my coworkers won’t stop telling me about their ideas for my work

A reader writes:

I’m a teen librarian. I work directly with kids in grades 6 through 12. This lends towards a fascination with my job. It’s sort of specialized, as far as library services go, as teens are a bit odd. My coworkers keep having ideas of how I can interact with the teens who come in. It’s nice that they want to get involved but these ideas are often things I’m either already doing, things I know would not work with our population or things that would be so much work for me that I wouldn’t be able to do anything else.

It’s been almost every flavor from “we should have coloring books out for them” to “let’s partner with this big city organization and create a conference!” The people asking are all levels too. Paraprofessionals to department heads. It’s not necessarily frivolous suggestions, it’s more that I am already overworked and they want me to do the heavy lifting. I’ve had someone approach me and say something along the lines of “vampire dance party!” And then expect me to figure out literally everything else. They said they just liked the way it sounded and “teens are into vampires.”

How do I respond to them? It’s often in person and they’ll corner me and talk to me for quite some time about the great idea they’ve just had. I’ve tried every form of noncommittal answer I can think of but they don’t take the hint and will often state and restate the idea trying to get a more solid answer from me. Sometimes I can, quite literally, run away, but sometimes we are both covering the same desk.

How do I gracefully disengage? I’ve tried “Oh, interesting, I’ll think about it” or saying I’ll have to talk to someone else to get it cleared or even “That won’t be possible” but nothing has helped. I often get emails or more in-person follow-ups that I don’t know how to respond to. Please help!

I wrote back and asked, “Are the people who keep following up with you after the initial conversation ones where you’ve clearly said the idea won’t work (and they’re following up anyway), or just ones where you had been more non-committal?”

Probably the ones where I’m more non-committal if I’m honest with myself. Though it doesn’t stop the talking in person, being more firm does stop follow-ups after. But I don’t always want to shut it down because cross-departmental collaboration is important to my boss.

I think this is a thing whenever you’re doing work that’s remotely interesting to people and/or feels like it overlaps with something they understand, even just slightly. People muse over the topic slightly, have an idea that feels plausible to them, and supply it with great excitement without considering the realities that (a) the logistics of implementing ideas are often more complicated than they look from the outside, (b) doing it probably means you’ll need to not do something else, and (c) unless the idea is especially creative, then you, the person immersed in this work all day long, have probably already thought about it and aren’t doing it for Reasons.

To be fair, sometimes the ideas are good ones! Sometimes there’s real value in getting outside input. But the best outside ideas are ones paired with an understanding of the factors above. (Here’s an old column I wrote in 2009 while feeling particularly aggravated with a coworker who didn’t do it that way.)

As for how to respond…

I think you’re probably being non-committal in situations where the person’s cues mean they need you to say something more solid.

Of course, if the person doesn’t seem terribly invested in having a deep conversation about their idea (if they’re just yelling “vampire dance party!” as they walk by or whatever), then go with a mildly positive but fully non-committal response, as you’ve been doing:

* “I’ll put that on my list of ideas to think about!”
* “Fun idea! Not sure about the implementation, but let me spend some time thinking about it.”
* “Interesting! We’re swamped the rest of this year, but I’ll make sure it goes on our ’someday’ list.” If you work in a culture that’s big on goal-setting, sometimes you can use that to your advantage — “we’ve got our goals locked in for this year and no resources to spare, but I’ll put it on the ideas list when we’re planning for next year.”

In other words, you’ll think about it. You might even write it down. That’s it.

But when that’s not working and the person pushes for something more solid, then it makes sense to share some quick context for why you’re not pursuing it:

* “I thought about doing that too, but it didn’t work out because of X.” Or if you don’t want to get into a detailed discussion, just say, “it didn’t work for a bunch of reasons.”
* “Our age group actually doesn’t use coloring books.”
* “I agree that would be great, but it’s nearly a full-time job to do that well, so we’d need to cut a ton of other stuff.”

If someone is looking for a lengthy conversation about their idea, it’s okay to say, “My initial reaction is that it’s not well suited to our population because of X (or it would take a ton of resources to do it well / we wouldn’t get the same bang for our buck as other initiatives we’re focusing on / we’ve learned our resources pay off the most on things like X and Y but not Z” / etc.). But let me think about it some more and I’ll let you know if we decide it makes sense to take it on.” You can skip that last sentence if it seems likely to cause follow-up you don’t want. In that case, just end with something like, “But thanks for suggesting it — it can be hard to know from the outside what works with this population!” Then immediately change the subject if the person is someone who you know to be especially tenacious.

I hear you on not wanting to totally shut people down because cross-departmental collaboration is important to your boss. But collaboration doesn’t mean you have to accept whatever ideas people offer. It means that you take the time to listen, consider their viewpoint with an open mind and a reasonably warm demeanor, and explain when something isn’t workable. It can be frustrating to have to do a lot of that when it’s coming at you from a bunch of different people — but that’s the part that’s probably important to your boss.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 339 comments… read them below }

  1. Witchqueen*

    Honestly maybe implement a suggestion box? It sounds weird, (and you may already be doing it!) but funneling that creativity into somewhere you can assess it on your own time may help streamline the random ideas?

    1. Witchqueen*

      To follow up on this cause apparently just thinking about the teen section leads to a lot of ideas, but setting time down once a month to go through the ideas may help you brainstorm your own?

      Vampire dance party may be unreasonable because of different reasons (space, acoustics, the general concern about attendance), but maybe it might spark something in your mind that’s similar. Like vampire dance party won’t work, but what if we offered people rooms to play Vampire: The Masquerade after school. They could check out the handbook from the desk, etc, etc. You get my point.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Oooooor, maybe, I dunno, try just asking the kids directly what they’d be interested in? Because teens have their own ideas of how they want to spend their free time, and I’d assume (based on my own teen reading and socializing habits) that they’re vastly different from what these folks are suggesting considering the generational gaps. SMH at ‘vampire dance party’. Why are we still promoting Twilight?!


        I think the more important question is why do they think you need to increase teen patronage? Are they trying to hit a particular literacy metric? And if so, how is that goal going? If it’s totally fine, maybe remind them of that because you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to get books out the door. They practically ‘sell’ themselves. The rest is just a distraction to not only YOUR job but to theirs, and the kids enjoyment.

        — a library volunteer who happens to read a sh*tload of YA.

        1. LetterWriter*

          Hi! I’m not sure if you’re responding to the letter or to WitchQueen but “vampire dance party” was a fill in for a real suggestion. Also, I do talk to the kids and no one thinks patronage or circ needs to be up. Sorry if that was unclear in the letter but I’m specifically just asking for advice on how to respond to coworkers. Thanks!

          1. ampersand*

            Suggestion box! I would also find away to ask on a suggestion form if the person making the suggestion is able to donate their time/energy/resources/etc to help with whatever idea they’ve come up with. Ie, if they suggest “vampire dance party” and then indicate “I can’t help with this, sorry” you can then say (if they ask): unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to make this happen without (x number of) volunteers, or something to that effect. It also might make people stop and think about what they’re suggesting and how much planning/work it would entail.

          2. Children's and YA Services here*

            Here’s the thing. Programming right now is at capacity. Programming is successful. LetterWriter does not need anymore ideas. Or direction. Or suggestions. What they need is a big thank you for your service. You are doing a great job. Wow, I don’t know how you do it all by yourself. Hey do you need any help with that author’s event, teen litcon, maker space set up, nerd gaming program, I would be be glad to help before my desk shift.

          3. AnnaBananna*

            Oh, hahah I actually thought that was legit. In that case, depending on where these folks are on the totem pole, I’m just remind them that your metrics are going great, that there isn’t currently room for another patron strategy, ‘but maybe next year’. And then just keep saying it (with a smile of course) and then pivot to asking them about their own program.

            It’s because you have the funnest job, and sometimes overly excited colleagues are simply part of the package. ;)

        2. Turtle Candle*

          It sounds to me like the LW is on top of their job and just wants to know how to talk to people who have Great Ideas that are not, in fact, so great. (I assume part of the reason LW knows they’re not so great is they are talking to the kids, for one thing, and also presumably have some expertise in their field.)

          It sounds to me like the same kind of problem that, like, if you write fiction, everyone wants to tell you about this great idea they had for a novel. Not that they’re hurting for ideas, or patrons, but that everyone and their uncle wants to put an oar in.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I was just thinking about that, too. If I were in OP’s shoes, I could say with a straight face that if I don’t write something down I’ll forget. So if there are written suggestions all in one place, it makes it easier to go through them in an organized way. this could be especially true if multiple people have similar ideas – perhaps multiple suggestions could be categorized together. Also, I think if such a suggestion box is going to work, that’s where ALL the ideas need to go. No emails with “hey, so I thought of this but I didn’t want to put it in the box…” because that makes more work for OP to categorize that. Or, if OP is ok with it, be clear that she’s ok with it.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        But there’s still the problem that the Suggestors are going to be a bit validated if they have an outlet for their ideas, you know?

        1. pamela voorhees*

          A bit validated is good, though. Like Alison said, you don’t want to shut down the potential for any good idea. You just need to corral them into something manageable so OP can focus on their own job without having to constantly manage the ideas of other people.

    3. DecorativeCacti*

      And if someone follows up on a suggestion from the box it could be: “Oh, we only review those every month/quarter/year so we haven’t gotten there yet!”

    4. Bree*

      Yeah, I was also thinking some kind of formal system (physical or online) for collecting these kinds of ideas the LW could point to would be good. It could come with a necessary disclaimer about how ideas will be considered within parameters. There could even be a little form with a few questions (age groups, basic resources required, whether they person submitting it would be willing to help) so they’d have to put some real thought into it. This could help pull some of the gems out of the haystack. ;)

      Importantly, managing this system would not be just the LW’s responsibility, but a department/organization initiative. That way it would take some pressure off, and maybe the boss who loves collaboration could take a little ownership.

      1. itsmorethanjustbeingtired*

        I was thinking this would be a good solution as well. There’s an excellent description of the “managing ideas” process in Radical Candor that follows a similar format- ideas are added to a forum where they are vetted and questioned, then periodically voted on to decide which should be pursued. I imagine that if their boss wants collaboration, this could be a good system to implement across the whole organization, not just for the teen librarian. Worth bringing the idea up the chain!

      2. Ego Chamber*

        “Importantly, managing this system would not be just the LW’s responsibility, but a department/organization initiative.”

        This doesn’t make a lot of sense. LW is the teen librarian and is getting suggestions from others on how to run her programs. Why should anyone else be involved with vetting those ideas besides the person who will be expected to implement them? Especially since LW mostly wrote in for a way to reject the bad ideas without the causing the person who suggested those ideas to feel rejected.

        “… and maybe the boss who loves collaboration could take a little ownership.”

        If it were my boss, this would mean I’d get a list of extra things to do from the suggestion box, so I wouldn’t really want my boss’s hands in there at all.

      3. AKchic*

        A suggestion box with a suggestion form that also asks “how much time are you going to contribute to this project should it be selected?”

        People love to volunteer others for things. People love to shoot out random ideas with no knowledge of how to plan/coordinate, organize, or run the thing, and have no intention of actually *helping* with the thing, and then act as if they have helped. It’s time to put some ownership of The Thing back onto the “Ideas” person.

        1. A. Beaverhausen*

          Oh my gosh, so much this. As an event coordinator (and volunteer myself), this is a surefire way to shut down unwanted suggestions.

          Another way is to mention budget restrictions. “I create my budget in blah blah blah of the year prior and we don’t have the room for it in 2020.”

          Logistics -just the word itself – also makes people clam up. “Logistically speaking, how would that work? How would we stuff 8,000 Easter eggs with tickets and then have a manned booth to count all of the tickets turned in and not have ridiculously long lines and allow people to enjoy the rest of the event’s activities?” (Yes, that’s been a suggestion for an Easter egg scramble.)

        2. Ann Nonymous*

          Yes! Turn it back onto the person who makes suggestions! “Great idea…how will you get the budget for that?” “I’m glad to have a volunteer [you] to set this up and run it.” “Wow! Why don’t you bring it up to Head Boss?” “Oh! Please give me your name/address/cell phone/email address and what your availability is so I can schedule you in to run [your idea].”

        3. LongTimeLurker*

          Exactly. My first thought was “Sounds like a great idea! Can you take the lead on this?” Usually when you start giving the idea person work to do, they drop the idea.

    5. Product Person*

      I was coming here to say the same thing because as a product manager, that’s what it solved the problem for me.

      “I have to run now, but that sounds like a great idea for us to consider! Can you please fill out our form so it goes into our suggestion box for consideration when we’re back to planning mode?”

      I created a simple Google form that had as required fields things like, “What value would this idea bring to our customers? ” Someone not willing to do their homework beyond “vampire party!” wouldn’t get their idea heard…

      1. Well Then*

        Yeah, my guess is that if you make the barrier to entry any higher than “shout a vague idea down the hallway at LW,” most people won’t pursue it.

        1. Tisiphone*

          Hey, I have this great idea for *you* to do!” is easy. Getting it done is hard.

          Several years ago, my company had an idea submission form, and if an idea looked potentially possible, you were invited to a meeting with the initial reviewers to discuss what the idea is in detail and why it should be implemented.

          if you do want suggestions, this is a good way to separate the voluntelling from the genuine good ideas and get the suggesters to have put more thought into it than a catchy phrase that sounds more like a good band name than something that could actually happen.

      2. Sally*

        I’m a fellow product manager, and yeah, we have something like this for ideas about our product.
        This question made me feel a great solidarity with teen librarians everywhere, because this was a deeply relatable question.

    6. Hedgehug*

      But then that implies that OP wants suggestions, and has time to work on them, which they don’t.
      It’s also ironic to comment on this letter with more suggestions for the OP, lol

      1. Bree*

        My read is less that the OP doesn’t want suggestions, and more that they just don’t have the capacity to be responsible for listening to or implementing them. But the people seem mostly well-intentioned and the OP doesn’t want to offend, so channeling the suggestions somewhere else might actually help.

        1. Delta Delta*

          And also, there might be some legitimately good ideas that get generated. “Vampire dance party” might not be great but there might be something good that emerges and can be done in collaboration with others.

      2. Annony*

        Honestly, I’m pretty sure most suggestion boxes are just a way to funnel away all the “helpful suggestions” and cut short these types of conversations.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Bingo. Because “vampire dance party!” or “free bagel friday!” are easy suggestions but most people making those suggestions haven’t thought about who’s going to DJ and where the bagel budget will come from, etc—and if you talk to them for like 2 minutes, they generally end up saying something like “You’re so good at your job, I’m sure you’ll figure something out!” Yeah Karen, I’m good at my job and this isn’t it.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            OP should tell the Idea Person that she doesn’t have the free time to plan and execute all of this, which is why Idea Person should give her a detailed plan on costumes, DJs (include quotes for services please), pinterest menus, attire, location (quotes to rent a facility – thank you!), music, invitees, communications, and how this ties into reading (and then after dancing we all sit down and read a vampire book!), etc. Idea Person should provide details about how to procure the funding and will be the designated point person for executing the Vampire Dance Party.

