Signifying Nothing

or, “ego lost.”

Three years ago I wrote about ego and librarianship, a howl of anguish of sorts, a call to action, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I don’t even recognize that person anymore–who was that woman, so full of words and opinions? Where has she gone?

I remember, faintly, caring a lot about what I did. I remember being a brazen, mouthy jerk, whose reach exceeded her grasp. I remember being ambitious and eager to make my mark, hungry to build connections and have conversations, anxious to do my very best work and do great things for the profession at large, as well as in my own smaller realm.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about this quote from Edward Albee’s (unpublished) play about Federico García Lorca. Lorca is speaking here:

Do you know what it’s like to fall in love with people who don’t want you?
Do you know what it’s like to be completely misunderstood?
To love your family so much the last thing you would ever want to do is to hurt them?
Do you know what it’s like to know you’re not like anyone else in the world in any way?
To want nothing more than to share, and give, and touch?
Do you know what it’s like to know how special and dangerous your talent is?
To live in a society so … so rigid, so set in its ways you don’t dare be yourself …
except deep inside?
Do you know what it’s like to be filled with poetry, to be filled with music, to be filled
with love, and pity, and fear, and anguish, and a deep, deep … terrible dread?
Do you know?
Do you know what it’s like to be me?

I’ve long felt–and have had confirmed by outside sources–that I have valuable talents, skills, and capabilities that are being vastly under utilized–but what do you do? What can you do, if you can’t find anyone who wants to take advantage of all you’re capable of?

I tried a lot of things in 2015 and 2016, and they all failed. I was rejected, a lot, and I’ve been trapped in a holding pattern for way too long. I’m a curious person, always seeking fresh challenges, and when that doesn’t happen I get bored, and when I’m bored I get into trouble.

To illustrate: In high school when I was bored, I decided to collaborate with some friends of mine and throw an anti-prom to protest the terrible theme of the actual prom: Moonlight Diggity. I started the whole project, and soon we had a local band booked to play at the VFW on the night of the prom, and our advertising included a hand drawn poster of a car on fire.

My principal called me into his office to talk about how I’d gotten caught up with some “bad influences.” I nodded and listened, thinking all the while about how I was so pissed that he was underestimating me– I was the brains behind this project. I was the one in charge here. I was the rebel with a cause. I was having my very own Frankie Landau Banks moment, if you will.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned how to work with this boredom without an outright rebellion, but sometimes even that strategy doesn’t work, and I find myself longing for the mouthy, outspoken person from just a few short years ago who was so eager to do great things. But I don’t know how to get that feeling back, and there’s only so much a person can do without the proper support.

It makes me wonder: how do motivate high achieving, self-motivated employees? How do we recognize talent in the profession and reward it? How do we nurture talent beyond those “emerging” years?

Of course I’m grateful to be working in the field, yet isn’t there always something more to strive for? Shouldn’t we always be trying to improve ourselves, our services, our profession?

If not, then what should we do?

I wish I knew.

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Book Talkin’

(You need to sing the title of this post to the tune of “Jive Talkin'”)

via the new york city public library's flickr page
via the new york city public library’s flickr page

As the school year draws rapidly to a close (seriously, where did it go?) I’ve been reflecting on my first year as a school outreach librarian. I can’t tell you how invigorating it has been to use different skills and get to try new things with a wide variety of audiences. One of my favorite programs this year was all of the booktalks I did for middle schoolers (6th-8th grade) and teachers. In my previous six years as a librarian, I had done very few book talks. It was something I really wanted to do, but it just never happened in previous positions.

I was extremely lucky that I started out this school year being invited to book talk first to two groups of teachers, one elementary and one middle school. After getting to see me and my colleague book talk, teachers had a sense of who I was, how I behaved, and liked me enough to want to have me get up in front of their students. This was a great break for me, and once one class had me and my coworker in, all of the rest of them wanted us, too.

This year I averaged about two book talks a month, usually spending an entire school day (8 a.m.-2 p.m.) talking to multiple classes. Often I was solo, but several times I was lucky enough to be joined by members of our teen staff. While I can do these book talks alone, six hours of booktalking is a long time, and even with a partner I’m exhausted by the end of the day. I vastly prefer booktalking as a team for two major reasons (other than the fact that it helps to save your voice):

1) Variety. With two readers sharing books, the kids will get a wider variety than from one person alone. While I am very careful to select a variety of books, there are certain genres and topics I just can’t muster much enthusiasm for. I can fake it, sure, but why do that when a coworker is just nuts about the books I’m lukewarm about? While I’m pretty good at selling any book, kids can tell the difference between my genuine enthusiasm and the enthusiasm I put on for their sake.

2) Attachment Librarianing. This is something I carried over from my preschool teaching days, and I think it really applies to librarianship. Kids and teens are all unique, and not every personality is going to have a great fit with every kid or teen out there. For example, I quickly bond with shy, nerdy, awkward kids and teens (I try to find the Whovians in every middle school class as fast as I can). Other kids like me just fine, and I can and love to help everyone, but the geeky kids are more likely to seek me out and will get better recommendations from me, just because we’re so simpatico. With more staff available, more kids are likely to find the librarian whose style and personality speaks to them, which equals better service.

For me, booktalks are a lot like storytimes for older kids. While I don’t reveal endings or major plot points when I book talk, I do tell a story to get kids invested and interested. A lot of times I will use the theme of a novel or a hook from a nonfiction title to riff for a while. Just call me the wholesome Richard Pryor of librarianship. For example, when I booktalk Fourmile by Watt Key, I spend a lot of time talking with kids about PTSD, the stigma of mental illness in our culture, how we treat our soldiers, and why so many books for kids feature dead dogs (seriously!). When I talk about Almost Astronauts, I tell them the anecdote about Jerrie Cobb shattering all isolation booth records (NINE HOURS AND FORTY MINUTES Y’ALL), yet never getting the chance to be an astronaut. From there, I talk a bit about how women are seen in our culture and how we are treated.

My style is a little unconventional, I suppose, but it works for me, and it works for many of the kids I booktalk to. And that’s the important thing, I think–is to find your own personal style, your voice. That’s what will make your book talks exciting and get the kids interested in reading the books you’re pushing.

And what books do I push? It depends. If a teacher is working on a genre study, I’ll bring titles in that genre. Often I like to do a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, new books and backlist. I try to have books at a wide variety of reading levels with a variety of appeal factors. Most of all, I strive to bring books that I’ve read completely and have a component that I am super, super excited about. Even if I didn’t personally love the book, if there’s a crazy character or fascinating setting that I can see kids being interested in, I’ll definitely book talk that sucker.

So that’s just a little bit about my new favorite professional responsibility. What about you–do you book talk? What’s your style? Any favorite titles?