Library staff wellbeing during the lockdown: a case study from QMUL

Paula Funnell, Faculty Liaison Librarian at Queen Mary University of London, describes the efforts made by her library to keep staff engaged during the pandemic.

During the first national lockdown everyone was suddenly thrust into working from home, sometimes without the necessary tools and equipment and often with children or family members also at home. Others were locked down alone and felt isolated; anxiety and stress levels were high.

Queen Mary University of London Library’s Staff Development & Wellbeing Group wanted to provide staff with activities to give them time away from work duties, as well as focusing on opportunities to stay connected to colleagues at a time when everyone was apart.

Wellbeing afternoon

Our first organised activity was an afternoon event to replace part of our usual annual staff conference, the afternoon of which always focuses on wellbeing.

We used breakout rooms in Zoom to enable icebreaker activities and to put people in teams to do a quiz. This enabled members of staff to interact with colleagues that in many cases they hadn’t had any contact with during lockdown, and for some new members of staff it gave them the opportunity to meet colleagues that they’d never even met!

Image of round from staff quiz

Through the group members, and thanks to contacts across the university, we were able to provide a choice of activities including cookery demonstrations, games, craft, meditation and yoga. Everyone who attended seemed to have a really good time and gave positive feedback.

Example of feedback from a library staff member: "Very enjoyable. Excellent sessions and the quiz was a great way to get us working with each other. Thanks!"
Example of feedback from a library staff member: "Amazing. I had so much fun today, your round the world quiz was really great."

Wellbeing activities programme

Following on from the success of the wellbeing afternoon it was decided that during the summer months we should offer a regular programme of activities. We ran activities twice over a two week period to enable as many staff to attend as possible. These included similar events to those provided as part of the wellbeing afternoon, such as mindfulness meditations, quizzes and cookery demos.

Screen image of member of staff giving cookery demo

Although attendance at these events wasn’t high, they provided a good opportunity for staff to take a break from work activities and come together with colleagues. They were very much appreciated by those who attended.

Weekly coffee breaks

Alongside the programme of events it was decided to also provide weekly 30 minute coffee breaks. These allowed staff the opportunity to connect in an informal setting for some down-time and just catch up with colleagues.

The autumn term

The regular wellbeing events paused during the autumn term as many front-facing staff were back on campus, and other staff were particularly busy with getting resources online, student inductions, and information literacy teaching sessions. We did run an online festive event and made use of a variety of online tools to make it as interactive as possible, including Zoom breakout rooms, Padlet and Socrative. The afternoon comprised of a festive traditions icebreaker, a “who’s the baby?” quiz, a Christmas-themed team quiz, and “best seasonally decorated object / person / space” competition.

Photograph of dog dressed in Christmas outfit for best seasonally decorated object/person/space competition with text which says "Marley getting into the festive spirit!"

The formal activities were followed by the chance to meet and chat informally using another new tool recently discovered by a member of Library staff, Gather.town. This provides the closest virtual equivalent to mingling.

Again, those attending really enjoyed the activities.

Positive feedback from library staff: Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to make a really nice afternoon for us all. I thought it was a lovely couple of hours and very well put together." And: "A huge thank you for organising the excellent online Christmas party last week - it was brilliant!"

Finally, in the week before Christmas, once everything had started to calm down, we ran a couple of Christmas-themed wellbeing sessions: a truffle making demo and an informal lunch chat with a game of bingo.

Moving forward

With many staff continuing to work remotely and facing increased stress and anxiety, the need for continued wellbeing provision continues. The aim is to continue with regular coffee breaks, to provide staff with informal opportunities to connect with colleagues, and to sometimes include an additional wellbeing activity such as a game, quiz, or mindfulness meditation. It is hoped that our wellbeing programme will continue to evolve over time to best meet the needs of our Library staff.

An interview with Liz Brewster

Photograph of Liz

Liz Brewster is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Education at Lancaster University and has written extensively about student wellbeing and bibliotherapy. In the summer, Emma Fitzpatrick and Pete Williams from the Wellbeing Task and Finish Group caught up with Liz over Microsoft Teams to talk about how library collections can promote good mental health and what academic libraries can do to support student wellbeing.  

