Who I Am After Three Years of Blogging

Today, I’ve been cleaning up my blog and taking small steps to make it more useful and accessible to readers. If you’re a frequent reader, you’ll probably notice me tweaking the layout and categories and tags in the coming weeks. For today, I was just reviewing some of my older posts, things I haven’t seen or thought about in years.

This incarnation of my blogging life began when I started my current job a little more than two years ago, but I was blogging before that as a paraprofessional, as well. When I became a librarian, I had a lot of things to face up to right away. Not only was it my first job as a librarian, but I was alone as a branch manager in a new county with two teammates to supervise and really high expectations for how many programs I would provide each week. If you read my posts from the early days, bless you. I was struggling. HARD. My posts were about how overwhelming everything was and how I was making mistakes. SO. MANY. MISTAKES. I knew my blog was a kind of confessional and I thought that had some merit, too.

Others were talking about their storytime plans, their visions for how youth services should be structured and valued, and how we can better the field. I didn’t think I had anything to contribute to that at first. I was twenty-five when I stepped into my big role as a librarian and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just knew, even then, that no one should feel alone in that kind of confusion. So I wrote about it, all the while hoping it would mean something to some other lost newbie one day.

As time went by, I got better and more confident. With big responsibilities to handle, I grew rapidly and now with just two years under my belt, I’m understanding and operating on a level that’s much, much higher than I would have if I’d been a low-level librarian in a big system among dozens of others just like me. My early years have been a trial by fire that forced me to find a way that was all my own.

I realized that my work was broad and significant and deep as a small-town/rural librarian and that there wasn’t enough recognition in the world for this caste of librarians who compose roughly 80% of the public library field. So I started speaking to how my work varies from urban libraries and how powerful that can be.

I understood that the way I was feeling–burdened and exhausted to the point of depression–wasn’t the way that anyone should feel in any career. I started sticking up for myself, saying no and negotiating lower expectations, asking for more staff.

I started building relationships with my local peers and better ones with my co-workers. I was supportive and created a way for us to get to know each other. (The first SU local chapter.) When I did, I found that my co-workers came to my defense more readily. They listened to me in staff meetings and became my allies. My peers in other libraries shared their resources and knowledge and gave me a place to vent. They encouraged me.

One day, I was surprised to feel that I had my own unique voice in the blogging world of librarians. I used it to lift up other people and to understand what kinds of needs existed. I started focusing on more school-age content, information about how to be a community builder in a small town, and child development.

I volunteered to be a Joint Chief for Storytime Underground and was also selected as a director for my state’s youth services board. I’ve been trying to use both to connect people and make sure that no one needs to feel isolated.

When I look back at those first posts from a couple years ago, I feel like a completely different person and part of me is embarrassed by how vulnerable I was. Still, I remember twenty-five year old Brytani fondly and I want better things for her and I’m leaving all that content, but hoping that no one needs it.

 

Resolve to Rock…by owning your power

The internet has a lot of things to say about how women should stop speaking in ways that betray our strength. We shouldn’t say “just” or “sorry” or use up-talk or vocal fry. Growing up in the South, I was always socialized to believe that women should always be polite and sweet, full of compliments and pet names, and God forbid that you should ever snap back at someone who is rude to you. No, ma’am. You just blush and back out of the room like any well-bred lady.

All of it–and I repeat ALL of it–is hogwash. Malarkey. Drivel.

Unfortunately, as much as I know that intellectually, I do see how it’s true that most people expect certain behaviors, appearances, and customs to be observed for them to consider you respectable in whatever way. As a young woman, I’ve struggled with tossing all that aside to be myself, especially in the workplace. Even in a field as progressive as libraries, there are far too many people ready and eager to judge. The older I get and the more experience I gain, though, I’m finding it easier to cast off what’s expected or what would be pleasing to people (even people I love) to be myself.

This year, I want to step fully into that.

 

Resolve to Rock meme image

 

This year, ladies and gents, I resolve to OWN MY POWER.

1. I will speak in a kind and caring way when I’m working, using whatever intonation or diction I wish. The words I choose and my vocal patterns are not a reliable reflection of my self-confidence and strength. What I do, the work that I create, the people I help and the communities that I build–those are reflections of me and of what I’m capable of doing.  So, sir, do not read too much into whether or not I say sorry when bumping into you with my book cart.

