longer. If I had to tell one more grownup that she couldn’t wear her jammies to work, I was going to be on the news. For the first time since the semester I took 22 credit hours, I realized that my ambition had bitten me in the ass. I had thought long and hard about stepping down, about the possibility that I might never get the chance to be a manager again… and ultimately decided that I’d prefer that to never being a librarian again. So, I became an adult librarian… and as the result of a grassroots restructuring and an impassioned speech on my love for teens, with no experience as a teen librarian, I was eventually mapped into my current title: teen librarian for the five Satellite Libraries, primarily operating out of the Cherokee branch.

In those first few months in my position, I had the following conversation with my immediate supervisor:

Me: “I am wildly unqualified for this position.”
Supervisor: “There’s… room for growth, but I wouldn’t put it that way.”
Me: “If this job had been opened for interviews, I wouldn’t have gotten one.”

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My sense of ambition had been more than sparked, y’all. I was petrified. After all the years I’d spent yearning for the title of teen librarian, only to feel as though it had slipped from my grasp, when I became a manager and then an adult librarian, I finally had my dream job… like my ten year plan dream job. I’d been willing and eager to head the teen programming for one library, in one community, not five. Although, I’d worked as a substitute teacher for six years and enjoyed the teens there, I had no actual experience working with them in a library setting. What if they didn’t like me? What if I completely missed the mark and became the guidance counselor from Freaks and Geeks to them, never actually making a difference? What if I never built a following and decimated the teen attendance in the Satellite Libraries?!?! I’d been forced to take a bite, much larger than what I felt I could  chew.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve grown my initial home school teen book club from an average attendance of four to 17. Moms comment in Facebook groups about how much I do for my teens and how much they love me. One of my regulars has decided she wants to cut her hair like mine. I remember the names of more than thirty teenagers who come in and out of the library, in a given week. We’ve had murder mystery parties and nerd trivia battles and played Clue and improv games. We’ve debated Doctor Who vs. The Hulk and Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings. My teenagers are the highlight of my work day, every day. I’m no longer overwhelmed by what’s ahead of me and have long been making jokes with Susie, the children’s librarian and my good friend, about how we’re both going to die at the reference desk of the Cherokee branch.

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For years, I’ve been joking about how I wanted to get a teen librarian position and simply stagnate. In actuality I just wanted to get the perfect position and be really good at at it and never move up again. It seems that’s a perfectly reasonable and delightful plan, at this point, except… there’s a possibility that a librarian position might soon open in the materials selection department at our downtown location. The pay would be approximately $11,000 more a year, though the commute would increase by at least 45 minutes round trip… but the position would entail selecting books and materials for the entire system, digitally and physically, ensuring we have a balanced collection. It’s one of the few titles I’ve ever said could tempt me away from Cherokee and the Satellite Libraries, my teens and my non-existent commute… but no one ever leaves materials selection. They all stay until retirement, which means that these jobs almost never open… and I see that little spark of ambition in the girl who once cried over a 98.5% . She just wants to put in an application, when the time comes, and see what happens. Except this time, I’m not working for half the hourly pay as a circulation clerk or half time as a librarian, desperate for benefits. I’m not miserable as a manager or being forced to choose an age group with no knowledge of where I’ll end up. I’m happy and if I vacate my job, it may never open again… but I also know I’m at least a decent candidate and I may never get another chance… and yet, there’s always the possibility that I’d regret it. I suppose it’s a good thing the position hasn’t actually opened yet. I still have time to try to lift the curse of ambition.

Four Stitches and a Tetanus Shot: My Favorite Librarians Who Saved the World

Quiet season at the library has more or less ended, now that the holidays have passed. As a teen librarian, this means that I’m planning more original and creative programs for my kids, as opposed to lazily ordering kits from outreach, because there’s a 60% chance no one will show. This means more prep and sadly, for me, more injuries.

Three weeks ago, on the new branch manager, Penny’s, third day, I was prepping for my stained glass program, when I cut my finger and yelped in surprise and pain. It was just bad enough that, without a Band-Aid, the blood would have been an issue, so Penny helped me bandage it, sharing her own klutzy tale and we returned to work.

It was a rough day, as I later learned that a coworker from another branch had suddenly died over the weekend. He’d been my motivation for becoming a teen librarian and I told him so just last summer, at our teen volunteer laser tag party. I powered through, however, as I chose an additional last minute craft for the week’s book-themed family program. What cuter craft than a laminate bookmark made of shapes cut from book pages… or so I thought, as I trimmed the edges with the guillotine paper cutter.

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In my shock, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. I walked into Penny’s office, cupping my left thumb and blurted “This is much worse.” A flurry of activity ensued, in which I learned that dealing with blood is not one of a librarian’s many talents, as Penny, a former high school librarian, was the only one who could assist without fainting… including myself. Someone called Jake, as Penny determined that I needed to go to aftercare.

Jake: “So, what did you do?”
Me: “I made a beautiful craft.”

