Maria de Lurdy (Mari) Martinez (she/her/hers) is a 2015 Spectrum Scholar, and attended the leadership institute when ALA Annual was held in San Francisco. She holds an MLIS degree from San Jose State University ‘17 and a BA in Advertising and Marketing from the Sacred Heart University in Puerto Rico. She currently works as a Youth Services Librarian in South Florida. She’s experienced a major adjustment, having moved from a small rural library in Napa, CA, to a regional library that serves a large population of children and families in the ninth largest library county system in the nation.
Mari is interviewed by Nathalie DeFelice, a 2017 scholar and member of the Spectrum Advisory Committee. She is currently a Children’s Librarian for the Springdale Public Library in Springdale, AR. She holds an MLIS from the University of North Texas, and a BA in Psychology from the University of Arkansas.
ND: What was your journey into librarianship like?
MM: I always say that libraries found me instead of the other way around. My first job at a library was as a community liaison and outreach. I was hired by a small, rural library after the library’s administration had noticed a gap between the Latino and Spanish-speaking community and their library services. I came in to help build a bridge and reform services, collections, spaces, and programs from a ‘business’ point-of-view. My marketing and hospitality service experience were valuable assets but being a young, passionate bilingual Latina, I will say were also major factors that aided me to tackle such a big task. After my first busy year, I had no doubt that I had found my true calling, becoming a librarian. As I was assessing the entire library model of service and drafting marketing strategies, I realized a core problem. Librarians at the library I was working at were disconnected from the needs of a rapidly growing special group in their community. Language and cultural barriers were an issue and with no representation from that community in the decision-making process and among librarians, opportunities and possibilities of powerful changes were lost. I strongly felt that although I had the knowledge and experience to provide effective suggestions for improvement, real change would really happen if I became a librarian and if I learned more in-depth about library management. And that’s how my journey began.
ND: What would you consider the best part of your work day?
MM: Becoming a youth services librarian happened organically. In all the years I have worked assessing, developing and implementing programs for all ages, I have had a special connection with children and teen events and services. I believe that when I was offered a job as a youth services librarian during a generalist librarian position interview, the panel were able to tell right away my passion and my inclination for working with and for children and their families. I will say now that it has been the best decision! Every morning, I look forward to seeing and meeting every person that walks by our service desk. I think that kids and teens, susceptible as they are, appreciate how I greet them and my desire to help them and to get to know them. I can’t describe the level of joy I get when I hear those “Hi, Mrs. Mari!!!” or the “Bye, Mrs. Mari!!!” across the youth service’s entrance. Right there I know that I’m doing a good job and that’s the best reward. It’s definitely the best part of my job - their smiles.
ND: Let’s talk about self-care. What is an absolute must when it comes to taking care of yourself in the library, particularly as a person of color?
MM: As a librarian who happens to be a young woman of color, when it comes to self care, I always begin with mindfulness. According to Psychology Today, “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. This state encompasses observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.” It’s in my nature to make myself busy and I have a strong sense of responsibility which can be both my glory and my downfall. My teammates had described me as the bubbly person who always says ‘yes’ and who’s always proactive. I have had supervisors tell me, and I quote, “that I work too hard”. How do I respond to that?! I feel that because I’m such a passionate and driven person, sometimes I get lost on what I call a 'path for a cause’. This is very personal to me and I’m pouring my heart out here in hopes that this can help other librarians that might be going through my same emotions and state of mind. I constantly struggle between the thought of falling into mediocrity or burning out because “I care too much”, which is another thing I hear people tell me a lot. It's hard to hear those negative comments when you want and love your job so much. While I haven't let that change how I work, I confess that it has made me sad behind the scenes. I have met many people that are miserable at their jobs and that shows on their service. I knew that I needed to be brave and find a way to recharge myself, to channel my good energy and to find a healthy work balance. I have found that being mindful, reminding myself why I do what I do, and taking breaks to refresh and step back have helped me incredibly. I organize breaks and share them with my team and supervisor. I’m the only Spanish speaker in my department and too often I’m pulled from my breaks to help with reference. I never complained but by sharing how important breaktime is for me and setting alternative service strategies with my team has helped a lot with that problem. My two 15 minute breaks consist of one meditation session and one 15 minute power walk. For the walk, now I have coworkers joining me when they can! Surrounding myself with supportive people has also helped with garnering positive energy. I recognize that what works for me might not necessarily work for others but I would recommend you to find things that make you happy, that ground you and to try them out. As we say in the marketing world, before you bring customers in and in order for you to provide excellent customer service one must prepare the store first. In this analogy, the store can be us and we need to take care of ourselves in order to be our best selves. I learned that the hard way.
