Teach ’em how to say goodbye

I’ve worked in libraries for ten years and have changed jobs a couple of times. There’s something I always say every time I leave a library, and it’s that library school didn’t prepare me for how difficult it is to leave teens behind. After making connections, mentoring them, and seeing them flourish throughout the time I serve them – it’s hard not to get attached. Nobody warned me this would happen.

I knew that I should create boundaries (and I even wrote a post about it!). I knew all of the things I should do as a professional in a position of authority and leadership. But what I didn’t know is how sad I would be to move on from them. Cognitively, I’m aware that teens eventually grow up and age out while new teens age up and come in. Yes, my logic brain knows that this is a cycle and that kids age fast and this is a revolving profession.

But emotionally? I had no idea how painful it would be for the teens when it was my turn to leave. I was unprepared to see and know how deeply they became attached to me, to see their tears and listen to their heartfelt goodbyes. I didn’t think about how some of them would experience feelings of betrayal or abandonment. Library school couldn’t prepare me for something like this, and it never occurred to me that I would need to be prepared.

After having been through this a few times, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • If you’re leaving your job as a teen librarian, let your teens know as early as possible. Don’t blindside them with a speedy departure. Don’t keep it a secret. Don’t disappear into the night.
  • For your vulnerable teens, or teens who seem particularly devoted to you, tell them individually and in person.
  • Make yourself available to stay in contact (but do keep professional boundaries!) Years ago when I left a teen librarian position, I created an Instagram account just for teens to follow me on my next adventure. This account is now my catchall librarian account – and those teens still follow me there! I also make sure that teens who might need a college recommendation letter or a job reference know my new work email, so they can get in touch with me. (As ever, never share your personal info like private email or cell phone number with teens – even though they aren’t your library teens anymore, they are still minors and it’s still way inappropriate.)
  • Keep mementos. Your feelings are valid. If you’re feeling a certain kind of way, don’t diminish your feelings and tell yourself it’s just a job. In many ways, it IS just a job. But we can’t deny that we really do touch lives. If a teen gives you a gift or writes you a letter, keep them together and pull them out when you need remind yourself how awesome you are! 

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