Competencies in Action | May 2023

Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries
First created in 1999 by the ALSC Education committee, the
ALSC Competencies highlight the critical skills and aptitudes required for providing exemplary library service to children. The Core Competencies are recommended to all children’s librarians and other library staff whose primary duties include delivering library service to and advocating library service for children birth to age 14.
In each quarterly installment of Competencies in Action, a library practitioner delves into one particular area of the Core Competencies, providing valuable, real-world context and examples.

Renew, Refresh, and Find Balance 

by Becky Shaknovich, administrative librarian, West Philadelphia Libraries, Free Library of Philadelphia, and member of the Managing Children’s Services committee

How Do You Recharge/Refresh Yourself?  |   How Do You Find Balance?

Low morale and burnout are currently sweeping the library world. In a post-lockdown work environment, patrons and staff are more vulnerable than ever, and library workers are constantly faced with the effects of their emotional labor. The ALSC Managing Children’s Services committee is made up of librarians, supervisors, managers, and administrators focused on library services for children, youth and families. As supervisors, we strive to embody ALSC Core Competency VI. Administrative and Management Skills, 7. “Demonstrates cultural awareness, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, mediating, and cultural competency skills.” 

When we were children, our generations were not taught how to self-regulate and, as a result, we had to learn this critical social-emotional skill ourselves. In order to be strong supervisors, we must be well versed in self-care, allowing us to remain centered and grounded when faced with daily challenges, as well as modeling balance and self-care for our staff. 

Finding unique and individualized ways to renew ourselves helps us create a library workplace culture that centers mental health and well-being over vocational awe, burnout, and quiet quitting, ultimately leading to better service for the communities we serve and support. For this column, ALSC Managing Children’s Services committee members were asked about how they recharge and find balance. 

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How do you recharge/refresh yourself? 

“Talking to children in the department and at storytimes helps me recharge. The wonder and excitement of children is very refreshing and endearing. Reading a picture book and enjoying the creative art and/or play of words is another way that I take a quick break at work. A spread in a picture book is like seeing an art piece in the museum. I also enjoy listening to authors talk about their books and writing process. I love music, reading, board games, and being creative. On my day off, I find it challenging to carve out time for these activities. Yet when I give myself the gift of this time and am creative like coloring, crafting or sewing, it feels wonderful.” ~ Uma S. Nori, head, Youth Services, Thomas Ford Memorial Library, Western Springs, Illinois

“I find in-person professional development to be incredibly recharging. I love the exchange of ideas, troubleshooting among fellow children’s librarians, and just commiserating. When I return, I am anxious to try out what I have learned in my work. Also, reading outcome surveys can be incredibly rewarding… when I learn how a program has impacted a child or family in a positive way, it always reminds me of why we (children’s librarians) do the hard work that we do.” ~ Maria Trivisonno, family engagement specialist, Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library

“As a retired librarian, I find that I still need to refresh/motivate myself. While working, I found that attending professional development workshops and professional organization conferences (such as ALA, ALSC Institute) gave me lots of inspiration and a jolt of energy. They still do!” ~ Stephanie Bange, children’s literature consultant, Dayton, Ohio

“I recharge by taking a break. Sometimes it’s a few minutes, sometimes it’s weeks… I have found the best way to refresh is to walk outside, find a way to laugh, take time off, start a new task, reorganize my office, or check in with coworkers. When I distract myself from whatever is consuming me, I will often think of a solution the moment my brain is distracted by something else. It also helps me realize what needs to be tackled and what needs to be let go, which makes me a much more effective department head. Being in a management position can be isolating at times, so finding ways to connect with myself, or others, or nature will always re-ground me.” ~ Betsy Raczkowski, head of Youth Services, Rochester Hills Public Library, Rochester, Michigan

“I love yoga and mindfulness! I try to work movement activities, breathing exercises, and meditation into my work day. Sometimes I do this creatively by working yoga and/or mindfulness activities into my programs, like storytime, or the work meetings I lead as a supervisor. I love sharing these skills for regulating emotions, and I get positive feedback from staff and families alike!” ~ Becky Shaknovich, administrative librarian, West Philadelphia Libraries, Free Library of Philadelphia 

“When a day is feeling long or things aren’t going well, I try to reconnect with what I love about working in a public library. Sometimes I will straighten things in the department and along the way greet the kids and families. Having direct conversations with the kids is a fantastic break from hard or long tasks. Other days, I change books displays, bulletin boards or signage. The creative outlet of those tasks gives me the break I need. Outside of my daily work at the library, I keep myself recharged by being involved in committee work. Connecting with colleagues in-state and nationally keeps me going and seeing the bigger picture.” ~ Christy Kepler, head of Youth Services, Oswego (Illinois) Public Library District

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How do you find balance?

“I sometimes struggle to switch my brain from ‘work-mode’ to ‘home-mode,’ and can spend time thinking about work when I could be resting and recharging at home. Because of this, I have become very protective of my time away from work. I do not check emails or work chats when I’m at home, and if I have any work-related apps on my personal phone, notifications are turned off. If there’s an emergency, my supervisors and staff have my cell phone and can call or text me, but creating and protecting these boundaries (even sometimes from myself!) really makes a difference in helping me “unplug” from work and enjoy my downtime.” ~ Megan Jackson, youth librarian, St. Louis County Library, St. Louis, Missouri

“On my days off, I make time for the things I love doing. Sometimes it is working on a puzzle or sewing or gardening. I love animals and being outside, so I make it a point to go outside for walks on my lunch break, if the weather allows. I am also sure to use my vacation days, even if it is just taking a long weekend occasionally rather than a full week off. I use my sick leave when I am not feeling well. This not only allows me to rest and recover, but prevents me from potentially spreading illness to my coworkers.” ~ Kristin Williamson, children’s services manager, Metropolitan Library System, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

“I try to make a plan for myself at the start of each workday to balance all of my tasks including administrative and programming. I’m a big fan of lists and writing down each task. I also like to balance the type of work I’m doing, so if something requires a lot of focus, I’ll take a break and do something less intensive like cleaning out a cabinet full of materials. I’m also getting better about delegating tasks and asking for help, so I’m not trying to do everything myself. After spending some time in the past being addicted to checking my phone, I now make sure when I’m home to refrain from checking emails or working. I try to be completely free of work tasks from home so I don’t get burned out.” ~ Chelsea Arnold, library director, Bloomfield Public Library, Bloomfield, New York

“While at work, a quiet meditation or breathing exercise works amazingly. I get to present storytimes and listen to the little ones have fun, giggle, and just enjoy the songs and stories. This always leaves me ready for the rest of the day. When I really need to recharge, I love cleaning my office and supply room, and this quiet time allows me to listen to music and quiet my mind.” ~ Kerrie Mierop, youth services librarian, Calabasas Public Library, Calabasas, California

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