Three hours and four stitches later, the doctor asked when I’d last had a tetanus shot and my manual labor husband chimed in:

Jake: “I’m sure she’s had one through work.”
Me: “I’m a librarian. We were just mocking the fact that we have to take a blood borne pathogens training. When would they have given me a tetanus shot?”

So it was, that after seven and a half years with the system, I learned about worker’s comp… along with my new manager, on her third day. On the way home, I cried and told Jake that Jim died. He asked who Jim was and, knowing it was the only way to jog his memory, I reminded him of the guy at the Southside Library, who, coincidentally… was missing a thumb.

“I’d love to have a job where I can read all day.” Yeah. Me, too. Let me know if you find it.

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So, my thumb has finally healed enough that I can comfortably type to tell you about my favorite librarians, who saved the world. Spoiler warning, as appropriate.

Rupert Giles – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It was a fandom war, when I got my new puppy, y’all. Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Harry Potter? In a moment of truth, however, I named my little guy Rupert, after the half-superhero, half-father figure librarian of Sunnydale High. Giles wasn’t just the only reason the Scoobies ever even knew what or how to fight, he killed two major series villains, one as a mercy to Buffy, so she wouldn’t have to take it on her own conscious. For me, his real heroism, however, was best repesented in the scene where he comforts Buffy after she loses her virginity to Angel, causing him to lose his soul. Anyone with a buttload of explosives can be a badass. It takes a real hero to comfort a crying teen, as her world falls apart.

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Mike Hanlon – Stephen King’s It

Zetus lapetus, librarians never get any credit in fiction. If you ask anyone how Stephen King’s It concludes, depending on whether or not they’ve read the book, they’ll either mention eleven-year-old group sex or a weird spider from outer space. No one seems to recall that this story, in ever single way, is about a librarian who saved the fucking world. Not only was Mike Hanlon the only character to stay in Derry, he was the sole individual who kept any memory or record of the horrors that happened in his childhood. He called back Bill and the gang to fight this ancient evil, after they all went on to live lives of success, leaving him behind to be an intelligent black man in a terrifyingly racist town. Fuck Bill. He was only the main protagonist, because he was a semi-autobiographical and Stephen King is in love with himself. Mike Hanlon was the real MVP.

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Samwell Tarly – Game of Thrones

Due to his lack of rapey tendencies and general mental stability, Samwell Tarly is portrayed as a meek, cowardly character in Game of Thrones. In some respects, this is a valid description, as he refuses to stand up for himself and fails at most athletic and physical feats. His overall lack of aggression seems to have freed up a lot of mental space, though, as it’s Sam who discovers the long lost key to killing the White Walkers, by testing it out personally. He even cures greyscale, a magical and more horrifying form of leprosy, on his way to discovering John Snow’s true identity. Of course, Game of Thrones has not actually concluded, which makes this more speculation than spoiler, but we can see where this is going. Sam uncovers the true identity of John Snow and he ushers in a golden age of royal unity for the Seven Kingdoms, even though this is a world where magic is second only to violence, because research is badass.tumblr_myzwhrflwp1s5m21go3_250

Barbara Gordon – Bat Girl

Barbara Gordon wasn’t only the daughter of the police commissioner, James Gordon. She was the head of the Gotham City Public Library. Y’all, I have worked in an inner-city library, and Batgirl or no, this makes Barbara Gordon a tough cookie. Not only was she a researcher and homeless people’s advocate extraordinaire, Barbara Gordon used her innocent librarian cover to throw the scent off her own vigilantism, which is essentially my dream… if I could just get Jake on board. Even when she became wheelchair bound, Barbara Gordon simply shifted her goals and alter-ego to become The Oracle, basically librarianing the bad guys right into the hands of Batman and friends. Librarians, folks, are truly the unsung heroes of literature.

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Protecting the Future of Libraries is Ruining My Life

If you’ve been following my blog for the past year, then you know my professional life has been a bit hectic. Last January, I started as a Supervisory Librarian at the Northside Library. Finally full time, I was able to quit substitute teaching for a new position that was envisioned as 20% supervisory and 80% librarian. Sadly, the title quickly evolved and my true role ended up being 100% supervisory… and still 80% librarian. In addition to acting as manager at all times, I was also the adult librarian, in charge of local and off-site book clubs, building the adult programming department, working the reference desk, maintaining and weeding a quarter of the collection, and performing readers’ advisory. After eight exhausting months, I tearfully explained to my manager that a good week was one in which I was the only person crying in my office… and that I was stepping down, internally.

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This took a bit longer than I thought it would. I assumed I was the obvious choice for the adult librarian position in Cherokee and was rather overdramatically devastated when the job went to a woman who I now know was the more qualified candidate. Then, just north of Cherokee, a position opened in Jackson, also for an adult librarian. While teens have always been my passion, my experience at the Northside Library in adult librarianship just seemed to go further than my bachelor’s degree in education or my six years of substitute teaching or even all the teen-centered classes I took in grad school. No one cared about my goals or theoretical experience as much as they did my actual experience. Since I enjoyed working with seniors and I hated being a manager, it seemed unwise to be picky. Exactly 11 months after my first day, I celebrated my last as a Supervisory Librarian, before starting as just a Librarian at the Eastside Library. Life was good… for a fucking minute and a half.