ND: You went from working in a small, rural library to a large county regional library. How would you say that this impacted your mental health and the way you practiced self-care?
MM: My husband and I moved from California to Florida to be closer to our families. During the job search process, I did homework and learned a lot about my new community. However, I truly had no idea how incredibly busy urban libraries are! It was shocking at first, maybe for the first year as I came into full-circle with annually big programs. Not that my previous job was easier, but I am now serving probably ten times what I used to serve. We are four youth services librarians and we’re not enough for the high demand! I’m not kidding when I say that we have lines of children (and their grown-ups) at our desk while our phones ring all at once. It's so exciting that the world needs us but it sometimes comes at a cost. For those of you already working in libraries, you know that our jobs can be mentally and physically draining. My first year in Florida, I got sick very frequently. I was mentally and physically tired, too tired to even want to workout before or after work. Work was so intense, I began suffering from insomnia and my body began experiencing food allergies due to stress. My inability to cope and rapidly adapt to a fast-paced city life and job was taking a toll on me. All that on top of me being me and always giving 200% at everything I do. It was a perfect recipe for a burn-out waiting to happen. During that time, I was recommended by a coworker to join a well-being program provided by our employer. I took some meditation and mindfulness online courses and began to workout at least two-three times a week. As I previously shared, I also began organizing and respecting my breaks during the day. Recharging at work helped me have energy to workout, which consequently helped me feel better and sleep better. Making small changes that happened to be connected have produced great results. Now that I know the things that work for me, I have been working diligently in keeping routines and staying motivated.
ND: Burnout is a very real thing to deal with, particularly for early career librarians. Are there any tips that really helped you when you were experiencing burnout?
MM: I think this advice can help anyone, regardless of being a new librarian or a veteran librarian. I will say “Listen to your body and mind.” For me it started with not taking breaks and pushing myself, especially my mind to the limits every day. That ended up causing sleeping issues that lead to lack of energy, mood swings, and to a compromised immune system. I’m very lucky and feel very blessed to say that I choose to be where I am and to be a librarian. I have mentioned a couple of tips that I practice to avoid or reduce burn out but I will summarize them with: embrace what you do but remind yourself that you're not just a librarian. Yes, that’s our beloved profession but we’re so much more. In my case, I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, an amazing titi (auntie), a plant lover, a cat lady, a proud Hufflepuff, (new) enthusiastic runner (I’m training for my first half marathon!) and a powerful Latina woman which makes me an awesome librarian.
ND: When you work in a public library, summer time can be a major source of stress. It can often feel like librarians are overloaded with programming on top of their regular duties. What strategies have you implemented so you don’t feel the summertime blues?
MM: Oh, summer… don’t get me wrong, I love the Summer Learning Program but I know myself too well, I do get easily carried away with making myself very busy. My first year at my current library, I went crazy with programming ideas and as it happens, you dream it, you do it. Some of the ideas included Lego programs, craft and games, and of course, a Harry Potter’s Birthday Bash. Little did I know and planned, the reading program itself was already a monster of its own. Sign up, helping people track and log their reading and managing rewards took a lot of time and energy outside of programming. To give you all an idea of what a program attendance at our library looks like, last year's Harry Potter two-hour event was attended by 800ish people! And Harry’s celebration was only one of eight weeks of programming extravaganza that will bring a minimum of 100 kids per program. After my first year, I learned a lot of what works and what’s probably too much for my team and… for me. I was taking on too many programs and at a certain point, I had to bring it up to my team that specific programs needed more support or they would not be as successful. I confess it took me a while to acknowledge that delegating is something I need to practice more. Another thing that I learned is that I need to accept that if I can't energize my team on an idea it's not necessarily that I’m a bad leader or that the idea is bad. It has happened too frequently that when I bring a program idea, I end up running the show, many times by myself. I think that sometimes people step back because they think that because it's your idea they don't want to overstep and other times they are not as into it as you are. There are so many great things we can do at our libraries but overloading yourself with extra work can result in unnecessary stress. Overdoing things or adding programs just for quantity, could jeopardize a program's quality and yes, it could also contribute to summertime blues and stress. I don’t want to sound like that negative person that doesn't want to try something new or support others ideas but knowing how much you can do and the quality of what you can do will have a lot to do with your well-being during an already stressful time of the year. Setting healthy boundaries to myself, delegating and encouraging team work, taking breaks, and better managing my time have been key to survive summer.
