The Culture of Care in Librarianship is a poster in the 2020 PNLA Virtual Poster Session. We encourage you to engage in discussion by leaving a comment on the page. The author of the poster will respond to comments the week of August 4-7, 2020.
Presenter: Donna Langille & Sajni Lacey
Track: Academic Library
Abstract: Librarianship continues to be a highly feminized field where workers, especially marginalized folx, are often expected to provide an unhealthy and unsafe amount of emotional labour for their patrons and colleagues. Extended emotional labour can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout and is deeply connected to the vocational awe associated with librarianship and library work (Lowe & Reno, 2018; Ettarh, 2018).
Despite these risks, the COVID-19 crisis highlights the importance of empathy, a kind of emotional labour, in building relationships with patrons and providing support that meets their needs (Bruce, 2020). As we move our traditionally physical services to online (e.g. helpdesk support, reference consultations, instruction), we must not only engage in the labour of providing these new virtual services, but we should also extend empathy and consider the individual experience of patrons’ within the context of COVID-19. In addition, what role does empathy play when we are creating spaces in this online context that reflect an inclusive practice? Questions to consider with our patrons: Are they an essential worker? Are they taking care of a sick family member? Do they have children? All of which will undoubtedly affect the interactions that we have with them and the ways in which we do our work. This consideration must extend to our colleagues as well.
How can we extend empathy towards not only our patrons but also our colleagues and ourselves in ways that will resist burnout? Our poster will highlight actions librarians can take to practice empathy and adopt an ethics of care in their work while acknowledging some of the barriers that prevent a culture of care in librarianship.
Bruce, S. (2020). Teaching with care: A relational approach to individual research consultations. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2020/teaching-with-care/
Ettarh, F. (2018). Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/
Lowe, M., & Reno, L. M. (2018). Examining the Emotional Dimensions of Academic Librarianship: Emerging Research and Opportunities. IGI Global. http://doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-3761-8
- For accessibility purposes, here’s the text to our poster as a Google document.
About the Presenters:
Donna Langille (she/her) is Community Engagement Librarian at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus. She lives and works as an uninvited guest on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation. Her professional interests include open education, public/digital scholarship, and knowledge exchange. Contact Donna at email@example.com
Sajni Lacey (she/her/hers) is a biracial, cis-gendered, able bodied, settler woman. Sajni has spent her entire professional career in academic libraries. She would also like to acknowledge that I live and work as an uninvited settler on the unceded territory of the Sylix Peoples. Contact Sajni at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyhow, thanks for bringing this to light. I thought about a lot about emotional labor while serving as reference services coordinator. It started to feel to me as if about half of the wording for the RUSA behavioral guidelines were about emoting “appropriately,” and not about skills or effort. Some of the librarians I work with are more emotive than others, and I’m not sure it’s appropriate to ask people who aren’t naturally smilers to smile and not. On the other hand, I do recognize that patrons experience library anxiety, and that putting people at ease is part of my job. And yes, asking people to be care-ers is often enacted to enforce that we’re not in it for the money (but I need to support my family), and that we must dress “professionally” (but yoga pants don’t constrict my arthritic bones).
Thank you for this, Donna and Sajni! I really appreciate your acknowledgement of the nuances (and sometimes the contradictions?) of a culture of care in the workplace- and especially the library amidst COVID-19. The questions you list are so important in moving beyond “let’s not make assumptions!” to actually work towards reflecting on/understanding more of what our peers are going through, and how we can and should support them without overstepping.
I consider myself a pretty caring, emotionally supportive person, and I struggle to set (and ‘enforce’- but that sounds very carceral!) boundaries both at work and in my personal life. It feels even harder for me to set boundaries when we’re confronted with a larger institutional lack of care in our lives — whether from our gov’ts, our workplaces, etc. Perhaps building networks or joining communities that foster cultures of care is central to sustaining this culture of care – and to resist burnout, vocational awe, and maybe the ‘individualization’ of care. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you so much! 🙂
Your comment about the larger lack of institutional care brought back a memory for me. Many years ago, at a different workplace, I was on maternity leave and, sadly, my child passed away soon after birth. Three days later I received an email from HR saying that my maternity benefits had ended when my child died. I was still bleeding!
Ellie, I’m so terribly sorry for your loss and outraged by HR’s response. What a clear example of an institution prioritizing “policy” over care and compassion – and at the expense of your physical and mental health. I just have no words; it makes me sick.
Since COVID-19 started tearing through the world, l’ve seen similar stories and anecdotes from people on Twitter, navigating loss through work with little compassion or accommodation. I have to believe that organizing and sharing our stories, with a culture of care at the forefront, will lead us to a better future!
This is heartbreaking. I am so sorry for your loss and what you experienced.
Thank you for your comments!
Excellent questions to mull over. I think the pandemic has really brought empathy into the mainstream now – it’s so important to remember others may be coming from a totally different experience or situation. It’s a good habit to get in to, asking yourself to think of the other person before reacting or responding – you may be making totally wrong assumptions.
Donna and Sanji — thank you for creating and sharing this. I have been doing some reading and learning about the intersection of care and accountability. Your statement about care being political resonates with me during these times. Care is a form of power equity as well.
Hi Rick, thank you for your comment! Are there are any readings in particular that resonated with you, or that you would recommend?
interesting stuff to think about. My aha moment came a couple of years into my work as a librarian. I had given a library session and there was someone who seemed not to be paying attention. I was working with her afterwards when she said, “I just can’t focus, my best friend killed herself yesterday…” That and the fact that I once waited 5 weeks to see whether I had breast cancer (I didn’t in the end) but doing reading about that and finding out that 1 of 7 women had breast cancer (don’t know if that’s right, but it was something like that)..made me forever look out over any library session and think you never know what people are going through…just be kind… Now there are new things to think about…how Covid’s acting out in their lives, how they might not WANT to share their space with me, so no, a Zoom meeting isn’t the best option for them, etc….thinking about what’s easy for me, convenient for them, too much information, not wanting to be invasive but wanting to be receptive to story telling on their part… I think the hardest thing to deal with at work is that there are bullies and there is a reluctance to call them out for it, so they continue to get away with it and I’m really genuinely okay with listening to people process an untenable situation (the biggest bully has a lot of power)…but it’s frustrating to not be in a position to DO something. I think there’s a lot of passive aggression in my workplace and because of my person journey, I do NOT do conflict, just kind of fade away. Anyway, thanks for this…good stuff!!!
Hi Kellian, Thank you for sharing. Your story really highlights the point that it is hard to know what other people are experiencing in their personal lives. I appreciate your point about COVID: how people may not want to Zoom because they do want to share their space with other people. We need to respect peoples’ virtual boundaries as well as their physical boundaries.