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Towards the end of January, came the announcement: my library system is undergoing a grassroots restructuring. Literally everyone’s title and job description are changing… no matter how new they might be. Less than two month’s, y’all. I had my position at a small town library with a touch of adult programming for less than two months… which was still enough time to relocate.

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The Jackson Library is unique in that it’s grouped with the Lakeville, Harmon, and Nada libraries, which all serve small, almost rural, communities around a thriving metropolitan city. Together, these libraries comprise the Satellite Libraries of my system, which until very recently, have been treated as the Hillbilly Annex, when it comes to resources and funding.

Me: “I just hate the way everyone talks about these libraries. My bachelor’s degree was in home-ec. I constantly had to defend it, even to those in the education field, and here I am again, defending the Satellite Libraries to the rest of the system.”
Boss: “How do you mean?”
Me: “We’re part of a fifty million dollar system and we didn’t have color printing here, until 2017. I had a color printer in 1997.”

This is one reason why I asked my managers to see if I could be transferred to a new branch as part of the restructuring, since it seemed at least two librarians would be moved from the Satellite Libraries and no one else wanted to leave. Additionally, despite my asking before the interview and during the interview, if my position would require traveling to every Satellite branch and being told no, it seems this position has also evolved. Instead of doing the occasional adult program and working as a librarian, as promised, I would be expected to spend my days in meetings with city officials and schmoozing business owners in four different communities.

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Me to my boss: “This is exactly why I got out of management. I spent all my time in meetings, talking about changing the world instead of actually changing the world.”

The restructuring, however, isn’t just about revising the positions themselves, but also deciding who fits best within them. We were asked to evaluate our strengths and truly consider with which population we could make the biggest difference: children, adults, or teens.

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Children’s library has never even been a consideration of mine. I only like the children I’m required to like and sometimes, not even them. I’ll like my own. I probably won’t like their friends. As a whole, I don’t like kids and I’m not sorry.

While I sort of fell into adult librarianship, I did enjoy it, especially seniors. I had a group of ladies I visited at the nursing home, and they fun, sassy, and opinionated. I was the first stop at the Northside Library if a senior needed help with an iPad or Kindle Fire, because I loved reassuring them that they weren’t stupid, technology is hard, and they could do it. Still… my heart has always belonged to teens.

For the same reason I love seniors, I love teens. They’re the forgotten population. We push them aside in favor of the most active tax payers. When they’re children, we love them because they’re cute (or so I hear) and we cater to them because their parents are watching and voting.  As teens, however, they come in alone, make a ruckus, and can’t vote. Most people view teens as little adults who have not yet learned to behave. I know that their brains are just as different from adult brains as those of children. One of the most miserable parts of management was watching the teen librarian plan and orchestrate programs and mentor volunteers, when I had missed the chance.

As much as I didn’t want to travel to a different library every day, I decided to chance it. I tossed my hat into an unknown ring and claimed teens. I could end up staying and travelling or leaving for any of our other 14 system libraries… but I’d get to be a teen librarian. Management has assured me the decision isn’t permanent, but I don’t see how it couldn’t be. No one will ever be more qualified for a position than someone who’s already doing it. Nevertheless, I was assured that they could probably still find a new place for me to serve teens, in system,  but outside of the Satellite Libraries… or so they thought.

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The next week, I was informed that I would probably be staying with the Satellite Libraries, as the teen librarian, despite the fact that two librarians will still need to leave and no one else wants out. I felt like management was trying to make a point that this wasn’t about me, but was it really so unreasonable to think I could still benefit, if someone had to leave anyway? Furthermore, why did they even open the Jackson Library in December, filling three positions, if they knew they were going to pull the rug out from under us all? After what happened with the Supervisory Librarian position, how could they do this to me, again? For the last six months, I’ve had no idea what my professional future holds. On the one hand, I understand the importance of the restructuring and I’m thrilled we have a director will to take it on to keep our libraries relevant… on the other, I’m trying to move and plan a wedding and prepare for marriage and management is ruining my life!

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I’ve gotta give some credit to Jake, here, y’all, because as much as I tried to keep my cool, I… so… horribly… failed. You have not seen dramatic Belle, until you’ve threatened her future as a librarian and at this point, the back and forth was just too much. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to do teens for sure. There was still a chance I’d have to spend all day in meetings with city officials and lead book club discussions over boring grownup books about the Civil War and economics. If they made me travel and sit in meetings all day, I was seriously considering look for teaching jobs… and education in my state is not looking good. I’ve said it before, folks. I am the old man declaring that what you do is who you are and if I’m not a librarian, who am I? I spent days in bed, sleeping and crying over the stress of just not knowing.

