We all know how it feels to be burned out: you have no inspiration or passion for what you’re doing, you lack energy, and working behind that circ desk only leaves you mentally and emotionally exhausted.
It can be incredibly difficult to try to plan fun programs when you’re running on empty. Maybe you feel unappreciated, like all your hard work goes unnoticed, or maybe you’ve planned one too many programs where no one has shown up. Maybe you’re juggling too many summer reading events with a too-small staff, and you just can’t muster up the enthusiasm.
Or the problem could have roots in your personal life. Our lives can impede our ability to do a great job at work, so we take our work home with us, which then affects our personal lives. It’s a vicious cycle, and once you're in it, it can be hard to reignite that passion you used to have for your job.
Personally, it’s been a rough few months; my dad is battling cancer, and I’ve been wrestling with depression for a while. My library assistant just retired after 20 years at our library, so it’s just me for now, and I haven’t felt truly inspired to plan programs for quite some time.
Librarians at small libraries in particular are at risk for burning out, as all of the responsibilities of the library often weigh on one person’s shoulders. If this resonates with you, read on to see what I do to prevent burnout and bring some joy back into the job.
Stop taking work home with you
This is so hard for librarians to do! We respond to emails on our days off, stay up late at night worrying about those kids that come into your library barefoot and hungry, read up about the latest Danielle Steel novel to see if you need to order it for your library (you do).
Obviously we can’t always turn off our brains, but it’s important to separate your work life and home life. If the two become too enmeshed, it can be highly stressful. Try not checking your work email when you’re home, and read books for pleasure, not research. Even better, try finding a hobby that has absolutely nothing to do with the library — something mindless and relaxing. I have found that cross-stitching while listening to a podcast is surprisingly soothing.
Clear up the clutter
A cluttered desk equals a cluttered mind. It’s impossible to feel zen when you’re surrounded by stacks of papers and books that need to be processed; on the other hand, I can literally feel my body relax when I have a clear desk. If you, too, are a bit of a pack-rat and sometimes feel like you’re drowning in craft supplies, do this regularly and see how good it feels.
Ask for help
In job interviews, I always used to say that my biggest weakness was that I have a hard time delegating — I thought it sounded more like a strength than a weakness, like I could handle everything on my own. But I’ve come to find out that it’s most definitely a weakness, and I have a very hard time asking for help.
Trying to do everything yourself is a surefire way to get burned out. We must remember that we have library assistants for a reason, and it’s literally their job to help. Even if you don't have a library assistant, there are likely many people in town who would be happy to help with summer reading or big events. If you feel stressed out by an upcoming program, find someone to help you plan and set up — don’t be a hero! It benefits your library and community when you don’t bear every burden and end up stressed and sweating at every event.
Bookmark inspiring websites for moments like these
This tip is one that has made all the difference to me when it comes to losing motivation and passion for programming. I keep a long list of bookmarks on my laptop of library blogs I love, webinars to take and articles on a new or innovative program. Sometimes all it takes to bring back that programming spark is browsing through those bookmarks and getting excited about a new idea. Pinterest is also an amazing tool for this, or you can view what’s trending on Google and see if anything stirs up a program idea.
Also, consider visiting other libraries and bookstores to get fresh, new ideas. Don’t do this too often — no taking work home, remember? — but if you take a weekend trip or a vacation, stop into the local library and see what their teen area looks like or what they offer for programs. I’ve gotten lots of ideas this way (it’s not stealing, it’s borrowing!), and my children’s area update was actually inspired by the most amazing children’s bookstore in Monroe, Georgia.
Focus on the positive
It’s easy to ruminate on the negative: why didn’t they come to my program? They must not like my ideas. I must be bad at planning things.
Stop doing this! Negative self-talk serves absolutely no purpose. I keep a Word document on my computer for just this reason. That document is a list of compliments, positive things that have been said by patrons about our library, as well as funny things our young patrons have said that I wanted to remember (“Aww, I don’t want outer space for our summer reading theme. What about … the Great Depression?!”).
Start a list for yourself, whether it’s in a journal, notepad or just a piece of paper. Look at this list when you feel down, and remember all the great things you and your library have done. You are doing a great job, and your community is lucky to have you. Yes, you!
If you are struggling and on the road to job burnout, take some time for yourself and try some of these tips. I hope they help you as they have helped me. I’m currently working on a trivia program focused on my favorite TV show — I’m really excited about it, and it seems to have helped bring me out of my funk. Sometimes all it takes is a sudden burst of inspiration and excitement about an idea. Please feel free to email me if you’d like a list of my favorite library blogs and resources for inspiration.