ASSOCIATES (2005, July, v. 12, no. 1) - associates.ucr.edu
*My View From The Back Room*
Library Associate II
Winona Public Library
Winona, MN 55987
By the way, those of you who are reading this (thank you!) might be interested to know that I came up with the title of my column courtesy of my location. My work area is at the end of a long narrow galley type room that has no windows or a view of anything except the employee bathroom. HA! My area is also where we bring patrons in case there is a tornado warning, and that is its big plus.
Tornados lead me into summertime which segues right into my chosen topic of STAFF BURNOUT. To follow the erratic leaping of my mind I will explain in a bit more detail: Children's Summer Programs! What a busy time of the year. Hundreds of hot sweaty, loud excited kids descend on the library. They come by bus, by car, by van, in day care groups, YMCA groups, and Park Recreational Groups. They come in families and they come in while they are visiting grandparents. On the days there is a scheduled performer to give a fun & free show it is somewhat reminiscent of a buffalo stampede.
It is a great opportunity to introduce children and parents to the wonder and necessity of their local Public Library. It gets all those nice circulation figures up, and new patron registrations soar. The kids love the programming, the parents love the idea the kids are entertained for awhile, and the staff gets to see the building full and lively.
Burn Out sets in when you think, “OH NO! Not Another Summer!” And all you hear is noise, and you dread fielding another day of lost cards, lost books, old fines, address changes, and trying to figure out how to qualify a kid from Kansas for a card just while he visits Grammy who doesn't want him to use HER card, he should have his OWN card. Then there is the danger of losing track of the fact that these kids are excited, and expanding on that will keep them and their families coming back. You are part of that excitement, and what you do and say matters.
Sounds good, right? I shudder to think of times I may have been too curt or dismissive to a young patron. I know I won't ever get a chance to make that up to them, so I try and concentrate on being excited to see the kids, having fun with them and smiling while I think of times I have come across a kid--now adult--who remembers me and thought I was great. (YES, there are some like that out there!)
Many libraries in our area have recently had funds cut and staffing cut and they are all still trying to offer as much to the public as ever with less. Unfortunately, the public then thinks everything is fine and they don't realize the serious spinning and churning that is going on in the non-public area, just to offer basic services. Staff is stretched too thin, and there is no good time to take vacations, a sick day is a major inconvenience to everyone, and funeral leave is like a stake to the heart for your administer. Burn Out can make those dreams of retiring to a cabin up north begin to occupy your mind more than making the correct change for an overdue fine. Every interruption while you are at the Circ, Children's or Reference desk is just that: An Interruption. Not a chance to help someone, and make you both feel good when they leave the library happy and with something in their hands.
How can we keep from snapping when the job just gets to be too much and one day you realize that you could just stay in bed or you could drive to Alaska (alone) and you don't care if the library door ever unlocks again. I have dreams about not being able to lock the door at closing, and people just keep coming in and I am running around saying, “We are closed” and it is all dark, and they just won't listen, and I am trying to be polite, but I really wonder if I can pinch someone, and I wake up feeling really tried and worried about life in general. (Anyone who likes to dabble in dream interpretation, just feel free to email me—I already know it is a STRESS dream.) One way to keep from snapping is to keep things in perspective and take a little time out for ourselves.
Here are some simple things to keep in mind. You count, and you matter, and what you DO matters. You aren't just working an assembly line putting donuts in a box; you are touching the lives and minds of every child that enters your building. Maybe they only get videos now, but maybe they will remember that the library was fun, and they liked going there, and they will come back as they get older. Maybe!
But, you need to take some time out for you and the other staff members. If you need help, ASK FOR IT! I had to sit down with my supervisor and explain how much the ILLs had increased and how much of my day it was now taking, and asked for some help with it. I brought up my problems at a staff meeting and said, ANY AND ALL IDEAS to streamline, or make things easier will be greatly appreciated. I haven't gotten a lot of new ideas, but I did gain from staff having a deeper understanding of my work load and their sympathy. If you see someone swamped, offer to help for awhile. Don't wait to be asked or scheduled, just jump in and help. You will both feel better.
Plan ahead. Ha ha. No, I mean it. If you know that the Tuesday after a three-day weekend is always incredibility busy, well then, don't schedule programs that day, and have as much of the staff there as possible, and in the areas that need them. Declare it an EVERYBODY WORKS DAY and arrange treats in the break room, or have simple pot luck. It is important to reward yourself. Remember, what you DO matters, you ARE important, and take care of yourself. Take the breaks you are entitled to (go eat those snacks) and remember to socialize with your co-workers. Not to the extent you don't get you work done, but to keep the connections open and working. They need to know you value them, and you need to know they value you. This helps to remind each other that you are all in the summer season together—you are not alone!
And don't forget this last piece of advice: go potty when you need to. And as you walk past my desk on the way to the employee bathroom, nod and say HI!