Finally, I was able to sit down with my own Supervisory Librarian and the manager above her, where they explained that it’s unlikely anyone will be leaving the Satellite Libraries, but if they do, it just wouldn’t make sense for it to be their only passionate teen librarian. I was even informed that no one actually knew the restructuring would be so drastic, until after the Jackson Library was opened. My manager also made the point that, despite all this stress and upheaval, the teens in these communities need someone to champion them and I could be the best person to do so, considering the similarities between these towns and Shetland, my upbringing and theirs.

As icing on the cake, amidst all of this craziness, we received some other news: IMLS (Institute of Museums and Library Services) might lose their funding, because President Donald Trump is ignorant and shortsighted and wants to give the appearance that he’s cutting real spending when the only impact from defunding libraries at a federal level, will be a negative one. It’s a drop in the bucket as far as government spending goes, but if it’s eliminated, libraries all over the country will have to cut staff, hours, and resources and some will probably have to close their doors for good. I, myself, am fortunate enough to work in a library system that receives zero federal funding. While we benefit from a state database resource funded by IMLS, my job and that of everyone in our system, is secure.

So, over this past weekend, I was really able to process what my manager said, now that I’ve been assured that there are no hidden agendas and I can at least count on being the teen librarian for the Satellite Libraries. Maybe I really can make a difference out here and be truly fulfilled. Would the traveling even be so bad, once I’ve gotten used to each branch? After my talk with management, I realized that everyone in the system is facing major changes in their title. If I moved, I’d just be in the same trailer, different park. I told my Supervisory Librarian as much on Monday morning only to hear that the wheels are still turning and the Cherokee Library is now considered a Satellite Library, as well. I may end up working there as a teen librarian after all.

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As exasperating as they may be, however, these changes are the reason we’ll be thriving in five years. They’re going to be the reason we’re still standing as other libraries fall, because while I’ve been crying in bed like a fucking Disney Princess, because I don’t know the future of my library, others in my field have been crying because their library has no future. This isn’t just a great chance, because it’s my opportunity to work with teens.

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– I GET TO BE A TEEN LIBRARIAN, Y’ALL! –

It’s reassurance that I can still even be a librarian… because for many in my field, it ain’t looking good.

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The Horrors of Being a Manager That No One Ever Shared

I hate being a manager.

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Before I became a supervisory librarian, I was confident that while official management might be an option several years from now, I wanted to spend some time as a librarian first. Managers can make damned good money, but they’re also the ones who have to deal with personnel issues, fill out paperwork when the police are called, and spend a crazy amount of time in meetings. While that wasn’t off the table entirely, I at least wanted the chance to get my feel for the challenges a librarian faces, before trading them in for new ones of a higher pay grade.

I’ve detailed previously how drastically my position has changed since I started in January. What was advertised as a librarian position with some supervisory duties has, quite literally, become the opposite. I am a manger first, a manager second, and a librarian if there’s time. Now, I’m not gonna lie. At the time, I was exhausted and disheartened by working as a half time librarian and substitute teaching when I’d had a master’s degree for two years. I can’t say with certainty that I wouldn’t have applied for the supervisory position, had I known what it would become… but I can say I’d have only had myself to blame when I realized just how much I hate being a manager… and all the horrors no one ever mentioned.

It’s Us against Them.
I always assumed my boss at the Westside Library didn’t join us for Taco Tuesday, because it would be awkward to mix business with pleasure. You can’t reprimand someone for using inappropriate language, if they’ve heard you use the phrase “bucket of cunts,” over a bottomless basket of tortilla chips. I felt for her, because she was the only manager at our branch and it looked really lonely from the outside. Now, I realize that she wasn’t lonely. She was just perpetually ready for battle.

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In my system, the circulation clerks and library pages are almost as quick to snarl when someone blames the group for the actions of an individual as they are to make sweeping generalizations about how “management doesn’t care/understand/listen.” People constantly air their grievances about how management is a clown that eats children and they do not make exceptions. While I’d hope none exist in my system, I’m certain there are supervisors looking out for number one, too busy stressing about their own duties to care about how anyone else is coping with theirs, maybe just mad with power. I’m just as certain that I’m not one of them.

The only thing I hate more than being a manager is the fact that I hate being a manager, because someone at every level of staff, from the library pages to the system director, has told me that they hope I have my own branch one day. I refuse to read management theory and put my employees in little boxes labeled by some arbitrary personality test, because I consider these no different than delineators such as gender, race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. Humans are complicated and we need to stop stereotyping them as a management technique. So, I read my employees and accommodate their individual work and communication styles. I address each and every concern. I champion my staff and they champion me… until they write about how much Management sucks… and it all feels like a wasted effort. No matter how hard I try, I’m still The Man and they still feel like cogs in the machine.

