Interview with the Author: Bobbi Newman on Workplace Wellness for Libraries

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

April 05, 2022

Bobbi Newman is a librarian, writer, consultant, library advocate, and international speaker, and serves as a member of the Advisory Board for Let’s Move in Libraries. She is currently the Community Engagement and Outreach Specialist for the Network of the National Library of Medicine Region Six at the University of Iowa.

Ms. Newman is the author of the forthcoming book Fostering Wellness in the Workplace: A Guide for Libraries. Below is 

Will you briefly summarize the main points of Fostering Wellness in the Workplace?

Library workers do a great job of prioritizing the health and wellness of the communities they serve. But library management and workers pay very little attention to the health and wellness of library staff. Workplace wellness is a 50-million-dollar industry, much of that focused on practices that do little or nothing to improve health. The first things that usually come to mind for most of us when discussing workplace wellness are weight loss and step count programs—both of which have no place in the workplace that cares about employee health and wellness. Programs that focus on these do little to nothing to improve staff health long term. Instead, they can contribute to eating disorders, create divisiveness, and a culture of shame and judgment. The book explores the growing research around practices that actually improve employee wellness, including access to natural light, private workspaces and policies such as flex scheduling, ample vacation and sick time, and cultural practices like having healthy boundaries at work. 

Who is the primary audience?

Library workers. In most cases, it is library management that has the ability to make the changes necessary to improve workplace wellness. The book will also be helpful to library staff who want to help contribute to a healthy work environment. For job hunters, it can provide some ideas of what to look for or questions to ask when searching for employment. 

What compelled you to write this book?

The first couple of years at my position at the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) Region Six (then Greater Midwest Region) at the University of Iowa, I traveled to library conferences around the country, and I heard a recurring theme. Many presenters talked about compassion fatigue, burnout, and other topics that indicated that library workers were not doing well. Seeing that need, I created the free class at NNLM Wellness in the Library Workplace. It is a two-week asynchronous class that provides four continuing education credits from the Medical Library Association (MLA). I worked with ALA’s Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA) to launch and promote the class in March 2019. The response to the class was overwhelmingly positive, and registration fills each time it is offered. Many people expressed an interest in delving deeper into the research on workplace wellness. 

Why do you think wellness is important in the workplace?

Most of us spend forty hours a week or more working. That is more time than we spend doing anything else except maybe sleeping. As we begin to understand better the importance and impact of social and economic factors on our wellbeing, it is essential to acknowledge the role that work plays in our health and wellness. Efforts to improve overall wellness efforts have a much broader reach than a healthier staff. Staff who are physically and mentally well take fewer sick days, are more productive, provide better customer service, and are more present when at work. A healthy library provides better service to its community. 

What changes have you seen in regards to wellness in the workplace over the last two years?

There does seem to be an increased awareness of the importance of workplace wellness. But too often, it is still focused on either weight loss or activities or the idea of the resilience of employees of individuals. Most programs fail to acknowledge the workplace’s role in wellness, including official policies, management styles, and culture. For example, when we look at burnout, there is still too much focus on what individuals can do in the form of self-care. Burnout is caused by organizational, management, and professional factors. Recovery from burnout takes months or years. That is not something that can be fixed with mindfulness or resilience training. 

One positive I have seen is the increased awareness of the Healthy at Every Size movement (HAES) and issues surrounding BMI and weight as health indicators. More people are speaking up against using these in conversations about workplace wellness. 

What change do you hope readers of this book foster in their own places of employment?

I hope readers start expecting healthier workplaces. Not just in libraries but any place they end up working. It’s clear that how we think about work and productivity needs to change.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent speaker on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her professional interests include information literacy, educational technology, library and information science education, teacher identity, and academic development. Please read Lauren’s other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets

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