ND: Finally, I’d like to ask what your time outside of the library looks like. Are there things that you do to help prevent burnout while at home?
MM: I’m sure you have heard or read many times about getting a hobby and its benefits. I will say, “Seriously, get one (or two!)”. It has worked for me. I have had hobbies before and experienced the joy of having extracurricular activities that kept me healthy and happy. However, during my time in library school, I worked full time while attending school also full time. I felt like I never clocked out. I was always tired mostly because I couldn't sleep due to stress or because I was studying late at night after a long day of work. I was also emotionally drained because I was dealing with abnormal stress outside of regular work and school workload. I attended a very competitive MLIS program and I soon discovered right from the start that I was in the bottom of my class and it wasn't because of my academic skills. Spanish is my native language and although I have been learning English since an early age, I wasn't prepared for the master’s academic expectations. I knew I had it in me and I worked incredibly hard but the bar was set very high. My classmates were former teachers, English major graduates, and even the State Librarian! You did read that correctly. I kept comparing myself to them and trying to be like them, and “comparison is the thief of joy” which made me miserable. I began having migraines almost every week and panic attacks that came from nowhere. They were the toughest four years of my life. However, I wished I had set some time for hobbies that I know by experience would have helped me detox and relax. I was so preoccupied trying to survive that I forgot to take care of myself. Nowadays, after eight hours at the library, I come home looking forward to spending quality time with my husband and fur babies. This last year, I have explored new hobbies that included learning how to play the Ukulele, reading all the juvenile comics I can, caring for plants and running. Full disclosure, I’m still in basic strumming and singing louder than the sound coming from the Uke because I’m not great, yet. The kids at storytime don't mind which encourages me to keep trying plus it makes me super happy to pretend to be a rock star during sing-along. In January, I found a Half Marathon in April and signed up for it. I confess that I was terrified right after a short moment of bravery during registration. I already paid for it, so I have committed to running marathon training and let me report that I’m extremely excited and happy. Training has helped me with sleeping and weight and mood management. I feel more focused at work, more centered, and less emotional. I stopped bringing work with me home or checking my emails from my phone on days off. I’m making sure that my time away from work is a time for restoration, a time to be with loved ones including myself. Find a hobby (or more) that will make you happy and that can relieve you from stress. Work is eight hours a day and during that time, take your three breaks religiously (two-15 mins and lunch) and after work, disconnect and do things that will heal your body, mind and soul. Our job as librarians is very demanding. We have to be so many things all at once, so make sure that you take care of yourself during work hours and after hours. Burnout can happen to all of us and it’s up to us to step back, figure out what was or is wrong, and find a solution. The trick that worked for me is reminding myself why I do what I do and that if I’m not ok, I wouldn't be able to be the best I can and provide the best serve I know I can provide. And finally, if you are feeling burned out or need resources to avoid it, please know that you are not alone. Check with your employer for well-being benefits. You might be surprised by the tools and resources available to you through your local employee level and through ALA. There are many librarians and people that will happily jump out to help. I’m very grateful to my extended library family at the ALA Spectrum Scholarship Program, ALA Emerging Leaders Program, and REFORMA Caucus for all the support throughout my library school years and now as a professional librarian. Help has come in different ways from learning about scholarship and grant opportunities, to academic support, to mental health resources, to long-lasting and genuine friendships.