Welcome to my offering for the virtual learning symposium- a choose your own adventure story inspired by our CYOA modules! HOW TO PLAY: It’s simple! Just read to the end of a page and once you’re finished, you will be presented with a set of options for what to do next. You’ll click on your action, which will take you to a separate page, and so on. The whole playthrough experience won’t take longer than 10 minutes tops, and that’s if you take the time to explore the whole thing. Enjoy your adventure!
As the year 2020 draws to a close and so with it the coursework for yet another SJSU semester, you can’t help but find yourself swept up in the rush: of life, of final assignments, of dealing with the holidays. It’s a lot, and like most endings, this one has caught you unawares.
You’ve got one more assignment left for INFO 287: the virtual symposium. Your professor, Dr. Michael Stephens, has asked you to consider one deceptively simply question: What are you taking away from the Hyperlinked Library course? You crack your knuckles and sit down at your computer. Time to get to work.
You hear a commotion outside your window as you begin typing your planning notes, and you know you’ve come to a crossroads. You can either put on some headphones, listen to music and power through your assignment, or let distraction guide you like it’s done a million times before. Maybe your mind could use the break before you really start to focus.
To ignore the noise and keep working on the virtual symposium, click here.
To follow your distracted brain and open your front door, click here.
We found out going on 6 or so years ago that my mom has early-onset Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, accounting for an estimated 60-80% of the overarching syndrome. The journey has not been an easy one. This director’s brief is a gift to my past self and family, who didn’t possess the tools to navigate something so overwhelming as a parent being diagnosed with a progressive brain disease. It is also (hopefully) a gift to my future self and the communities I aim to serve in the years to come.
I was genuinely surprised at the wonderful amount of resources I found on library services to people with dementia and their families, and at the innovation taking place for this community. I invite you to be surprised along with me as you read my brief!
Academic, public, school, and beyond- ask any librarian in most any field and they can likely tell you their heartbreaking story of the month, if not the week. Undoubtedly, many of us in this class have our own to share that have stuck with us. These stories are heavy, and their cumulative burden becomes harder to bear over time. But while that weight grows, library staff can and should direct professional learning efforts to strengthen our metaphorical shoulders.
Seeking: Staff Support
While perhaps not as widely discussed as the topic deserves, recent research has focused on the subject of librarians and emotional labor. Librarian and professor Rebecca Tollney (and author of the book A Trauma-Informed Approach to Library Services) discusses the concept of vicarious traumatization in the latest ALA publication. She outlines the difference a workplace’s environment (toxic or positive) can make in the mental health of library staff. The emphasis on administration and management brings to mind Dr. Stephens’ observation in Wholehearted Librarianship on the “formula for success”:
“Essential Skills + Mindset² × Support = Success” (p. 31)
Without support of an institution, library staff withers. It’s a hard enough job without active stress added from your supervisor. In our own iSchool’s excellent Student Research Journal, recent publication “Emotional Labor, Stressors, and Librarians Who Work with the Public” delves into the cause of work stressors for library staff and their potential solutions. They identify three main causes of stress that involve emotional labor (specifically surface acting, or the “grin and bear it” mentality): user-produced stress, coworker-produced stress, and management-produced stress. Social sharing is noted as a positive coping mechanism that staff should be allowed to engage in (having an honest conversation with coworkers behind closed doors after a negative interaction with a patron, for example).
Letting Library Staff Learn
Staff training is imperative to empower library workers to notice and prioritize their own emotional health and to continue empathetically serving others. (This comes back to that support element Dr. Stephens outlined as part of a librarian’s success.) It may be far beyond our power to massively overhaul an administration’s toxic work environment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start making inroads now to improve life for library staff and continue our own lifelong learning as well as our coworkers’.
If some libraries paid half the attention to staff development as they did to their library programming, I believe a world of benefit would blossom: staff turnover would likely decrease, genuinely positive library interactions would increase, and staff goodwill would be on its way to secured. Such training doesn’t necessarily need a budget: libraries can partner for staff development just like they do for their programs, reaching out to local social workers to taking advantage of existing free community trainings. I found at least one library-specific training on trauma-informed services that’s now archived for free on Infopeople. This could be an opportunity to present to your library management a proposal for free and much-needed staff training, whether at a designated staff development day or as part of a meeting.
Tolley, R. (2020, November 2). The weight we carry: Creating a trauma-informed library workforce. American Libraries. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2020/11/02/weight-we-carry-trauma-informed-library-services/