I’m rarely the one who can solve the problem.
Maybe they feel like cogs in the machine, because we’re all cogs in the machine. When someone brings a problem to my office, more often than not, I can’t actually solve it. If I’m lucky, I can set up some kind of committee and delegate tasks, helping the staff to feel involved in the decision making process, while simultaneously addressing the issue. If not, as with personnel issues, I can start doing paperwork. If I’m particularly unfortunate, the staff member causing problems won’t be under me and I can ask their manager to start doing paperwork… confidentially, of course, so I can’t actually clarify this with the person who brought the issue to my attention.

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Bigger picture problems are even less under my control, in the well-oiled machine that is a large library system. You’re upset that the dress code is more problematic for Black women, because they can’t wear head wraps? That’s a policy approved by the commission. You want an urban fiction section? That’s cataloging’s call, not mine. You want to move up, with the degree you received from an unaccredited institution? I’d recommend a smaller library system. You want direct answers from your immediate supervisor? I’d recommend a smaller library system. You want a fifteen thousand dollar pay cut? I’d recommend a smaller library system.

I’m the counselor from Freaks and Geeks.

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Before I became a manager, my Gramma would compare the title to babysitting. It drove her mad to supervise adults who couldn’t get to work on time or wear appropriate clothing or complete basic job tasks. That was in the seventies and eighties when efficiency and work ethic were emphasized. Now it’s all about “morale” and “empowerment” and I wish I could charge a quarter every time someone used either of those words. Years ago, Regina George ruled my library system and people’s livelihoods and careers were the casualties, so I’m not saying that I don’t agree that morale and empowerment are important… just that being responsible for them is exhausting.

I understand that change is hard for people, especially when they’ve been at the same branch, under the same management, for their entire careers, but I occasionally feel like I’m trying to motivate sullen teenagers… beyond my responsibility. There is a point when your unhappiness lies with you, not your manager. I can ask my employees about their lives and build strong work relationships. I can assign projects and tasks that will challenge them, pad their resumes, and make them feel valued. I can sit down with everyone for one-on-one meetings and truly listen to their concerns. If none of that works, though… I think our health insurance covers a few therapy sessions? I’m not being heartless here. I literally don’t know what to do about the level of discontent some of these people seem to feel!

cannot avoid the drama.
I never realized how miserable people in the library world could be, back when a good week wasn’t determined by the number of people crying in my office.

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A perfect week is defined as “just me.”

Call me self-absorbed, but when I was just a librarian, I rarely even knew what feuds were taking place and who was being called into the managers office for what infractions. I, quite literally, didn’t hear about some disputes for years and it… was… glorious! 

Now that I’m a manager, I’m involved in all of the drama and there is just so much of it. Even when my employees aren’t involved in a dispute, their workflow is directly effected, so it becomes my problem, when they come to my office and vent. Then, I have to alert the appropriate immediate supervisor, who gets upset over another personnel conflict, the terror that is addressing the issue directly… and I completely relate. Yet, if they don’t handle the problem satisfactorily, we have to involve our manager and there’s awkwardness between us. 

My worst day at the Northside Library, was the day I held a half naked drug addict until the ambulance arrived, while crying on the phone to the dispatcher. I’ve yet to top it, but the day I have to write up, or worse, fire anyone will be one of the worst days of my professional life. Most problem employees have legitimate struggles in their own lives and many of them are quite likable, personally. Their behavior is just unacceptable and unchangeable and a failure to respond is a discredit to other staff members and, in our case, the community at large. But… I just can’t sit and watch someone cry as I take their livelihood from them… and hopefully, I won’t have to, because I’ve officially set the balls in motion to move down. I suppose there is a silver lining: if I ever decide to be a larger cog in the machine again, I’ll truly be in the know.

I hate my job.

Library page: “You know who’s just a fantastic boss? Belle. She always knows everything that’s going on in the library. She walks around and sees what needs to be done and talks to people. She really is great at her job.”

Ngo, other supervisory librarian: “No, you are really good at this. You have a great balance with the staff.”

Brett, my boss: “You are just doing an awesome job. You’re also the only person who is ever willing to disagree with me and that is so valuable to me.”

It really sucks to be so great at something I hate so much. I am every sports movie cliché I’ve ever seen.

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Center Stage is a sports movie.

20% supervisor and 80% librarian. That’s what I was told the supervisory librarian position would be, when it was created and I applied in November. On Thursday night, I got off at 9:00, stopped by my favorite ice cream place for chocolate frozen yogurt and discovered too late that they’d given me a chocolate and vanilla twist. Jake was staying with me and had long since gone to bed, but came into the living room to find me quietly weeping over frozen yogurt.

Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “Vanilla frozen yogurt doesn’t taste like anything!”
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Jake: “What’s really wrong?”
Me: “I hate my job! I have everything I ever wanted: the job, you, and I even got a cat and I am just so unhappy. I dread going to work. I never thought I would feel this way about being a librarian, but I don’t even get to be a librarian anymore! I spend a minimum of twenty hours a month in meetings and the supervisory librarians just decided we need to have another weekly meeting, between just the three of us! We sit down and have a meeting about something we just talked about in another meeting, even though we haven’t had any time to work on it since said meeting, and if I have to tell one more grown ass adult to do their fucking job, my brain is going to bleed out my ears and they gave me the wrong ice cream!”
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He wants to create an app that translates Crying Girl into English.

