Librarians and Grief: How to Support Employees, Colleagues and our Patrons Through the Worst Time in Their Lives


Your Name and Title:  Kati Schaller, Associate Professor/Education & Instruction Librarian


Library, School, or Organization Name: McIntyre Library, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


Co-Presenter Name(s):


Area of the World from Which You Will Present: United States, Wisconsin


Language in Which You Will Present: English


Target Audience(s): all


Short Session Description (one line):  Librarians and Grief: How to Support Employees and Colleagues Through the Worst Time in Their Lives

Full Session Description (as long as you would like):  

Wholehearted Libraries start and end with the support of and care for one another, and death is an uncomfortable topic but needs to be discussed in our field.  The events that take place in our personal lives form the librarians we are now or will become, and because we serve the general public, in one way or another, death affects all of us.  This session will address grief issues in two parts:  working with a grieving colleague and helping patrons who are grieving. As employers, as colleagues, and as librarians serving the public, it is often hard to know what to say, what to do, when to get involved and how. Every situation and person is unique and should be treated as such, but death is not something many are prepared to deal with, individually or on the work front. When you suffer great loss everything about your life changes, and deciding when to return to work is very personal. But just because you return to work doesn’t mean your grief has ended, and almost always there are months, if not years, of healing ahead. This presentation will offer suggestions on dealing with the newly grieving colleague, the rules and rights of employees and employers, and the value of empathy over all else. Grief experts agree, it’s not HR policy grieving employees complain about, it’s how their managers and co-workers reacted toward them as they tried to transition back to work.  By addressing bereavement directly and before it is at our doorstep, we can build in mechanisms for ensuring that the grief-stricken employee is supported, ensuring work gets done while also providing employees with the time and compassion they need to heal.  The more flexible we can be during this most difficult time, the more loyalty it will get in return. Death and traumas are life transforming for many of us, and we may not come back the same, but our experiences are invaluable in making us compassionate, empathetic librarians. The second part of this presentation will give suggestions on how to treat our grieving patrons. As librarians we often get to know our customers on a personal basis, and when tragedy strikes in their lives, we are often left to wonder how to comfort and support them.  Tips and suggestions, from those who have lost loved ones recently, will be shared. 

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