Liz had lots of interesting things to say. You can read the full interview here.

Object-led wellbeing at Central Saint Martins

The Museum and Study Collection at Central Saint Martins has been able to build upon its long-established practice of object-based learning to provide object-led wellbeing activities for both students and the wider community. Read about it here.

You can also hear Judy talk in more detail about object-led wellbeing in this video:

Reading Well: finding resources for a wellbeing collection

Emma Fitzpatrick, Serial and Digital Resources Co-ordinator and member of the Wellbeing Collection team at Senate House Library, explores the Reading Well book lists curated by The Reading Agency and explains how they can help you find books and resources for your collection.  

For libraries thinking of starting a wellbeing collection, it is not always clear where to begin looking for resources. Reading Well, a campaign from the Reading Agency, offers lists of books chosen by health professionals and people with lived experience of the conditions covered in the reading lists. They have curated five book lists, all freely available, focusing on the following topics: 

Reading Well for mental health 

Reading Well for young people 

Reading Well for children  

Reading Well for dementia 

Reading Well for long term conditions 

Reading Well poster: 'Find helpful reading at your local library'

Reading Well also provides lists of what they refer to as Mood-boosting Books. These lists are designed to promote reading for pleasure and relaxation. The lists are mostly made up of fiction, poetry and some non-fiction titles which readers found uplifting. The books on these lists are recommended by readers and reading groups.  

The Reading Well scheme is widely used by public libraries to offer support for people suffering from common physical and mental health problems. The books on these lists form part of the Books on Prescription service which allow GP to “prescribe” books to patients to help support their recover. Individuals can also discover these titles using the Reading Well website or by visiting their local library.   

There are many titles on the Reading Well book lists which would be of great help to university library users seeking support for their wellbeing. The lists are also a great source of information and a good starting point for any librarians thinking about starting a wellbeing collection or looking for ways to use their library’s existing collections to support the wellbeing of their users.  The Reading Agency has recently produced a helpful guide for colleges and universities looking to get involved in Reading Well.

Reading Agency poster: 'Books to help you feel better'

I am part of the team at Senate House Library who have been working for the last year to build a Wellbeing Collection to support our users. When we were searching for resources, we found the Reading Well lists extremely helpful. It was wonderful to have lists of books curated by health and wellbeing professionals and recommended by readers, which focus on many of the different physical and mental health difficulties that influence our overall sense of wellbeing. The lists really helped us to find themes to focus on and start building a successful collection.

I am pleased to say that we launched the SHL Wellbeing Collection in February 2020 and so far it has been very well received. We hope to continue growing the collection and exploring new ways to support wellbeing in the library over the next year. 

Building your wellbeing collection: some things to consider when starting out

Emma Fitzpatrick, Serial and Digital Resources Co-ordinator and member of the Wellbeing Collection team at Senate House Library, looks at some of the key considerations when planning a wellbeing collection.

For a librarian setting out to build a wellbeing collection, a reading for pleasure collection or any collection aimed at offering wellbeing support to library users, one of the biggest and most important tasks is putting together the list of the books and resources that will go into it. This can be a difficult task, as there are many different aspects of wellbeing to consider and it is not always clear where to start looking for resources. This post considers some of the questions you will need to ask yourself when you put together a book list and start to build your collection.

Image of shelf of books which form part of the Reading for Pleasure collection at Birkbeck

Who can I partner with to help me find resources and build a successful collection? 

When putting together a book list for your wellbeing collection, consider if there are any other departments within your university or organisation which can recommend resources to you. Does your university have a specialised Wellbeing Service or a Counselling Service which can recommend books? Can Student Services or the Accommodation team recommend any resources? These last two departments may be able to offer resources on financial and housing problems which have a profound effect on student wellbeing but are often overlooked in wellbeing collections.

It is also worth considering if there is any way that you can link to these other services within your university to offer more support to users who need it. Perhaps a bookmark or postcard inside the book that has information on it about how to contact these services would work. If you are going to have a dedicated space for your wellbeing collection you could display posters nearby with information about where users can find help.

How can I involve students and library users in building my wellbeing collection?

