With Thanksgiving Day approaching, I am focused on the second half of the word. One of the best ways to be thankful is to give back. As educators we do this every day. We work hard to reach as many of our students as we can, giving them tools for lifelong learning but so much more. The warm, welcoming environment we create in our libraries makes them a safe place, and so many of our students need that. Whether as a haven from tormentors, teachers they don’t like, or a chance to explore personal interests and discover who they really are, we provide the space and often the quiet encouragement that make a lasting difference in their lives.
However, our giving needs to go beyond this. One of my life lessons is that first and foremost we need to always be mindful to give back to those who are closest to us—our primary partners, our children no matter their age, and the friends who enrich our lives. So many of us are workaholics. Staff cuts and increased job responsibilities, not to mention the demands of Common Core and its testing, are adding stress and often overwork. Staying very late to complete tasks may be necessary one or two days a week, but not every day. Our jobs are not our lives. Coming home frazzled, frustrated, and our-of-sorts inevitably means we are not fun to be around and are not “giving” to the relationships that count most. To give back to our family and friends, we need to use the commute home to clear our minds and put the job in a mental compartment not to be opened until tomorrow.
Giving back should also go beyond family. How are you giving back to your communities? We are entering the gift-giving season and the shopping it entails is a further drag on our time and energy, but it’s important not to forget we belong to several communities. Serving on state and national library associations is an important way you give back to those who were there for you when you started out. It’s not enough to just pay your dues. Even on the national level, the greatest part of the work is done by those librarians who give up their time (and often their money to get to conferences), helping all librarians be recognized for the work they do and giving them tools to do it even better.
You can give the gift of your time in other ways. Those who serve in soup kitchens and pantries perform a vital service. Doing free tutoring in the public library being a literacy volunteer uses your expertise to give those in need a chance at a better life.
Supporting favorite charities also gives back. Money is tight for many of you, but the donation need not be large. It’s just how you acknowledge there are always others in greater need. I always find it amazing that those in the direst straights will reach out more quickly to those hit by a disaster than people who have so much more.