Hello Instagram, My Old Friend: Using Social Media for Virtual Self-Care

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By: Melody Scagnelli-Townley, Outreach Librarian, Bayonne Public Library

I think we can all agree that 2020 is indeed a strange time. “Self-care” seems like such a trite phrase to use when in the midst of a literal global pandemic and many of us feel like we’re in damage control and self-protection modes most or all of the time. I was suddenly thrust into work-from-home by my library’s closure on March 16. My job as Outreach Librarian focused on helping patrons in person at the Reference Desk...so how was I supposed to work from home? People were scared. Things were unfamiliar. There was a radical paradigm shift in our lives that occurred at unprecedented speed. If our lives were ships, then most of us suddenly felt like we were sinking without hardly any warning that there had been icebergs in the water.

For me, this was a particularly tumultuous time because I was also 11 weeks pregnant. We had planned to wait until the traditional end of the first trimester (~13 weeks) to announce our news to family, friends, and coworkers...but the pandemic obviously brought health concerns first and foremost to our minds since I was now someone with increased risk of contracting COVID: pregnant, asthmatic, and with an autoimmune disease, Celiac. We ended up announcing the pregnancy two weeks earlier than planned. My shrewd mother, who lives halfway across the country from us, wondered why I was so concerned about being at work and called me one morning to point-blank ask, ‘“Hi. So, are you pregnant?” Ah well. The best-laid plans, right?

Poem for National Poetry Month

At least now people knew I was pregnant, but I was still unsure how to conduct outreach with my patrons and also take care of myself when my job now consisted of staying home, keeping the door closed, and frantically disinfecting my entire body after taking the trash outside. (Okay, in retrospect, we know that was overkill, but at the time I was genuinely afraid to open my front door.)

As March ended, I began to think about ways the library could reach our patrons on a daily basis. April is National Poetry Month. It occurred to me that a poem a day via Instagram and Facebook was an easy way to provide content and connect with patrons. With some research and a Canva subscription to create the graphics, it was easy.

Patrons liked and commented on our posts every day. They thanked the library “so so much for all that you’re doing” and told us that they missed us.

Inspired by that success, we transitioned into a post per day for Mental Health Awareness Month in May. Since my state was in active lockdown, the usual “go for a massage!” type of suggestion was not only classist but also culturally tone-deaf. Every day, I created a self-care tip, combined with a brief explanation. Every single tip was designed so that it could be done from home with no supplies. Tips ranged from “move your body every day in a way you enjoy!” to “set boundaries with toxic and damaging people in your life.” These tips were even more popular than our poems.

mental health reminder

Since the building was still closed in June, I highlighted an eBook per day. When we reopened for no-contact pick up in July, I highlighted a cookbook per day to increase physical book circulation and to encourage patrons to use summertime to try something new. When we reopened for browsing in late July, I used August to highlight new, printed books in our nonfiction collection. Our social media is more popular than it has ever been!

Ironically, what started as outreach and self-care for patrons became daily self-care for me too. These daily posts brought structure to my own days in a way I hadn’t predicted and provided me with a sense of normalcy. Even if we couldn’t see patrons in-person, we could still be together virtually. I kept myself - and my baby girl - safe while focusing on self-care and creating human connection. And when it comes down to it, isn’t human connection really what librarianship is all about?