On leaving your library: What to do when it’s time to move on

LEAVE THE LIBRARIAN ALONE! She’s very emotional right now.

I work for a very large library system, and in the 3ish years I’ve worked here, I’ve librarian-ed at several branches. I’ve officially transferred only once, but have filled in at various places due to short staffing and closures for renovations. My current branch, though, is nearest and dearest to my heart for a variety of reasons: I’ve spent the most amount of time here, I’ve put a lot of work into the branch and sustaining community relationships, there are several coworkers that make my work day so much easier, and I really, really, really like the kids and families.

However, for a variety of reasons not worth going into, it’s become apparent to me that it’s time to move on. When I first started having these feelings, I just kind of shooed them away from the front of my mind. I couldn’t imagine leaving the kids. It wasn’t even so much that I felt that they wouldn’t do well without me. I just knew I’d miss them too much to really consider ever leaving. I’m just too attached. They really do make all the librarian-in-a-budget-crisis madness really worth it. They are the highlight of the day, even though they exhaust and exasperate me sometimes.

The problems at work, though, started to get worse and worse. I’m not blaming this on anybody but myself, I’m simply saying that my ability to deal with these particular issues just started to deteriorate. I still loved (and currently love) the kids, but I was bringing a lot of the stress home. I was grinding my teeth at night and losing my ability to sleep and felt generally panicky and helpless. I was consumed with guilt, but I knew that it was time to put in for a transfer to another branch.

Just last week, I received an offer to transfer to our Central location. They asked if I wanted to think about it and get back to them, but I said yes right away. I was ready for a change. I was delighted at the prospect of working with several other children’s librarians in a well-staffed library. I couldn’t stop smiling after accepting the transfer.

Then, almost immediately, I started dreading the impending goodbyes. Breaking the news to the staff members wasn’t hard at all. It’s not that I won’t miss them, I just know that I’ll see them in upcoming get-togethers and system-wide meetings. They’ll be on Facebook and Twitter and I’m sure I’ll still hear from them once in a while. Of course, some of them will be greatly missed in my day-to-day routines, but adults are generally understanding about the choices you have to make. I know they’ll be short-staffed until someone gets transferred there (if that happens at all) and for this I’m truly and sincerely sorry.

My stomach has been in knots during the process of saying goodbye to the children that frequent the branch. I made a couple of decisions right off the bat: I’d announce my news to all of my classes and I’d individually tell children and parents that I’m close to. I was going to let everyone know what was going on as soon as possible, so that no one would be surprised when/if classes were cancelled. I wasn’t looking forward to any of this, so I came up with the following to keep me calm and to make this as easy on everyone as possible. I try to keep all this in mind:

  • Create an “I’m leaving” elevator speech–Just a short little something I’ve rehearsed so I won’t get flustered when talking to people about my departure. For me it goes a little like this: “I wanted to let you know that I’ve been offered a position at another library and I’ve accepted it.” It’s a good starting point for me to talk about my transfer. I’ve used it in classes, individually, and on the phone. It lets the patrons know that it is my decision to leave (so they won’t blame it on a manager or another staff member). I then go right into what I’m going to miss about the class or the person. This isn’t rehearsed at all. I mean every word. I want them to know that my transfer has nothing to do with not adoring the kids. I need them to know that they’ll be missed, because that’s the truth. Plus, I think we don’t often enough tell our patrons how much we appreciate them.
  • Remain calm. So far I’ve had three slightly unpleasant experiences since I’ve made my announcement. I knew this wasn’t going to be all smooth sailing, but you never know how exactly problems will manifest. One woman called asking what she could do to make me stay at my branch. I know that she had only good intentions, but I got a little choked up and had a program to lead in about five minutes. I didn’t want to cry (especially when a room full of 30-odd children and their parents were waiting for me), so I took a deep breath and thanked her for her concern. I reiterated my elevator speech and told her that I appreciated that she took the time to call me. I mentioned that I had an upcoming program that I had to tend to, but I encouraged her to call back if she had any further questions about the status of children’s programming. I also gave her my manager’s name, should she have any concerns after I left for Central. She was nothing but lovely to me. Another woman became a bit angry with me when I told her my plans. It tapped right into my feelings of guilt, so I remembered to smile and excused myself as soon as it seemed polite. The worst was a child, 10ish, who was upset and cried quite a bit. I may have cried a little here–I was going to miss her, too and I hated to see her cry. Which brings me to this:
  • Stay in touch. Look, I’m an urban librarian, so I know better than to give my email address to every Tom, Dick, and Harry (like anyone in NYC has those names). However, for some kids, I’m just going to try to keep the communication lines open. I feel like email is a pretty unobtrusive way for them to remain in touch with me. If anyone gets too out of hand, I can just block them (I obviously hope it doesn’t come to this, but there’s always this option if I need it). I want them to feel like they can still talk to me about anything, but I want to be able to deal with communication on my own terms. If I get overwhelmed with work (what do I mean “if”?), emails can wait in my inbox until I’m ready for them. I also know that, someday (maybe someday soon), many of them won’t keep in touch anymore. That’s fine, too. Hopefully that means that I’ve been replaced by someone competent and wonderful.
  • Stay positive. When asked why I’m leaving, I don’t site any personal problems. I talk about new opportunities ahead. When the crying kid says she’ll never come back to the library again, I let her know that I’ll hunt her down if she doesn’t/Of course she will. I remind the kids about all the great staff members that they still have in the branch.
  • Clean up your mess. I don’t know if they’ll send a new children’s librarian to my branch, but I know that other staff members will share the work load for a while. I want to make this as easy on them as possible. This means, in the upcoming week, straightening out files and making them more accessible. I’ll be tidying up children’s materials and doing some last minute weeding. I’ll have to train people to handle a couple of tasks (or at least refresh their memory). I have been working on cleaning up my desk and this is the worst. Everything is covered in glitter.

I’m heading into my last week at my branch, and while part of me is restless and wants to start at my new library, the rest of me is terrified of change and scared of saying goodbye. I don’t know how I’ll handle my last babies or toddler class or what my final reference desk will be like. This is going to be a difficult transition, and not just for me. It might be rough on some patrons and staff members as well. All I know is, it’s time to move on and if I’m not ready, I better start pretending.

~Love and New Libraries, Ingrid

P.S. Have you experienced a difficult transfer or retirement from a library? Have any helpful tips for a pink-haired urban librarian? Please comment. I’m curious to hear about your experiences.



8 thoughts on “On leaving your library: What to do when it’s time to move on

  1. Thanks for this post, Ingrid. I’m not leaving my library, but I found out today that one of our VERY long-term and beloved staff members is retiring in December and this advice will be helpful to all of us as we transition. Best of luck at your new branch!

    1. Thank you! I’m looking forward to a brand new library.
      It’s hard seeing people come and go from the workplace. I get pretty sad myself.
      Many well wishes to you and your coworker. I hope things turn out well for everyone.

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