I love being a librarian, y’all. I love planning and putting on programs, weeding the collection and ordering replacement materials, helping little old ladies realize they can do this iPad thing, teaching twenty-somethings to make a resume, assisting ex-offenders in their job searches, and giving the rare well-behaved child a sticker. I used to be so excited when my copy of American Libraries came in the mail and now I hardly even look at it, because it’s officially a magazine full of articles about awesome things that I don’t have time to do.

Last week, I e-mailed the third grade teachers at the Catholic school just up the street from the Northside Library, where I work. I wanted to know if they’d like to take part in a pen pal program, with the nursing home I visit monthly. I received a reply immediately, that they’d both love to participate and, together, they had about 40 students. My first thought was one of excitement. The second was that I didn’t know if I had the time to devote to an 80 person pen pal project. I went to college for seven years, took out $150,000 in student loans, and I don’t have time to do the enjoyable parts of my job. I don’t have the time to talk to customers about their favorite books, to sign someone up for summer reading, to consider rearranging the collection, to make book displays, to fill out the checklist for that digital scrapbooking/online dating/adult coloring class I want to do. No. My time has been scheduled for supervisory librarian meetings with our manager, my one-on-one meetings with my direct reports, my one-on-one meetings with Brett, my one-on-one meetings with the other supervisory librarians and now our group meeting with each other; none of which I singularly despise, but rather have a growing resentment toward for taking so much of my time.

Jake: “I’m sorry your job sucks right now.”
Me: “My job sucks all the time. I just don’t talk about it.”

I immediately realized just how true that was. When I started in January, it was natural to be overwhelmed. In about mid-April, I thought I’d started to get the hang of all this manager stuff. I only had Ngo and Brett to consult with and the Supervisory Series training came to an end, freeing up much of my week. I wasn’t yet required to meet monthly with my direct reports, do evaluations, or address workflow and personnel issues, so the bulk of my management responsibilities involved making the page schedule and entering programs into the calendar. 20% supervisor and 80% librarian seemed about right. Then, the reality of my position settled in, along with all of the additional responsibilities. In the last couple of months, I’ve realized that aside from that six to eight week respite, I have hated my job since I started.

I have a more or less private office. I have my own laptop. Brett gives me the go-ahead on most of my ideas, even when they cost money. He solicits and respects my opinion. I love my coworkers, even the ones I have to supervise. I live in the cheapest part of the country and pull in about $50,000 a year, at the start of my career. I am really good at my job… and I hate it. I’m no longer waiting for the dust to settle on this new position. It’s management and if it continues to evolve, it will only become more managerial. I got my MLIS to do a job that should require an MBA. I have skipped over being just a librarian and unless I step down, I will never get that chance. I will forever supervise those I envy, because stepping down could mean that I never get the opportunity to move up again. It could mean that everyone assumes I was reassigned by force, because I failed. It would mean telling my dad that I gave up all the momentum of a management opportunity to be just a librarian.

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Well, so… fucking… what? I am not going to spend the next two and half years crying over frozen yogurt and yearning for all the missed opportunities of being a librarian, to hit some arbitrary number that will look good on a resume, just in case I want to be a manager again. I didn’t work 60 hours a week and go to grad school to hate my job, just because modern society expects intelligent women to hit the corporate ground running. I have amazing momentum with my system. I could manage my own library inside of three years and that’s not what I want. So, after discussing it with Jake, I decided to apply for an open librarian position at the Southeastern Library, in Cherokee. Cherokee is a more rural city inside the same county as the other libraries in the system, with a population of around 10,000, even smaller than Shetland. I could have the small town existence Jake and I imagine and still make $50,000 a year. I can do adult and senior programming and be just a librarian.

Jake: “Babe, I’m totally fine with whatever you wanna do. I couldn’t do what you do… being people’s boss? That would drive me crazy. I just wanna make sure you know that if you leave a management position, you may not be able to get another one.”

This is the point that keeps coming up. It’s a legitimate possibility, despite my conversation with Brett, in which he told me about prominent women in the system stepping down at some point and rising to even higher positions, later in their careers. It’s one thing to work in management for five years and step down to care for children. It’s another to last eight months, before burnout. At this point, however, if I have to choose between never being manager or never being just a librarian, there’s no contest. So, after another meeting, where everyone agreed that we needed more meetings, Brett asked for a moment to discuss why this idea upset me so much. Apparently, it’s not normal to get teary-eyed over meetings.

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Me: “Maybe you’re all exactly right and we do need more meetings. Maybe this is just about me, because every hour I schedule for management duties is another hour that I don’t get to be a librarian. I never got to be just a librarian. At best, I left a substitute teaching job in the day, to be a half time librarian in the evening, and it was exhausting. So, I wanted to tell you that I applied for the librarian position at the Southeastern library, in Cherokee.”

