I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Call to Action: Create Networking Groups for Both Practical and Emotional Support

Today's Call to Action is a topic that I have had in the queue for a while, but due to the recent publication of an essay by my colleague here in IL, Julie Jurgens', entitled The Emotional Labor of Librarianship, I have pushed this post to the top of the heap.

In that essay, Julie honestly lays out the hard truth of our work with the public in a library setting-- it can be emotionally draining-- debilitatingly so. Please take a moment to read her honest essay. This is something library workers needed to see one of our leaders say AND it is a serious point that those who do not work in our world have no idea about. I knew Julie was a smart and talented librarian, but now I also know she is very brave. Thanks for sharing your personal struggles Julie, and for advocating for our entire profession in a very public setting.

Unfortunately, as you read her essay, you will be nodding your head the entire time because this is not a new issue to all of us who do this work every day, but it is one that had stayed in the shadows. I touched on this issue previously myself, when I wrote this article for Booklist entitled, "Support Groups for Book Discussion Leaders." I opened this article like this:
A librarian walks into a bar, sits down, and puts her head in her hands. The bartender strolls over and asks, “Tough day at work? Your relationship headed south?” “Both!” answers the librarian. “Book club did not go well today; it did not go well at all . . .”
When I suggested opening the article with a library worker needing to stop for a drink after work, I was worried that my editor would think this was a bit exaggerated, but not to worry, she was a public librarian for years herself and completely understood the feeling and knew it was not over the top, it was 100% accurate.

In my job as a library worker trainer, I have thankfully been in a position to help tackle this head on. It began with that article in Booklist where I outline the importance of creating support groups for book discussion leaders; a place where they can come together and work through the emotions and interpersonal issues of leading book clubs. You can click through to read the article which includes links to the specific support group I have created for ARRT.

This Book Club Study, where book club leaders have a 4x a year place to come and have a "bitch session"* where we can talk openly about the emotional weight of our job and help each other come up with solutions together, has been a "job-saver" for many people [I was going to say life-saver but that is a tad too dramatic]. You can look at past meetings and read the "Leadership Topic" notes for some of the specifics.

With the success of the Book Club Study, I have started to try to add a discussion portion to all of my workshops which I call "Networking, Troubleshooting, and Success Sharing." From my description:
Becky will lead a discussion of local RA issues, concerns, and questions. She will answer your library specific questions and encourage the group to work together to look for solutions, both today, and going forward into into the future. Remember, you can do much more working together than you can possiblly do alone, so let’s start combining forces today to tackle more, together, tomorrow.
My goal with adding this 1 hour session to the end of my workshops is to demonstrate how helpful it is to take a moment and really talk honestly about the challenges we face in our work. I make it clear that we should share our successes yes, but our failures and frustrations should be at the forefront. I offer up an example to begin these sessions, something we learned about in the Book Club Study-- a book group who got so mad at the changes to the library's food policy for book discussions that they went to the Board to complain. Yes this really did happen, recently too.

This true story does much to set the tone for the honesty I am looking for.

But one meeting does not a long term support group make. We need to be taking care of each other, supporting each other, and helping each other much more than we currently do.

So, my ultimate goal as I do these moderated discussions is to help the groups I have come out to train to start to work together on a much more regular basis and help each other succeed. I work with the administrators who hire me to identify point people and keep the conversation going after I leave. MY dream is for their to be a slew of networking groups of library workers who serve adult leisure readers all over the country.

I have been to large library systems where the adult services staff from across multiple branches came together for my training and was shocked to find out that most of them didn't know each other-- they had never met! They all served the adult leisure readers of their region, they all dealt with similar problems, emotional drain, and issues, yet they have never come together until the system paid me to come and train them.

Not only is this bad for the patrons, it is horrible for the staff too. They need a chance to have a "bitch session," get things off their chests, and seek out help from their colleagues who do the exact same job, sometimes only a mile or 2 away, yet they have never talked to each other.

When I run these "Networking, Troubleshooting, and Success Sharing" moderated discussions,  I make it clear that this should not be the exception to their getting together, but rather the rule, the start of a 3-4x a year networking meeting. They can incorporate a training module where someone offers to teach the others something, or they can do a mini-genre study to help give them a reason to meet, but the main point should be the getting together to offer support to one and other-- be it training support or emotional support, the key word here is support.

This is something that is desperately needed in our profession and honestly an outsider is often the best one to introduce it. This is one of the services I am most proud to provide to the groups that hire me. Every library has to decide how they will deliver their RA services based on their local needs after I leave, but I hope that they continue to meet to support one and other in those individual goals for years to come. If I inspire that my time has been well spent.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.

*Quote attributed to ARRT Steering Committee Member Bill Stephens

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