I Got 99 Problems and They’re all Related to Summer Reading

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love Summer Reading. 

Just kidding. That never happened.

Here’s a better title: One Massive Kvetch by a Children’s Librarian Who’s a Shell of Her Former Self That Wasn’t too Stable to Begin With.

I somewhat recently moved from a small branch library where Summer Reading was pretty non-existent (most of the kids who go to the library disappear for the summer for a variety of reasons, one of which being they all go back to Poland for a while), to a massive library where Summer Reading is non-stop madness. I didn’t have much time to get acquainted here. I just kind of got dropped into the belly of the beast and now I’m waiting to find out what this place is really like once this insanity blows over (and daily class visits start. And I cry myself to sleep every night).

Just to be clear, I have great respect for the concept of Summer Reading. Kids and teens need to read during the summer to avoid the dreaded summer slide. In addition, I love to encourage kids and teens to read what they want to during the summer, whatever it may be (graphic novels, Captain Underpants, 50 Shades of CrayCray, fashion magazines, anything). The idea that someone will grow up thinking that reading is a punishment or a chore scares the bejeezus out of me. When I booktalk during the summer, I hope that I am introducing a title that someone will read for pure enjoyment and nothing else.

THAT SAID, Summer Reading, in practice, makes me achy, cranky, and not unlike a toddler than no one let nap for three months. I’m not complaining about hard work, I’m kvetching about never ending school assignment lists, demands that I can’t fulfill, fights over free pieces of plastic, and repetitive work that makes me feel like an automaton and not a librarian at all.

Kids, you know I love to list stuff. It gives me a feeling of control in a world gone mad. LISTS MAKE ME FEEL IN CHARGE.

Here are the things I won’t miss about Summer Reading:

LISTS. Summer Reading lists. The library makes its own SR list every year, and we pitch it to the teachers so that kids ask us for titles that we actually own. Teachers tend to make their own lists, so even if we suggest our own titles, of course the final decision is up to them. However, I feel like they hate us a little, because some of the lists double as tiny torture devices. If you’re a teacher reading this, I BEG of you, please consider the following (and try not to hate me too much):

List the titles alphabetically by AUTHOR. PLEASE. For the love of Billy Bob Thorton, don’t list them by title. What library in the universe shelves its books by title? If you want to make Summer Reading less stressful for your students and their parents (never mind the librarians, we’re totally a lost cause), please don’t do this:

And if the Moon Could Talk, by Kate Banks
Buster, by Denise Fleming
Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Froggy Goes to Camp, by Jonathan London
Previously, by Allan Ahlberg

All of this could have been avoided if the teacher had a sassy, gay librarian.

Do you see what’s happening here? If our books are shelved by author, that means your future student or the nice if not neurotic librarian is running from B to F to S to L to A, instead of just straight through the alphabet. If you make a list alphabetically by author, the student, parent, or I get to walk in a straight line, instead of in circles like a raving lunatic.

This might sound nit-picky and not that big of a deal. Sure, on a one time basis, walking in circles isn’t annoying. But how about dozens of times a day?

Spell the titles and the authors correctly (this goes for librarians, too). I know this makes me sound like a raging snob, but come on, now. It’s a cut and paste world, complete with spell check. Usually, a good librarian can guess the correct title or author, but what if your students or parents can’t?  What if a misspelled title keeps a child from a book they need to read? Also, it makes a good impression and sets a good example. Also, you won’t make the librarian break up into snorty laughs when she reads titles like this: Butt I Wanted a Baby Brother. Yes, indeed. There was a teacher who substituted “butt” for “but” in every title. I’d like to think this was a joke, but the parent with the list didn’t seem very reassured. Other stellar misspellings: Island of the Blue Dauphin (yes, yes, it’s dolphin in French, but it’s also fancy French princes. It’s also not the title. This is also not France), Romono Forever (sort of a drag king Ramona Quimby?), and my personal favorite: Litter Critter by Mercer Mayer. GROSS. Why is there a critter in the litter?