 

 

2. I will be more direct. For a long time, I worried about voicing my opinions in a way that would make co-workers think I’m too cocky. I’m a young woman, and I’m aware that some (maybe even lots of) people have feelings about relative youth that make them doubt my skills. (What I love about this is that it can be both a reason to condemn me and an excuse for why an older person can’t match me. “Well, I guess you young people just do things differently.” “You’ll feel differently when you’ve been around longer.” “Sure, you can get all this done. You’re young and have energy.” Sometimes being young means that people will doubt you and then write you off even when you do amaze them.) I’m not going to waste time on that kind of side-stepping anymore. I just want to say what I know and what I think is best without worrying if everyone will still like me for it.

 

 

3. I’m going to stop thinking that everyone else’s opinions or experiences are better than mine. I’m still relatively new to the profession. I’ve been a librarian for two years and was a paraprofessional a little before that. I’ve done some things I’m really proud of, largely because of my PLN and how they’ve inspired me. Still, if I’m being honest, I’m always looking at the way other people do things because I’ve always wanted someone to turn up like some kind of fairy godmother to tell me everything I need to do to “make it.” I didn’t really have a mentor in any of my workplaces, and I’ve always felt a little bit insecure because I’m only going off my own guesswork. When I became a librarian in charge of two branches, I felt so lonely because there was no one who could really help me figure out the best way to do things. I think that’s common in libraries because our work is fluid and constantly evolving. Everything depends on your community and how you understand and relate to them. What works for one library will not work for another. It’s not an easy profession to rise up in the ranks, I think, because there’s no one way. If you’re like me and you crave a Yoda in your life, libraries might be tough going for you. This year, I want to stop waiting for Yoda, though. The longer I go and the more I succeed by winging it, the more certain I am that I will always be my own hero. I will figure it out and overcome any obstacle on pure force of will and resourcefulness. Also, I have joint chief sisters. So…

 

 

4. I’m going to let myself take some credit. I mean, let’s be real. I’m pretty legit as a librarian. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve also more than earned my stripes. I ask hard questions, push myself beyond my comfort zone, make the impossible work, bring visions to life, blaze new trails, and juggle about a million things. I need to stop myself from saying things like, “Oh, no, I’ll never be as great as [insert other librarian I really admire].” It’s true, though. I’ll only ever be as great as me, and that’s still pretty great.

So in short, this is my resolution:

 

 

Protecting Patrons in the Library

Yesterday, the amazing Miss Julie posted an important reminder of how we should all conduct ourselves online when it comes to patron privacy. What I love about this post and the responses that it inspired is that it makes us face a continuing human flaw with humility. Most of us probably struggle with casting judgment on the people in our lives and most of us probably don’t express our frustration or opinions in the right place or in the right way 100% of the time. I know I have posted some things and then thought, maybe a few minutes later, “I’m not proud that I posted that. I’m going to delete it.” It’s so important to constantly ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing the best thing for me right now AND the most considerate way I can handle this?”

I want to take a few moments to expand on this idea of protecting patrons’ privacy by asking us to consider the way we speak and act inside the library as well.

Gossip in the library is something I don’t tolerate. Not as a supervisor, not as a co-worker, not even as a spouse while my husband is visiting. Not behind closed doors or at my very public desk. It just doesn’t fly with me. As a branch manager working at a small branch in a small town in the South, I know too well that people are always listening and that at every moment, I set the tone for how to treat people in my libraries. If I have something funny to say to my teammate about an encounter with a patron, I save it for when we’re closing up and walking out. Even then, I make it clear that while people irritate me, I still care for them. Since we see a lot of the same people and know almost everyone by name, we are able to vent with love for the people that we see more often than we see our own families.

Protecting my patrons’ privacy, for me, also extends to protecting their dignity.

It’s not always about what I say, but it’s also what I don’t say or do. One of my branches is very close to a women’s shelter, an adult assisted living facility, and a special education school. We see patrons who are dealing with substance abuse, are differently-abled or intellectually challenged, and also lots of people who, for one reason or another, just act in socially awkward ways. These patrons might show up drunk or high, make unusual sounds, smell a bit ripe, wear what some people would consider too little clothing, interrupt me while I’m helping other people, or show any number of concerning behaviors. Being a human, of course I’m aggravated or offended sometimes, but I intentionally treat these people in the exact same way I treat my most average and treasured patrons. Everyone is equal. As long as more worrisome patrons aren’t causing a disturbance and they’re being respectful to me and my teammate (or as respectful as they can be), I help them and leave them be. (As a small aside: I don’t call the police. I never would unless someone posed a physical threat or verbally assailed me in a way I couldn’t handle. I never want to be the person responsible for possibly sending a patron back to jail or causing them to be handled roughly, physically or verbally. The exception being a known sexual offender, I cringe from hearing stories of librarians who call the police anytime they spot someone acting “suspicious.” That’s not the kind of person or librarian that I am and that’s certainly not the spirit of the library. When approached with care, the vast majority of people will respond to what you’re saying or choose to leave.)

