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Beyond Self-Care for Library Staffers

by on January 10, 2023

The World Health Organization  defines self-care as the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider (World Health Organization 2019). According to the article, What Is Self-Care and Why Is It So Important for Your Health? there are several types of self-care identified including emotional, physical, and spiritual. Emotional self-care consists of giving yourself a break when feeling stressed out, saying “no” to things that you honestly do not want to do and are not essential, and weekly massages. Physical self-care is taking care of one’s physical body through eating healthy foods, drinking water, exercising, and getting the proper amount of sleep. Spiritual self-care includes attending a religious service, spending time in nature, practicing meditation/mindfulness, performing regular acts of kindness, or keeping a gratitude journal.

Dr. Gill Lopez categorizes self-care as both temporary and enduring (1).”Temporary self-care can resemble a bubble bath with one’s favorite oil fragrance. While enduring self-care is practicing mindfulness regularly because it leads to brain changes,” says Lopez (2).

An assistant professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Dr. Abigail L. Phillips, talks about additional resources needed besides self-care. In her article, “The Mental Health Needs of the Library Professional: How Are We Doing?” Phillips talks about the problems that library staffers deal with, including interactions with patrons experiencing mental health crises (3). She also mentions the mental health statistics in America; 21.0% of all U.S. adults out of an estimated 52.9 million adults aged 18 or older live with a mental illness and (4)  discusses emotional labor and its effects. Emotional labor expresses desired emotions in service delivery (5). In other words, when a library staff member works to convey the emotions of being welcoming, inviting, warm, and open while providing service. Along with mental health issues, emotional labor can lead to burnout and turnover.(6) If one is dealing with their own emotions and then having to express the desired emotion, such as excitement, for example, when dealing with a patron, that can become mentally taxing. Library workers may experience depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and anger due to emotional labor overload (7).

A Canadian study on emotional labor in public libraries showed that libraries need to acknowledge the value of emotional work. Emotional work can be acknowledged through professional guidelines and training and by providing more extensive formalized support for all staff with customer service duties (8). More studies are needed, such as expanding the region to include more libraries as well as looking into various demographics like race and gender in the emotional labor of public library work. An increase in organizational-level training and support for emotional labor and inclusion of this topic in post-secondary library training programs will help to raise awareness and understanding of emotional labor in library work (9).

Along with requiring staff to take their PTO, management should encourage employees to use Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), reminding them of the resources available for mental health. The goal is for libraries to become inclusive and supportive;  addressing emotional labor helps achieve this goal. Staff meetings, emails from higher-ups, and newsletters should continuously mention resources beyond self-care. Self-care and self-care interventions are part of the future of healthcare. They should not replace health systems but rather enhance them (World Health Organization 2022). Dismantling the stigma on mental health on an organizational level with conversations about mental health and other resources such as EAP and taking a mental health day in the libraries and meetings is a great start.


  1. Lawler, Moira. 2021.“What Is Self-Care and Why Is It So Important for Your Health?.” Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/self-care/
  2. Ibid.
  3. PHILLIPS, ABIGAIL L. 2022. “The Mental Health Needs of the Library Professional: How Are We Doing?” Information Today 39 (7): 16–17. https://search-ebscohost-com.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=llf&AN=158686304&site=ehost-live.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Kansoy, Seçil Ulufer. 2022. “The Relationship Between Gender and Emotional Labor: A Research on Flight Attendants.” Journal of Aviation 6 (1): 55-60.
  6. Phillips, ibid.
  7. Phillips, ibid.
  8. Rodger, Joanne, and Norene Erickson. 2021. “The Emotional Labour of Public Library Work.” Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library & Information Practice & Research 16 (1): 1–27. doi:10.21083/partnership.v16i1.6189.
  9. Ibid.


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