            Create a template for them to fill out and return to you. Done. You won’t hear any more about that idea again.

            1. AKchic*

              I have to deal with Ideas Persons a lot. They get very excited about some random keyword or phrase and a magical vision in their head, but they don’t actually see the planning and cost associated with it, and when asked how it will all come together, many of them use the magical thinking of “it’ll all come together in the end!”. No. That’s not how this works. Either write up a proposal and do the legwork, or it’s not an idea with merit and you’re just verbally farting words into the atmosphere because you can’t control your mental flatulence.

              1. pamela voorhees*

                I’m laughing over “it’ll all come together in the end”, the exact phrase used many, many times by the people responsible for Fyre Festival

      3. T. Boone Pickens*

        True but it moves the onus onto the people who are making the suggestions. If they aren’t willing to put the time into filling out the suggestion, the problem solves itself. I would imagine a suggestion box would probably eliminate 80% of these conversations OP is having because frankly, people are lazy. If someone comes up with a great idea, hey even better! OP is under no obligation to actually read any of these suggestions.

        1. straws*

          This has been my experience. I used to get all kinds of suggestions for my department. I created a suggestions form. I made it very public and linked everyone to it. I directed anyone who came to me with a suggestion to the form. I received zero suggestions. These suggestions sound significantly more exciting than the ones I was receiving (I’m in HR for a small business), so I’m sure some will come through. But I agree that there’s a good chance they’ll diminish a lot.

          1. Washi*

            Yeah I was going to suggest a google form. I bet most people won’t even care enough to do it, and you can direct anyone who is talking your ear off to put all that in the form.

        2. Antilles*

          And by the way, anyone who came up with a solid idea and cared enough about it to write it up in detail for the suggestion box is usually motivated enough that you can hand over a heavy role in implementation. So if there IS a great idea in there, OP can take advantage of it without needing to handle the entire role personally.

          1. Properlike*

            Came here to say this. Create a whole online form that they have to fill out to submit their suggestion — only the very most dedicated idea-givers will follow through. Anyone cops out, “Huh, well, if you get a chance to fill out that form…!”

            1. Formally*

              Sooo, the internet version of, “talk to the hand!” But with enough engagement to not feel rude. I think I like it.

        3. AnotherAlison*

          Yeah, we’ve had similar types of problems around random ideas for certain things. If you require someone who suggests something to be the champion of an idea and do the legwork, submit a proposal-like form, and then your committee will evaluate it, you may actually get some useful stuff that has been vetted by the person who comes up with the idea. The people who just want to throw out random ideas are eliminated.

      4. Letterwriter*

        Yes, Hedgehug, you hit the nail on the head! Plus I’d be the only department doing that and it’d be sort of weird from an optics stand point.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          “Interesting. If you want to look into/research that and shoot me an outline/report I’ll take a look at it when I get a free minute!”

          If they are serious, really think their idea is brilliant, and think you should shoehorn it into everything else you already do…let them put some skin in the game and give you something more substantial than “vampire party.”

        2. Hedgehug*

          As someone who is also a department of one, I got your back! Communicating that you cannot take on extra things/activities is not offensive, it’s setting boundaries.
          I personally, very strongly feel, that “suggestion boxes” enable the suggesters, and gives them the impression the suggestions are wanted. OP does not want to offend their colleagues, so how would said colleagues feel if a suggestion box was intentionally set up with the purpose of ignoring suggestions? It’s just another thing OP has to do. Make a box, make papers to go in the box, and is now expected to regularly check the box and follow up.
          The only people in this situation who have legitimate standing to be giving suggestions about the space are the teens, since it’s their space. Not outside colleagues.

      5. hbc*

        Consider it similar to the difference between having 100 phone screens and receiving 100 resumes. The former takes 8-10 hours minimum if you’re even just talking for five minutes, while you can probably assess the resumes in a quarter of that time, and probably toss the worst of them in 5 seconds.

      6. Vampire with Itchy Feet*

        If interesting things were already happening then people would have more specific suggestions, to tweak the interesting things. The fact that the OP is getting such broad, all-in-one, new-thing suggestions makes me wonder if … she doesn’t realize it, but she really does need suggestions. Maybe whatever ideas she’s already implementing just aren’t some or all of: enough; appealing; variety; age-appropriate.

        I think she should run an experiment where she summons up the energy to try saying YES! to at least one idea per week, AND making a commitment that at least one brand new idea per year will in fact be on the scale of Vampire Dance Party. She can start with the easy ones (sheesh, buy a couple coloring books and a box of crayons – what’s the worst that’s going to happen?) and work her way up to Vampire Dance Party.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          You must be unfamiliar with crayons. They disappear or end up broken and ground into the carpet. That’s the worst that can happen! Some kids scribble on all the pages in one sitting. Pages are ripped out and strewn about.

        2. merp*

          I don’t know if I agree with this. It’s certainly possible, but I think it’s equally likely that Alison’s point is part of this: this type of job just seems to invite the kind of brainstorming-with-no-followthrough that the OP is experiencing. The ideas could easily be basic and broad because the people suggesting them have different jobs and don’t know what all goes into teen librarianship, but imagine that they do because “sure, teens like vampires!”

          So idk. I’d be more likely to take the OP at their word that their current programming meets the needs of the population they are serving for the most part. Obviously things can and should be added and changed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean taking the idea of someone who has no idea what all would go into it and who will not be helping unless there’s a really great reason to.

        3. Well Then*

          If interesting things were already happening then people would have more specific suggestions, to tweak the interesting things.

          I don’t think this is at all true. Plenty of people just like coming up with ideas, whether they are needed or not. Someone might think “I’m the parent of a teenager, I know what teens want!” or just think it’s fun to brainstorm ideas for teens. Anyone who has served on a planning committee can tell you that Idea People abound, and you don’t have to be doing your job badly in order for them to give you a million and one other things they think you could/should be doing. (But with no research, resources, or project plan.)

        4. LetterWriter*

          My pronouns aren’t she and my programming is at least interesting enough that NPR has done spotlights on me and I’ve written books about teen services. The teens show up to my programs, too, so there’s that. That experiment would drive me to quit in a matter of weeks.

          1. CollegeSupervisor*

            That adds a whole new dimension to this – that’s a lot of notoriety in the library world. Go you! I’m not sure if your colleagues have a comparable level of library-celebrity or not, but if not there might be a certain amount of celebrity-worship and/or glory-seeking (“If they pick my idea, I might get a mention in the next NPR spotlight, too!”) at play here. It doesn’t make it easier to deal with the constant barrage of suggestions, but I like Alison’s suggestions for responding to them in the moment.

            1. A Penny for Your Idea!*

              I agree! The fact that you are doing awesome things in your job, that have received national recognition, may be a contributing factor in other people wanting to get involved by giving you their ideas. The commenter you’re responding to wasn’t helpful. I wonder if she or he is the type of person who loves to give other people ideas for them to implement.

          2. Teen Librarian*

            Perhaps your coworkers are trying to impress you since you’ve been spotlighted and published? I’m also a Teen Librarian, and I feel bad that you’re getting cornered by coworkers as they throw their ideas at you. My coworkers also suggest ideas to me pretty frequently, but it’s usually along the lines of, “Hey, I saw this other library do this program with teens, maybe it’d be popular here!” and then they typically never bother me again about it – they’re just off-hand suggestions. Sometimes the other staff are able to offer their time/planning to an idea they bring, and we can work together to make it happen, but usually it’s just off-hand suggestions.

            So, is someone up top at your library encouraging people to give you their ideas?? I can’t see a scenario where this happens to me and I couldn’t discreetly talk to some people/managers and ask that if my coworkers are really passionate about an idea, to just give me a sentence or two about it, and not hassle me if I don’t do anything with their idea. Or, if I really didn’t need extra ideas, or if they were particularly unfeasible, I’d discreetly ask managers to steer their staff in another direction.

            If that’s not possible, could you possibly cut people off politely by saying, “thanks, etc. etc. but I have my programs planned out through [month], so I’m all set with program ideas for a while!” and change the subject? Most libraries I’ve worked at plan out the programs fairly to quite far in advance, depending on marketing constraints, etc. One of my librarian coworkers has programs, at least tentatively, planned out a year in advance. So, even if it’s a little bit of a white lie, maybe you could just state that you have a full slate of programming scheduled already and end the conversation.

          1. Teen Librarian*

            I’ve found that Teens are like gasses and will mercilessly use up any and all supplies presented to them in a “free to use!” context. They absolutely will use crayons if there aren’t other coloring supplies (at the libraries I’ve worked at), but they will probably use up all of our coloring sheets in a couple days if you leave them all out for them to choose from. We have to parse out supplies deliberately, or we’d be out in a week!

            1. LetterWriter*

              This comment made me snort. It’s so true! I got a full pencil box of brand new pencils. GONE in two days. TWO DAYS! Now they get the bad pencils and the cheap bics two at a time.

              1. Teen Librarian*

                I completely understand! I’m still salty about some of the supplies I put out a couple months ago for our teens, and they took all of it home in 1 day. *sigh*

                1. Teen Librarian*

                  Ugh, that makes me remember one year at Halloween-time, a teen had stuffed his bagful of candy down the front of his shorts, then went around asking his peers if they’d like some candy. When they said yes, he would pull out a piece of candy, ostensibly out of his underpants, and then offer it to them while giggling wildly.

        5. A Penny for Your Idea!*

          It’s not the teens who are coming up with suggestions; it’s co-workers who are not the intended audience but simply have an idea that they think is good even if it sucks — like billions of other people on the planet.

        6. A Penny for Your Idea!*

          I reread your comment trying to see if I could understand your perspective. Nope. Your comment strikes me as unkind and is invalidating of the LW, who is asking for help. It would be like responding to someone who is feeling harassed by a co-worker, and asking for ways to make the harassment stop, that maybe the fact that the LW is being harassed means that the LW deserves it, so the LW should summon up the energy to listen to the co-worker every week and go along with at least one of the things the co-worker tells the LW to do every year!

          1. Wireties*

            Being harassed by one coworker is a very different situation that being regularly, constantly getting suggestions from multiple coworkers, which is how the letter writer presented this. Since they said nothing about these suggestions being presented in a disrespectful or bullying way, I would have to imagine that these are well-meaning coworkers. If this is an ongoing issue from multiple people it does raise the possibility that the current programming is lacking, or maybe just getting stale. The letter makes the writer seem a little rigid and closed-minded, and their response more so. There’s a tone of condescension toward those providing suggestions. A suggestion box or other controlled, systematic means of collecting suggestions is a good idea for lessening the chaos, and actually reading and implementing a suggestion from time to time wouldn’t be a bad idea.

            1. LetterWriter*

              Because if there’s anything that people who work with teenagers are, it’s rigid and closeminded ;)

        7. Turtle Candle*

          This seems like an odd response to me. As Alison notes, people often do this not because of an actual perceived need, but because of a combination of ‘the job is interesting’ and ‘I had a fleeting idea that Sounded Cool.’

          Like, I don’t think that the umpty-ump people who email $FamousAuthor with their great idea for a novel!!! are doing it because they hate $FamousAuthor’s work or $FamousAuthor is unsuccessful. They’re doing it because they find the job of ‘author’ interesting, they had an idea they thought was interesting (whether or not anyone else would), and also, because they fail to understand that the work in the novel is not in the idea but in the writing. Famously, anyone even remotely connected to the film industry gets this (no, the assistant whose job is making sure the snack table gets set up is not going to be able to do anything with your screenplay), or theater, same thing. And journalists, and photographers, and painters, and chefs, and on and on, any job that is seen as interesting.

          Sounds like the LW is doing just fine, not in need of like, vampire dance parties.

        8. Zennish*

          The worst that can happen is that your janitors spend $250 in time and cleaning products trying to get crayon off the walls, floor and tables.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            I was thinking the worst would be a kid eats a crayon (either in an effort to be cool or because they’re too young to know any better), gets a blockage and/or poops in multicolor, then requires expensive surgery and the parents sue.

        9. Library Land*

          Nooooo, I can assure you that no matter what programming is provided other people will ALWAYS have ideas/inputs. Especially with teens/children. Also – saying “YES!” to at least one idea per week leads me to think you don’t understand how much effort, planning, time, etc., goes into programming. Ultimately this is a bad take, especially for working with teens.

          1. LetterWriter*

            Can you imagine doing one new program from the ground up per week as a one person department?! My goodness. I’d work 80 hour weeks and still not be able to do it well.

    7. Jen*

      I was thinking sort of the same thing too, and I was also thinking maybe an e-mail address dedicated to ideas? That would be an easy way to get out of a lengthy discussion without shutting people down. Like hey that’s an interesting idea, can you send an e-mail to and I will take a look. Just a thought.

    8. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I was going to suggest the same. Some ideas for OP…
      *Make it clear that if you read something in the suggestion box and think it may work/want to collaborate/need more info that YOU will be the one to get in touch with whoever wrote it.
      *Set aside a certain day of the week to go through them.
      *If someone starts a conversation, ask them them to put it in the suggestion box and you will review it.
      *If someone asks if you’ve seen their idea, say that you will reach out if you want to pursue it.

      Rinse and repeat. This may seem mean, but you have to push them to form a new habit. I went through this at my last job. I was a second tier support specialist and I worked from a queue. When we outsourced our help desk, people would come to me directly to solve their problems. Yes I could have solved it in 5 minutes, but if I did that every time someone came to me, I’d never get my other work done. Plus the new people would never learn how to resolve things. My canned response was “Did you put in a ticket?” and eventually they stopped coming to me.

    9. Sunflower Sea Star*

      Even just ask them to email you the idea and any details they think would be helpful so you can have it on hand when you plan.
      When the ideas come, than them, put it in a folder, and you’re done.

    10. Fae Kamen*

      If the OP is open to working on good and feasible ideas–as opposed to simply having zero time or capacity to take on any additional work–then I think a suggestion box could provide a structure for the OP to receive suggestions on their own terms, as well as to encourage more serious suggestions. Another thing I really like about the suggestion box is that the teens could contribute to it, too.

      I’m imagining a form supplied for the suggestion box (for both teens and adults) that sets the expectation that ideas will be thought through. It could include questions like an estimate of how much time the project would take (which, especially coming from the teens, could be wildly off–but at least will get them thinking about it), and how much time the suggesters themselves would be willing to contribute. You could also require a minimum of 3 signatories who are willing to put in work, for example, or whatever else makes sense for your context. The goal is to show that you’re open to good ideas and to collaboration–if it is in fact collaboration.

      So, if a suggester says they would put in 0 time to the project–great reason for not taking it up! On the other hand, if 3+ teens are willing to work to make something happen for their class, that could be great experience for them and be good for the library.

