In the depths of a cold, brutal winter full of gray skies, snow and ice, one’s thoughts turn to summer. When the SRP theme is announced, it is a delightful break from fighting with the heating system, shoveling snow, and teaching adults how to use computers. Every year I think to myself, “this year will be amazing!” For context: I run a medium size library and have four part-time staffers.
In February (it used to be March, but the larger libraries plan earlier), we go to a workshop to get pumped up about summer reading. We hear about elaborate, successful programs; we are impressed with the need to innovate, inspire and transform our patrons. We are told to rethink how we reward reading, for providing bribery implies that reading is an unpleasant task that requires pay. We are given lists of program ideas, lists of books, craft ideas, decoration ideas, costume ideas and lots of really bad jokes. I take copious notes and come back to my library, setting out my summer calendar eagerly. I order prizes, reading records, bags, and craft supplies, all the while picturing sunny skies, green leaves and warm breezes.
I should know better by now. I started my library career back in 1997. But it happens every year. First I put in a weekly program for each age group- preschoolers, elementary and teen. Then I have a family program every Saturday. Ooh, I should add more! I’ll create all the decorations myself from paint and cardboard. I’ll make special foods for each Saturday. We should have life-sized games. I’ll go visit the summer camp. I’ll make an online scavenger hunt. We’ll have an essay contest. I’ll make a piñata for a Saturday program. I should have an example of each craft we’re doing on display. I’ll get the Friends of the Library to fund this, this, and this. I’ll go to all our local businesses and ask for incentives. We’ll participate in the County summer food program and give out lunches to children. I’ll have flyers and newsletters and send out press releases and get onto website listings. I’ll work with the school to have an assembly there and a library card drive.
Did I mention I’m the director, and my duties include more than being children’s librarian? These plans do not seem excessive when I’m putting out ice melt or processing books. They seem like fun! I forget that I find running events draining and stressful, and just remember the creative play of making things. I need to run the entire library, not just Saturday events and Tuesday craft times.
There have been summers where I worked 6 day weeks without a break, running story-time, craft class, and special events. I neglected my family and friends. At the end of the program I was so burned out. I felt like my summer had been stolen from me. I contemplated quitting my job and becoming a hermit, and snapped at everyone. When a presenter was late for her program, I said mean things about her to the waiting audience, and probably brought everyone’s fun level down. Were my numbers better on summers like that? No, not really.
I know myself, so I work to prevent this kind of over-commitment. I have a member of my staff run story-time and do preschool visits. I have another staff person run teen events and promote teen book reviews. I plan to do things outside of work, and take Mondays off when I can so I’m not working 6 days a week. I ask the Friends of the Library to help with our kick-off and school visit. I also write notes to myself at the end of summer, listing what went wrong, what I should repeat and other words of advice. Some of the notes are not helpful (like “don’t let staff quit mid-summer”) but much is very useful. In June, just before we start the program, I cut out or pare down any grandiose scheme beyond the basics. I set goals, to remind myself why we are doing this program. We want kids to enjoy reading, to avoid their brains turning to mush over their school break. We want our community to know we exist and to use our services. None of my goals say anything about “outshining large libraries who have big budgets and full-time staff” or “making everything by hand better than Martha Stewart”. Sometimes looking at other library’s events or on Pinterest can be helpful, and other times it can make you feel inadequate.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to plan a Lego party for next Saturday. Instead of making a cake, I’m making Lego snacks from packaged Rice Krispies treats and M+Ms. Instead of making a piñata, life-sized legos and a bean-bag toss, I’m putting faces on yellow cups and putting out lots of bricks to build with. It will be fun!