Privilege, Intention and Impostor Syndrome
I know, this is where the Coolest Thing post goes. Here’s the deal. . .I have a dance recital this week, and have been in practices A LOT and have not read ANYTHING on the internet this week. So, if you posted something or read something that you feel sure belongs in a Coolest Thing post, please email/comment/tweet/FB me and let me know, and it will go in next week’s.
Last week I mentioned that I don’t like the word intention when it comes to storytime, but I loved Sara’s use of deliberate. A couple of people said they’d like to hear about why I feel that way. You needn’t ask me twice to share my opinion!
Part of why I dislike the word “intention” goes back to The Secret. The idea that you manifest the intention you set for yourself seems to me to be one so steeped in privilege it’s unsupportable by those of us who serve the underserved. My patron base is made up primarily of people who have been the victims of systemic, institutionalized racism for hundreds of years, and whose lives are still being affected by it daily. I’m talking 3rd world poverty conditions, no electricity or running water in homes, very young kids without their teeth because of lack of nutrition and access to dental care. Those parents, who bring those kids in to my library? They didn’t manifest abject poverty for themselves and their beloved children. That’s not the intention they set. And, no amount of intentioning out of it will change the nutritional, educational, economic or institutional roadblocks they face daily. So, already, I’m not into the intention thing. I think it carries a lot of “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” weight that makes me very uncomfortable both personally and in terms of our professional ethics.
I’m also not into the idea of living with intention, for the same reason that I think it’s all privilege, all the time. This is maybe not fair. Merriam-Webster says intention is: the thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose. Leaving aside the cultural baggage (as if) that comes along with how the word is actually used currently, which conjures ghosts of white women in Whole Foods after their yoga class talking about Living With Intention (I know. I’m a white woman. I do yoga. If I lived within 100 miles of a while Foods I would totally shop there. I’m able to own that I’m part of that privileged class while hopefully also acknowledging that that’s what it is). So, just the non-baggage-ridden definition, then. In terms of, let’s say, librarianing (I’m making everything a verb today! Verbs all around!) with intention, let’s look at that. It’s smart to have a career plan. It’s smart to have a bigger idea of where you’re going with storytime, whether it’s changing demographics, upping attendance, getting better parent feedback, etc. But this all takes quite a bit of time, and space, and support. Some of us have amazing management/staff/boards/communities that support us continuing to innovate constantly, putting a lot of work time into planning storytimes from the brain development research down to the flannel making. Some of us have down time at home to do those things, or find doing them really spiritually/emotionally/professionally fulfilling so we make those our down time. Some of us are working part time trying to cover three unfilled positions, or working at Starbucks after hours because our fulltime library gig doesn’t make ends meet, or going to library school full time while working full time, or are trying to set up a nursery for a second baby while also parenting a toddler, or building a life partnership with a new love, or are chronically ill and only have the spoons we give at work and no more to devote to storytime, or are so burnt out from our 40 hours that doing anything at home would negatively affect our interaction with kids when we get back to work so instead we knit/bingewatch Supernatural/write fanfic/obsess about the Red Wings’ chances this year/play fantasy football/dance with swords on our heads. Some of us are so busy with state association or committee stuff that we’re like, yo, no flannels at home. Some are wearing so many hats at work that storytime gets exactly 20 minutes of planning and THAT IS ALL. Each and every one of these is a valid thing to be.
This brings me to Impostor Syndrome (you thought I forgotten about it, didn’t you?) which seems to be coming up a lot in my corner of the internet. All kinds of amazing youth services librarians feeling like they’re not doing “enough.” Enough innovating, enough NEW, enough shiny. Our own Master Splinter, Mel, feeling guilty that she’s not doing enough internet stuff because she’s doing too much local stuff (like starting A NEW BOOK AWARD). This is caused by a bunch of factors, I think.
1) Val talked about us all feeling like we need to be A Name, which is partly just a professional zeitgeist but also for real, leaving aside all of the crap about jealousy and being famous in Bulgaria, friends, being a known name has a real-world impact. The world is full of amazing youth services librarians. the SU Facebook group alone has 468 members as of this writing. That’s a fraction of the Storytime Guerrillas out there in libraries across the country. If every time you apply for a job, 10 or even 5 librarians of the caliber of our Ninjas applies as well, you need to have something to set you apart. Having a Name in this profession is a way to ensure that you might get a job in a town you like, with a boss you like, doing work you love and making enough to buy bread. That’s pretty huge.
2) There are strong and valid reasons to work hard to get known. There is also, amongst children’s librarians, the impulse to show HOW AWESOME WE ARE because NO ONE SEEMS TO BE PAYING ATTENTION (hell, we have a whole blog for that),
3) and of course there is the — “This is my vocation, I am in a lot of debt for the degree, I am super passionate about it and I am going to be SO AMAZING OMG LOOK AT WHAT THEY’RE DOING AT HENNEPIN I NEED TO DO THAT DAMN YOU PINTEREST” — impulse. We all respect the hell out of each other, and we want to be as good as everyone else. We should be reading books on early childhood development and learning a new song a week and expanding into shadow puppets/cut+tell/draw+tell/iPad apps/whatever we don’t already do.
And look, obviously I’m into all of the above. We have an SU book club (sort of)! We think shadow puppets are the coolest! New skills are always better than stagnating! But. . .I think there’s a correlation between this idea that we need to Librarian (verb) with Intention and impostor syndrome. We all feel like we should be intentioning harder. Here’s where Deliberate comes in.
Whether you have tons of time or very little for storytime planning, you’re a professional, and you’re trained, and you choose every element of storytime deliberately. Does this song have repetition, and rhyme, and new vocabulary, and teach counting and body awareness and exercise fine motor skills? It is also fun? GREAT. Is this book too long/the joke too sophisticated/the illustrations too small for a crowd? You know. You know what you’re doing. You choose every element with professional deliberation, because you’re great at your job. No seriously. You’re reading a storytime blog, probably at home in your spare time. You want to be a better educator. You’re great at your job. If you want to/love to/feel better about/have time for setting an intention for storytime, I love it. I want you to. Thank God for you. The profession and your patrons thank you. But if you don’t? You’re not an impostor!!! You have less time for planning or you choose to do different things with your off work time or your administration isn’t as supportive or you have an infant and are living on caffeine and prayers or whatever. You are still beloved by 3 year olds. You are still teaching a parent how to help their child learn to read. You are still a force for social justice and glitter and great books in your community. Be deliberate. Know how and why you do what you do. If possible, have an aim, and a goal, and a larger purpose towards which you are working in your personal career or as part of your library’s goals. But, if where you’re at on your personal Maslow’s hierarchy, for any reason, is “do my personal best to put on fun storytime that teaches stuff” then the people who pay the taxes that pay your salary are still going to be really damned grateful to you for rocking your shit.
And I am grateful to you for rocking your shit.
Like you, Dolly Parton rocks her shit hard (in a bedazzled sweater, no less) and contributes in a world-changing way to early childhood literacy efforts. Basically, you’re just like Dolly.