My husband and I met in library school and after we graduated we were fortunate to find jobs in the same library system. We learned so much in those early days and when we moved on to new jobs a thoughtful colleague called me on my last day to wish us well and said, “Take good care of each other.” I have lost touch with this colleague, but I have not lost her powerful message of taking good care and it is an activity that I’ve tried to appropriately incorporate into my professional life.
What does it mean to take good care?
- Take care of yourself: You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Make sure that you are not burning any candles at both ends. Set a good example and go home on time and live your life with your family and friends. Take breaks, take walks with a colleague, eat a slice of that fancy birthday cake in the staff lounge and fully embrace your interests and hobbies that have **nothing to do with work**. Oh, and eat right and get some exercise, too, but I fully support you if you occasionally have peanut butter cups and root beer for lunch and crash on the couch with Reno 911 on Netflix after the kids are in bed.
- Take care of your colleagues: Share information with your colleagues and be genuinely supportive of their projects. Authentically praise your colleagues in staff and board meetings, especially when you’ve worked together on shared projects. Have their backs and help them succeed. Help your colleagues collate workshop handouts or stuff incentive bags for the summer library program. Find time for play, find time for fun. Go ahead…. find a buddy at work and put a grape in the staff microwave on high for 25 seconds and see what happens….. (Editor’s note: LL&F contributors are not responsible for damage to your staff microwave. But, if you are the boss, you and your staff should totally do this.)
- Take care of your patrons: Librarians serve people and it’s our job to ensure that patrons find the answers they need. Be aware that many patrons are uncomfortable in our buildings or when asking for assistance so show them patience, respect and professionalism. Know your patrons and community; create services and programs that include the interests and needs of all community members. Buy materials that your patrons want and need and weed your collections to ensure that the materials on your shelves are ones with which they will be proud to be seen. Be an appropriate rule breaker and give yourself and your staff permission to waive overdue fines, extend check-out periods, or add a few more children to a preschool story time. Forgive replacement fees for the family whose house burned to the ground. Create resource lists and displays to celebrate local events. And, sadly, create resource lists, displays, and programs that celebrate community, the human spirit and kindness during tragic times.
- Take care of your environment: Make sure that your library is a welcoming one that allows patrons and staff to succeed and thrive. Get down on your knees and experience your library from a child’s point of view. Remove physical barriers that limit positive interactions. Create attractive displays. Highlight new materials. Put stuff away and get rid of the clutter. Wisely use your library’s most attractive spaces by creating places for patrons and staff to find brief periods of respite and reflection.
What is not taking good care?
- Being the office counselor: Listen to co-workers, but do not offer unsolicited advice. Do not patronize your colleagues; enable co-workers to find appropriate solutions. Recognize that everyone encounters personal problems, but do not become overly involved in a co-worker’s life and personal challenges. Instead, help your colleagues find appropriate services and programs.
- Being a doormat: Once you lay yourself down it’s nearly impossible to get back up. Do not shoulder other people’s problems and do not take responsibility for others’ mistakes. Help find solutions, but do not own the problems.
- Being inauthentic: Be yourself. Be kind. Be professional. Respect your colleagues and patrons and expect that most people are trying to put forth their best efforts most of the time.
- Being everything for everyone: Everyone suffers when one person holds the world on his or her shoulders. Clearly define what you are able to do and how you will help others achieve contentment and success. Demonstrate that achievement is a group effort and that success is dependent on everyone’s contributions.
Taking good care also means that you understand there will be times of struggle. There will be moments when you don’t feel very caring, when you find yourself offering counsel, and when you want to roll your eyes when asked the same question ten times in one day. In these moments it is especially crucial to give yourself a break and to realize that the next moment is a brand new one in which to practice taking good care.