Early retirements, compassion fatigue, and burnout: these are the issues that are currently affecting public librarians as they attempt to take on the work of caring for their visitors’ mental health as well as their day-to-day jobs, according to School Library Journal.
For many librarians, especially those that work in a city or school district with high-poverty rates, the support of students and community members is as much the work as being a librarian—this can mean taking care of children who are left at the library without food or supervision for hours while their parents work, extreme situations of helping with overdoses, as well as the regular interactions with people who are dealing with traumatic circumstances.
“There’s frustration, because there’s only so much you can do to fix their situation,” Laura Leonard, director of the Twinsburg Public Library, told SLJ. “You don’t get that training in library school.”
I’ve had many conversations with female English professors in my life about the care work that goes into their jobs—the unpreparedness they have felt going into that aspect of sessions with students, as well as the steps they’ve had to take on their own to educate themselves about counseling, a field they hadn’t chosen to be in, but had become apparent was a part of their job nonetheless.
One example was my thesis advisor in undergraduate, who I had chosen, yes, because of her understanding nature and the aura of wisdom that she carried with her, a wisdom that I felt extended past the subject of literature and into life and selfhood. This is to say, I am and have been part of this problem, of assuming that people, and usually women, who are in creative or introspective fields (teaching, being a librarian) come fully equipped with the tools of a therapist. It turns out I wasn’t alone in this assumption: I later discovered that my thesis advisor had become so inundated with therapy-session-esque meetings with students that she had enrolled herself in night classes at a neighboring university to get certified as a counselor, so that she could feel authorized to even take on the responsibility of student’s mental health.
The answer to this problem seems to lie simply in the need for institutional support. People needing other people to talk to is probably not going to go away. Unfortunately, the fact that the role of caregiver often falls to women in certain fields of work is probably not going to go away either—but we can recognize it, and we can do something about it.