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A belated confession

focusI’ve avoided writing this post for years.  But a couple of recent conference breakfasts and beverages, with librarians you all know well and admire, and a few questions from my grad students, pushed me into a reflective confession.

I don’t think we can really rock every aspect of our jobs at once, however much we aspire to do it.  And if you don’t realize this, it can drive you kinda crazy.

It’s a tough job.  It’s a complex job.  It’s a job that reaches across grades and disciplines and all elements of school culture. And while we can and never should actually shut down on any aspect of it, we have to set priorities based on our mission, our current goals, and our pressing local initiatives.

For those of you Type A personalities (and there are a lot of us out there) who cannot bear to be average at anything you do, here’s a personal take and, perhaps, a little guilt relief.

When we focus, we allow ourselves space to create on what is most immediately important.

I would try to balance the year, rather than the month. But I was keenly aware that my focus on one area of my work took me away from attention to another. When I chaired our state YA book committee, I developed a serious expertise in YA lit and knowledge of every killer new title, but when I was off the committee, I didn’t keep up with the same intensity.  During times of major school tech initiatives, I may not have spent as much time as I would have liked on building our reading culture. When I was needed to curate digital resources to support teaching and learning in our school, I may have let my physical collection go a bit.  When I was needed to help roll out the professional development for our CCSS initiative, I let a lot of other things go.

While I loved this job more than any other I ever had, and I’ll bet my faculty and students were convinced of my competence and powers, doing the job the way I wanted to do it was aspirational.

My conversations with admired colleagues revealed that I did not own the market on librarian guilt.

My small sample revealed regrets about:

  • not being as fully committed to advocacy as you know who,
  • or being as conversant with new YA/children’s titles as you know who,
  • or as quick to genrefy as you know who,Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 12.54.31 PM
  • or as creative about instructional strategies as you know who.

The fact is, we cannot go full steam on everything at every moment.

Even you know who likely lets a few things go to be so very good at you know what.

When we read the blogs, when we see our heroes speak at conferences, we have to realize that they too are running at different speeds in different areas of their practice.  While we cannot let anything go completely (laundry, is a pervasive example), we can consciously approach our activities on gentle, sliding scales.

The criteria set on six pages of formal assessment tools can be intimidating. While we cannot use these high stakes measures to admit what might look like deficiencies, rather than shifts in focus, I think it’s healthy to be honest, at least with ourselves.

When I played around with representing my own personal worries and guilts, I began to see them more clearly in terms of a series of scales connected to my annual goals.

It’s okay to focus.  When we don’t allow ourselves to focus, we risk not accomplishing anything of value.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. This is so true! So often we feel the “Imposter Syndrome” in one or more areas of our job and it can be exhausting trying to do it all and be it all. It IS okay to have balance and not need to rock everything. Really hard for us Type A’s, but always good to hear! Thanks so much for a relatable post!

  2. Hajnalka Molloy says

    Thank you Joyce!! Yes this is so very true! Some weeks (or months) I realise I haven’t done much of this or that. Guilt or a sense of inadequacy creeps in. It’s better if I look at things over the course of a year or two. Honing in on some areas to achieve results then letting them slide into “maintance” mode while I target another area. It’s good to know my heros are human to!

  3. Sue Levine says

    Wow! What timing! This is incredible! I was just telling someone today that I really would like to be able to focus on just one thing! I had this conversation about three or four hours ago! And, I had thought about you Joyce! I had thought about contacting you to talk about my concerns. This is so amazing! I hope you believe me! Thanks so much for this post!

  4. Yes, sometimes I step back and tell myself that my job each day is to hook one child on one good book. It may not be fancy or groundbreaking but it’s what started me on this path in the first place.

  5. Like you I saw myself in this posting. Very grateful to my colleagues and friends that I can reach out to advice, expertise and encouragement. To all of you, and you know who you are, my hearfful thanks.

  6. This is relevant reflection Joyce, especially as we progress through various phases of the busy school year while also planning for a diverse future.  It brings to mind the power of the library ‘team’ and the complexity of roles we cover within the school.  I must share with you however, one of my life philosophies – ‘guilt is a wasted emotion’.  This is not to say that I don’t experience it, I do, but I try not to give it space in my life.  Guilt saps the precious energy we need to work within the challenging environment of a dynamic school library.  It’s distracting and demanding.  It must be turned upon itself to provide answers.

    I would like to look at your confession from another point of view.  Rather than as an individual perspective, I’d like to focus on your/our role within the ‘team’.  Certainly, many library staff will be managing without support staff, however, we all have a ‘team’ of sorts. Our role jumps from one focus to another as circumstances demand but the one thing that doesn’t change is our responsibility to empower others. We don’t have to do it all ourselves but we do have to share our knowledge with those around us, whether they be library staff, teachers, students or parents; and empower them to grow in skill and knowledge.  Trust is a major ingredient.  Just as a working mother has to mobilise the support of her family so they can all benefit from the extra financial advantage of her employment, so too does the school library leader need to delegate to the ‘team’ if we are to cover all the demands of the role.

    Joyce, the one time consuming task you didn’t mention was the time you devote to training others and encouraging personal learning networks. You (and others) have done this tirelessly for years, and as a consequence, the skill level of school library has risen with many adopting their own personal/professional learning networks.  It has taken time, made your life busier while also focussing on your own growth of knowledge, but it has brought others along with you.

