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On the Road to Recovery and Reconnection

TLA Membership, TLA News

By Dan Burgard

TLA President 2021-2022

As I write this column, Texas and other states are taking the first steps to completely lifting COVID-19-related restrictions for vaccinated individuals and we seem to be headed towards the real possibility of recovering a bit of normalcy and reconnecting with our colleagues and communities. We have undoubtedly been through a physical and emotional wringer in the past year and it will be good to emerge from our shared pain and get back to the business of connecting with patrons and one another.

This won’t be an easy or linear process, however. We will make progress, fall back a bit, reorient, and keep moving forward, all while questioning many things in our environments. We will also all find ourselves at very different points in the recovery spectrum as we move at a pace appropriate for our very different organizations and patrons. Ambiguity and anxiety will be constants as we move forward in the best way we know how. In other words, we will be in the perfect environment for libraries to work their magic!

Libraries and their employees will play a key role in helping their communities make the safest and least stressful recovery possible. Among other things, libraries are neutral, safe spaces where people can find acceptance and normalcy. Patrons can also find information, evidence, and assistance in the library as they work on rebalancing their own personal and family situations. Some will also find sanctuary and safety and the kind of welcome they need to recover some sense of themselves and their worth. Our communities and patrons are collectively hurting like never before and I am reassured in knowing that our profession will meet this challenge and help to improve lives and communities across our great state.

What exactly are we facing? Well, virtually every measure of personal and public health has worsened during the past year. Substance abuse rates, reports of domestic violence, and mental health challenges have all increased as compared to pre-pandemic times. Further, individuals report being less motivated and increasingly stressed by work-at-home environments that lack sufficient boundaries between work and personal activities.

The latest challenge we are seeing in many settings is that people are experiencing “re-entry anxiety” or discomfort about needing to adjust their routine yet again as they face the challenge of returning to work in a more traditional setting. I know the feeling … Wouldn’t it be nice if something stayed the same for just a little while?

I am concerned that many of the issues we are facing are made worse by the fact that librarians in Texas and elsewhere are overwhelmed by serving in many roles at work. It is very difficult for overburdened librarians and staff to be effective at work or to engage with TLA. My presidency in TLA will focus attention on members’ personal and professional health needs and seek to increase engagement by supporting programming and resources aimed at increasing librarian and staff well-being.

I am firmly of the opinion that our first step in helping our communities is to help ourselves. There is no way we will be up to the challenge in front of us if we do not take care of ourselves first. Even though it goes against our inclination as service professionals, we must take some time to recharge our own batteries and get our own personal situations solidified before we can even think of helping others. This goes for our staff as well.

I am fully confident that we can rely on each other. Librarians are experts at helping others, so please touch base with your friends, don’t be afraid to ask for help for yourself, and above all, check in with the staff and your community at TLA to see what great opportunities they have for you to reconnect with your librarian family.

TLA stands ready to help as it puts out a steady flow of helpful information and offers numerous ways to connect with your colleagues. Our association is also actively seeking out programming that can help us with our own mental and physical challenges. I know that you are facing ever more challenges and taking on more than your normal complement of roles at work, so I encourage you to call on and connect with your TLA colleagues for help as we travel to our “new normal.”

As Matthew McConaughey said in his Spotlight Author presentation during our 2021 annual conference, “We don’t really like yellow or red lights, those make us pause: a sacrifice, an intervention, sickness, death. We don’t like them, but inherently in every red and yellow light we have, these reveal a green light in our future.”

The pandemic was a “red light” for our whole library community. Let’s find our green light together.