I also stop patrons and co-workers from making comments about others or passing judgment aloud. When someone approaches me to check-out and begins to describe how a patron smells or how their sounds are annoying, I just shut it down. I might simply say something like, “you know, it takes all types.” I might just abruptly change the subject. In some cases, I’ve said, “let’s not gossip,” accompanied by a disapproving expression.

It’s a small thing that makes SO much difference. Sometimes your care results in a patron experiencing greater quality of life, and sometimes it improves tolerance in your community. I’ll just give you one example to close out.

Over the summer, my smaller branch had a visitor who was…not so much homeless as something of a bohemian. He was passing through our tiny town and found that sitting right outside the library doors was a pretty good deal for him. He wasn’t allowed inside only because he had a dog with him, but he found a shady spot to sit off to the side of the entrance and enjoyed talking to some of the teens who found him fascinating. In my brief interactions with him, I found him to be very intelligent, but he was scruffy and a little smelly from baking in the heat, and lots of patrons considered him unsavory. A few people called the police and he was visited a few times a day while they were patrolling the parking lot. I handled the situation by having a talk with my teammate at this branch. I told him we had to be very careful to treat him as an equal and to not allow anyone to say damaging things about him. While an officer was having a talk with him, I made sure that I had something to carry to my car and casually stopped to say that we were happy that he had a comfortable place to hang out with us and said I couldn’t imagine how he could bother anyone. The police left him alone for awhile after that. That night, he came back to the library without his dog and I welcomed inside. He was very grateful, but I noticed he was cursing and reminded him that we had children in the building and asked him to use his filters. He obliged, but the teachers who were volunteering for a program that night were very shaken by him. As I was sitting with them, I noticed them giving him a lot of side eye and tucking their purses closer to their chairs. Every time he spoke to me or asked for help, they raised their lips a little or arched their brows at things he said. I, on the other hand, just went on with my business as though I didn’t notice anything unusual at all. When it was time to close, he respectfully shut down his computer and he and I had pleasant conversation on the way out about how rural towns often have closed minds. I waved goodbye to him and to the teachers who helped me, who never said a word against him, though their actions said different.

And that’s it. That’s the grand story of tolerance and respect in the library. People who clearly disapproved said nothing to me and that was a big success. I don’t know if the police genuinely lightened up on him or if they just thought they had better things to do. I don’t know if the teachers broadened their perspectives. I do know that we set the example that day in a community that was not being kind or fair. The end.

 

 

Conference Guide for Introverts

I’m a very proud introvert. I think it’s something of a super power. I tend to be a good listener, I’m very thoughtful and creative, and because of these things, I often have insights that others miss, especially about other people. My sensitivity makes me an excellent communicator because I’m paying attention to what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and what you might be feeling that could be getting in the way of what you really mean.

I could talk for days about the ways that introverts are told there’s something wrong with them. Many of us grew up with other people making excuses for us and putting us in uncomfortable situations to help us break “out of the box.” I think a lot of us deal with thoughts of inadequacy creeping in and even a career field like librarianship can make it difficult for us to shine.

For a lot of introverts, a full conference experience is taking on the gauntlet. I went to my first national conference, a four day event, this year and battled through all the exhaustion and anxiety. I’ve survived to offer up some helpful tips.

  1. Let people know. This applies everywhere and anytime. Being up front about how you’re feeling and communicating what you need from people is so key to…any kind of adult interaction or relationship. As an introvert, you may have spent a lot of time trying to blend in with more socially-energized types, and maybe explaining that you’re ready for quiet time is awkward for you. All I can say is that life will get a lot better for you when you start caring a little less about what others think. If someone wants you to go out for drinks after dinner and the thought of it gives you a headache say, “I really appreciate it. I just really need some time to myself to digest the day.” If a conference buddy has latched onto you and wants to chat in every session and at meals, explain, “I really need some quiet time so that I can come back energized for our next talk. Let’s meet up later.”
  2. Eat one meal every day by yourself. May I suggest breakfast? At the conference, I’d wake up, do some yoga, and spend some time meditating and preparing my mind for the rigors ahead. Then I’d grab an omelet and caffeinate before heading to the conference center. Breakfast was a good meal to skip with the assembly because most people aren’t into deep conversation mode yet. Something about eating alone and savoring my food, the time taking care of myself, was restorative.
  3. Take a walk after lunch. If you’ve eaten lunch and you still have some time before your next session, take a walk. If you have a new friend who wants to come, maybe explain that you’re happy to have them, but you also like a comfortable silence. Take some time to notice what’s around you. Find details and marvel at them for a few moments.
  4. Let your mind wander. I took lots of photos while I was exploring the city. I let myself think about what living there must be like and talked with people around town. If you like to be creative, do some writing or drawing. Create some memories.
  5. If a round of sessions aren’t really appealing to you, head back to your room for some down time. I tried taking naps, but instead wound up watching HGTV during these breaks. I needed the mental vacation.
  6. Make a soundtrack that channels all your confidence. I listened mostly to M.I.A, Beyonce, and Nicki Minaj while I was there. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t be fierce.