Brett was unbelievably supportive. He told me he’d miss me, because I’m great at my job and everyone else is too intimidated to tell him what they think. He told me he’d give me a fantastic reference and that he understands that I have to pursue what I want for my career.

It’s a hard thing to do, make a decision that will change your whole life. I don’t have to leave the Northside Library, where I have great coworkers and a great boss, where I’m making connections in the community, and working from a semi-private office. I could stay in familiar surroundings, continuing to commute from Shetland… or I could make a change, move to a new library and a new city, for the chance to enjoy my career again.

“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” – John Steinbeck

If I spoke to people about their careers, the way they speak to me about mine… – The Librarian

You’re an engineer? I hate trains.

You went to school to be a lawyer? Seriously? Why do you need a degree for that?

You’re an architect? I love Legos! It must be so much fun to build things with them all day!

Why would you become a teacher? Doesn’t everyone just Google everything now?

How old do kids have to be to be left at the bank?

Wow. I would hate to be a cop and just sit in a car all day. That sounds so boring.

Wait. Pharmacies still exist? There are still actual pharmacists?

A meteorologist? Isn’t there, like, an app for that now?

You’re a radio show host? Does anyone even listen to the radio anymore?

Nursing? Huh. Do you think you’ll still have a job in 10 years? I mean, everybody can just buy their medicine and bandages over the counter now.

Damn. You really fit the Sexy Logistician stereotype.

Accountant? Who even uses numbers anymore?

No offense… it’s just… what do you do all day?

Shelving the Stereotypes: When I say I’m a librarian…

When Gail and I go to a bar, there’s always this great moment where she says she’s a Mail Carrier and I say I’m a Librarian. We are both fully aware that we sound like we’re making up sexy alter egos and she’s just really bad at it. I’ve had high school acquaintances, dates, and even attendants in high-end shops assume I am joking when I say I’m a librarian. They aren’t being rude. I’m just 26 and they’re visibly waiting for the punchline. 

However, when I say I’m a librarian…

… no, I’m not kidding.

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Everyone pictures one of two people when they hear “librarian” and the frumpy gal with the bun is generally the first. I’ll get to the second in a minute. In actuality, about 50% of the librarians I know are in their 20’s and early 30’s. We’re also not typically ultra conservative. On the contrary, it is a hugely liberal profession and includes tattoos, pink hair, and piercings, depending on the library. Massachusetts even has its own Tattooed Librarians Calendar. While I have more conservative political beliefs than my coworkers, even in the Midwest, the Librarians for Obama bumper sticker is quite common. My point, though, is that most of us actually look a lot more like this

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… if Zooey Deschanel had Harry Potter tattoos up and down her arms.


… I’m not wearing nipple clamps.

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… and we rarely look like this.

This is the second most common image conjured. I’m sure most librarians like sex. In fact, if I could remember what it was, I’d probably like it, too. It is a biological drive. That does not mean that we do strip teases with ladders on rollers. Do you have any idea how many germs are in a library?!?! I think this fantasy actually developed as the result of the aforementioned “ultra conservative librarian” stereotype. We’re so prim and repressed, if properly triggered, we must go absolutely wild. On the contrary, librarians are in public service and just like cops and poison control operators, we have some of the most bizarre encounters. We’re all about free information, therefore, our calling is to give information freely; that means without judgement or surprise, regardless of whether it’s a 10-year-old’s request for Fifty Shades of Grey or a man’s desire for books on rape. We do not get to voice an opinion. If you ask your local librarian for books on sexual positions and STD treatment and she even bats an eye, she’s not doing her job very well. So, hearing the phrase “demure ladies in the streets, but utter freaks in the sheets”, in regards to my profession is neither going to scar my virginal soul, nor is it going to cause me to rip my tweed pantsuit from my swollen breasts. It’s a career path… a wonderful one. It does not, however, come with any sexual requirements. In fact, the beauty of being in such a liberal field means that heterosexuals, homosexuals, transexuals, transgenders, and swingers would really all be welcome. 

… no, Kindle is not putting me out of a job.

It used to really stress my out to hear these kinds of comments, as they were usually accompanied by the implication that I would never get to be a librarian. If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know how that usually went.

Today, I find the people who make the above suggestions have not usually been in a library in the last ten years. They aren’t library people, because they don’t know what libraries offer. In addition to programs, classes, access to technology, and on-site IT assistance, we do offer e-media… for free. Go ahead and spend $11.99 on J.K. Rowling’s new book for Kindle. That’s a bit redundant, though, because you probably already bought it with your tax dollars. The state of e-media in libraries is up in the air, right now, as publisher’s decide how it affects their profits, but a few facts remain the same. Someone has to decide how many copies to order in e-book versus hardback. Someone has to choose a vendor. Someone has to teach people to actually use the Kindle/Nook/Nabi/iPad. Furthermore, people freaking love books. I am a traitor librarian, because I prefer my Kindle. I’m sporadic in my reading and I love carrying 40 different titles at a time, but I’m a minority. Most people I talk to prefer to hold the book and feel the pages, without worrying about pdf/Kindle/adobe format compatibility. As there is a place for both radio and television, there will be a place for both hard copy and e-media, because not only does not everyone want to use an e-reader, but not everyone can afford to use an e-reader.