Use social media or posters or postcards in the library space to ask for suggestions for books to be included. One approach is to ask users to recommend books which they have read to relax or relieve stress. This could be particularly helpful if you are building a reading for pleasure collection. Think about how you can get the students’ union, or other student-led organisations, involved.

Think beyond mental health 

Image of lightbulb to suggest thinking

Our mental health is of course central to our wellbeing but there are many other factors that affect wellbeing. Our physical health, for example, can have a profound impact on our wellbeing, as can our finances and our housing situations. Take a holistic view of wellbeing and try to include items that will offer support for the many different challenges to wellbeing. 

These could include books about budgeting for student, links to organisation that can help people manage their money, and resources to help with accommodation and housing problems 

Another dimension to consider is study skills. Your collection could include resources about essay planning, how to reference, or how to overcome procrastination. This is an area where libraries are already very good at providing information and training. 

You should also consider whether there is a way to use the study skills training that you already deliver to support wellbeing. There is growing evidence that the increased cost of higher education is making students feel more and more pressure to work hard and perform well. Failing to achieve the grade they were hoping for or feeling like they have not done as well as they could have, can have an adverse impact on wellbeing. Teaching students how to revise, plan essays or write bibliographies can contribute to students feeling more prepared and able to manage their workload.

Finally, you could include resources that support “digital detoxing” and healthy relationships with technology and social media.

Include e-books and online resources 

Image of student reading from laptop

This may seem like an obvious suggestion in the post Covid-19 world where so much learning and teaching has moved online but it is still worth mentioning. When we started putting together a list of books for our Wellbeing Collection at Senate House Library, we made sure that e-books were included from the outset. We also curated a list of online resources, including government-sponsored websites and material from charitable organisations such as Mind and Citizen’s Advice.

The initial idea behind our inclusion of online resources was to make our collection accessible to distance learners and to make sure that at least part of the collection would always be available even when the library was closed. We also wanted to provide a more discreet way of accessing wellbeing resources for users who might be reluctant to be seen browsing these books in the library space. 

However, this really worked in our favour when SHL was forced to close for several months during the Covid-19 lockdown. With the help of a tech-savvy colleague who manages our website we were quickly able to create a new page called the SHL Wellbeing Collection Online (link) and move across all the e-books and online resources. This meant that although our buildings were closed the collection was still there to support our users – as it continues to be as we emerge from lockdown.   

Think about what you already have 

The chances are that as you already have some great resources to support wellbeing in your collections. Your psychology or social sciences sections (if you have them) may already have books that can support users who are struggling with their wellbeing. Similarly, a literature section can be utilised – don’t discount the role of fiction and reading for pleasure in supporting emotional wellbeing. The chances are that you already have a treasure trove of books which could be used to support your users’ wellbeing. You just have to look at how to draw user’s attention to those books and how to encourage your users to read for pleasure and for relaxation.

Lightbulb image by Pixabay from Pexels.

Some tips for improving staff wellbeing

Do

  • Make it possible for staff to achieve a reasonable work-life balance by taking regular breaks, not working or emailing outside of their regular hours, and not coming into work when sick.
  • Encourage managers to set a good example by doing the above themselves.
  • Set realistic deadlines and allow staff to pace themselves.
  • Actively observe colleagues and notice any unusual patterns.
  • Deal with any concerns as soon as they arise.
  • Offer staff rewards and incentives.
  • Try to create an environment where people feel comfortable talking about stress, pressure, and mental health.
  • Ensure staff know about the support that is available from the university and other organisations.
  • Make any wellbeing activities inclusive and accessible for all staff.
  • Ensure line managers encourage involvement in wellbeing activities.
  • Provide time at work for colleagues to get together informally e.g. having a coffee as a team.
  • Keep wellbeing activities fun.

Don’t

  • Tolerate a negative workplace culture.
  • Just provide tokenistic events. Events should be part of an embedded effort to foster an environment in which wellbeing is a priority.
  • Minimise issues if someone opens up about them. What might seem small or trivial to one person might cause real distress for someone else.
  • Treat staff differently if they have any sort of disability, mental health issues or long-term health conditions.
  • Bombard people with information about wellbeing!