I’ve been home from #open17 LIANZA conference long enough to have caught up, physically and mentally. In fact, as soon as I got home from conference I had to do the monthly community newspaper we publish – and it’s that time again already.
After conference I wrote a piece for Library Life about looking after ourselves, and then yesterday Laurinda Thomas linked on Twitter to a blog post about “the emotional labor of librarianship” by Julie Jurgens. Jurgens says “in my library work I often have to do emotional labor for management and administration as well as for my patrons”.
In my article, I said “the caring we do has a very personal cost. In caring for others, we deplete ourselves, sometimes even of joy”. Jurgens article obviously resonated with people, as Laurinda’s post has been well shared and liked.
Is it a coincidence that, post conference, we’re talking about self-care and the emotional cost of our roles? I suspect not. There were some hard topics and hard conversations at #open17 around issues such as homelessness, equity, politics and the fact being a librarian is not a neutral act.
The other day I had a chance conversation with a guy in the library who we see quite often; Brian’s got a full-face tattoo and makes some people nervous, but he’s intelligent and pleasant. He was looking at the graphic novels and I asked if he was a graphics fan. Turns out he likes anything about the Vietnam war, whatever the format. Chat, chat … I could tell there was something else, so I said, “if you ever needed anything, my name’s Cath and you can find me in the office behind the photocopier”. Well, he said, you won’t like this, but when I’ve been in jail and…
I assured him his jail time was of no consequence to me. He explained there was a book he’d read in jail, but parts were missing, including the end. He wants to read it but has never been able to find it again. I said I’d try and promised to update him next time he popped it. Easy conversation? Nope. I had to work hard to reassure him I didn’t care about his background, just his need for a book. Emotional labour…
When you’re frontline staff these transactions can happen over and over again, and the impact accumulates. We need to watch out for ourselves, and watch out for each other. We need to be kind – to our customers, ourselves and each other (think up and across too, not just down – our peers, our bosses, have hard days as well). Maybe, as a profession, we need to start talking about the emotional toll – or perhaps that’s already starting to happen. I’d love to hear what others think.