Another Escape Room down (more on that later, surely…) and with its conclusion comes something more significant, in terms of our library service for teens: The departure of Marissa, our part-time librarian trainee (or whatever she decided her job title was here...) off to begin her first full-time, professional library gig.
Her last week was bizarre (wonderfully so) and intense, because she was the person who designed and executed this iteration of our Escape Room program (Escape from Malfoy Manor, because of reasons, using the manual I wrote so hey, at least we know it works!) so it hasn’t really sunk in yet. Marissa started working with me at age 16 as a page, after a lifetime of being a library kid, from story time to Mystery Night. When she told me she was going to library school directly after college and that she wanted to be a Teen Librarian, I was…surprised. It’s something I hear from teens from time to time, but thus far, no one has actually gone and done ‘the thing.’
I won’t say too much more, other than mentoring her has been the absolute best thing I’ve ever done as a librarian. (Cue: Weeping with joy...) She’s a fabulous human being with excellent taste in music, even if she made me cry in front of our colleagues at her farewell snack-break, making some people think that I was sad to see her go, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m so very, very happy that she has found her calling and that she found it so fast and early. Best of all, she’ll be right down the road at a fantastic library system so I’ll get to keep an eye out and watch her continue to do incredible things (and guilt-trip her into coming back every once in a while to help with big events…!)
I’ve always been lucky when it comes to the people I work with, in general but more specifically in the part-time staff who I have mentored, collaborated with and managed over this past decade. (I‘m fully aware of and grateful for our privilege in even having more than one staffer to work with teens. Like I said: Lucky.) Our department is small but there are a lot of expectations placed on us in terms of our reputation for innovation, the demand for more and more program additions each year, the explosion in teen literature and the correspondent need for sharp and authentic readers advisory…If you ask anyone who has to manage a schedule, you will hear all about the need to balance competency and dependability. It’s an equation – you want the most skilled and talented employees to work for and with you, but it doesn’t matter how stellar someone is if they don’t turn up, or leave you hanging, or just disappear (years of book store management has certainly affected my perspective on this.) It’s not easy to find people who can handle the extremes of teen services, let alone those who want to work with teens, let alone those who are available during those critical after school hours, let alone those who both excel and can be relied upon, day in and day out.
And when that person turns up…anything becomes possible.
The most fortuitous thing that has ever happened in my career was when our Branch Teen Librarian, Jen, accepted her job. (Not pictured, as per her request) I didn’t quite know it at the time, but she would become the bedrock of not only an exceptional after-school teen center service, but of our entire department as well. I’ll never forget the first time I met her, very early into my career, when she was doing one of those grad school ‘interview a librarian and write a paper’ things. Her young son was antsy, so she was playing videos for him while she asked me about library science stuff (most of which I may or may not have made up.) (There is a separate post in here somewhere about the trauma of watching that little boy grow up and become taller than you and making you keenly feel your age, but…maybe not.) Her no-nonsense practicality was so impressive (and something I have to work very hard on projecting, personally.) I don’t remember anyone I meet only once but I remembered Jen when she came in to interview for the Branch Librarian position a few months later (and I remember what she was wearing…’lawyer clothes,’ – fitting, as it was her previous career after all…it just struck me as funny at the time, with my Teen library uniform of jeans and t-shirts, and knowing her now, it still kind of does!)
It would take me weeks to talk about everything I’ve learned from her over the years, and how much I admire her (especially her organizational skills, her ability to manage the rigors of her job and the demands of raising two kids, and the incredible speed at which she gets all sorts of stuff done. I can’t touch any of it. She says it’s because I’m pulled away from Teen Services by my other managerial duties so much. I say it’s because she’s simply superhuman.) We’ve built this thing together and are a team in every sense of the word. My job is to support her as she executes her brilliance and to work as hard for her as she does for our department and our library. That she is still willing to work with me after all this time is something I consider a true measure of personal success.
I’m loud and opinionated and unreserved, a giant open mouth with wild ideas. Jen is subtle, measured and level-headed, with a talent for finding the most sensible way to transform many of those wild ideas into realities. We are (likely because of these differences) a talented team of Teen librarians. Her demeanor couldn’t be more different from mine and there is the object lesson: doing this job well isn’t about personality, but temperament. It’s about authenticity. Most of all, it’s about remembering. To paraphrase Dave Eggers, either you can see through the eyes of youth, or you can’t. You either remember what it was like to be a teenager or you don’t. It’s not something you can fake, or a show you can put on, or something you can turn on and off at will. In my opinion, that is the only true prerequisite for this job.
Everyone who has ever worked with me, from these two outstanding pros to our wonderful teen pages over the years, has been able to operate from this place of remembering. I’ll miss working with Marissa each week but I’m excited to see what she’ll do in her new role. I’d be bereft without Jen – a quaking, blubbering mess incapable of coherent thought. I get teased for ‘Knope-ing’ my coworkers and especially my staff, but I don’t care. They are, all of them, “beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox(en). Thank you, ox(en).”
I’m so damned lucky.