      Again, all of this makes sense only if the OP is open/able to take on the occasional project they find worthwhile , with the goal being to increase the likelihood of suggestions being worthwhile (and increase engagement from library users/teens.)

    11. LetterWriter*

      Co-opting the top comment to repeat something I said below sorry. I use they/them pronouns! Not all librarians are women :)

    12. Corrvin*

      So I want to add on to the suggestion box. First, have a way for people to put in their suggestions– AND THEN take the most persistent idea-haver and put them in charge of the suggestions! “Go through these and bring me the three best please.”

      This person in charge of the suggestions could even be in charge of maintaining a programming ideas book in general. You might not ever refer to it, but you might win the lottery and then the next person could have it for their own use.

    13. Mr. Anderson, Matrix CEO*

      Maybe consult with the childrens’ librarian. I’m sure that they get these kind of helpful ‘suggestions’ *all the time* and probably have a rote method of dealing with them.

  2. Please Don't*

    And collaboration should involve the other person helping with planning and or implementation. Throwing an idea out is brainstorming not collaboration.

      1. Carlie*

        I’m a big fan of the “Sounds great, I’m looking forward to seeing your plan on how to do it! Be sure to include a list of all needed resources and where they’re coming from!” response.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I was just getting on here to say this.

          We’ve had a number of posts about “ideas people” and there is a lot of pointing out that the idea is the easy part; if you’re not willing to participate in the work associated with carrying the plan through, you’re not helping all that much. I would be telling these people to come up with a written plan, with researched resources, and then get back to me.

        2. Mr. Anderson, Matrix CEO*

          “Hmmm interesting idea. If you would like to submit a project plan for that activity, I’d be interested in seeing the details”

          “Hold that thought! Our project calendar is already full for this year, but if you’d like it to be considered for next year you can submit an outline for 2021 planning in August”

          “Ooooh, that sounds like fun, but unfortunately, our liability insurance won’t allow it”

          “If your department wants to fund it, we would certainly be interested in collaborating with you!”

      2. Hedgehug*

        This is basically in line with how I would respond.
        This happens in my line of work in non-profit. People think that as an admin assistant, I should also be doing absolutely everything here that is completely unrelated to my job, and boy oh boy do I ever push back. I work in admin, I am not the boiler technician or event coordinator.

      3. Letterwriter*

        I’ve said that to fellow department heads but I feel bad saying that to part timers who clearly don’t have the tools/time to work on big ideas.

      4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Yep. Sound really enthusiastic while you kick that idea right back at them.

        “A vampire party does sound interesting. Work up a budget for the decorations and a playlist and send it to Jane — she’s the one to approve an expenditure at that level.”
        “Please send me the poster/brochure/flyer for the conference and I’ll be sure to have it at the circulation desk and encourage kids to sign up.”
        “Ok, for a coloring book activity you’ll need to provide at least 5 books; we can rip out the pages if we get more than 5 children at a time. Although with our usual group that probably won’t be a problem. We’ll need crayons donated of course — the pre-k budget is stretched so thin there’s no way for them to loan anything over. We probably don’t need smocks or butcher paper to cover the tables — this age, they should be able to keep on the page.”

        If they follow up…you follow up.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          I understand that you’re intentionally making these instructions too involved for people to want to do what’s being asked of them but it seems weird to encourage someone to put together an activity that you know won’t be attended or to suggest that someone spend a potentially significant amount of work time on a complicated idea when the end goal is to not do the thing they’re suggesting.

          What happens when a part-timer uses their entire shift figuring out the logistics for the activity they suggested instead of doing their actual job? And how much worse is are the optics on this if LW knew the suggestion wasn’t viable?

          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            If an activity isn’t attended, but the OP didn’t expend any of her own time or budget for it — there’s no loss really, and it’s a learning experience for the person. It’ll be disappointing, but sometimes ideas fail. And presumably they will be supervised by someone who will ensure that they aren’t using their shift time for this — since it isn’t their job.

            If a part-timer actually succeeds in implementing one of their ideas — planning, budgeting, implementing and having a successful event — well then, it might be a learning experience for the OP. Even experts have a hard time predicting what teenagers will or won’t be interested in 10 minutes from now.

    1. sofar*


      I work in a “creative” field, and part of my job is that I’m responsible for what goes on our company’s blog. People outside our team think that is really really cool. And! Even on our team of writers, we tend to have more “ideas” people than “processes” people. All day, I get hit with, “We should do X on the blog!” (X being a thing we cannot/should not do on the blog under any circumstances, a waste of time, or a thing we don’t have time to do that would require lots of work when we have bigger priorities).

      – For people outside the team: Cool! I’ll icebox that. And, if they follow up, I say, “Since you have expertise in this area, why don’t you write it?” This actually led to someone who WAS an expert becoming a regular contributor (which was awesome). But it also scares off people who don’t actually want to do heavy lifting.

      -For people on the team: “Cool! Such an interesting idea. We tried that last year, and we didn’t see the results we’d normally want. How about you own doing some research on what could make it work?” Or: “Cool! I’d love to make sure this works and we get X result from this. Can you do XYZ research and let me know tomorrow how you think we should proceed?” This has resulted in better ideas at meetings because people who really ARE passionate about an idea (and aren’t just trying to get meeting-participation points) will do the research before the meeting and present their idea.

    2. aebhel*

      THIS. I’m also a librarian who does programming (adult, not teen) and I’ve gotten some great ideas from staff–but if I’m still the one doing all the work, that’s not really a collaboration.

    3. Drago Cucina*

      Oh, this, this, this. As a library director I have had people come and say, “You should do this.” Not that they want to help, just that they think I should do it. Not just staff but members of the community. With staff it’s been a bit easier. I ask them to give me a description, planning outline, supplies, community partners, etc., so I can get a better idea of what this program/event would require. 99.9% of the time they don’t follow through.

      Our Foundation board actually implemented a third party fundraising policy because of this. If someone not on the board thinks we should do an international food fair (real example), the person has to give a comprehensive plan and commit to organizing the event. 99.9% of the time they don’t follow through either. The expectation is that the library staff will magically make it all happen.

  3. knitcrazybooknut*

    One option might be to ask them if they could do a write-up on how that would work. “Could you email me with that idea and give a little more information on that?” Usually when people are forced to do a little work, they may forget, or reconsider sharing. “That sounds interesting; just shoot me an email and I’ll think about it.” You can sound excited if you want.

    Another option might be to set up a document or spreadsheet or something they can access on their own to add their idea to the pile. You can ignore that document forever, but they might feel like they’ve done something to contribute.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Ooh – this is good. I think once people have to do a bit more work and think about the real-life logistics, many will drop it. The only danger is the ones who will instead get more and more invested.

      1. Anonapots*

        If they can write up a solid plan, it’s something that can be considered. I can understand being inundated with ideas and not having all the bandwidth to take on even considering them, but that doesn’t mean you should 100% shut down all ideas.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Totally true. I’ve just got this imaginary dialogue running in my head where the “vampire prom” person gets asked for a write up and comes back with a completely nonsensical list of enthusiastic bullet points:
          *fake blood!
          *red juice

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Yes. Or the person who suggested coloring books comes in with a pile of totally age inappropriate options that they bought with their own money because they didn’t realize How To Count and Learn Your Letters won’t be appreciated by 13 to 17 year olds who are presumably fans of reading.

            1. Yellow Rose*

              Just guessing, not suggesting. I’m sure the coloring books would be the adult variety; books of pages with intricate mandalas, detailed stained glass and flower/insect designs. Many people (teens included) find them stress relieving.

              1. allathian*

                I do! My tween grew out of coloring books a few years ago and I’ve pretty much taken over his colored pencils for them. I can use them to relax, but like doodling, coloring mandalas also helps me focus on teleconferences where I don’t have much to contribute, at least when we’re allowed to keep our cameras off, as is usually the case. In the office I can doodle, coloring is for WFH.

                Back on topic, making the idea generators work for getting their ideas considered sounds like a good idea. If used well, it can lead to more ideas being implemented by people who are invested in making them work, and if nothing else, it can be used to redirect those who keep coming up with unworkable ideas.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            I think you have a form that the OP develops that makes sure the proposer provides all the required information to evaluate a proposal. I can see a department head getting from point A to point B on their own, but the part-time volunteer may not.

          3. aebhel*

            This is honestly exactly what my planning for programming looks like, lol.

            …I don’t share those notes with anyone else, though.

    2. pamela voorhees*

      This is a great idea. I doubt most people will actually follow through once they realize they have to share the load. Also enthusiastically saying something like, “I’d love to help you set that up! Why don’t you write up a plan on how we should do it and we can schedule a meeting to see how I can assist?” or something along those lines that makes it clear that you will not be in charge of this (this more enthusiastic, effusive approach might work better on people above you in the hierarchy where you can’t be more blunt, or maybe that’s just my own library bias seeping through).

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This usually does work. I’ve had a lot of people, both coworkers and community members, approach me about programs they think the library should offer. If I give a non-committal answer, they usually circle back to talk some more. But if I say “That sounds interesting! Could you shoot me an email with a description of the program and what we’d need in order to do it well?” I probably only get the email about 25% of the time.

      1. Antilles*

        Volunteered for a few organizations, can confirm – honestly, 25% might even be an overestimate.
        There’s also the subtle secondary benefit is that the <25% of people who DO bother to write up suggestions will have already at least put a bit of thought into it, so it's a lot easier to filter ideas and quickly identify whether the idea is mostly viable as-is, a nice concept but needs refinement, or too vague/bad to be worth considering.

    4. designbot*

      And in the spreadsheet, build in required fields for anticipated cost, resources needed, etc. basically build a go/no-go into the process so they can see the obstacles for themselves.

    5. animaniactoo*

      This is what I was thinking – move the bulk of the work for investigating viability over to them. It’s a lot easier to do a pass/fail on a fleshed out proposal than a one-liner possibility that you have to chase yourself.

      “That sounds interesting. I’m swamped with setting up other programs/etc. right now, can you dig in and do some research on what would be needed to move forward with that and send it over to me? Costs, red tape issues, who to contact, that sort of stuff?”

    6. Alan*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. My job is to prioritize the work of my team and if someone comes to me with a verbal request, I ask them to write it up. This makes them sit down and think about what they want. If I think something has promise, I ask for more details. Make them to the legwork.

    7. Letterwriter*

      Oh I like this. Sometimes I’ve asked for emails, not when it comes to ideas, but for other situations where I don’t have a second to talk but they need to tell me something and I’ve gotten “Oh but I’ll forget if I don’t tell you right now!” I’m never sure how to respond to that?

      1. KimberlyR*

        Counterargument: “Oh but if you don’t send it to me in writing, its liable to fly out of my head before I can sit down and think about it. I really appreciate your thought but I must insist that you email it if you want me to consider it.” Said in a firm but cheerful tone

      2. Rebecca1*

        Do they not have phones? Or, hand them one of those little squares of scrap paper with the golf pencil.

        OR, you could say “I’m sure it’s such a great idea that you can’t possibly forget it!”

      3. Gravitas*

        “Well, I’ll need it in writing or I’ll forget too!” And then cheerfully move on with your day. Their inability to remember things is not your problem; don’t make it one.

      4. Smithy*

        I think that a great way to push back on insisting someone write you is to frame it that you won’t have an opportunity to seriously consider the idea until X time in the future. For someone more senior, it can be something like “the end of the week/month”. But I think if you’re able to have an “interdepartmental idea review” period, maybe it’s quarterly – twice a year – once a year – whatever is truly reasonable, then it gives a people a more rigid idea of when ideas like that are considered.

        However if the idea is that someone’s kids were talking about Tik Tok in the car, and if they don’t say “do a Tik Tok thing” that very second, the thought will disappear forever…’s worth considering the idea wasn’t that critical to share.

      5. Kate 2*

        If you just tell me I won’t be able to remember it. I have to have something written down. Could you please email me? Be firm about this, it’s not being mean to prevent people from wasting a library resource, and your time IS a very important library resource. The more time that gets given to random unworkable ideas is time stolen from the teens. If people really care about their idea they will remember it, write it down, and put a little thought into it. Instead of using you as a moving talking idea box for every random thought that comes into their heads that they can’t be bothered to remember.

      6. hbc*

        I really think it’s okay to joke back at them in that situation. “Well, if it’s that forgettable, is it really that great an idea?” Or, “Yeah, but I get pitched 10 cool ideas a week, so if you might forget it, I definitely will!”

        And really, you’re in a library and this is 2020. If they don’t have email on their phone, there are usually writing utensils and paper to be found.

        1. Paulina*

          I like the latter comeback (“… 10 cool ideas…”) especially because it also lets them know this happens a lot, and may help them realize that their “hey I have a cool idea” would need to be very special indeed to be a standout. Maybe also slip in a comment about the projects you have on the go yourself, eg. “and I’m right in the middle of working on the big things for next week/month.” I know that when I’m in the middle of working on something my mind’s not in a good place to receive and remember disconnected things. I have colleagues who love to just stop by my office to tell me something, but if it’s not in my email I’m not going to be able to find it when I’m looking for it, which isn’t now.

      7. Tisiphone*

        I’ve had the same thing happen to me when I’m at an event. Someone comes up to me with an idea for next year and I have no means of writing it down in the moment. Nope, you don’t get to brain dump at me when I’m busy. This why written language exists.

        And of course, if it isn’t written down, we voth forget about it.

      8. MeganK*

        I used to have a great coworker who was super smart and good at all the things, and therefore she was crazy busy and people were always doing this to her.

        Her line was, “if it’s not in my email it doesn’t exist – I’ll run into 3 people with important questions between here and my office, so if you want me to remember it I need it in email!” Said cheerfully but firmly as other posters have mentioned. It worked great and has the benefit of being 1) true and 2) respectful of their idea AND your time.

      9. A Children's Librarian*

        “Ok.” Shrug and then disappear back into a bush. But really, maybe just ok, sorry I have to run. Leave me a note on my desk/cube/etc.

        As a children’s librarian who fields a lot of community partnership requests/ideas of varying plausibility/applicability, I find this question far too relatable. “Have you ever considered reading to the children?” is a real question I’ve been asked.

        I really like the idea of asking people to email you. In my experience, that does already cut down on a lot of people actually following through.

        Depending on how often emails actually happen and how much people then hound you to follow up, you could then develop some sort of follow up form to ask them to fill out that asks annoying (because people don’t like to think about things beyond “this seems fun”) questions like how does this differ or enhance current programs and services? How does it tie into our overall organizational goals, etc.? What new teen populations will this attract? Budget? Estimate of staff time?

        Depending on org structure, you could also say that ideas need to be in writing so that those that you find support and expand on current services, you’d need to run up to the chain of command, so having written info will make it more feasible that your supervisor would approve it.

        Good luck!

    8. Kimmybear*

      Or the low-tech version of this is a suggestion board that has prepared sheets (Title, description, budget, resources, etc) to fill out and a way to “up vote” ideas. You could then respond with “We’re already doing X. Check out ZZZ to learn more.”

