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Wellness and Libraries

August 1, 2019

Wellness, or as popularly defined, “a state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort” is commonly held to be a positive condition for learning and working well.  It is not surprising that librarians are gaining interest in how the library environment can enhance its occupants’ ability to achieve and maintain their own wellness. 

Recently, Drexel Libraries staff explored wellness in relation to the Libraries’ spaces—both for those working in them and those engaged in active learning behaviors—during an online continuing education course titled Wellness in the Library Workplace. The course, sponsored by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, took place over two weeks and explored various aspects of a healthy workplace, including physical, mental, and emotional components.

What is Wellness?

The first week examined what exactly workplace wellness is, why it matters, and characteristics of a healthy workplace. According to the class and supporting literature, a healthy workplace comprises two components: the physical space where one works and the emotional and mental environment of the job.

The physical environment includes many different components, such as an ergonomic workstation and adequate lighting, clean air, and an aesthetically pleasing decor (e.g. natural materials in furniture construction, plant and water features, or specific carpet and wall colors).

Emotional and mental aspects of the job can also have a huge impact on workers’ wellness. Certain company policies have been shown to affect job performance and satisfaction. Some policies have positive impacts on wellness, including the ability to work from home, flexible work schedules, family health care and salary. Other emotional and mental aspects of jobs can have a negative impact on workers’ wellness, such as emotional labor, invisible labor, compassion fatigue and burnout.  

Implementing Changes to Improve Staff Wellness

During week two of the course, participants learned about changes they can make to improve health and wellness at their own organizations.

Strategies like encouraging employees to leave their desks for lunch or encouraging them to have plants in their office are an easy place to start. More importantly, having policies in place that encourage the importance of wellness for staff, like permitting telework or addressing emotional and invisible labor, are also key to creating a healthy work environment. Physical environment attributes that encourage human engagement and relaxation breaks contribute to general wellness.

Wellness and Library Patrons

Some of the topics covered during the NNLM wellness course can apply to the wellness of library users as well. Physical space is perhaps the most obvious area. As the webinar stressed, providing spaces that are well decorated, clean, and with plenty of appropriate lighting can dramatically improve a user’s library experience. Silent study spaces, like those in each of the Drexel Libraries’ physical locations, can also benefit students who seek a quiet place to work alone or even amidst others. Replacing outdated furniture or positioning work spaces by sources of natural light are other approaches to improving library spaces.  

Incorporating observations from research on service workers’ well-being and service quality, the webinar reported that the wellness of library staff directly impacts the service they provide. When workers feel better, they perform better. They take fewer sick days, are more productive, have higher job satisfaction and morale, and provide better customer service [1]. The average workers spend half their waking hours working. Organizations that create healthy environments for their workers are likely to find those benefits extend to clients who encounter them and who utilize their spaces.  

Other Types of Wellness to Consider

Earlier this spring we featured an article about introducing a Wellness Gallery in the Libraries that emphasize intellectual wellness. Characteristics describing this healthy condition include, for example, being open to new ideas, promoting mental stimulation and learning new things, having curiosity and desire to learn, and sharing and receiving knowledge with others. Intellectual wellness is not assessed by performing well in class, but rather it enables applying knowledge gained from class to critical thinking and solving problems to improve the welfare of others.

During winter and spring terms, several staff helped set up the gallery. Student responses were positive to it, but we have not had success planning how to sustain it, especially with limited staff interest and time to nurture it. We hope to report in the future on a different approach to add support of intellectual wellness to the elements of the Libraries’ learning environment.


[1] Chmiel, N., Fraccaroli, F., & Sverke, M. (2017). An introduction to work and organizational psychology: An international perspective.