Blogger Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee

Radicalizing Self-Care in Librarianship

“…I thought about the fact that although books don’t have feelings, the librarians forced to remove them from the shelves do.”

Xochitl Gonzalez, “The Librarians Are Not Okay.” 
The Atlantic, March 15, 2023

Book challenges, protests against gender and racial inclusivity, salary stagnation, skyrocketing inflation, opiate overdoses, bad branch managers, years of being ‘essential workers’ -– we all know there isn’t a bath long or bubbly enough to repair the damage that long-term chronic stress does to the body and mind. Public librarians are housekeepers, zookeepers, referees, therapists, mandated reporters, front line emergency workers, cleaners of unidentified effluvia and other duties as assigned. 

This is why bubbles-and-polish commodified self-care simply does not suffice. Most of us have, at this point, heard about the Urban Librarians Unite’s 2022 Urban Trauma Study, so I will not go into great detail about it here. In short, public-facing librarians experience significant trauma on a daily basis, and the way in which library administrators are handling these incidents (or, perhaps more accurately, not handling them) is compounding the harm to the mental and physical health of public librarians. 

In these uncertain times, I am only minimally embarrassed to confess that I have resorted to consulting my daily horoscope via the Co-Star app. Yesterday, the notification on my phone screen read, in part, “Don’t center the story around how people wound you. Center it on what you no longer stand for.”  In other words:

  1. Mental Health Care Is Not Optional – Sorry, folks. Mental health care is your first, last and best defense through trauma and against burnout by building emotional resilience and tools for coping with distressing situations. I can’t tell you how many librarians I know who exhibit symptoms of complex PTSD but do nothing about this. Occasional EAP is not a substitute for consistent therapy and medication management. 
  2. Require Organizational Self-Care Measures – The environment in which you work can make or break your quality of life. Insist that your employer do organizational self-assessments to determine how healthy the place is. Ask that your manager build rest breaks, fun bonding activities, and staff socialization into the work day, not just after work hours; if your manager is unwilling, mobilize your coworkers to put your heads together and figure out ways to bring joy into the workplace. 
  3. Set Your Limits Down – Make a list of the lines that you absolutely will not cross or will not have crossed on the job. Remember that, in the end, this is end-stage capitalism: you are not, in fact, necessary to the operation of any organization, regardless of how many people’s jobs you’re doing. If you are miserable, unappreciated, being taken advantage of or bullied in your job, get out of there. Your active suffering will not tangibly improve anybody else’s life. We would all rather you leave a job and stay in the profession, than stay in a bad job and end up leaving the profession. 

We can’t teach the children in our care that they matter and must put themselves first if we fail to do that for ourselves. The systems that oppress us into silence and servility will also oppress them unless and until we push back and force change on their behalf and our own.


This post addresses several ALSC competencies, including Competencies I.1-3: Commitment to Client Group. (1) Demonstrates respect for diversity and inclusion of cultural values, and continually develops cultural awareness and works to address implicit bias in order to provide inclusive and equitable service to diverse populations. (2) Recognizes systems of oppression, discrimination, and exclusion in the community and its institutions, including the library, and interrupts and/or counteracts them by way of culturally aware services. (3) Recognizes the effects of societal factors, new knowledge and tools, income inequality, health and food insecurity, etc., on the needs of children and their caregivers; and Competency V: Outreach and Advocacy.


Alex Aspiazu is writing this blog post on behalf of the Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee. She can be reached at alexaspiazu@gmail.com.

2 comments

  1. Erica Rancilio

    I’m aghast that we have to call boundaries and mental health care “radical” because self-sacrifice is the norm in the workplace. Excellent post and very eye-opening for those like myself, who don’t work in this space.

  2. Pingback: Self-Care Tips for Librarians – 21st Century Information and Libraries Network (21st Century Infolibnet)

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