I think it’s safe to say that a lot of us had a rough 2016. For those of us that interact with the public for the majority of the day, a charged, political atmosphere gave many of us an added challenge during desk shifts.
It’s important to say that my personal politics do not affect how I speak to patrons, and I think the same can be said for most of us. As librarians, we should be giving patrons the same quality of assistance regardless of how we feel about them personally, whether we agree or disagree with them. It is our job to be helpful and impartial.
However, while we are able to control how we react to a reference interview, there is a lot we cannot control about how the patron perceives us, or what kind of opinions or emotions they bring with them into the library.
When there is conflict all around us – all over the media, in our community spaces, maybe even in some of our homes – no matter which side you identify with, we cannot take for granted that any interaction will mean the same thing to both of the people in it. There is an added layer to how we react and the potential for escalation.
Navigating that minefield can be tiring. Sometimes being civil is difficult, and sometimes being reasonable doesn’t feel especially satisfying. But, because we are professionals, we bite our tongues and do our best. I feel like I did more of that in 2016 than in previous years.
As a manager, I have noticed how tired my staff is. I think 2016 has taken a toll on everyone. We talk about it a lot off the desk. This intangible atmosphere brought on by the minefield is the only thing that has changed, so it’s what I believe I can attribute it to.
My goal for 2017 is self care. The election is over, but my community still feels very charged and hyper-aware of our differences. Between needing to build our strength reserves back up and looking forward to providing all of our services with energy and compassion, we need to pay attention to how well we are taking care of ourselves.
In my never-ending quest to make my workplace a space where people enjoy spending 40 waking hours every week, I recently resolved to check in with staff more often, and those meetings will be good outlets. There isn’t much I can do about how much time people spend out on the desk interacting with the public, but I can encourage staff to be self-aware and ask for help when they need it.
I’ve seen relief come in many forms – sometimes you just need someone to make you laugh, or reassure you that not every interaction will feel so draining. We can share and emphasize the positive interactions we have with patrons. As a manager, I can make every effort to honor staff requests for vacations when they need them, and recognize urgency when it’s in front of me.