Long before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” The more recent phrase that expresses this idea, especially as it relates to social media, is “Compare and Despair.” When we see pictures of our friends’ fabulous vacations or beautiful new homes, we feel despondent because we don’t travel as much and our perfectly nice homes are smaller and less beautifully decorated.
If you have a personal learning network (PLN) — as many educators do — you might occasionally suffer from professional “compare and despair.” Perhaps you follow one or more rock star librarians (RSLs) on social media. These RSLs might be nationally known names or they might be librarians in your district or region you know and admire. Your goal in following them is to get new ideas for your school library, and you do because these RSLs and their ideas are sources of inspiration. But sometimes, instead of feeling inspired by members of your PLN, you feel downright depressed because it seems like they are doing creative, wonderful, and exciting things in their libraries while you feel you are barely able to juggle your job responsibilities.
It happens to all of us. For example, every year I attend the Missouri Association of School Librarians Spring Conference and, let me tell you, there are lots of RSLs in Missouri. Two of them are friends of mine from the other side of the state who always present a workshop on a program, promotion, or series of lessons they offer in their library. Sometimes, while I’m sitting in their session, I think to myself, “I’m a terrible librarian compared to these two.” Now, I know I’m not a terrible librarian. I also know that my co-librarian and I offer some great opportunities to our students that my two friends don’t offer. That’s as it should be. Each school has its own culture and needs. As librarians, our goal must be to support the the needs of our patrons and the goals of our school. A successful program that addresses a need at one school might not be necessary or successful at another school. Yet, I have moments when I compare myself to other librarians and feel inferior.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve had conversations with two colleagues, both outstanding and hard-working librarians who run top-notch school libraries. Both told me they feel they aren’t doing enough in their libraries. They read articles in professional journals or see posts on social media about amazing activities and programs other school librarians offer in their spaces, and they feel inadequate in comparison. As they focus on what these other librarians are doing, they seem to forget their own successes. For example, one of these colleagues does a great job advocating for libraries by serving on numerous district-level committees. The other colleague engages her elementary students by implementing creative lessons involving station activities that incorporate multiple learning styles, literature, and STEAM, allowing students make curricular connections and have fun as they learn.
If, like my two colleagues and me, you’re a successful, hard-working, and dedicated school librarian who sometimes feels like you are the “slacker librarian” in the illustration above, I’m here to offer a couple of important reminders.
First, when you look at what other librarians share, don’t compare yourself to them. Sure, they are doing wonderful work, but they are only sharing their successes. They experience failures, too, just like the rest of us. Yes, they may be offering their students an experience that you don’t, but you are providing your patrons with programs and events they aren’t. Like everyone else, you have only twenty-four hours in your day. You can’t possibly implement every program, idea, and lesson you hear about. No one can, not even the RSLs you admire.
So what if that RSL you follow on social media uses a new technology every week and you don’t? Maybe her school has a huge technology budget and yours doesn’t; you have no control over that. However, maybe you use the technology you have to create engaging and meaningful learning experiences your students love. Or, maybe you foster an amazing culture of reading in your building that gets kids excited about books. What’s important is that you are making a difference for the students you serve. That’s the goal we should all have; we don’t all have to accomplish it in exactly the same way.
Second, give yourself credit for your successes, even the ones that seem ordinary or insignificant. Did you help a teacher find a perfect resource today? If so, you’re probably a rock star to that teacher. Did a student tell you how much he loves the book he’s reading, a title that you recommended to him? If so, you’re probably a rock star to that student. Did a fellow librarian thank you for sharing an idea or lesson that she implemented successfully? If so, you’re probably a rock star to that librarian. And, even if none of those people think of you as a rock star, they undoubtedly appreciate you. Maybe you don’t consider that tweet-worthy, but it’s important and you should give yourself a little pat on the back for it.
Third, remember that your PLN and professional reading should provide a menu of options. When you look at a menu in a restaurant, you might be tempted to order five different entrees, but you don’t. You know you can’t eat that much, so you choose what’s best for you at the time or what appeals to you at that moment. If you return to the restaurant a week or month later, you might choose a different entree. The ideas you learn about from your PLN are a like entrees. You can’t tackle all of them at once. So, choose one inspiring idea, tweak it to fit your needs, and implement it. Then, at a later date, when you are hungry for a new inspiring idea, visit your PLN (or the ideas you’ve jotted down from your PLN) to select another idea.
Don’t let your PLN lead you to feelings of “compare and despair.” If you remember that even RSLs aren’t successful 100% of the time, if you spend a few moments at the end of every day reflecting on your professional successes, and if you approach the ideas shared through your PLN as an array of options, you might realize that you’re a rock star librarian, too.
Author: Margaret Sullivan
Margaret Sullivan is a librarian at Rockwood Summit High School and also serves as the Lead Librarian for the Rockwood School District. A past president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians, Margaret’s professional interests include advocacy, teacher collaboration, professional development, equity, and YA literature. You can connect with her on Twitter @mm_sullivan.