Week 50: “We are Suffering”

At Countway we know from the medical, dental, public health, and graduate students who are using us that being open has played a very positive role in helping them emerge from the shutdowns, accomplish their academic work, and feel less alone. COVID has impacted all of our mental health and emotional well-being in dramatic ways. While social distancing and prolonged periods of isolation have been necessary to slow the spread of COVID, the measures have led to, for many, a feeling of dislocation, isolation, stress, depression, anxiety and fear. Pre-pandemic research in the study of human isolation shows when we are separated from colleagues, friends and family for extended periods of time, people feel more anxious, awkward, even intolerant when they return to normal life.

Some of you may know I co-lead an IMLS grant program that is designed to offer an online post master’s certificate in interprofessional teamwork for librarians. We have librarians from all over the county enrolled in this two-year online program. These students, like many, have had a rough year. We leave time during each in person Zoom session for these students to share their experiences and barriers to completing assignments or we just give them the opportunity for general venting. I want to share with you some of the experiences our students have shared with us during class and in office hours.

Some have experienced several weeks of unpaid furlough as others have themselves or family members sick with COVID; in one case, the student’s husband was on a ventilator (he is OK now). Another had to take unpaid leave to care for her sister with cancer (because her sister was not a dependent or immediate family member as defined by the student’s institutional benefits she could not be on paid leave) and during that time her father, who was in a nursing home, died of COVID. Another student said:

“We are suffering”

“We are in trauma”

“We are coming back to work and we are in trauma and so are our library users. No one is talking about this on our campus.”

“The mental health issues are enormous and are here with us for generations to come.”

“We need a library symposium on dealing with trauma in our libraries.”

The purpose of this week’s message is two-fold. One is to acknowledge the trauma and suffering we all (staff, faculty, students, family, friends, colleagues, etc.) are facing—this may manifest itself in different ways as illustrated above in the stories of my students. We and/or our users may feel numb, tired, burned out and disconnected. We may not talk about it but it is there. Secondly, to say that in addition to presenting the safety protocols and rules and compliance steps and density counts we are taking in the library as we return to work and reopen to users, we need to openly discuss the mental health and well-being of ourselves and our library users who are or will be coming back into our building and the strategies for coping. To that end, we will start by devoting some of our upcoming Library Town Hall meetings on this important topic. I will continue to give you updates about the library re- opening but we will also leave time for sharing and/or speakers who will talk to us about dealing with trauma. Our first presentation (date to be determined) will be by Scott Podolsky on COVID shaming.

Please let me know if you have any speakers or mental health experts who can help us deal with trauma, particularly within the library context. While we will engage in a library-wide discussion on this important topic, let me remind you of the confidential mental health services available to you as individuals at HMS, including the Ombuds Office, EAP, and various HR Employee Health and Wellness activities and workshops.