Above all, remember that there’s nothing wrong with the way you feel. Absolutely push yourself to try new things and talk to people you don’t know, but really respect yourself in doing so. If you make one or two conference friends, you’re probably doing pretty well.

 

When You’re Angry and You Know It

stormyocean

Photo cred: Justin Kern

A couple weeks ago, I presented at my state conference and it went so well! It was my first time presenting and I was so excited to see a full room and hear really wonderful feedback from participants who said it meant a lot and was fun for them. I remember saying, “I’m going to ride this high for weeks!” Well, maybe I jinxed myself, because the next day I got some awful news.

It’s really a long story and one I don’t feel too comfortable getting into online, but due to some questionable decisions made by city officials, I am losing the space where I hold all of my programs except computer classes. At this point, I have no space in our building to move to and programs will have to be done either as outreach or in other branches.

Since I first heard the news a couple weeks ago to now, I’ve been doing everything in my power to keep this from happening. My director and I had a pretty good plan for making these officials see reason.

  1. I compiled a report on our statistics from programs and included advocacy (explaining the importance of storytime was chief among my concerns) as well as feedback we received in surveys and success stories from patrons.
  2. My director made a beautiful infographic and pamphlet to bring to the officials to help her have a conversation about the importance of that space.
  3. Our county management team tried to give the officials a nudge toward supporting us.

We were flat out ignored and told that in four or five months we “may” be able to re-visit the topic. The situation is really tricky for us for a lot of complicated reasons, so right now, our only hope for one day regaining this space is that patrons will speak up for us to their elected officials and that those officials listen to them. I have to say, though, I don’t have a lot of hope that pressure from the community will change their minds.

This process has taken place over the course of about three weeks and I’ve been struggling to plan for the future in the meantime. It’s beyond distressing to me to watch my community lose access to the services that they pay for and deserve and it’s hard not to take it personally. I’m responsible for all the programs for two branches and planning and leading them takes up around 70% of my time. I’ve used this space to build attendance for new programs for seniors and a new storytime for babies as well as continuing to build on our existing programs from other librarians. I can’t even let myself think about how much this is going to cripple my ability to handle field trips and events for classes, or, you know…summer reading?!

All this to say, I’ve had an emotional struggle on my hands that I’ve tried to keep under wraps as things progressed. Last week, things came to head for me, though. We installed brand new RFID gates, scanners, and a self-check machine and things did not go smoothly. In the process of getting patrons used to the changes, I was awash in stress and sadness and anger that I was trying to bury for the time being. It wasn’t working as well as I wanted. At one point, I was really callous and unhelpful with a patron who tends to be difficult to help under the best circumstances. I felt so terrible. I’d never stopped helping someone before.

So when I came home for the weekend, I had to deal with the way I was feeling. I looked at my anger and sadness and I did my very best to smile at it. If I’m being honest, staying angry feels really good under these circumstances. I have a great reason for it and I should be pushing back, but that anger is selfish. It doesn’t help the people who interact with me every day and it’s slowly eating up the joy and the peace that I’ve cultivated for myself over the years. It stays right under the surface and tells me that I have it hard enough without feeling all the struggles of the people around me. That’s not who I want to be.

This week I want to wake up early, recognize how I’m feeling, and take the time to really put everything in it’s place before I head to work. I want to tell myself, “It’s going to be a great day,” and then think about all the ways I can make that true just with my mindset. I should be pushing back against what I know is wrong, but I have to remember, too, that I can’t help people without focusing on my compassion and joy. To do that, I have to put down my resentment and find a way to love the moment I’m in. I don’t know how I’m going to do that peacefully. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have to try to keep in touch with my role as helper and healer through what comes next.