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Talking About Self-Care in LIS

We all know the analogy…we’ve got to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others. But how often do we actually do that? Or even talk about it within our profession?

“Self-care” has become one of those ubiquitous catch-all terms used so often it becomes nearly meaningless. It’s worth noting that its roots as a term are actually quite revolutionary, shaped by the experiences of professionals in the medical field and women of color fighting for civil rights.*

Self-care is not frivolous. It’s not only for the privileged few. It’s what allows those who serve the public daily, absorbing the trauma present in our communities, fighting for equitable access for the most marginalized, and navigating and dismantling hierarchical power structures, to maintain the passion, creativity, and strategic thinking necessary to serve the kids and families that drew them to this work in the first place. And yes, for many front-lines youth services workers from rural Appalachia, to urban Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, these exhausting elements of front-lines work are just as critical as collection development, booktalking, and storytime.

Do our most dedicated workers, the ones who truly show up for the families they serve, have what they need in order to practice “self-care”? What are we doing as a profession to support each other as whole humans? Are we who are in positions of leadership modeling good self-care strategies…or teetering on the brink of burnout ourselves? I don’t have any magic answers to these questions, but I do wonder if we as a profession are asking them enough.

I would offer that ALSC members and others in our profession should not feel pressure to practice care for self in any one specific way, but to find realistic strategies to take good care. Let there be some space that you create in your life that’s for you, fully. Those voices saying “you’re too busy,” “this is selfish,” “I should be doing x, y, z,” “I don’t deserve this,”—they’ll be there for you to deal with later—with calm, curiosity, and perhaps a bit of humor—if you’ve put your own oxygen mask on first.

I personally set aside one night a week for vigorous exercise followed by restorative yoga, and I preserve it as sacred time. Sometimes that means I have to hire a babysitter, or skip time with my husband. Developing the muscle of saying “no” to others and “yes” to myself to do these activities is hard. I’m always practicing. I reached out to many others in the LIS world to learn more about how they prioritize their own self-care, and was honored to receive many candid responses. Here’s what some were willing to share:

 “I get an ‘F’ in self-care. When possible, I do try to schedule a coffee nap to re-charge midday, and we’ve instituted a house rule of having one evening a week where we don’t discuss, vent, or do anything work or association related. This gives us the opportunity to use the other side of our brains and decompress.” – Jamie Campbell Naidoo, Foster-EBSCO Endowed Professor at The University of Alabama and current ALSC President

“I practice self-care by setting boundaries. If I need to change a boundary, I will do so – but not because anyone influenced me to do so. This helps me navigate the energy I allow into my space, set my own pace, and helps me protect my peace.” –Amanda M. Leftwich, Online Learning Librarian Diversity Fellow at Montgomery County Community College and Founder of #mindfulinlis

“Nearly every morning, I make a list of 10 things that I am grateful for. I am always grateful to be alive. Taking the time to do this forces me to focus on the positive and to review the world that surrounds me. Even when something disappointing happens, knowing that I have so much to be grateful for helps me weather the down times.” – Betsy Diamant-Cohen, Founder of Mother Goose on the Loose

“I practice self-care by being mindful about food and physical activity. My evening ritual includes preparing the next day’s lunch. I also endeavor (not always successfully!) to go outside for a run at least a few days each week. The experience of moving in nature always lifts my spirits.” – Noah Lenstra, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and Founder of Let’s Move in Libraries

“I’ve found that carving out (and protecting) time for restorative activities is critical. For me, it’s Bollywood dance: Twice a week, no matter how much of a mess the world might be, I am completely present in the moment, dancing to joyful music with a fun group of people. It’s emotional fuel.” –  Laura Simeon, Young Adult Editor at Kirkus


*NOTE: Thank you to Alyse Minter and Genevia Chamblee-Smith, BS whose much-tweeted-about session from JCLC 2018 “ ‘This is a Marathon, Not a Sprint’: Self-care and Women of Color in LIS” prompted me to learn more about the origins of self-care, and to Aisha Harris whose excellent article in Slate, “A History of Self-Care,” taught me much that I did not know.

Katie Scherrer, MLIS, RYT is a consultant and the founder of Stories, Songs, and Stretches!, an early learning start-up dedicated to the enhancement of early learning through mindful movement and stillness. Scherrer wrote this piece as a member of the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services committee. Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.

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