      Also, depending on your volunteer base, can you have a committee that filters ideas? See if there are any retired teachers/principals/school librarians in the area that would be willing to lead such a team and know your audience.

    9. Smithy*

      Another good aspect of asking people to email is that it can help in bringing this to your boss’ attention for insight around how best to manage and proceed.

      As the boss values inter-departmental collaboration, it can also be helpful to show that the OP is perhaps receiving 4 emails a month? A week? Regardless, it will help the LW quantify the volume of relatively serious ideas being proposed, and how best to proceed in both messaging back to colleagues as well as how much interdepartmental collaboration the boss really wants.

      Maybe once or twice a year, the idea list is reviewed and based on other goals/deliverables – one idea is selected to further explore? Additionally, there are lots of ideas and they are all really bad – maybe there are more opportunities for either the LW or the LW’s boss to communicate what are the Teen Library Goals of the year to make your work more concrete and less dependent on immediate pop culture references.

      1. MeganK*

        YES I love this. OP, if you’re spending a significant amount of time fending off/wading through dumb ideas, having the emails to bring your boss could get them on board with helping you and really save your sanity.

    10. Policy Wonk*

      Agree, though rather than ask if they could e-mail me, I think I’d ask for a proposal. I agree that if they have to do the work they might not think it’s such a great idea. But if they come back with a proposal for a Vampire Dance Party for Halloween with possible vendors/costs/etc. it might be something you would consider, particularly if they were willing to do some of the work.

      1. Paulina*

        That depends if the LW might actually want to do it; if someone does all that work, following through becomes almost mandatory, and from the sound of it the LW has plenty of programming of their own that would be potentially displaced. It’s the LW’s job and they’re doing awesome at it; sounds like they need to fend off the dilettantes rather than invite them in to take over.

    11. Jojojo*

      I do this often. I have too many projects and too much work to add extras in. My boss realises this and understands. So, I do lots of push back. “Ok, what space will you need?”, “How many people will you be catering for?” “What date do you have in mind?” And when they come back with “Oh, I thought you would do it” I can clearly state that I don’t have the capacity, but that I am happy to find a space in the calendar for the event (or whatever will involve limited time commitment from me).

    12. Senor Montoya*

      If you’re going to set up a doc or spreadsheet, you cannot ignore it forever. You actually have to look at it. Otherwise people are going to know you’re blowing them off, and that is not the reputation you want. Don’t ask for written down suggestions unless you intend to read them and possibly do something with the ones that are helpful or interesting.

    13. Sara*

      This is exactly what my brain was screaming. “I have a hard time remembering all the ideas people tell me at events like this. Would you mind emailing it to me so I can really give it some thought?”

  4. Jo*

    OP, could you suggest in some instances that the person bringing up the idea takes it on and does all/the bulk of the work involved? Not for things which you know wouldn’t work, but things that possibly would but that you wouldn’t have time to take on yourself.

    1. Letterwriter*

      Sometimes, but sometimes it’s part timers/paras who don’t have the tools/time to work on programming. Plus, there’s just some people who aren’t good at interacting with teenagers.

      1. Blerpborp*

        I’m seeing that suggestions a lot of putting the impetus on the suggestor to come up with a way to implement the program but I’ve been a teen librarian before and at my work it just wouldn’t work that way- no one but me and MAYBE a part-time paraprofessional would do any actual help or planning of programs so it’d be a highly strange request if that’s not someone’s usual job even if they gave me an idea for a program.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          If there’s one failing of the AAM commentariat, it’s that we tend to skew office professional. I sometimes think a lot of us are completely unfamiliar with anything outside of that—sometimes it even borders on a distaste or outright aversion to anything other than the obvious right way that a typical office would handle issues that are often common in other industries and have their own complications.

          Is there a librarian-specific resource LW could try, like a forum for library professionals? (My mother found something like that for her niche profession within a larger industry and it was very helpful.)

          1. Drago Cucina*

            There are tons of resources. When I did teen programming I belonged to listservs for programming, literature, etc. There’s also some really great conferences specifically targeted to librarians who work with teens. The YALSA Literature Symposium is wonderful.

            1. MeganK*

              I think this is actually a larger cultural issue across librarianship, not just one that affects teen librarians, fwiw. As a tech librarian I have gotten a lot of these “great ideas” from well-meaning colleagues who may or may not have been willing/able to help me do the work. OP, you could also try discussion groups for folks who work in content creation/creative fields – someone upthread mentioned having a similar problem as the person who ran the company blog.

              1. Blerpborp*

                The tendency to really cordon off into specific areas of librarianship and duties is not always great and I suppose why the LW’s boss was into “cross-department” coordination or whatever. But it’s pretty ingrained so I’d think that boss would need to spell out what they’re expecting more clearly because they also have to know that expecting their staff to take and implement suggestions from everyone isn’t likely going to be the most effective way to work together. For me, whenever that kind of language was thrown around it just meant that Reference got very briefly cross trained on Circulation then it was completely dropped!

  5. Free Meercats*

    For the good ideas you don’t have time for, “That actually sounds like it might be a good idea, but I don’t have the time for it. When you get it all set up, let me know and I’ll announce it to the customers.”

  6. Cymru*

    Fellow librarian,
    Have you tried asking them how much time they have to be a co-chair in organizing it?
    So many times asking people (including librarian) how much of their personal time they’re willing to spend on something puts a much needed dampener on these will-o’-the-wisp ideas.

    1. Erstewhile lurker*

      “Will-o’-the-wisp” ideas, don’t mind if i add that to my quivver do you?

      1. Letterwriter*

        I also really like that term!

        To answer the question, sometimes. Sometimes they’re very willing to help out but I still don’t have the time to do it!

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Then tell them to send an email and you will look at it when you get the time.

          The fact that you don’t have and probably won’t get any time is neither here nor there.

        2. Batgirl*

          I think a big part of it is they actually want you to train them/be a part of the success. Is there a way you can send them off to do some harmless research/find some online resources?

  7. Anonanon doo doo doo doo doo*

    High School Exciting-Content-Area Teacher here! I feel your pain. People fling Great Big Ideas at me like dodge balls. I once had a parent write me a seven-page email outlining a proposal for a Big Project that I would work on all summer. For free. In another state.

    What works for me is cheerfully and firmly explaining that my course is planned for the rest of the year (it is), and/or we don’t have the budget (we don’t). Usually, this gently shuts them down.

    1. Letterwriter*

      Oh my gosh, I didn’t even get into Parents in this question. That’s a whole other can of worms.

    2. Blerpborp*

      That was going to be my other thought- say you’ve got your plans for the month/year/summer planned but maybe next time! And then the next time they have a big idea oh dang you just finalized all your programs again.

    3. TL -*

      Yup! I do science and internal comminations and I get lots of ideas. A cheery “That sounds great but I’m booked for the year!” does wonders.

  8. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    My mom works in a public library. Whenever anyone won’t get the hint her favorite excuse is to go with the budget. “Sorry, it’s not in the budget for this [time period].”

    1. Letterwriter*

      I might try this. We have a fairly generous budget but I could still use this along with Alison’s suggestions…

      1. KimberlyR*

        They don’t have to know that the “budget” refers to your time budget, not your money one. You can have all kinds of money in the budget but without time, you still can’t implement it.

        1. lulu*

          This. if your budget does not have a line to hire someone to implement those ideas, then it’s not in the budget.

      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        You could use, “the budget and schedule is all set for this year, remind me in November when we’re planning next year,” rather than no budget — especially for people who may know you have a generous budget. It’s not that you don’t have money, it’s just all spoken for.

    2. Willis*

      Along with this, and Alison’s suggestions, I’d reference some activity I was doing that was in a similar vein. “Teens aren’t too into color books, but we had great turnout for our sketching class,” “Vampires are popular but darn, we just did the teen fall party. It was fun!” Pivot the conversation away from their suggestion, give them the sense that you’ve got arts/parties/whatever covered, and don’t promise any follow-up. It probably wouldn’t work if a colleague or dept head is coming to you with a serious program to collaborate on, but for your more generic “hey! what about this idea!” suggestions, I think it could help.

    3. aebhel*

      Yep, that’s mine (whether or not it’s true, although it often is). Works for enthusiastic Suggesters of Unlikely Ideas and also for wannabe vendors who just won’t get the hint.

  9. Spidey Cents & Sensibility*

    I find that if someone really wants to contribute, they won’t mind doing some heavy lifting. “Submit it in writing, fully fleshed out as an idea and plan, along with how this will be paid for and advertised.” “Here, use this form!”
    Di a bit of work, create a form to apur thinking on these points; if it is a silly idea, they won’t bother.

    1. TimeTravelR*

      Yes, I commented something similar. It either gets them to step up or shuts them down!

  10. ToodleOodleWhordleOrdle*

    If the issue is that the verbal conversations take up too much of your time, can you set up a (physical or virtual) “suggestion box”? Like, “Hmm, intriguing suggestion, thank you! Would you mind emailing me about it at (dedicated email address for this stuff)? Going forward, that’ll be how I keep track of cool ideas people bring to me– otherwise things sometimes get lost in the shuffle! Thanks!” That way, you can set aside a time to read through them all and label them as “actually workable”, “sounds neat but tons of work”, “?????” etc. before deciding how and when to follow up.

  11. Threeve*

    I wonder if any of them are angling for a promotion or a new position, and want to be able to say that they “collaborated extensively on teen programming” or something like that.

    That’s what happens at my job–the people who are the most “helpful” and “creative” when it comes to someone else’s responsibilities are the ones who are looking to boost their own resumes with other people’s work.

  12. AnotherLibrarian*

    Oh man, I feel this one. I work in Special Collections Librarianship and I mostly get this from the public, but the public are full of ideas about how we should manage our collections. Of all of Allison’s suggested scripts, the one I find most useful is usually a version of “I agree that would be great, but it’s nearly a full-time job to do that well, so we’d need to cut a ton of other stuff” because people don’t really think about the time/effort that would go into their “great idea.”

    And in their defense, some of their ideas are great. They are also often beyond our staffing capacity. Good luck, OP.

    1. Letterwriter*

      Ah! I was between Special Collections and Teen Services in grad school! Sometimes I still day dream about special collections…

      Yeah, I think that’s such a good script she suggested. I think part of my problem is when I was hired, people were initially er… afraid of me. I have a tendency to be blunt and state things straight out so I’ve softened some of my edges and I think I’ve become a beanbag!

    2. Miss Vicki*

      I’m also a librarian. It’s hard when you get it from both sides — members of the public and your coworkers. I’d agree with some of the other comments here: a systematized approach is what’s missing. But it may need to be something you and your fellow programmers and probably managers/department heads can agree upon. Given that creating a system depends upon others, a really simple thing you can do to validate people’s feelings and desire to contribute is to just write it down. Keep a notebook on you and say, “Thanks, that’s a really interesting idea! It’s not something I can take on at the moment, but I’ll keep it in mind.” Then jot it down. And change the subject ;)

    3. merp*

      Ha, oh, so true. Do you also get asked “why isn’t all this digitized and online?” ten times a day?

      1. pamela voorhees*

        “I’m so happy to hear you’re volunteering to digitize it for us! When can I put you down for?”

  13. ToodleOodleWhordleOrdle*

    whoops, at least 3 other people who type faster than me also suggested something similar while I was writing this out! :)

  14. TimeTravelR*

    Where I volunteer they get a lot of other peoples’ “great ideas!” Their response is always, “How can you help us move that forward?” or something along those lines. Most ppl drop it after that.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Yup, ideas are easy. Tell them it can move forward if they volunteer their time/energy/efforts to do the heavy lifting and get it done. Let them know any marks they need to hit (all lined up and budgeted by 3 months prior, no advertising until speakers are solid, etc.). Ninety percent of the ideas will die.

  15. Buttons*

    While Alison’s comments are awesome, My take is a bit different. I refuse to accept or allude to any kind of commitment to follow up. When people suggest things I am already doing or things I know aren’t right, I just ask them questions.
    “Interesting! Where did that idea come from?”
    “That is really different, why do you think that is a good approach?
    “Fun! Do you have experience in X?”
    What this does is prevent me from having to shut them down, it allows me to not make a commitment, and most people like to talk about themselves and their ideas. I just keep them talking until I can get away.

    1. CM*

      I love the idea of engaging them in a conversation about themselves, rather than focusing on the idea and how to implement it.

      Slightly different context, but I’ve served on boards of small nonprofits where we have a similar issue. Everyone has lots of great ideas for us, but nearly everyone in the organization is a volunteer with limited time and energy. Having a stock of cheerful phrases helps, like, “There are so many great things we’d love to do if we had the staffing for it!” or “I love that idea — I wish there were five of me so I could do it!”

      Also, engaging the person on what’s driving the idea, and then redirecting them to something you’re already doing that addresses the same concern, can work well. Like, if the person says they want a vampire dance party because they want to bring some fun to the library and not just drudgery, you can say, “I totally agree, that’s so important for teens! Last week we did Other Super Fun Event and had a really good response. And just like you were saying, one of the kids told me they were so happy the library is a place for fun and not just drudgery.”

  16. pamela voorhees*

    My best friend is a teen librarian and I just have to say, these are better than my willfully obtuse suggestions to her (ie: “Teens these days are all about the Tamagotchis!”, “I heard that Vine is big right now”, or “have you tried some of those new “video games” I keep hearing about?”). A suggestion box is definitely the polite, not-time-taking-up way to go.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Dude, Tamagotchis are due for another resurrection any day now. Happens like every five years. I’d be shocked if Bandai wasn’t working on an app for that.

  17. Triplestep*

    I’m an architectural designer, and I design office space. People LOVE to give me ideas. If they “built a house” in a development (picked from a builder’s options, that is) watch HGTV, have a flair for design … whatever. I have one of those jobs that people think they can to.

    Often I already know their suggestions won’t work. It might be that it would not meet code, would be too expensive, not able to be constructed in the real world, you name it. But I learned after many years of trying to politely shut down ideas from executives – and later being told I am not “open to others’ ideas” during reviews – the only thing to do is to say: “Oh good idea. Let me think about that.” Then wait a few days and tell them it won’t work. If I try to explain all the unsexy reasons their ideas won’t work (like structural integrity or life safety) I just end up sounding defensive. I stopped hearing “not open to others’ ideas” once I applied this technique. In your shoes I would just do a lot more nodding, smiling and saying “good idea”, sorry to say.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Argh I used to get this a lot too. I had a job where I had a ton of safety compliance rules (ADA, health codes, the insurance company, oversight agencies) that wasn’t architecture but was similar, and I was having this fight all the time too. Often from my own boss, who’d ask me to do something that was some combination of dangerous and illegal, and would give me a nasty response when I said, “Well, we actually cannot have parents put their children into the llama pen for drop in babysitting and have the llamas babysit the kids for free. Children under 8 need 1:1 adult supervision around the llamas according to the insurance company. Animal welfare regulations state that we can’t have preschool or younger kids in the llama pen period, and the health code for babysitting prohibits children from being around livestock due to risk of e coli infections.”

