When you get discouraged, when your list is too long, when storytime is a disaster, when no one shows up for an awesome program, how do you recharge?

There are lots of ways to give yourself a boost, but one of my favorite ways is to look at my touchstones. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen my blog’s image header that I like to fill my desk with visual bits and pieces of my work life. (Trust me, there’s even more you can’t see.) When I’m scrambling for motivation or am wiped out, looking at thank you notes from little kids and old storytime crafts and small gifts from my family and colleagues helps me remember that I love what I do.

Here’s three of my favorite touchstones.

This is my library card from when I was little. I had this card the whole time I was growing up and through my teen years when I paged for the library, and into my college years when I was home for the summers. It makes me smile every time I see it. I remember how long the library has been a part of my life, and how grown up I felt when I could bike to the library by myself, and how much fun I had when I started looking for books about origami and calligraphy and who knows what else outside the children’s area. It reminds me that the library was an important part of my life, in different ways, long before I even knew I wanted to make libraries my career. I think about all the changes that took place at my library over that time–moving to a new building, getting computerized (there’s a barcode sticker on the back!), offering different programs and materials and services. I look at my library card and I know that libraries will continue to be an important part of my life for a long time, and that I can weather all the changes to come.

My mom gave me this locket when I graduated from library school. (Thanks Mom!) It’s shaped like a book, and she put inside a photocopy of a photo of me from when I was a preschooler, holding a Raggedy Ann book I had just gotten for my birthday. (You can’t quite tell, but the book matches the Raggedy Ann dress I have on. How cool is that?) I have worn this locket for just about every important library interview I’ve had, and almost every big presentation. (I had it on last fall at ALSC!) When my daughters were smaller, they would fill it up with kisses for me, so I would have some extra love while I was at work. Now that I spend so much of my time thinking about early literacy programs and services, when I look at my locket I remember my mom reading us books and my dad singing us songs. I want every kid in the world to grow up with that, like my sister and I did. That’s why I do what I do.

This card has been on my fridge for 18 years. At my first library job, my awesome boss (Hi Mary Jane!) liked to toss projects at me even though she KNEW I had ZIP experience working in a children’s library before. (What was she THINKING? Did I mention she was an AWESOME BOSS?) One of the projects she gave me was developing a monthly activity program for our large and active group of homeschooling patrons.

The first year I worked on this program, I decided we would go around the world, and investigate a different group of countries or cultures every month. We made passports the first month, and then every session at the library we did games and projects, and read books, and had a great time, and then I gave them little activities to do at home. The more stuff they explored at home in between our sessions, the more stickers they earned for their passports when they came back and told me about it the next month. Well, one of the projects they could do at home was to make a recipe from one of our cultures. The second or third session, in walked one of my kids, and when it came time to put stickers in our passports, she gave me this card. She told me it was the recipe for the dish she had made at home. Sure enough, it was! It says, “Quesadillas: Cheese and Tortillas.”

It’s still one of my favorite things that any of my kids has ever given me. You know why? I looked at this card and this little girl who had not only made a dish (even though she didn’t really have to) but had taken time to write out her recipe (even though she didn’t really have to). And it came home to me that I had such a responsibility. It didn’t matter if I’d been doing this job for 6 months or 60 years; the children and families that I worked with were going to take me seriously. If I told them that this was a good book, they were going to believe me. If I created a program, they were going to come to it in good faith. If I gave them some information, they were going to trust me. If I told them it would be fun to make a new recipe at home, they were going to do it! I look at this card pretty much every day. And it charges me up to do my damnedest to live up to that good faith, and give my families, and my libraries, and my colleagues, the absolute best that I can.

What are your touchstones?

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14 Responses to Touchstones

  1. Lisa says:

    There is a large bulletin board in my office. At one point I had a nice part-time children’s librarian who tried to turn it into an official looking thing, but the moment she left I returned it to what it has always been–a collage of photos of former staff, kids at programs, thank you notes, cards, postcards, etc.
    And each day, it reminds me of why I do what I do. In fact, I think your post once again is going to inspire a post from me. <3

  2. Melissa says:

    Sometime I will show you a picture of the bulletin board on my desk! <3

  3. Amie Beamer says:

    LOVE this post…thank you for that 🙂 I, too, keep reminders close at hand for visual affirmation. There is NO better profession than being a librarian 🙂 ~Amie Beamer

  4. Emily says:

    Love this. I have a very, very similar looking library card from PA, as well as a bookmark that a kid in the summer reading program made me in about 1996!

  5. Lizzie says:

    I am sitting eating breakfast in Melbourne, Australia with my eyes tearing up reading about your touchstones. As I feel overwhelmed at what I need to get done I loved reading about how you handle such moments.

    I am new to this job but I already have a beautiful card from a Summer Reading Club family and a memorable hug from a girl – both completely unexpected! It’s the connections with people that make this job special and touchstones are a visual reminder of that.

  6. A great post!

    My work touchstones are all over – my little dukabalooka-dog is right by my phone so I can pet her; my devil ducks and legos and trucks where I can see them right by my monitor and on bulletin boards and my wall (filled with book art and she-roes of youth librarianship)

    My life touchstones at home – one teddy bear glove from when I was a preschooler; a note from mom dashed off and expressing her pride at my teenage self; a picture of my honey and I on one of our first hikes together in the old days and a little notecard written shortly before mom died, when she had lost her speech and handwriting, where she had painstakingly scrawled “Mom” for flowers she gave me.

  7. Melissa says:

    Many thanks to all of you! I really enjoyed writing this post because I KNEW you would all know exactly what I was talking about–and would have your own touchstones and own power-ups. You are all superstars.

  8. Melissa says:

    There is real power in these objects, Marge! Thank you for sharing yours.

  9. Kendra says:

    Killer post, Mel!
    I save every card, note, homemade book (my favorite is one made by a preschool at my old library to give me as a going away present. Each child illustrated a page and hand wrote a message-the only gift from a patron that has made me cry to date), and picture. They are tacked on the walls around my desk and stuffed in my drawers so I’ll find them as a nice surprise while looking through boring supplies files and such.
    My other, more recent, touchstone has been my blog. Until recently my career was all about my patrons, but now I’ve been lucky enough to spread my knowledge to others and they’ve expressed their thanks in comments. They always make my heart swell!
    Sorry for the long comment but this was just so great!

  10. Melissa says:

    Kendra, I love the idea of thinking about your blog as a touchstone. You’re exactly right. Thank YOU.

  11. Oh my YES! I work between the reference and children’s departments in a public library, I have found myself decorating my reference desk area with the wonderful things my story time kids have made me. I don’t have many touchstones yet–a Valentine’s Day card, several thank you cards, a book a preschool class made me– but looking at them makes me feel so much better after a rough time in the grown-up world.

    What a wonderful post! I’m feeling better already; it’s been a long week!

  12. Melissa says:

    Thank you Lindsay! Take care of yourself this weekend and have a good time with your storytime kids next week!

  13. Sarah says:

    Great post! I have lots of kids’ art all round my desk, and each kid needs to sign their masterpiece, even if it’s just scribbles and dots. There is also a sparkle globe from my brother in Texas (the kids are fascinated that I have a brother), and photos of me and my friends being goofy in photo booths.

    My favorite kid masterpiece: One of the teens made a drawing of me as Super Sarah flying on a huge book, magic carpet-style, with “I call upon the power of knowledge!” written under it! Kids actually ask me, “Are you a superhero?” Of course I say yes!

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