… no, Google is not putting me out of a job, either.

“So… no offense or anything… I’m actually curious… why do you need a master’s degree to be a librarian? What do you actually do?”

I need a master’s degree, because we’re rendering bachelor’s degrees redundant in this country, by sending confused kids to college to major in general studies so that they can graduate and work in food service. That’s another rant, though. Ahem… I need a master’s degree, because I spent 44 graduate level hours studying program development, advocacy, public relations, grant writing, evaluations, books and materials for children, books and materials for young adults, the effect of technology and social networking on society, collection development and maintenance, cataloging, the very concept of free information, the organization of information, and the information seeking habits of individuals. They didn’t teach me that when I was getting my required bachelor’s degree. That’s why I needed a master’s degree.

What do I actually do? I plan community programs that people may actually attend. I figure out which books aren’t being circulated and pack them for the annual book sale so I can make space on the shelf. I find the appraised value of a customer’s neighbor’s house. I find books at a sixth grade reading level that will interest a second grade child. I spend 30 minutes on the phone helping an elderly woman download an e-book. I look for poetry to read during an infant’s funeral. On an average day, I take on the roles of social worker, researcher, saleswoman, IT specialist, teacher, and babysitter. Some days, it’s Realtor, historian, scientist, and job coach. I wear many, many different hats and the most important one is the customer service hat. I do not get to talk down to anyone and I must always have a smile on my face. It’s exhausting… and wonderful. 

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I am an Information Professional. As technology takes root in our society, we have more and more information to sort through and the average person isn’t as well trained to do that as they think. Google, for instance, is a keyword search. There is no accounting for author, date, full text, pdf, peer reviewed, or content. You get to pick one, maybe two, of those parameters and hope for the best. Librarians are trained to use search terms and tax funded databases to narrow the results. For example…

My grandmother died in 1991. In the 50’s or 60’s, there was a newspaper that published an article on her influence as a teacher. I think she taught third grade. I want to find the article and don’t know what newspaper.

Go ahead. Google that.

In addition to the increase in information, for better or worse, this country is becoming more socialist, not less. Libraries are one of the only institutions that serves both the engineer and that man on the street corner that he just loudly suggested should get a job. It takes Internet access to apply for that job. It takes knowledge of technology to use the Internet.

Go ahead. Google that.

… no, I have not read that book.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was assigned a 9-12 grade reading level. I was not allowed to read anything below an 8th grade level for credit. That meant no Harry Potter, no Babysitter’s Club, and no Ramona for credit, no matter how much I read. I made one C in K-12 and it was the year I refused to read on my level.

I was an advanced placement student in high school. I read The Inferno and The Bell Jar for fun, but spent more time looking up Sparksnotes summaries than it would’ve taken to actually read the damned book, when we covered The Great Gatsby. I don’t regret that. Daisy was a horrible heroine… like written by Nicholas Sparks horrible.

My bachelor’s degree is in family and consumer science education… home-ec. I was not required to read any of the classics for that. During my MLIS, I took Books and Materials for Young Adults, Books and Materials for Children, and Children’s Literature. It was in these classes that I did the last of the required novel reading I will ever do. So, when I read a librarian’s blog and she talked about all the varied reading of popular materials we all do, just to keep up with the interests of customers, I thought…

It’s not that I’m a lazy librarian. It’s that there are an assload of books out there. You can’t read them all. You can’t even read just the New York Time’s Bestsellers. I know. I type up the Bestsellers list every week and they’re listed by fiction, nonfiction, children’s picture books, middle grade, and young adult. That’s not even counting the e-books. I cannot read them all, so I read what I like.

“Have you read…?”

Unless the rest of that question is “that one where the hot guy morphs into a dragon to save his mate, only to find out she’s a unicorn?” then the answer is likely no. I primarily read paranormal romance, romantic suspense, memoirs, blogs, and articles on current events and information theory. Every now and then I’ll read something deeper or more popular, because I want to do soMost librarians just read what they like, be that inspirational fiction, Amish romance (it is so a thing), or historical accounts. News articles may increase awareness, but romance novels increase vocabulary, graphic novels increase comprehension, and themes are universal. It all has value, so I’m not reading something just because the New York Times tells me, especially when it’s just as pretend as my werewolf porn. If you want a recommendation, I can recommend within my preferred genres, or I can suggest some awesome resources that cater to your own tastes like LibraryThing or Novelist. I’d rather see the occasional customer leave psyched about the three paranormal romance series I suggested than never please anyone, because I only read the most popular items in their genres, which they have likely already read.

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Fo sho.