      Then I’d get, “Why is it always no with you? Why can’t you say yes to anything?”

      1. hamsterpants*


        For this, have you tried “how can we deal with x issue?” language? Bosses some times like it better.

      2. Not All*

        Ah. I see you work for my last supervisor. My condolences.

        Every. Single. Performance. Review I got dinged for explaining why ideas couldn’t work for legal reasons reasons instead of magically figuring out a way to make the laws not apply to us. I miss zero aspects of that office, with the exception of my commute.

      3. Ego Chamber*

        “Why is it always no with you? Why can’t you say yes to anything?”

        “Were … were you listening? I literally just explained why. I can explain it again, but slower, if you think that might help?”

        You guys I respect the hell out of all of you so much and this is why I couldn’t do any of your jobs. :)

      4. JustaTech*

        “Why is it always no with you? Why can’t you say yes to anything?”
        My whole group at work gets this all the time.
        It’s not like we just say “no”!
        We say “We’d have to check with Regulatory, I don’t know if we’re allowed to do that.”
        Or “We should check with Quality before we do that, they’re the finial decision makers on that.”
        Or “We talked to Health and Safety and that violates a couple of codes in [State].”
        Or “That’s a very smart idea. We tested it about two years ago and it didn’t work, sadly. Here’s our report.”

        But the feedback we get is “[Group] isn’t open to new ideas and collaboration.” Or worse, they just do stuff without talking to us at all, and then we have to clean up the mess.

    2. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

      The city where we have most of construction sites has pretty strict codes. I feel so bad when I have to tell my clients that the really neat photo they found of something on Pintrest just won’t meet codes here…and we’d have to modify the design so much that it won’t even look like the original…so let’s keep looking. It happens a lot :(

    3. GovSysadmin*

      There was a former manager in another team at my company that was always coming up with great ideas that he would stop by and ask us to implement. I found I could most easily work with him if I said “hmm, that’s interesting, let me think about this and I’ll get back to you.” The secret, though, was that I *never got back to him*, because 99% of the time, he’d have forgotten about it by the next day. The rare time that he *did* follow up about an idea, that was when I actually looked into the request to see if it was doable or not.

  18. Erstewhile lurker*

    This is a scenario that I come across all too often, someone client side or internal to our company comes up with an idea without really knowing the background, complexity or the amount of work required. Then the onus is on us to push back if the idea is whimsical, impractical, or simply isn’t a good use of our time.

    This happens so frequently that people begin to feel we are just being lazy/awkward/on a power trip etc, and go around our team to upper management in an attempt to force us to implement the idea. Next comes the ‘just get it done’ edict from above and we end up rushing to get poorly built software out the door, which we then of course have to maintain.

    One way we did combat this was by making the documentation needed to validate requests more robust, if the idea is really a worthwhile improvement then the requester will be happy to engage with us correctly, starting with completing the relevant form.

  19. Former Mailroom Clerk*

    Does anyone else now have the urge to walk past a co-worker and yell “vampire dance party!” after reading Alison’s response?

    1. juliebulie*

      I have the urge to attend a vampire dance party, and I’m mad that we’re not having one right now. (Or ever.)

      And I do like the idea to make people submit detailed suggestions in writing.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      Co-workers? My company put us on voluntary WFH status last Friday. I guess I could yell it at the cats and see if they wake up?


    3. Sparkly Librarian*

      A co-provider at a childcare place I volunteer with used the available puppets/stuffed animals one day and created a short song based on the kids’ input into the scene they were all creating. “Dinosaur-Ferret Dance Party”: legit earworm.

    4. Marthooh*

      Well, that’s an interesting thought, but unfortunately most of my coworkers are werewolves.

    5. nnn*

      I feel like if someone yells “vampire dance party!” at you while walking past, a perfectly acceptable response would be to just yell “vampire dance party!” back at them. And, if you’re so inclined, do a little vampire dance of your own creation

  20. GreenDoor*

    Working in a public school system that is big on “students having voice” one thing I”ve learned is that what the adults think about something is often dramatically different from what our students think. You could also try, “I’ll have to see what the kids think about that?” or even stronger, “Well, that’s not quite what I hear from our young people.” In other words, subltly get it out there that the opinions that actually matter are those of the group you serve, so unless this great idea is coming from the young people, it ain’t going anywhere. It’s pretty hard to argue with “the kids themselves are not asking for this.”

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Yeah, I absolutely think that giving the teens a voice in suggestions is important.

      1. Letterwriter*

        Yeah I often do this but adults aren’t often used to listening to teen voices, sadly, and I just get bowled over

  21. Matilda Jefferies*

    The shared spreadsheet idea is a good one! It gives people a space to share their ideas, without you having to do any more than glance at it once in a while. Bonus points if you put LOTS of column headers for them to fill out – proposed date or frequency, cost, audience, expected attendance, expected benefit…etc. Most people won’t fill them out, and that’s fine – the idea is just to make visible all the things you they would have to think about in order to implement their Shiny New Idea. If all they have filled in is Column A, Vampire Dance Party, you can safely ignore the idea for the rest of time. (And if they fill out lots of the additional info, maybe it IS a viable idea, and you have an instant co-chair on your hands.)

    Also, you don’t need to let people corner you with their ideas! If someone is trying to tell you about their idea for a Goth Reading Club while you’re working at the reference desk, or on your way to the washroom or whatever, you can redirect them to the spreadsheet. Be consistent about it, and patient, but most people will get there eventually!

    1. Letterwriter*

      It’s often people working the desk with me! Sometimes people even stand at my desk while I have headphones in and just … wait

  22. Kevin Sours*

    I think the phrase “we don’t have the resources for that” could be useful. Especially for the ideas that while not bad in isolation have an opportunity cost that makes them prohibitive. Follow up with “You need to talk to X about setting our priorities”.

    1. louise*

      I like this better than saying “we don’t have the budget for that” because resources implies more than money — staffing, time, physical space, etc.

    2. PalomasRose*

      And “we don’t have the resources for that” can also apply to your time to suggestions. I was a paraprofessional in a high school library, and our librarian had a very full schedule and would not have had time to invest in a lizard-coloring contest, or whatever.

  23. Stormy Weather*

    This post is one example of why I am thankful my office has a formal project initiation process.

    Me, I’d ask for a charter or a business case, but this doesn’t sound like the right environment for that response.

  24. Squeeble*

    No advice to add, but I just wanted to share that based on the phrasing, I thought OP was a librarian who is also a teen themselves, and read the whole letter going “wow, this teen is incredibly mature and thoughtful!”

      1. valentine*

        I thought OP was a librarian who is also a teen themselves
        I did as well and, because they don’t do this to other departments, thought the colleagues were being condescending.

        Given what you said about your clothing, maybe they do see you as younger and are treating you like a cute nibling. I think it’s thoughtless to pile on with “great” firsthand ideas, that only sharing things from members of the age group would make sense.

        You’re being way too accommodating. You might discuss your approach with your manager, but I don’t think they expect you to be a living suggestion box. Coworker won’t shut up while you’re working together? Keep changing the subject. I think you can also turn a lot of this around on them by suggesting they try them on adult patrons. If fewer ideas are welcome, you can communicate what narrow scope they take. If what you want is no ideas, it’s time to say you’re all set, have got it covered, etc. There must be some other way that you collaborate between departments. Maybe you can say, “No, thanks. Let’s stick to Thing.”

      2. plasticbird*

        I’m also a teen services librarian.
        It’s not how you dress necessarily; it’s that you’re the teen services librarian, and that’s how they want to think of teens and/or the idea that teen services is a specialization (as opposed to something any rando can start doing.
        I get unsolicited ideas ALL. THE. TIME. Frequently things I’ve tried with my population already, or things I’ve already seen half a dozen times. Your colleagues might not realize how much goes around teen services internet before it gets librarian viral. Or that we all talk to each other across systems and states.
        Here’s how I deal with them: I turn every suggestion into a teachable moment.
        -saying “oh I saw that idea”
        -reminding colleagues that teen services isn’t about the event or the project, it’s about giving them a space to hang out with each other and a trusted, listening adult. That’s you and I bet your teens super appreciate it!
        -mentioning that A only works if B is present. Coloring materials out for them is a good idea, if you have older teens hanging out in their own separate space. If it’s a shared space with children and adults, or if they only come for homework or specific events, or if you only get middle schoolers desperate to prove that they’re adults, it may not be as successful.
        -occasionally trying one and then pulling them into the “post game” conversation, especially if it didn’t work.
        -going bigger. “Vampire dance party” might have sounded interesting to your coworker but it’s kinda niche. Or your coworker might be able to help out at an afterhours Tiny Prom (“it’s like a school dance, but at the library” is how I explain this event) that all the goth kids get vampire’ed up for anyway. And the not goth teens have a place there too.
        -People always want teen librarians to do stuff with gadgets. I’m always like, Cool, so 2 of them are using VR goggles–what’s everyone else at the event doing? What are we doing while we wait for the 3D printer to 3D print?
        -tell them ideas you have or things you see for other age groups. Eventually, hopefully, it becomes more equal sharing of ideas and less you being asked if you’ve tried a themed escape room, or have thought about working with the organization that deletes your emails without reading them.
        My commenting username is also my instagram handle if you want to share teen librarianing stories.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      This sounds like a pretty great YA book series. The Adventures of Jane Ferguson, Teen Librarian.

  25. hamsterpants*

    Ask people to write up a proposal and email it to you. I guarantee that will kill 90% of it. Be sure to call it a “proposal” and not “idea.”

    1. Stormy Weather*

      GMTA. :) I posted something similar above, though I said ‘charter’ and ‘business case.’

  26. Elitist Semicolon*

    This happens to me SO much. I sometimes do student programming and the number of people who say, dismissively, “just have food. Students will come if you have food” as if attendance were exactly that easy is frustratingly high. And it always comes from people who do not work with students, of course.

    I have a friend who responds to unsolicited bad/non-implementable ideas with a shark-like grin and a hearty, “You do have ideas, don’t you?” But she has both the title and the experience to pull that off successfully, whereas I’d just look deranged.

    1. Letterwriter*

      Oh my gosh, people who think getting attendance is easy make me wanna scream. Although food is a good pull it’s just not that simple!

    2. Poppy*

      I used to work in a university bookshop. “Just have food” was a sure-fire way of getting lecturers to attend events!

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        In my experience food tends to attract instructional staff/faculty in droves but not students. Definitely not as automatic a draw as the “helpful” folks assume it is.

  27. Sandman*

    OP, I run a nonprofit advocacy organization and don’t have advice, just solidarity. Fielding endless ideas is exhausting. I just wish that half the idea-bringers were ready to bring the volunteer hours that their ideas would require.

  28. Essess*

    I had a manager who would tell people that if they had suggestions/ideas then write it up in a proposal with the initial details researched (such as estimated cost, estimated time to implement, resource allocation, etc…) and then give it to them. Most people don’t want to actually stop and take the time to think through their suggestions or spend their OWN time writing it up so it slows down the random verbal brainstorming.

  29. Koala dreams*

    I think it’s fine to say something like this: That sounds great! I have my work cut out for me already, but I fully support you doing that. Let me know how it goes.

    That way you are supporting their ideas, while making it clear that you can’t organize the activity.

    1. Letterwriter*

      “Let me know how it goes” won’t really fly. I’m in charge of all things teen!

      1. Children's and YA Services here*

        yeah, public service is a no snark zone. That is why I love AAM. I am in charge of all things children’s and YA. Solo. I have volunteers but people from the outside don’t get that volunteers are time and energy too. So suggestions come from co-workers- parents, AND the friends board.

      2. Koala dreams*

        Yeah, sorry, I thought more of a public library setting, where that’s a common way to connect with the community. You seem to work in a different context. Although I can’t quite imagine what kind of place you work at, where art activities and party planning somehow is considered as belonging solely to the librarian!

        1. Dahlia*

          I think you haven’t spent a lot of time around teen services in public libraries lately! Who else would be in charge of planning teen art and dance events in a library than the teen librarian???

          1. Youth Services Librarian*

            When one is a specialist with a population often in the public library, those are their stakeholders. The kids, the teens, the parents and teachers. The librarian is responsible for collection development, class visits, out of school programming, special events, and collaborating for fund raising and sometimes even book sales. Taking evening and adult reference on a desk shift schedule. it is typical that youth services cover for adult and adult never covers youth services.
            There is often no cross training. This IS their job, hence the overwork.
            Rereading Letter Writer’s original question and their follow up, my take away is-
            They are a rockstar. It is a bit disrespectful of colleagues who do not have the expertise in their subject specialty to be bombarding them with suggestions on “how to do their job”
            Unfortunately this seems to come with the territory.
            AAM advise actually addresses this in the typical office situation. One can be kind but also communicate that they are focusing on other tasks and do not have the time right now to listen to the exciting proposal.

  30. Letterwriter*

    Hello, Letterwriter here! I was really excited that Alison responded so quickly to me. I admit I wrote this in a bit of desperation after a desk shift with someone who talked to me for an hour about a particularly un-implementable strategy but who wouldn’t take “no” “I’ll think about it” “email it to me” “I’ll talk to your boss about strategies” for an answer.

    There are certain politics/optics reasons to not implement a suggestion box/spreadsheet though I can see why that’d be great in other situations.

    I’m currently overworked and a one person department, so I’m just exhausted all around! I do think there are a few things here that I can try. Budget, our strategic plan, and ’email me a proposal’ might all help.

    Also sorry to the people who thought I was a teenager! It happens often haha.

    1. Information Goddess*

      Honestly for a minute I thought I had written this and didn’t remember! Except in my case I get the second guessing after the fact or coworkers want to run programs I’ve developed. Think coworkers coming up to me and telling me I should serve food or I should have done something different after a program has gone. In fact as we planned summer reading I had one outsourced program all set up and THREE of my coworkers wanted to run it themselves.

    2. dear liza dear liza*

      I’m an academic librarian but I do a lot of student outreach, and everyone seems to know exactly what I should do or should’ve done for events. In addition to the proposal form and asking them to take the lead on events, I’ve found it useful to be as transparent as possible about the limits of what can be done and what’s planned. We have an outreach calendar and it shows things like “1 movie event/month” and then the movie event. Then when people say, “Vampire Dance Party!” I can say, “We’ve found it best to do just one evening event per month, and for October we’re doing X.”

      I’m also an advocate of saying, “I’m at the maximum now, so if I do pursue your idea, I’ll need to stop something else. Do you think someone else would take over my desk shifts?” That works best with administrators and colleagues who might be called upon to cover that work.

      I also want to say that in a balanced work environment, there should be room for brainstorming and idea generation from others. When there’s not, when you’re at the point of crying if someone asks you to do ONE MORE THING, then it’s not you, it’s the system that needs fixing. Hugs to you.

