By: Veronica Leigh Milliner; NNLM All of Us Community Engagement Coordinator; National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The library professional is comprised of many people who deeply care. It is noted that many in the profession at all levels commit a lot of themselves to the work they do, helping others, and continuously finding new ways to support patrons. However, this commitment can also result in compassion fatigue or burnout that can not only affect job performance but also mental health of staff. Although some may scoff at its overuse, this is the reason why self-care, the deliberate action of taking care of one’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, is extremely important. The ability to take time away from stressful situations, regroup, and recharge is important to being well rounded as well as avoiding burnout and other harm.
However, while I see the importance of self-care and will always advocate for its need in some form, it is important to realize that many aspects surrounding the act of self-care can sometimes be a privilege, relegated for some library staff to indulge but inaccessible to others. I think it is important as we continue addressing ways to support library staff and their wellbeing, it is also important to continue to address and thinking about these aspects, especially for those in management and leadership positions. By realizing limitations that may face some library staff and barriers to caring for themselves, we can work together to address these issues.
The ability to step away
This is something that can be internal, dealing with the guilt of stepping away from work, as well as external, such as worry that taking time will be viewed negatively during later promotions or work considerations. Not all positions may feel comfortable with taking time off or have the opportunity to do so without penalty. Ask yourself if those working in the library all have the same opportunity to take a break from stressful work conditions and/or are viewed the same if they would need time for self-care to step away. Think about how best to support staff members in making this a reality, it may not look the same for all positions but the result of self-care, without guilt or fear, should be the same.
Productivity does not equal a person’s worth
This is somewhat related to the first point, but it is important to know that staff has other life responsibilities (sometimes not all pleasant) as well as personal differences that may affect how they approach work. By not viewing productivity as the end goal and being open to different approaches to daily work creates a great starting point, especially for managers and administrators, to allow for staff to avoid burnout and care for themselves while on the job. This will allow staff to shine and connect with ideas in their own ways. While there may be a need to separate personal life from work life, it is also important to view the lives of individuals as something that they still come to work with, whether it is something good and joyful or sad and difficult. Taking the focus away on always producing, how many emails can you answer, meetings can you make, programs can you run, etc. -- and looking at the big picture is important and can open up space for self-care.
Recognize different kinds of self-care
It’s important to note that self-care doesn't have to involve high cost, overt indulgence, or copious amounts of time. Self-care looks different for everyone and it’s important to note and respect how others care for their emotional and physical wellbeing. It can be something as simple as being able to take themselves away from stressful situations or doing things to actively change that environment. Self-care is not one size fits all, it will look different from person to person. Look at self-care more as a health issue for staff, something that will help maintain good mental health and enjoy the work that they do.
Of course, there are a lot more examples of the barriers and differences faced when trying to engage in self-care. It is important that as a professional who continuously looks at ways to support staff that we also address the inequalities that face them, and make the library as welcoming for staff as we do for the communities we serve.