Articles and Reviews, Editorial, Research

Empathy does not come for free

I came across this piece on Medium and thought–yes! If you’ve seen me present within the last year, you know I’ve been referencing Brené Brown, but I agree wholeheartedly (reference intended) with this author. While he’s a teacher referring to teachers, this is equally as valid in librarianship:

Just like supporting the mental health of kids means supporting the mental health of parents, we have to support students by supporting the mental health of teachers… Defeating shame and embracing vulnerability have become privileges for other people, but not me or my fellow teachers. (

This is exactly what I’ve been saying about libraries–if we want library staff members to give the best possible empathetic support to patrons, our managers and administrators need to offer the same level of empathy to staff that they expect staff to offer to the public. Unfortunately, those managers and administrators are also often lacking sufficient support, and so the cycle of burnout continues.

If you’re a manager or administrator who would like to work with me on this, I’m making real efforts to apply the same social work approach as we use with patrons to ourselves and to each other. This is a learning process and one that I hope can be transformative for us. When one of my top recommendations for library staff is the work of Kaetrina Davis Kendrick on our shared low morale, I know there’s a lot more to be done. Individuals can only do so much to create sustainable practice in an unsustainable system.

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