      1. Letterwriter*

        Yeah, that’s a whole other thing right now. I’m in the unfortunate position of being in one of the best paid positions for teen work and I don’t want to leave but oof… oooooof……. it’s been a rough go of it the last year.

        1. MeganK*

          Another librarian here. I totally get that guilt, but also no amount of salary can make extra time for you. I hear ya in being stretched too thin. A year is a long time – maybe it’s also time for a big-picture talk with your boss about sustainability in programming? Good luck, OP.

    3. AlsoLibrarian*

      Hi friend! Fellow teen and children’s services librarian here (have also been Special Collections, so shoutout to my fellow nerds!). I’ve dealt with the same problem (although my co-workers weren’t as aggressive), and I think there’s an issue here that no one has commented on: people you work with are not aware of your time constraints and workload. Is there a way that you can gently share a visual breakdown of your workload with people? Like, “x hours are collections management,” “y are running current programs and outreach,” “z are the time I spend my planning programs I’ve already committed to.” (Plus regular desk time!) Can you also send out information on data you’ve collected on local teen use of the library? Even share event planning sheets that they could use to propose their idea in detail, that ask for number of staff (and how their other work will be covered during the event), budget (with strictures), planning timeline, and so on.

      One of the problems I’ve had is that people often didn’t understand all the work my job entailed. So they were throwing out endless “vampire dance party” ideas, not realizing that I was already at maximum capacity. When I left my old job, someone taking on a portion of my duties remarked, “Wow, you do a lot! I had no idea.” Give them an idea; it may help.

      I get why this is so tricky; not only do you have to collaborate with people, but periodically they do pitch great ideas that will be doable somewhere down the line. You don’t want to stifle them, but you also don’t want every “vampire dance party” that pops into their heads.

      Also, is there a way to channel energies of less senior people — like have enthusiastic paraprofessionals help out with teen events that require larger numbers of staff? Sometimes the ideas people just think the job looks fun. Give them a chance to taste it and they will at least understand the work involved.

      I don’t know, maybe none of that helps. As other librarians have noted, this is a tricky area, and often we have invisible strictures (local demographics, time, money, staffing, our managers’ preferences) that our co-workers just don’t know about. It’s super annoying that they so often try to reinvent the wheel for us.

    4. Dewey Decimator*

      I feel you Letterwriter! 20 yr plus public librarian here. I agree with Alison’s advice but things like a suggestion box, shared spreadsheets, etc are just one more thing to manage. Stick to email a proposal and also remind those folks that you plan a year or so in advance. Then hand them a brochure about donating money for youth teen programming.

  31. NotAnotherTeenLibrarian*

    Another Teen librarian here, and I have to plan things so far out, that even if I get good timely suggestions, I can’t add them to my calendar! My only tip would be offer to research an idea from someone higher up than you, and politely dismiss what you know won’t work. For me, Vampire Dance Party worked at the height of Twilight mania, however in 2020 I might get more people for Zombie Survival Night. I also find that being up front about what I can do, helps a lot. Right now, I’m running 2-4 events a month, plus outreach and regular “library duties”. One or two more programs might put me over the edge if something else didn’t give, so while I’d love to do more programming, I would just ask for more off desk time to make up for it, or have someone else do outreach. Usually I find they want the idea to be theirs, but not give you the resources to make it happen. Stick to what you know, and I think you will be find.

  32. Entry-level Marcus*

    I find the hostility to brainstorming and playing around with ideas odd (and I’ve seen it before on AAM).

    Maybe it’s just different industries or roles, but I’ve worked in multiple offices where throwing around ideas was not only acceptable but encouraged, even from lower level employees and interns. Of course, in these offices, people would cheerfully accept a response explaining why an idea wouldn’t work or would be impractical. I’d find an office where I couldn’t think through ideas with coworkers to be stifling.

    I would think an office where people just directed all suggestions into a black hole of a suggestions box would encourage silo-ing and stagnation. I get that too many impractical ideas are annoying, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

    1. Entry-level Marcus*

      To clarify: the hostility to brainstorming is something I see in some commenters, not Alison’s advice.

    2. Letterwriter*

      I’m sorry if I came off as hostile? That was most of my worry. I’m less angry more overworked and I don’t know how to say “Thank you but if I have to do one more thing, I will cry in the bathroom”

      1. Entry-level Marcus*

        I think that’s totally fair, for the record, I was more responding to other comments that seemed to make much more sweeping claims about brainstorming and such.

      2. Willis*

        Lol…maybe that should be your response. (And I don’t think you came off as hostile! Sometimes brainstorming makes sense…but frequent, random, unsolicited ideas from folks who don’t know what parameters your working with in terms of staffing, budget, etc. is understandably annoying.)

      3. Corrvin*

        Shhh… shh… if you go cry in the bathroom, they can hear you and they’ll come in to pitch ideas there.

        1. A Penny for Your Idea!*

          Thank you for this comment. You made me laugh out loud and startle my cat!

    3. Not All*

      I’m guessing it’s because the VAST majority of offices I’ve been in the people suggesting ideas and managers who “value collaboration” are completely incapable of accepting “that won’t work for reasons XYZ”. Brainstorming is great…but part of brainstorming is accepting in advance that 99% of what comes up isn’t going to be practical/valuable.

      My last supervisor was a prime example.
      “Let’s do X!” “We can’t, it violates Y law” “well who would know?”
      “Let’s do Y!” “We looked into it, it would cost roughly $5.7 million and we couldn’t find a funding source approaching that” “Well I don’t see why the private company wouldn’t just donate it”

      Over & over & over & over

    4. dear liza dear liza*

      Brainstorming is great if you have the bandwidth for new ideas or plans. If you’re frantically trying to keep your head above water , the last thing you need is someone giving you more possible work. It sounds like OP is overwhelmed and needs help, not more stuff to do.

    5. Faith*

      There’s nothing wrong with brainstorming, but it can actually be depressing if you know you don’t have the time or money to implement any of the ideas. And usually when it’s done well, it’s by people who are familiar with the constraints/goals/population/etc. of the field or individual office, not random members of the public/coworkers who don’t actually understand what you do. Coworkers in the same office–throwing around ideas is great! Coworkers who have drastically different jobs/day-to-day experiences in adjacent fields–maybe need to consider that unsolicited brainstorming isn’t as helpful.

      The library world is really susceptible to people just assuming they know what works–if I had a dime for every person who told me they “like to read, too!” and think they know how to do my job, I’d be rich.

    6. NW Mossy*

      A lot of the reaction to ideas depends on what the cultural expectations (both of the individual proposing it and the organization at large) are for responding to the idea.

      In the LW’s organization, it sounds like an idea is treated as a call to action – to research, to discuss, to plan, to execute. The number of ideas even a small group of people can generate will vastly outstrip the ability and desire of the organization to work on all of them simultaneously. Think of it like a flash flood in a dry place – there’s objectively a need for water and the growth it promotes, but its uncontrolled nature leads to a lot of havoc and risk as it’s happening.

      A broad scope in the generation of ideas is great, but to make them useful, there needs to be a structure to channel them. It sounds like the LW’s organization doesn’t have that right now, and that’s why commenters are proposing idea-channeling structures to cope with the flood.

    7. Tomato Frog*

      I love consensual brainstorming with people who are in it with me. Happy to sit down with any of my colleagues and talk through any issue that they feel shared responsibility for. But I also have a ton I need to do and less time to do it in. Unsolicited ideas from people who don’t plan to do anything about implementing them feels more like a dart thrown at my psyche than a ball getting tossed back and forth.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        Especially when the non-consensual brainstorming comes from people who don’t know/intentionally reject the nature of the work to begin with.

    8. James*

      I love brainstorming! Sitting down with colleagues with a deep understanding of the issues, the sites, and the requirements, working at a high intellectual level (seriously, it’s on the same level as scientific analysis in terms of brain power), offering ideas back and forth….That’s one of the fun parts of the job! Having a new person adds to the fun, because it forces you to re-evaluate your assumptions–frustrating at the time, but always a useful exercise.

      Someone random, with no knowledge of the work beyond “I visit X all the time”, tossing out ideas without demonstrating an understanding of what the implications of those ideas are, is not brainstorming. It’s annoying at best, because it diverts mental bandwidth from real problems into dealing with random nonsense. (And since the person doesn’t understand the work, their comments can only be helpful by blind, random chance.) At worst, it can be harassment, with someone lecturing you repeatedly about things they obviously don’t understand.

      The issue isn’t brainstorming. The issue is people not understanding what brainstorming IS, and with people expecting to be treated as an expert without an understanding of what’s actually involved.

    9. O'Malley*

      I’m all for brainstorming, but I really dislike having to defend myself from someone else’s great idea. Sometimes it turns into a barrage, and on my part I have to explain all the reasons why it can’t go forward. Then if they say “OK, then not vampire dance party but vampire SLUMBER party” the cycle starts anew. That can be really exhausting. People have pure intentions and are just excited to share ideas, but sometimes the enthusiasm takes over for the logistical matters quite quickly.

    10. MeMeMe*

      This problem is rampant in my office, and it always makes me think of the Aesop fable about the mice and the cat.
      The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.

      Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said:

      “I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful. All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”

      All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said:

      “I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”

      It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.

      1. MeMeMe*

        HTML fail! Everything after my first sentence is a quote from “Aesop for Children” (1919) on Project Gutenberg.

  33. Jh*

    There’s an older lady at work who does something similar to me and it’s so patronizing. I have over 15 years of experience in my field and master’s. She doesn’t and is only recently returned to working full time after raising kids last year. Her experience pre kids isn’t in my field either, it’s polar opposite.

    She often approaches me with ‘big’ ideas and I either have to explain myself to her and lay out what steps I am taking (basically things are under control or why I haven’t done something), or she will announce in a meeting in front of my colleagues what she thinks is right and wrong about an approach. Usually I hold my tongue but I have had to put her in her place when she undermines me and the area’s I own. Her behavior could hurt me professionally and imply to colleagues that I am not the expert in my area.

    She also interrupts me, and others, including our boss… Anyway it has come to a head and my boss had to have serious words with her.

    I am leaving her alone on projects that cross with mine, although her work is entry-level. But she continues to try and take mine over. I just want to do my job without being harassed by her.

    I know she means well but she is entry-level and new to the industry and field. She has a lot to learn. My boss is throwing projects at her to keep her busy so she stops interfering.

    It’s a sucky situation to be in as I’ve worked so hard to get here and it’s my first manager role. I had to work my way up from assistant, analyst, coordinator, specialist, Sr specialist, to assistant manager. Whereas she is able to come in at almost my level with minimal qualifications and experience.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Your boss isn’t managing her appropriately. Throwing projects at her to keep her busy isn’t solving the problem.

      1. Leslie*

        It’s a tad disconcerting to know that someone who wants to complain about an older co-worker (especially in the library field) doesn’t know that when referring to “areas” of work doesn’t require an apostrophe…

  34. Children’s Librarian*

    It’s not so much that “everyone” has great ideas how I should do my job. It’s that all if those people with there fabulous suggestions have no idea what I do for a living AND from the outside it looks like so much fun!
    Of course it does. Because there is no having a bad day in this kind if public service.
    What I really want to say to my colleagues whose kids went to that fabulous program in the next county and “ we should do that here” is yes, I would love to do that, if I had the funds or staff.
    What I usually say is, sounds great, I’ll look into that.
    If they follow up…I wish I could, lack of staffing, no budget.

    1. June First*

      Ah, yes. Suggestions to replicate the successful event in the next county and sometimes in the same weekend. “Yes, that sounds like fun! I am only one person. If you can find me more staff, then we’ll look into it.”

  35. Type 2*

    I am besieged by this in my volunteer work. My response: “That’s really interesting! Would you be interested in heading up a chaperone committee / funding drive / bake sale to fund this / vampire outreach committee, etc.? Asking people for work is a great test of how committed people are to their ideas.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      Yes! I have had these conversations with the others in a group I lead. I’m like, I do this part. These are great ideas. Someone else has to lead them. Might that be you?

  36. Alina*

    When I worked in a job that was similarly interesting to others + something they thought was easy to understand asking for specifics always shut them down. “Ooh vampire dance party – which room would be best suited for that? Would there be noise complaints?”

  37. Seeking Second Childhood*

    To be honest, there has been such a fad of coloring books that yes adults & teens are using them. (Jenny Lawson’s is just one that is distinctly not for kids. It’s mental health oriented and doesn’t mind profanities when they make her point. “You Are Here: An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds” )
    That said, I think it would be a terrible idea to get kids used to drawing in the library books!

    1. Salty Caramel*

      I actually have a book of vulgarities to color. Just the thing to annoy all the Mrs. Grundys in town.

    2. Koala dreams*

      I think a colouring group for teenagers would be great, it’s just that I’m surprised that people would want the librarian to be in charge of that. There are art schools, art clubs, art associations out there that have art as their main thing, why not reach out to them?

      I’m fond of the Animorphia colouring book, by the way. On the more adult theme, I’ve seen colouring books with vaginas. I’m sure there are more out there…

  38. anmwatts*

    I am new to my Alumni Relations role, and a colleague suggested creating a checklist for people who approach you with event ideas that you’re interested in but don’t have the time/bandwidth to pursue. The person with the idea would be responsible for, for example, coming up with potential dates and times, providing volunteers, creating a budget, creating/co-promoting marketing, etc.

  39. fellow librarian*

    Y I K E S. This sounds familiar… except I get it from the patrons! “Hey, this other library did this cool thing. You should do it, too!” Every time I try to politely remind them that I am one person with other duties. I don’t exist in a programming vacuum! I would definitely second everyone who’s saying to turn the responsibility back on the people suggesting these ideas. Ask them for an email to officially “submit” their idea. The email must have a brief summary of the program, a list of supplies needed, projected timeframe for planning, setup, and hosting, and their schedule of availability so they can run it with you. You could even make a form with all of this information to hand out to people who yell ideas at you!

    The people who give you ideas that won’t work, though, should be told no. As long as you explain why it’s impractical, won’t work, etc. then they have no reason to be disappointed. And if they push back, tell them that they are welcome to plan and host the program themselves.

    I hope people get the hint!

  40. Another Punk Book Jockey*

    As a children’s librarian, and former teen librarian, I just let them know that I’ll add it to the list! “The list” can be a real list – sometimes it’s just not useful at the moment, or could serve as inspiration for a feasible idea – or it can be a circular file. But Allison is right with her scripting. If your bandwidth is full for now, let them know. Librarians have a tendency to say yes to nearly everything and try to figure out to cope later – yay vocational awe!

  41. Miss Muffet*

    As a former youth ministry professional, this sounds familiar! I think you’re right that the age group is fascinating to some people. They think they know what is “cool” to them, and so so often, it’s really painfully off-base. I also ran a lot of defense from people who are like, there’s this hard/boring/etc work that needs to get done. Why don’t the youth do it as a service project? I wonder if you can/do have a youth advisory council of sorts – kids that age you could even run some of these ideas by to see if they’d be interested? Then maybe the suggestion box idea others have would have someplace besides just you to go?