When’s the last time you saw your assigned books on a shelf in a bookstore or a library? If your answer is 1972, you may have assigned a book that no one can get their hands on. We have pre-made “Dear Teacher” letters in which we notify a teacher that we don’t have any copies of the title they selected. The parent or child can bring the teacher one of these letters, so hopefully they won’t get in trouble for not being able to access the title. If a giant library system like mine doesn’t own ANY copies of your book, it’s time to update that Summer Reading list.

Please don’t assign this next summer.

Children’s Librarian Summer Reading Burnout. Endless programming. Non-stop lists. Packed libraries. Angry patrons. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Sleep on a pillow made of your own tears.

Donald Glover is pretty much the only thing I care about.

☠ Free Plastic Stuff Bum Rush Not so much a problem anymore, as we don’t have much of a budget for free stuff or reading incentives. Still, the frenzy over tiny pieces of plastic…crap (there! I said it!) is just astounding. I pretty much understand it from the kids (OK, I don’t understand trying to walk off with 50 bookmarks),  but from the adults? It’s just baffling. I was once giving away free library backpacks in a park (back when we could afford backpacks) and a woman was very mad that the backpacks were only for kids. She didn’t speak English, but I knew she was angry at me because SLAPPING A LIBRARIAN IN THE ARM IS TRANSLATABLE TO ANY LANGUAGE. That’s not cool.

Those backpacks weren’t even cute. They were orange.

The Smiles of Adult Services Librarians.
I am in no way implying that Adult Services librarians don’t work hard. They do. Very hard. And Geedee bless them for putting up with adults, because adults are awful. They’re self-righteous and smelly and you can’t tell them what to do and then never listen to anyone because they think they’re always right. Believe me, Adult Librarians are saints. BUT, even though adult patrons are supposed to participate in Summer Reading too, I’ve never seen an Adult Librarian losing their freaking mind during the summer. It’s like the Children’s/YA Librarians claim temporary insanity all summer, every summer, but the Adult Librarians get to live in this magical bubble where they’re not tormented by the masses lining up for plastic library card cases and copies of Catch-22 we ran out of a month ago. They look so, so,…normal. It hurts to see their happiness. They should pretend to be crazy out of solidarity.

☠ Thinking of the phrase Summer Reading and then immediately getting Summer Nights from Grease stuck in your head. All. Summer. Long.

After chatting about this subject with the ALA Think Tank peeps, I realized that I’m not the only one that replaces the words Summer Lovin’ with Summer Reading.

Ah well ah well ah well ah uh.

☠ “But I need it. NOW. MY DAUGHTER NEEDS TO READ THIS BY TOMORROW” This is the worst part. HOLY HELL. About a month in, we run out of every book anyone could possibly need. Before people even start talking to me, I say, “I see you have a Summer Reading list. We’ve run out of many titles so please consider whether you’d like to put things on hold or not.” I try not to sound mean, but when the parents and kids start picking the titles that they really want, as opposed to what we actually have, I get nervous. I’ve often pointed to our empty, pathetic shelves and said, “As you can see, our cupboards are bare.”

As the summer wore on, it became my theory that if I’d heard of a title before, not even read it, but just heard about the book, even in passing, we didn’t have it. The book was gone and it wasn’t coming back until October. Our library suddenly only housed obscure unreadable nonsense.

I spent a lot of time foraging into the decks underneath the building, hovering like a vulture over a carcass that has long since been picked clean, scavenging for a wayward copy of To Kill a Mockingbird or The Tale of Despereaux. When I’d find a copy of a book like that, I was all:

It’s like a was a freaking miracle worker.

Come August, you could smell the desperation in the air. Everyone was jonesing for that copy of Bridge to Terabithia that not a librarian had seen in weeks. “But,” they would say when I told them we didn’t have a copy and they’d be 9th on the list to receive it, “you’re such a big library! You have to have more copies.” I’d explain that we did own many copies, but that they were all checked out. “Imagine there are 30 kids in your son’s class. Now imagine they all want this book. Now imagine that other schools have assigned this book, as well. Now imagine all the kids get to keep the book for 3 weeks,” I’d explain, “You can imagine the demand we’re facing, especially this late in the summer.”