    It takes time to train and share knowledge with others. It involves encouraging individual commitment to continuous personal learning, sharing and supporting others to learn. Within a library staff, team building and professional growth are not always enthusiastically embraced.  Learning is hard work and some library staff are happier to stay within a familiar comfort zone of tasks (albeit obsolete) than undertake a process of constant learning and exploration.  This may sound harsh but it’s a reality.

    I suggest that we cannot afford to feel guilty.  As long as we are working to a vision of ‘school library’ for this day and age and empowering those around us to do the same, we cannot give way to guilt.  Certainly, we must be disciplined, strategic and constantly striving for the best.  It’s a demanding, complex role made easier, thankfully, through leadership such as you have provided Joyce, and our ability to learn from each other.  

    Strength and encouragement to all.

    • Joyce Valenza Joyce Valenza says

      Thanks to all of you for your kind words.

      Camilla, you pull it all together in your refocus on team and vision. The learning networks we have built over the years, inspire, fuel and push so many of us forward. Yes, the learning itself is hard work and I suspect it is those of us who know how much we have yet to learn who feel the most stress.

      Thank you for this: “As long as we are working to a vision of ‘school library’ for this day and age and empowering those around us to do the same, we cannot give way to guilt.”

      The friendship and support we maintain with each other, though we are a world apart, are evidence of the power and value of our connections.

  7. How can I ever thank you enough for writing this? Running a library and teaching 6 classes a day is not for the faint hearted. Some things (like a clean desk) fall by the wayside to make room for more important things like our students. When we put our students, their needs, and their learning, first we are fulfilling our mission. It is good to have other librarians as a support system too because no one but another librarian is going to understand that we’re really doing two jobs. Librarians on a fixed schedule have the same teaching load as a classroom teacher with the added benefit of running the library. Some days I wonder how we do it, let alone do it well. Funny you should mention laundry which I equate to shelving books, neither of which are ever finished!

    And I agree with Camillia, who has time for guilt? Most of us are too busy to even have time to worry that we’re not getting it all done because no one can! I have spent way too much time feeling unsuccessful in my school library career because I was trying too hard to do it all. I realize now that no one can do everything, all the time. Thanks for admiting to us that we are in good company!

  8. Thank you so much for this reminder Joyce. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to do ALL the things and then feeling guilty when some tasks get neglected over others. This year I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting and have decide to focus on the things I LOVE (makerspaces, creativity, promoting reading for the love of it) and have delegated or cut back on other things (incentives based on reading tests, duties that could be given to someone else, etc). It’s still a balancing act, and I still struggle with guilt sometimes, but choosing what to focus on has helped immensely.

  9. Deb Schiano says

    Thank you Joyce, as always… and Camilla, I so agree that continual learning and sharing takes time, and we tend to not credit ourselves with its value. That post you shared, idea you helped to generate, or conversation you initiated, each has potential to create change which you may never even come to know. I can’t help to think that it’s the nature of our “many hats” profession that leads to our own feeling of inadequacy. How many hats can one truly wear..too many, and they’re bound to all come crashing down.

  10. Diana Haneski says

    I needed to read this today, thank you Joyce. I had a week that had pockets of available time where I was convinced I’d end the week seeing more table space than piles. That didn’t happen, but I wanted to feel good about all the work I did accomplish so I packed the piles in a box, put it under the table and smiled as I saw the cleared space as I left for the day. It will make me happy and might improve my productivity next week.????

  11. Kate Lechtenberg says

    Thanks for the confession, Joyce. My district has cut library associate staffing by half this year, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about the shifting scales you’re talking about. This year has been full of projects that never quite got off the ground, all so that I could stay on top of the most pressing need in my inbox and my library. My efforts to create a makerspace are still in their infancy, but I’m so proud of a new unit on civic engagement and environmental health that comes from a collaborative relationship with a PLC. My grand plans for a school-wide, multi-stage Humans of Northview event have been scaled back to a couple activities in the library, but I’m so pleased with that more than 40 students answered the call for a challenging research extension competition to the World Food Prize. For every painful failure or omission, there is a success–if I look for it. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  12. It’s all been so well said by Joyce and Camilla. Being a teacher librarian or teacher is so much like being a parent. You can’t do it all and you shouldn’t feel guilty about those who seem to be the perfect parents. You can guarantee that they have crappy days in their household, but they prefer not to share those times. We all work in unique environments; we know that environment and we know the students and teachers in it. We, more than anyone else, know what the priorities are and what battles are worth fighting. Yes, we can learn so much from others, but we should not be intimidated into trying to replicate every good idea we come across. Focus on your strengths and the strengths of those around you, build relationships, and, above all, be brave.


  1. […] A belated confession.  An extremely honest post about how we can’t be awesome at all of the things all of the time.  So much of this resonated with me.  And it is so good to hear stuff like this from our heroes.  Look after your health and well-being, people – be awesome at some of the things some of the time – and don’t beat yourself up about it!  (Shared by the Mighty Little Librarian on Twitter.) […]

  2. […] RSS feed and library-mega-star Joyce Valenza saved me a little bit. Her post entitled Belated Confession came the at the right time, from the right person. It was almost as if she was sitting across from […]

  3. […] of this complex work at once. Joyce Valenza describes the attempt to do it all in this honest post. She shows that librarians continually re-balance our multiple roles to preserve our sanity and […]

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