    1. LeighTX*

      Oh, my goodness–“Why don’t the youth do it as a service project?” My husband is a youth pastor and gets this All The Time. Someone is moving? Ask the teens to help! Someone needs their yard re-sodded? Ask the teens to help! Need a 50-foot tree cut down and hauled off? Ask the teens to help! They forget that (A) you might not want teens responsible for moving your grandmother’s china or handling chain saws and (B) the youth pastor already HAS a full-time job and it’s not lawn services. He’s always happy to round up students to help older folks with smaller chores but the youth group isn’t a free labor force!

  42. If you so much as say Snapchat....*

    I do marketing for a *tiny* events organization and the other week I got to come into work early for a very special meeting: to let my board members do this at me for over an hour. Someone just joined instagram, so wanted to talk instagram strategy, another used to have poor SEO in his other business so google adwords was a fixation, and the third was a battery of “what ifs” along the lines of a teenage vampire dance conference. My boss also just joined instagram so I got to add “formalize social media strategy, with an emphasis on instagram” to my goals.* (Our average attendee is in their 70s.)

    Otherwise I came out relatively unscathed! I put the next steps back on the board members, which helped a lot. But having people tell me what my own job is for 40 minutes before I could so much jump in to say “shall I let you know what we’re already doing?” was excruciating.

    *A few days later my boss was asking me what a social media strategy even is and I definitely held up a finger and said: “One: this is only on here because you care about it, not me. Two: Seriously, I really could care less about putting together an instagram strategy. Three: It’s a strategy document, probably in a spreadsheet. Four: Are you suggesting we strike that from my list of goals? No? Fiiiine.”

    1. louise*

      WAIT UNTIL THEY LEARN ABOUT PODCASTS. This has been the bane of my existence — “but we should do a podcast!” I just want to respond “you know podcasts cost tens of thousands of dollars, right? And we’re currently in violation of the ADA because we couldn’t afford to get the elevator fixed properly??”

      1. Children's and YA Services here*

        Coming here to say. Yep. they are after me to “do a podcast”

  43. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

    At first I thought the OP meant “teen librarian” as in they were a teen-aged librarian.

  44. Anonymooose*

    I’d just ask them to volunteer their time to implement their great ideas, that should shut most of ’em up.

    If I had a dime for every person who thinks they can design a website because, you know…they use the internet and are somehow UX/UI experts and, oh wait, “Google Analytics, conversion rate, whassat? Oh…we need to make the website fit on a small screen? Why? Can’t we just make a smaller version that people go to when they are on their smart phones and a separate larger one for when they are on their computers. If we did that, we could fit some dancing bears on the website and it’d be ever soooo cute! And w should make the bears Panda bears so people will see us as earth friendly”

    1. louise*

      I work in PR and the equivalent for my field is “I read the newspaper so I know how media works.” The single best response I ever got when someone was telling me they knew my job better than me is when they suggested I go after the Wall Street Journal for a profile of an artist, and I responded “No. The New York Times did a big profile on this person a month ago and they are direct competitors, so the Journal won’t do an identical story that their competitor already previously covered.” (which is PR 101) and the person literally responded “That’s not true! Both papers had the same story about the president on the front page this morning! They cover the same stuff all the time!” I was so astonished I was literally speechless.

  45. Edith*

    So glad I’m in technical services/cataloging. None of the other librarians can give me suggestions because nobody else knows enough about my work!

    1. Sandan Librarian*

      I recently left a tech services job, and I genuinely loved the work I was doing there (I also love my new law librarian position), but we were tech services for an entire county system, and I have to say that everyone seemed to have ideas how we could do our jobs better (by spending all of our time doing things to their one library/one department of one library’s exacting preferences). Still, other cataloguing positions I’ve held were very much just people letting me do my job and telling me, “I’m so glad you’re doing this so I don’t have to.” It’s a mixed bag I guess!

  46. SusanIvanova*

    Every one of those answers are things I’ve used with project managers in the past. Especially the cross-platform PM: “hey, this new llama grooming tool is pretty cool, have you looked at it?” “Yes, but I work on dolphins. No fur, remember?”

    Or “have you considered putting laser beams on the dolphins?” “Well, I *could*, but you do know that the shark factory has someone working full-time on their version, so if I did I would have to drop everything else.”

    1. George*

      One of my kids tells my husband to watch out for ‘laser shark-nados’

      Thank you for this!

  47. Artemesia*

    Ahh people who just know they could solve, or rather you could solve, this or that problem if you would ‘just do this. . .’ I used to work out at a gym full of old guys who knew the answers to all of the problems of the world. One problem was the difficulty keeping athletes eligible at the local selective university that admitted warm bodies if they could play football and these guys really struggled academically since they came in ill prepared and had SATs hundreds of points lower than average admits. (and one can argue about cultural biases in SATs but it is basically a test of intelligence and while a person from a disadvantaged background may well score a couple of hundred points lower than someone with advantages and the same ability — when someone comes in with a score hundreds of points lower than peers it reflects a lack of preparation to compete in the classroom.) These old guys were sure that if only they would: provide study tables, or tutoring, or XXXX and YYYY these kids would succeed. I never once heard an idea that was not something already being done (and often successfully — lots of these kids

  48. Artemesia*

    lots of these kids did succeed to graduate as a result of really dedicated family who felt to not commit to working with them was exploitive — not all of them though and sometimes not star players.

  49. Trilly*

    I manage public programs at a museum, and I have absolutely been in this person’s shoes! Events are fun! I have a GREAT event idea! Why aren’t you doing all my ideas?!?!?!?! It’s exhausting.

    Unfortunately, I never found a great one-liner response for those colleagues. However, over time, I worked with my boss to emphasize just how much work the public programs team was already doing and that with so much activity going on, if we implement anything new we have to eliminate something else. It helps that it’s not just staff time (which most people will not understand is a finite resource) but also programming space. We only have so many square feet, it’s also used for a lot of other things, we have to focus our programs on things that have the biggest impact.

    It took years, but the culture around here has definitely changed to one where our work is more respected and staff all understand they aren’t the experts in public programs and to leave that work to the folks who are (we still get some suggestions, but they’re way more realistic and there’s far less pressure to actually do them).

    1. louise*

      Trilly, I FEEL YOU. I do PR/Marketing at an arts nonprofit, so I get suggestions for both events and for what I should be pitching to press.

  50. MS Librarian*

    Middle school librarian here! I’ve never read a post that I connected to more.

    One thing that often works for me is to give an enthusiastic, but non-specific response along the lines of, “Cool! Great idea! I love that!” and then not bring it up again. 99% of the time they leave super happy and forget the idea almost immediately. I think sometimes people are just excited about what we do and like to imagine what they would do in the same position. Most of the time, it seems like (whether they realize it or not) some kind of acknowledgment/affirmation is all they are really after.

  51. LetterWriter*

    Hi hi! Thank you to everyone! I think I have a good plan of attack now. I’m going to bow out of engaging because there seems to be a general theme going now between suggestions I can implement, people sympathizing (solidarity friends, it’s tough out here) and people doing what my coworker do for me already ;). Thank you to everyone who commented, I’m overwhelmed with your kindness.

  52. MicroManagered*

    I had to think wayyyy too hard about the fact that a “teen librarian” did not mean OP is teenager herself.

  53. LibraryNinja*

    LetterWriter, as a fellow public library person and a former children’s a teen librarian, I feel your pain! I am a longtime lurker, but this is my world. Here is my advice from libraryland:

    First of all, how do you decide which programs you’re putting your time and energy into, in a non-vampire dance party situation? Does your library have a strategic plan? Do you have goals for your position for the year? For example, do you currently have a really good core of services and programs for the awesomely geeky junior high school kids, but have a real gap and demonstrated need for college and job prep services for older teens? Or are you lacking in volunteer opportunities for younger teens? What’s crucial to keep going, and what would you drop if you had to give something up? If you know what your own priorities are, it can make it easier to triage through the random suggestions.

    If you are too overwhelmed right now to even consider this, stick it in the back of your brain. If you have a good relationship with your manager, bring it up when you’ve got a chance to have a conversation about it. Use words like,” I want to be able to look at some strategic planning/needs assessment/aligning teen services with the library’s current priorities, but need some support getting started.”

    If you have some general goals, great! “That’s an interesting idea! I’ll take a look and see how it fits with our current programming goals and plan. Right now, I’m planning about 3-4 months out, and we’re focusing on x.” Also, do you have a teen advisory group, or other collection of Real!Live!Teenagers! who are involved with your programs? “That’s an interesting idea! I’ll see what our teen group thinks.”

    Do you do many partnered programs with other community organizations? Partnered programs are their own sort of work, because it’s often all about building relationships, but it can help with perpetual program burn-out. And if someone is suggesting something that is really someone else’s mandate, you can tell them “Great, if you know of a community group that would want to partner with us on that, send me the contact information.”

    Being a department of one can be exhausting! Are there legitimately other staff who could help out with some of the teen programs? Is there a children’s programmer who’s awesome with the middle grade kids who can help you run a recurring program and swap off every other month? Can you start your own teen programming committee and recruit some of the really keen people who would actually put their money where their mouth is in terms of the work to get things done? That gives you another venue for random ideas–“oh, I’ll take that back to the committee.” Absolutely talk this through with your manager first, but having a conversation about your own capacity, and coming with some ideas about how to increase what you’re doing shows that you’re thinking bigger picture. And if cross-departmental collaboration is important, it gives you a chance to set some roles and boundaries for involvement. In my experience, it’s really good to have more than one person involved because it gives you back-up if you’re away for an extended period of time, and continuity for the library if you leave for another job. And just remember that you are the expert on teen services, and you should still be the one setting the overall plans and goals, even if you’ve got other people involved in the doing.

    If there are still people who are really persistent, even in the face of “oh, I’ll see how it fits into our priorities/put it on the list of possibilities/see what the teens-slash-program committee think,” consider having a conversation with them about it. “Look, I appreciate you’re enthusiastic and want to share your ideas, but when you keep pushing me on specific programs, it feels like you’re not trusting me to be able to prioritize what’s going to have the most impact. I know you know that we’ve got limited resources and have to pick and choose what we do, and I need you to not push me to follow through on things, because it will mean dropping something else we’re already doing.” It doesn’t hurt to loop your manager in ahead of time before you have this conversation.

    Best of luck, LW! Hope this helps.

  54. Fae Kamen*

    Just wanted to say that the phrasing makes it sound like OP is a teenaged librarian, which I would love and support.

  55. louise*

    Ohhhhhhh my god, I relate to this question SO HARD. I am the head of PR and marketing at my nonprofit organization, which means I get to do sexy things like place stories in the New York Times or Vogue, or put together cool fundraising events. So I get suggestions all the time from people inside and outside of the org both for stuff I ‘should’ pitch (the real answer to 99% of these suggestions being ‘yeah, the media would not give a flying fart about that thing, and I know that because it’s my literal job to be a specialist in Stuff The Media Cares About’) and for giant marketing initiatives I should undertake, like launching a freaking podcast about us (the response being “with what money? and exactly who would do the nitty gritty of scheduling, liaising with production companies, etc.?”) People also suggest stuff without having ANY idea of how much it actually costs, like where we should advertise, or doing a fundraising party in the Hamptons, and are staggered when I say “well, it costs over 20 grand to do that, so we didn’t think it was a good ROI.”
    My dad was by the end of his career managing hundreds of people, and he told me the #1 rule that he always wanted to make sure people followed: never suggest a project if it require someone else to do all of the work or another department to spend all the money.

  56. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    I buy things! When I meet someone who works in marketing I tell them great ideas how to do their job!

  57. Anonymous at a University*

    OP, you have so much of my sympathy. I work at a university that has a library community members can use, and the librarians are forever getting suggestions that would require them to have a budget of millions of dollars, at least sixty people on staff, and/or sometimes a whole separate building (the people who say, “The library should have a daycare!” are in this category- never mind that the campus already has a daycare that’s free for children of students and faculty, and the town has its own public library and two children’s libraries). The justification is always that “Well, people would find this really useful!” Yeah, but it’s primarily an academic library, people don’t even use all the resources they DO have, and it’s always just one or two people saying something like, “But you should have a relaxation room where people can smoke marijuana if they want.” The librarians are pretty good about holding firm, but it doesn’t stop the suggestions. Sorry I have no advice.

  58. George*

    I think there might be room for bringing in a manager/supervisor and saying “Hey, I love that people here have great ideas for programs, but there seems to be an across-the-board interest in suggesting things, sometimes emphatically, and it’s impacting my ability to do my daily job functions at times. For instance, coworkers routinely want to talk about their new idea for teen programming while I’m doing X, and it can slow me down/prevent me from finishing.”

    At this point, I would follow up with a suggestion to combat it – maybe something like, “I’d like to schedule a time where we can all brainstorm together” or “I’d like to make a ‘teen programming suggestion box'” and say it’s “to curb the disruptions while retaining the good ideas” and ask for “your support in sending people to these venues.”

    The added advantage of the suggestion box is that the teens (or parents) could also add suggestions – which they might like.

  59. Samantha*

    I have found that framing things as “learnings” or “data points” can help ward off people with uneducated helpful suggestions. “Vampire dance party!” “Actually, we have learnings that our teens are more into unicorns now!” It kind of subtly reminds people that like, you have done research and aren’t flying blind.

  60. Workerbee*

    I appreciate this topic. I now work with a lot more I Have an Idea! people than I ever have before, who think every idea they have is great and should be done right away and with enthusiasm, but it’s always a “somebody should do X,” never the idea person who takes accountability. Correspondingly, these great ideas tend to be last minute add-ones to already overstretched projects they are also involved in.

    I have slowly overcome ingrained tendencies from other jobs and begun to push back, citing items I would need from the Idea person to make their starry-eyed dream a reality, or reiterating deadlines and impossibilities while suggesting they put X idea in a plan for next time. Crickets chirp after that. Not all the time, but enough to make me take heart.

  61. Merideth*

    Hi, former teen librarian here, current branch manager!

    I have been there! You are probably the “coolest” person in your facility (the teen librarian always is) and people want to take their “cool” ideas to you. However, most library staff who don’t do programming and don’t work with teens don’t realize the idea is not the work.

    Here is what worked for me in the past –

    1) Have an online form or suggested programming form that is super accessible. Google Docs is great for this. Make sure the form asks for details that are necessary to planning programs. So a title, but a description, and also the space needed, the number of staff needed, the number of kids the program could accommodate, the proposed budget, and anything else you can thing of. YALSA has a good program planning checklist here that you could use as a basis

    2) When people come to you and say “I had a great idea for a teen program.” Say “Fantastic, you can find our program proposal form here (point to link or hand paper copy). Fill that out, so that I can evaluate your plan!” Having to fill out a form will stop 90% of those people in their tracks.