But then I’d get the worst Summer Reading why-we-didn’t-come-get-this-book-in-June-excuse: “We couldn’t come earlier because we were on vacation.” 

First of all, rub it in, why don’t you? I’ve been here all summer. I didn’t get to go on vacation! Do you see my skin? I AM STILL PASTY AS HAY-ELL. I AM A BROKEN WOMAN. Second, that’s a weird excuse. I can’t even go into how that makes no sense, and yet I hear it again and again. Last: what? You think I have some special box of hidden Judy Blume books, reserved especially for ladies just coming back from the Cape?

Now, I realize, not every librarian has a hard time during the summer. In fact, some librarians have made Summer Reading look downright easy as pie (though Marge will always be more graceful in these situations than I. Take note). To you lucky librarians, I probably seem crazed and bitter and obsessive.

Well, I am. Summer Reading made me this way.

Viva la Autumn.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

42 thoughts on “I Got 99 Problems and They’re all Related to Summer Reading

  1. Pingback: September, I remember | Hi Miss Julie!

  2. As an adult librarian who staffs the YA desk often in the summer–but not often enough to get a real feel for what might still be miraculously on the shelf–this is scarily familiar.

    We have a teacher who has the wrong author on one book, and has for several years. So the kids ask for [not written by Jeanne DuPrau] by Jeanne DuPrau, and guess what? It’s never in the system. Luckily those of us who have been around a few years know the problem without even bothering to search.

    1. I got that several times this year and sent the child home with what I *thought* was right. Luckily, like you, if you’re around the library for a couple of years, you get used to the quirks of the lists. If not, you do the best you can. I’m always scared I’ve sent a child off with the wrong book and they’re going to get in trouble. I tend to give them a letter for the teacher with my number on it.
      Fall is here! We survived!

  3. Sarah

    I didn’t get the lists so much this year at my new library (though at my library in Colorado, yikes! We’d be out of the books as soon as school was over and had many unhappy parents come end of July/early August when their kids were headed back to school.

    For me, the pressure to be ON all the time at work during the summer is so enormous and crushing. I don’t feel that way the other 9 months of the year when I feel like I get more satisfaction in my customer interactions because they aren’t about the junk plastic (which I also despise!) and the more entertainment nature of the library come summer. That’s something I need to work to change at my library for next summer because I need summer reading to be more than entertainment.

    And the adult librarians, ugh. So smug. Fortunately, they are actually helpful for the most part too at my library but I bet they don’t dread the summer months.

    1. Oh, gosh. Yes. “The pressure to be ON”. Forget it. I become very robotic after back to back requests. It’s nice to remember that I can be a nice person! Those high demand Summer Reading reference desks didn’t make me mean, per se, but definitely made me kind of cold.

  4. librariankate7578

    The “assigned books” portion of this post made me chuckle, as I had a similar problem when I volunteered at MoMA. We would get many a college student coming in looking for painting to complete their assignments that either weren’t on view or weren’t even at our museum. We had variations of your “Dear Teacher” letter prepared (“our galleries rotate every six months, please make sure you visit the museum prior to the semester to see what is on view and have alternatives available”) and we tried to help these poor students at the mercy of an outdated syllabus as much as possible.

  5. Ha! My daughter picked out a copy of “A Pony for Linda” all on her own at our tiny library upstate. I was wondering why they hadn’t weeded it. Now I know it’s probably on a list!

  6. Now that I’ve cleaned the apple chunks I spewed laughing on to the computer screen…
    I’m sending this to my teacher friends and directing their attention to the assigned books part. There are so many great, newer books! Stop making copies of the same list you were using in 1990 (and maybe get that baby digitized, too)!

    Thanks for a good laugh. And good riddance SRP for one more year!

