I posted the first reading notes on my open research notebook, as well as starting to read the Information Literacy chapter from Handbook for Community College Librarians by Michael A. Crumpton and Nora J. Bird.
I wasn’t able to engage too deeply in this one, but I do have a few thoughts that I need to get off my chest in response to the criticism that one participant maintained about the topic of “emotional labor.” This person repeatedly asserted a false binary between “real” work (literacy, housing, etc.) and what she seemed to think was “indulgent” concerns about the emotional labor we perform.1 Professions that focus distinctly on emotional labor—therapists, social workers, even special education teachers as far as I am aware—spend part of their education and training to equip people to cope with how taxing and vexing it can be to perform emotional labor. Even though I imagine this training isn’t sufficient in every program or done to the same degree among these professions, it seems that their professional discourses and practices at least valorize and respect the difficulty of emotional labor.
To assert that time spent discussing how to keep ourselves mentally and emotionally healthy enough to engage with our patrons at our best is like telling a marathon runner that time spent recuperating from a run is merely time spent not training. We are human. Humans have limits. Castigating fellow librarians for recognizing that they need to equip themselves with methods for healing in order to better work with patrons does nothing to help your fellow librarians or to provide their patrons better service.
It’s well worth noting that the dismissive attitude toward recognizing and recuperating from emotional labor took the guise of focusing on things that are “more real” or “more practical.” This argument against recognizing emotional labor reminded me more than a little of David James Hudson’s keynote at CLAPS2016. While it’s not quite the same as a perceived tension between clear language and critical theory, the recognition of emotional labor does imply a distinct element of social theory and abstract thinking beyond the more direct provision of service.
Perhaps we need to have LIS programs introduce (at least cursory) tools for recognizing and recuperating from emotional labor, as do other service-heavy professions. This would not only equip us with the tools to continue learning how to do self-care when emotional labor takes its toll, but also do the more fundamental work of recognizing that this can take a toll.
As always, librarians and the people we work for and with include a sizable portion of people for whom social nets are fraying, whom society and economics are failing. It’s inevitable that we’ll engage with people experiencing profoundly difficult circumstances. Without preparing for that, we’re doing ourselves, our patrons, our institutions, our profession, and our communities a profound disservice.
I’m not directly quoting her here; the words in those scare quotes are more my attempt to encapsulate her contentions. I’m also not keen on calling her out or engaging unproductively, so I’m leaving her name out here in favor of focusing on this as an example of how emotional labor becomes dismissed within our profession. ↩