    3) For those who do fill out the form, you can weed out a ton on budget and staffing alone. People who don’t program don’t realize the bodies and money it takes.

    4a) If you don’t already have one, set up a teen volunteer group, like an advisory board or library council.
    4b) Run any and all ideas by this group. Speaking from experience, the ideas that a bunch of librarians think are awesome will be shot down by your actual teens.

    Also, as a library manager, I think you should have a conversation with your supervisor about how tight your time is. I know all about “other duties” as assigned in libraries, and it could be that time that should be spent on your primary job duties is being sucked away by other things. I would want to know if one of my staff was feeling pinched like this.

  62. Jay like the Bird*

    LW mentioned in other comments that they have done a lot of notable programming that has gotten a lot of recognition, and a small part of me wonders if this “habit” of sharing New Program Ideas isn’t a by-product of having noteworthy youth programming–it seems plausible to me that a lot of these folks’ urge to help is at least in part wanting to be a part of something that’s obviously doing well and is in general pretty cool?

    Not that I think that this habit isn’t annoying or time-consuming, just puts a slightly different frame on why people might feel such compulsion to share these “ideas.” And I think coupling that with an occupation that is geared around listening to and supporting a wide variety of ideas, it’s easy to see how that would get very time consuming! (I have worked a similar situation, though it was more the horrible convergence of retail and consultancy–and when ‘being accommodating’ is a learned job skill, it can be nearly impossible to draw lines around where and how you spend your time)

    I think this is definitely a case of drawing harder boundaries and letting go of some of the softer deflections; I’m not sure if LW experiences rejection-sensitive dysphoria (or works with people who do!) but it seems like this scenario is sort of fraught for reasons of not wanting to disappoint people but also eventually running headlong into that problem of literally not having time in your day to do your work because of all the management on has to do of other people’s feelings. It might help to build up a library of Enthusiastic Ways to Say No While Sounding Affirmative–among the strategies I used to have to use in retail were finding ways to ruin people’s dreams of Fast, Cheap, AND Good by making them pick which two were a bigger priority using humor where possible to defuse tempers, and sometimes it simply wasn’t possible–but having a lot of stock phrases you say to these things makes it easy to say them, and finding ways to say them assertively and in good humor can avoid some of the most defensive reactions.

    1. LetterWriter*

      oh gosh, as soon as you said rejection sensitive dysphoria things sort of slotted into place. Yes me and yes, it at least seems, my coworkers experience this. This is a great new lens to look at this through! Thank you.

  63. A Penny for Your Idea!*

    Ugh, I can empathize. I work as a consultant in two industries — book publishing and the movie business — where people think having an “idea” is all it takes to succeed.

    To me, ideas are “a dime a dozen”. Seriously, if you have 12 ideas you think would make a fantastic book or movie, write them down and I’ll buy the lot of them from you for 10 cents. That’s because I, and virtually everyone else who’s got a creative role in publishing or filmmaking, comes up with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of our own ideas every year. Virtually no one has the time and other resources to implement every one of our own ideas.

    Yet so many people outside of these industries seem convinced that they have the world’s greatest idea! I’ve heard of successful authors who’ve been approached by people seriously offering this sweet deal: “I’ll give you an idea for a book. You write the book and get it published. Then we’ll split the profits 50-50!”

    There’s a reason why major studios and publishers won’t accept unsolicited submissions that don’t come through an agent they have a relationship with. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone say they don’t want to tell anyone their idea because “someone might steal it”… I’d be able to buy hundreds of ideas!

    If you’re human, the probability that thousands of other people have already thought of your “unique” idea is virtually 100% — and some of those people already work in the industry.

    LW, I can’t offer ideas (ha) for what to do in your situation, but I can empathize. Good luck!

  64. ehh*

    I have a slightly different perspective. Our teen librarian has an unspoken reputation throughout the library as not being great at her job. She gets lots of random suggestions and ideas from staff, but not for fun. For self preservation. For a long time, she seemed to treat her job as a teen program organizer who had minimal contact with actual teens. She would design a program, send out one or two press releases, and set up tables and buy supplies. That’s it. She didn’t do much to connect with the teens or network with organizations to make the programs successful. I suspect she genuinely likes teens, but her inherant skills are at odds with the social part of the job. This sounds sounds small, but it has had difficult repercussions. Most teens don’t spontaneously decide to attend an event run by an unfamiliar adult who only sends out an email invite to their school secretary. Teens don’t come to her when there are issues, so we are blind to problems until they are too large to easily handle. She doesn’t connect with people in the community, so our programs don’t gain momentum over time and we end up with her sitting with one or two attendees at a program while a dozen teens, who didn’t want to attend the event, require attention from other staff. She doesn’t really manage the teens even at her own programs, which leaves everyone else to do it for her. I think her bosses have tried to walk her through what they want, but nothing really changes. Or maybe she thinks that everyone else is wrong and doesn’t understand teens? But since she is not doing her job the way that staff want, they try solve the problem, one vampire prom suggestion at a time.

    I know that you, LetterWriter, say that you are hitting your boss’s attendance numbers. I also know that you said you just want ways to politely decline other peoples’ ideas. I’m just thinking about why they are doing this. There have been so many other commenters saying that people just love coming up with ideas, so hopefully, that’s it! But maybe there might be a common cause for the suggestions, as in my case. I sincerely hope you are not in this deeply awkward situation.

    If you had a conversation with your bosses to get their true evaluation of your performance, you can find that out. Bonus, you could use that as part of your response repertoire as “Well, Boss thought things were going well when I got approval for the next 3 monts of programs [insert vague “but it sounds fun, thankyouverymuch” from any of the other commenters]” to politely remind people that the boss likes it this way.

    1. A Penny for Your Idea!*

      That sounds like a situation where the teen librarian is spectacularly unsuited to the job, and should be moved out of the role altogether. It must be frustrating to see that!

      1. Letterwriter*

        It happens sometimes! People like YA books and teen-like past times and forget thay you have to like teens and know how to interact with them. They are an oft overlooked demo which sucks because they’re genuinely funny and smart and sweet almost always!

        1. ehh*

          I think you’re right. She’s really young and I think she might have thought this would make it easy because she’s practically a teen and she loves the same books! Maybe she’ll figure things out as she gets older. It’s not an easy job, that’s for sure!

    2. Letterwriter*

      I am not in the same boat, luckily. Quite the opposite! Sometimes the kiddos tell me TOO MUCH. I know where the high schoolers buy weed (why did they tell me this??) and who’s dating who and I’m the first to know new pronouns/names/sexualities. Its nice but sometimes I’m buying groceries and hear my name shouted. Parents seem confused by me!

      1. ehh*

        Very funny about getting recognized at the store! And giving those kids a place to talk about things like pronouns is really important, so I’m really glad to hear that things are going well.

  65. ehh*

    Alison, please delete the above comment. And this one! I got so focused on the LetterWriter and the commenters that I forgot you have such a wide readership. This was my mistake and I’m sorry.

      1. ehh*

        I just realized that it would feel pretty awful to find this comment. But hopefully she doesn’t read this site. Either way, I still hope Alison deletes the main comment that I made.

  66. Sleon*

    Youth services librarian jumping in! I apologize if I’m repeating anything that’s already been said. (There’s just a lot of comments to read through!) Would it be possible for OP to go to her supervisors and say that they’ve been getting so much interest and feedback in programming/services that maybe departments could combine forces for certain things? Tween programs are a thing now so if the childrens librarians feel there’s something that could be done, they could plan and execute some things. I don’t know if OP works in a small or big library system or what the rules are for certain positions, but they could use this as a opportunity to ask for either more staffing or more help in general! OP, I wish you all the luck! Teen services is hard but it’s super rewarding too :)

    1. Letterwriter*

      There are… complications between me and my boss right now so I’m lying low. I wish I could loop her in tbh.

      1. Children's and YA Services here*

        Sorry about the boss thing. I know how it is to be overwhelmed. Schedule time (even if it is stolen from other things that are “more’ important) to document the work, statistics, etc. Do a time study accounting for every 15 minutes for two weeks. This will identify priorities to have a discussion.

      2. A Children's Librarian*

        I was going to add this to my original comment re: asking people to email. But it does seem like there’s something to parse out about “my boss likes to see interdepartmental collab” – does that mean you shouldn’t shut down these comments/requests even when you truly have no time to implement anything beyond what you’re already doing? Or, does it mean that you agree and would like to sometimes collab on things? Either way, I think asking people to email you is still good, but it seems like your boss’s interests are preventing you from being able to more firmly say, thanks but no thanks to all these ideas.

  67. former children's librarian!*

    Hey! Here’s what I did in the same situation:

    1. Create a Library Ideas document on Drive or whatever shared server you all use.
    2. Send an email (if appropriate) or put up a sign where you deem best saying something to the effect of: “Thanks to everyone for all of your your ideas for our teen library! I’ve been receiving so many that it’s becoming hard to keep track of them. If you go to the Drive, there’s a file called ‘Library Idea’ in the Whatever folder. If you write it there, we’ll be able to reference all the ideas at once next time we hold an event, and it’s much easier and faster than telling me.”

    Then you can choose to ignore the document- or not!

    I found it really cut down on both the constant “suggestions” (one TEACHER told me I should rearrange the entire library so that fiction and non-fiction were integrated….uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh) because a) people were more likely to stop themselves when telling me an idea and say “Oops! Sorry, I’ll write it down like you asked,” and b) people get busy and forget to do non-essential tasks like that, or they simply don’t have the time for a writeup as opposed to a quick verbal comment.

  68. Lynn Marie*

    former children’s librarian! has it. Make the idea-pushers do the minimal work of having to write up their fabulous suggestions and you’ll weed out 50% right there. I’m president of the board of a small condo association and I’ve learned to deflect fabulous ideas right back to their originators: “That’s a great idea! Go ahead and set up a committee – here’s the member contact list so you can explain fabulous idea to 26 households and recruit people needed to support your idea. Come up with a time for all your fabulous idea-supporters to meet and be sure to let me know how it goes! What, all your committee members came up with their own fabulous ideas and the new fabulous ideas all contradict each other? Hmm, I guess YOU have a problem there with YOUR fabulous idea! Maybe you should have another meeting?

  69. Librarianator (branch manager)*

    Hey! Library manager dropping in. One thing that may help is drafting a quick and dirty yearly plan that you know you can handle the workload for. (Share this with your boss) Then you can say “that doesn’t fit into the plan for this year, but I’ll add it to the idea bucket for next year! If it doesn’t fit in next year “it just didn’t fit with our goals when we evaluated it, thanks for your input!”

    I used to be a teen librarian, and I think from the outside our work looks super random, but it’s not, and having a written plan can help you demonstrate that.

  70. Lily*

    I wonder if another way of handling these suggestions is to ignore the fact that they are suggestions and use them as an opportunity to talk with the coworker about their interest in whatever topic. Like if they mention vampire dance party or coloring books just respond as though it wasn’t your job to implement those things and say “I remember when my highschool did a themed dance about x! Did you ever do themed dances when you were a teen?” or “I bet the adults would enjoy the coloring books as much as the kids!”

    My thought is that many of them may just want to talk and connect, and by responding with “that’s not practical” it encourages them to debate why it might be practical. If you respond with “Haha, yeah, that would be cool but what if we did vampires AND werewolves?” then it keeps the discussion light and hypothetical. I bet a lot of these coworkers aren’t thinking they are telling you how to do your job (although they are, and it sounds annoying), they may just be looking for topics to discuss and gravitate towards suggestions because it seems fun and lighthearted to them.

  71. Insert Name Here*

    Weirdly, this kind of thing used to happen to me all the time when I was an elementary school librarian. They would offer up some program or idea that sounded fun, but also included a lot of planning and mental labor. It would come from parents of the students, other teachers at the school, and pretty much any other adult that interacted with the library. I wonder if it just has to do with people being passionate about children and literacy?

  72. Johnny B.*

    I didn’t see this suggested in the prior comments, but it’s worked for me before: when someone comes to you with an idea that’s not necessarily bad, but is impractical, “assume” that they are offering to help implement it and ask a question to that effect.
    So, for example, when coworker says, “You know what would be great? A teen vampire dance party!” You respond: “That’s a fun idea, but it would probably cost about $X in additional budget that I just don’t have this year; would you be able to find that in your department’s budget? Then we could probably take a closer look at that.” Or, “That would have to happen outside of work hours on a non-school night, and I’d need at least three additional staffers. Do you think you could get two other people from your department on board to make this happen?”
    In my experience, like the Little Red Hen, nobody will actually want to commit any of their own precious resources to their idea, and will let it drop. This also helps with follow-up pestering (“Vampire dance party, remember?” “Got those three volunteers yet?”)
    If someone *does* come back with a willingness to devote some resources to the project (which in my experience almost never happens), then you can treat it as a collaboration and get the suggester (who clearly has a vested interest in whatever this is) to help organize. First step: set up a meeting between the two of you and your boss to establish 1) your willingness to collaborate, and 2) the other person’s direct involvement.
    To reiterate, I’m only recommending this for projects that you think are not bad ideas, because there is always the risk (albeit a remote one) that the other person *will* commit resources and then you’ll be stuck.
    I used to be the events manager at a nonprofit and was bombarded with ideas that “you know what your next event theme should be? XYZ!” “You know who you should have cater your next event? [Really expensive local celebrity chef]!” I used this tactic and the only time someone ever came back with support was someone who actually knew the local celebrity chef he was suggesting I use, and leveraged his personal connection to get us a great deal on said chef’s services that fit within our budget. No extra work for me and everybody went ga-ga over the fact that he was there.

  73. tinyhipsterboy*

    I don’t really have much advice for you, OP, since my experience with teen librarians was primarily highly collaborative and I didn’t observe a lot of the pushiness you seem to be getting. I hope you can figure it out.

    I just wanted to say, though, thank you for being a teen librarian. I was in my public library’s teen group for years, and the librarian there passed recently. At her memorial, you could see that her family hadn’t realized quite how much of an impact a teen librarian could have. It sounds like a quiet job, but it can legitimately change lives. Keep doing good work, OP.

    1. LetterWriter*

      Oh wow… Thank you for you comment. I’m so happy you found a good library to be a part of as a teenager!

      1. CircleBack*

        I also loved my library as a teen! It helped that my mom got me heavily involved in children’s programming and I naturally “graduated” into the teen programs. My local librarians knew me more than some of the teachers I saw every day at school, and reading your letter reminded me of how much they helped me grow up well. Thanks on behalf of the kids you serve!

      2. tinyhipsterboy*

        Thanks back at you! Like CircleBack said, you guys can get to know kids and teens more than some teachers or even parents do. Not a lot of people realize the impact y’all can have. Have a great day, LW. :)

  74. Nerdy Librarian*

    “VAMPIRE DANCE – that sounds AWESOME! I don’t have time in my schedule to organize that, but I will be sure to tell The Boss that YOU volunteered!” I know…not feasible…but would be amusing to see the look on their faces.

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