  7. Julie

    Love the post and agree with it all! A favorite of mine are the mispelled titles where you can’t convince the child or parent that it is wrong . For years one of the schools had The Red Plant by Hienlien on their list and it was sometimes nearly impossible to convince people that what they really needed was Red Planet by Heinlein.

    1. I know. And it’s hard to find a nice way to say, “The teacher typed this wrong” without sounding like a jerk. It’s a delicate situation. The parents and kids want to make sure they’re reading the right thing, and it’s hard to convince them that we know exactly what book they need.
      Funny, I just got off the phone with a teacher. At least now, in September, they are reachable by phone. I cleared up a lot today and the kids got an extension on their assignment.

  8. OMG, those book list tales made my eyes bleed. We are clearly saved here in the library in that WI teachers (after the new guv came in) are so overworked and underpaid that they don’t have time to do booklists. We’re saaaaved I tell ya!!!!

  9. In addition to everything I love about this post (especially Donald Glover, and the part about vacations– no time off for me til Sept 1!), Marge has her very own Tumbler tag now, and that’s both appropriate and hysterical.

  10. Pingback: World’s Strangest | At the Libraries: The Wire’s Victorian-Literature Leanings

  11. kdf_333

    well said. i rarely work the youth services desks int he summer for this very reason, but they come to the adult desk to ask for titles as well so i see some of it. very well said. teachers really need to read this.

  12. Wow, compared to you, my summer reading experience sounds similar! I started my job one week before summer reading started, but they don’t do book lists at the county schools, so kids get to read whatever they want. Bless your broken librarian soul, and I will thank the maker for not giving people the idea to make a summer reading book list.

  13. Pingback: Librageous! » Blog Archive » Summer Reading is Apparently Not As Bad As I Thought

  14. If your library is doing the whole “Dig Into Reading” theme you can go with an alternate song stuck in your head like I have – switching up the lyrics to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” with “Can I Dig It?” (yes you can). Much less annoying (thus far).

    1. I think at the end of the program, it should be “Six Underground” by the Sneaker Pimps simply because our minds, bodies, and soul have been sucked dry by the demands of our patrons.

  15. I just wanted you to know that you have summed up my seven years of experience with Summer Reading Program perfectly! I could not, for the life of me, stop laughing! What’s worse is that I am at the Teen Reference Desk now and all of my co-workers are looking at me like I am spazzing out! I definitely feel your pain and I am so so so so sorry about the lists. Luckily, my community hasn’t done that to us (YET), but you have every right to bounce around the Library like Daffy Duck. In fact, it should be a part of the job description. Good luck and just know that your local bartender can be your best friend every Friday night!

  16. rachelmsm

    I have just started at a large public library right after school let out in May and right before summer reading began. This list is hilarious and, from what I have witnessed, very true. I’ve told the YA staff I would love to help out at much as possible (I’m a circ supervisor) – just to let them relax for a moment or two! I’m certainly interesting in seeing how my first summer here ends.

  17. Thank you for this. I spend the entire summer feeling like Worst Children’s Librarian Ever because this is everything I loathe about Summer Reading and summer in the children’s room in general. Also add in for extra fun: parents who think that Summer Reading means that we are providing reading help/tutoring to their child for free. Uh- no. The “end of the summer/I need this by tommorrow/ but I was on VACATION” parents get directions to the closest Barnes & Noble from me. Seriously parents- you know that your child has classmates- Don’t you think other parents are asking for the exact same thing? Getting summer reading list books at the end of summer is like getting the “It” toy at Xmas.

    1. “Getting summer reading list books at the end of summer is like getting the “It” toy at Xmas.” Thank you for putting this sentiment to me in words. YES. No one gets the Tickle Me Elmo on December 20th. NO ONE.

  18. One year, a middle schooler came in with a massive list of books to chose from. It was mid August. Her first, second AND third choices were all out. I took the list, pulled out a few books we had and told her to choose. She whined, WHINED!!!, that she didn’t want any of them. Because she snapped my last nerve, I slapped my hand on the desk and said “TS! You came too late. Beggars can’t be choosers.” Her mom agreed.

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