Check Yourself: A Career in Compassion

As I have entered my second and final year of library school, I have been doing lots of reflecting. With one year of library school down, and with graduation and entering the workforce on the horizon, I find myself in an interesting position. I have been thinking about my experiences thus far in libraries personally and professionally, my experiences in the classroom engaging with LIS theory, and my experiences interacting with other LIS students and professionals. I have realized I could not have picked (or stumbled upon) a better career for myself. Social justice, equity, inclusivity: the Library and Information Sciences field so closely aligns with the personal values I hold so dear. Furthermore, these principles all have a larger component, and that is compassion.

Walk into a public library, and typically we are greeted with an array of activities that are open to everyone and are often designed to include patrons with specific needs. Many libraries offer campaigns to forgive library fines in exchange for donations. Reference librarians build rapport with regular patrons and happily assist patrons quite extensively. There are even circumstances where librarians administer Narcan to patrons who have overdosed in library bathrooms. Librarians seek to provide the best service, even to the most challenging of patrons, so it’s safe to say, as librarians, we provide more than just “customer service.”

Our profession not only attracts those with a high capacity for compassion, but our profession is built to uphold this value. But sometimes I feel that even despite the apparent dedication to upholding these values, there is often a disconnect in reality. Don’t get me wrong, librarians are pretty good about being cognizant of social issues. In classes, I have seen many articulate social justice matters and come up with creative solutions in the context of the library. However, at times I have also witnessed situations of double standards or even hypocrisy, where the same values of compassion are not applied towards certain patrons, and also, surprisingly not applied towards fellow colleagues and classmates.

We cannot control other people or situations, but we can control how we respond to them. The holiday season is coming up and it is generally a “do-good, feel-good,” time, so this post is meant to remind all of us, including myself, to take a breather and reorient ourselves. Here are some reminders I tell myself that I hope you may also find helpful.

Compassion with our Patrons: Though we should not accept disrespect, we must continually help the patron to the best our abilities. We must remember that often patrons bring their own frustrations unrelated to the current interaction. Do not take their tone personally or as an indication of your service. Remember why you went into this profession: to help people. Sometimes people who need the most help are the ones who are the most unappreciative. As hard as it might be, continue helping the patron with as much enthusiasm and kindness as you would a patron who is less trying.

Compassion with our Classmates: One of the things I enjoy about LIS classes is the emphasis on and encouragement of sharing personal and unique perspectives. This is necessary because we have to be aware of different perspectives so to have honest conversations and to realistically address situations. It is easy to become very passionate when discussing important topics, but we must remember not to become confrontational, hostile, or rude towards each other. While we should be honest and genuine, we should also strive to be diplomatic in addressing situations, and treat our classmates with respect and politeness. We shouldn’t see each other as competitors, but as members of our own team, working together to reach the finish line.

Compassion with our Colleagues: Libraries are probably the most supportive work environments I have ever been in. Similarly to how we should engage with peers in the classroom, we also need to address our colleagues with mutual respect and kindness. Like we listen to our patrons and classmates, we need to be willing to accept another’s perspective and try to understand where they are coming from. We should be mindful of others’ work habits, but also be responsible for communicating our own. Always demonstrate a supportive attitude and hopefully it will be reciprocated.

Compassion with Ourselves: Lastly, and probably most importantly, we need to be compassionate towards ourselves. Being a librarian does take a lot of emotional energy. You don’t have to put up with disrespect of any kind, from anyone, so don’t. Remember to schedule some down time for yourself and spend time outside of the library (gasp!) and work. Do something non-library related every once in a while!

No one is perfect, certainly not librarians. But I think we owe it to ourselves to continually check in with ourselves in order to be the best librarians we can be!

Image Courtesy of Flickr User Kate Ter Haar



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