Below are the opening remarks I delivered as part of BLOSSOM Building Life-Long Opportunities for Strength, Self-Care, Outlook, Morale and Mindfulness March 24 – 26, 2021 A free 3 day virtual symposium for library staff focused on their health and wellness.
Welcome. I want to thank you for your time and attention to this event. I know many things demand our time and attention these days. I hope you will be fully present for each of the sessions you chose to attend. For the next few days, try to focus on your health and well-being. Make time for yourself.
My name is Bobbi Newman; my pronouns are she, her, and hers. I am the chair of the organizing committee for this event. I am the Community Engagement and Outreach Specialist at the Network of the Nation Library of Medicine, Greater Midwest Region office at the University of Iowa. Some of you may be more familiar with my work online at Librarian by Day and my work on library staff health and wellness, including the forthcoming book.
It is hard to believe that it was a short four months ago that I proposed that the Network of the National Library of Medicine host a symposium on library staffs’ health and wellness. It is a credit to the advisory committee and our speakers how quickly this all came together. I want to thank the Advisory Committee for their guidance and assistance in planning this event. Back in the cold dark days of January, we hoped that BLOSSOM would more than just an acronym, that it would be a reflection of what was happening in the world around us. As more vaccines for COVID-19 become available, it feels like there is hope on the horizon. It is also important to remember that we are still in the midst of a pandemic.
I want to thank the presenters and panelists who responded promptly to the invitation to the symposium. There are over 5,500 people registered for this event. These numbers are a credit to our panelists and speakers.
Finally, I want to thank the NNLM staff members who volunteered to help here today. Along with the Virtual Experience Design Agency’s technical experts, they will watch over Chat, manage the Q&A for sessions, and share links and important information in Chat. NNLM staff members will have an asterisk in front of their names in the participant list.
Thank you, everyone.
I want to take a few minutes to address what brought us here today prior to the pandemic. Librarianship struggles with compassion fatigue and burnout among staff members. In 2018 Fobazi Ettarh wrote about vocational awe and its correlation with burnout, low salaries, and other poor working conditions. Vocational awe describes the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in the belief that libraries as institutions are inherently good, sacred, and therefore beyond critique. Many libraries lack the basics of a healthy physical environment, including ergonomic workspaces, access to natural light, and a window. Vocational awe and other belief systems contribute to poor work-life boundaries, low pay, inadequate sick and vacation time, and a culture where using them is frowned upon. I could go on about this, but I think you get the idea.
2020 brought a series of traumatic events. Including the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 presidential election, the murders of Ahmuad Abery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and the protests that followed, the harmful misinformation shared about COVID-19 from government officials, and library and city management making choices about providing service that endangered the safety and well-being of library staff.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color due to systemic racism that affects where they live, work, and access to safe and unbiased medical care. Please note that this symposium has two sessions are that are BIPOC only. These sessions are a safe space for Black, Indigenous, and people of color attendees. Do not attend those sessions if you do not identify as BIPOC.
The COVID-19 pandemic women in the US still made less than men with the same qualifications and experiences. Even in libraries. This gap is larger for women of color. During the pandemic, women were furloughed at higher rates than men, especially women of color. Women are also more likely to leave their positions to care for children. Women are 80% of the US Adults not working because they are providing child care. The long-term effects of this include stalling the progress and possibly regression of pay equity, lower long-term earnings, and more.
The last year has changed how we will function as a society going forward. We have a chance to set a new normal that benefits us all. Over the next three days, you will hear from experts on a wide range of topics related to library staffs’ health and wellness. I encourage you to engage with the symposium and embrace “yes” when hearing recommendations and suggestions, especially if you’re in a management role. This symposium is about libraries and about the people who work in them.
An, M., Colarelli, S. M., O’Brien, K., & Boyajian, M. (2016). Why We Need More Nature at Work: Effects of Natural Elements and Sunlight on Employee Mental Health and Work Attitudes. PLOS ONE, 11(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155614
CDC. (2020, December 28). Women, Caregiving, and COVID-19 | CDC Women’s Health. https://www.cdc.gov/women/caregivers-covid-19/index.html
Bridges, K. (n.d.). Implicit Bias and Racial Disparities in Health Care. The American Bar Association. Retrieved March 26, 2021, from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/the-state-of-healthcare-in-the-united-states/racial-disparities-in-health-care/
How discrimination can harm black women’s health. (2018, October 31). Havard School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/discrimination-black-womens-health/
Kochhar, R. (2020, January 30). Women are narrowing the gender wage gap. Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/01/30/womens-lead-in-skills-and-education-is-helping-narrow-the-gender-wage-gap/
Meister, J. C. (2018, September 3). The #1 Office Perk? Natural Light. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/09/the-1-office-perk-natural-light