Soon, so much sooner than you know, there will come a time when you look back to the summers in your life as an idyllic time full of youthful shenanigans, vacations, time spent relaxing, and enjoying lazy, hazy, crazy days.
One of those bouts of nostalgia might hit you on a day while you are ladling 70 cups of cheap pink lemonade into Dixie cups and your sweat is streaking the glitter make-up you have caked on your face and 60 small children are eagerly waiting for you to make your reappearance. Perhaps you’ll think of those simpler times at the end of the week after you have facilitated over half a dozen programs with a total participation of almost 200 people. You might miss those unhurried days the most when you realize you can’t remember your last day off and you’ve forgotten what any other job task besides working the desk is.
Yes, your idyllic summer days are numbered the minute you decide to work as a youth services librarian in a public library. Now that you’ve made this fateful decision, your summers are no longer your own. Now they belong to the insatiable behemoth known as … SUMMER READING.
Summer reading is the beast that steals your free time, saps your will to live, and turns you into a non-stop programming, book-recommending, high-energy machine. Summer reading is the reason you never manage to respond to e-mails, the reason you forget what off-desk time is like, the reason you can't focus on anything except the next big event. Summer reading, my soon-to-be-sister/brother-in-arms, is the reason I once had vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce for dinner almost every night for long stretches.
I am sure you have heard the rumblings from other youth services librarians, the mutterings about their exhaustion, their overload, their frustration when a particular program doesn't work. It's hard to miss that noise when it comes to Summer Reading because it becomes such a huge part of your professional life as a youth services librarian. Perhaps you are intimidated. Perhaps you are already exhausted at the mere thought of planning such an intensive slate of programs and outreach. Perhaps you're not even sure what the benefits of all this effort is when it seems like all it causes is stress and fatigue and parents complaining about reading requirements.
But I am writing this letter to you today not to scare you off, to warn you of dire consequences, or to encourage you to seek an avenue of librarianship that won't involve the same combination of sweat and glitter make-up as Youth Services. No, instead, I am writing to tell you the exact opposite - the great secret no one ever really tells you about the monster that is Summer Reading.
It's the most fun you'll ever have. It's quite simply the most fun time to be a youth services librarian. There's nothing like summer as a youth services librarian, those days when one program after another rolls into each other in a bliss of children and teens genuinely enjoying themselves: singing, dancing, playing, engaging in model literacy practices as they learn that the library is a place just for them. THAT'S what summer is really about, all those programs, all that time spent counting minutes and pages read. THAT'S why we do it, why we work ourselves into a blur of exhaustion - because during Summer Reading we Youth Services librarians are probably at our most exhausted but we're also at our best.
So this is the letter I send to you - my future colleague, my future survivor, my future costumed superhero/ine who saves the day time and time again in summer.
Hang in there. Remember the gifts of what all this work is: the community goodwill, building in teens and children an excitement for the library as a place and for reading whatever book they want¸ and helping young patrons stem their learning loss over summer.
What we do in these summer months, all the planning and effort we put into what we do, it's worth it. It matters. You might not always hear this articulated, you might lose it in the exhaustion and the grumblings. But it's true; it's the truest thing of all.
You'll never get those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer back, my friend. But you'll be having so much fun, I promise, you won't really miss them.
Embrace the glitter make-up and, I give you permission: have the ice cream for dinner.
Angie Manfredi is the Head of Youth Services for Los Alamos County Library System in Los Alamos, NM. She has held that position for the past six years. She has survived five years of summer reading and still feels like she has so much to learn about how to survive and thrive in the next five. You can read more of her work at her blog, Fat Girl Reading, or follow her on Twitter @misskubelik.