Affective Labor is Real: A Librarian’s Guide to Navigating #NeverAgain

Guest Post by Elaine Levia

Emma Gonzalez with mosaic of slogans (art by Serena May Illescas) uploaded by Flickr user Vince Reinhart, shared under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Here we are.

It is hard for me to write that only the most recent events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have inspired this post. We’ve been inundated with stories of  gun violence in and out of schools far longer than we care to admit.  I was in elementary school when the Columbine massacre took place. Even in relative safety, I grew up learning to regard gun violence in schools not as incidents isolated by time and space, but as looming threats that would eventually happen to me or someone I knew.

Now, as a school librarian, I feel favorably positioned to approach the work of compiling resources for general and practical support in the current unfolding of violent events. We sit in a favorable seat because of our roles, adjacent to students as teachers are, but also as de facto counselors, confidants, advisors, and affective laborers of all stripes. Affective labor is the critical feminist term for work in the service or care of others, either emotionally or physically. It came about as a response to the invisibility of immaterial labor, and has even been explored in the context of academic libraries. You might be wondering, as I have wondered recently, how to broach the interconnected pieces of school shootings with students in a clear-cut way. How might we balance responsible reactions to unthinkable trauma within our training level and expertise? How might we support students in a time of anger, sadness, political fervor, and need?

I am reassured by the old refrain, shared often as comfort with me by my own mother, who also happens to be a librarian. We don’t need to have all the answers. We just need to be the connection. Today I want to share some thoughts and resources that have helped me figure out my personal role in the sea change, and I will ask for your help with one small action: consider this the crystallization, the reification of all the emotional, seemingly invisible duties of a school librarian. We’re already tasked with doing more with less, but I hope that the following few tips and resources provide a wide variety of inclusive practices for the toolkit. Moreover, I hope that a dedicated space for support and discussion within our community proves fruitful and restorative. The care of minds and bodies of others, particularly our students, is a borderless, ever-expanding pursuit. We can only do it so well when we’re able to lean on our community for support.

Additionally, I’m interested in your resources. I’ve started a public document, which you may notice at the time of posting is still in its nascent phase. Please feel free to contribute books, podcasts, training resources, tech tools, or timely articles.

Read on for some ideas about the connections we can make between the prevalence of gun violence, mental health, activism, and diversity & inclusion work.

Librarians See the Big Picture

Work within the framework of administrative and student leadership at your school. Do you know who approves student organizations? Do you have a mental health professional available to guide you? Who are your people? Talk to them.

Make (physical) space

No matter the size, libraries have space. Devote a consistent time to organizing or support efforts. Use Doodle or a dedicated Google Calendar as a scheduler for room supervision if students need space to meet. This could be as simple as a table and a stack of paper, both to provide a space of reflection, or to provide as space for student groups to meet and support each other. Make what space you have inclusive of cultural, political and intellectual identities, as well. Activists of color have long been silenced on the topics of gun control and school violence. Using library resources to acknowledge history, privilege, and cultural capital is of monumental importance.

Create resource lists

Instead of overwhelming breadth (save that for the Google Doc), consider centering diverse, timely, and varied voices, little by little, so that community members have time to engage with resources a few at a time.

Here at school, we are gearing up to put just one resource a day into the community bulletin and on our library Twitter account. Provide broad-ranging context. We are in a position to make connections between concepts that others might miss. Whether for your community that means providing AP US History-level resources on lobbying groups and political action committees, or whether it centers on realistic fiction. There’s room for a historical dissection of the Winchester family stories just as there’s room to hold a discussion on The Hate U Give. Just, maybe, go one at a time.

Librarians Have the Details Down

Post a clear map of your building in most visible library spaces.

Make ALICE protocols available for students to review one-on-one with you. For graphic design, Canva is an excellent, free web based product, and the Work level subscription supports imported visual identity standards for schools, such as color schemes and logos.

Be a mental health advocate!

Both for students who are feeling overwhelmed, saddened, or scared by the recent shooting, and to learn the signs of crisis. You don’t have to be a trained mental health professional to familiarize yourself with the signals.

Publicize the number for Crisis Text Line. Youth can text HOME to 741741 to connect with a trained counselor. Crisis Text Line practitioners caution use of language around school shootings. Don’t alienate anyone who is sensitive to hearing about traumatic events, but do center support networks on campus, making clear that you are available to listen. Consider requesting professional development funds to enroll in Mental Health First Aid or a similar program.

Invite a school mental health professional to hold office hours in a quiet library area so they may answer questions or give out information.

Provide information on protest and walkout rights.

It was a week of 7th grade projects in the library about First Amendment rights that really led me to begin writing this post. Let students know of their right to assemble and peacefully protest.

At my school, students on the middle school campus have organized to create an anti-gun violence group. They have led the way in the decision making process regarding direct action against gun violence, ultimately forgoing a true walkout (no government funding, and a secluded campus make that political statement somewhat void of real impact) in favor of efforts to promote the school’s divestment from businesses who deal with the National Rifle Association. I’m proud of them, and their impressively organized Google Drive folders.

The Never Again Colleges organization lists universities and colleges who have given statements favorable to students expressing their right to assemble and protest, with the assurance that they will not be penalized for participating, so long as their actions are not disruptive. (Thank you, Mary Beth Tinker!)

Make a list of local and national actions public. Follow the lead of students, and help them figure out which might be most appropriate for their experience level and situation. And for upper-level students, provide voter registration links and forms. Encourage students who are turning 18 to register to vote.

Your feelings are valid!

I’m grateful for the AISL community and would love to hear your thoughts. Comment or email me if you are so inclined to share your thoughts and feelings. Recent events, affective labor, resources– anything.

Trust your role in all of this and support students as they come together. I think we can learn the most from their leadership right now.

3 thoughts on “Affective Labor is Real: A Librarian’s Guide to Navigating #NeverAgain

  1. Thank you, Elaine, for this wonderful post. I am grateful for your thoughtful, informed, proactive and community-centered ideas. Like other schools, we are feeling our way through the aftermath of this latest tragedy, and are inspired by our students’ passion in wanting to respond as active members of society, using their voices and even their selves/the physical space they inhabit as places to express their anguish, anger, sadness, fear, hope and connectedness with other students across the nation. I am grateful for your reminder that we/our libraries can be, as we always are meant to be, safe places for information-gathering, support, relief, and community building.

    • Jennifer,
      Thanks so much for reading. I’m so interested in the ways students are responding as engaged citizens, too. Not only are they planning direct action, they’re thinking so deeply about the appropriate actions for the community at large. Ugh, I’m so proud. And we’re right where we need to be.

  2. Thanks so much for this post. It came at a perfect time, when the sluggishness of work is mixing with the insurmountable sadness about people, guns, and safety. I really needed this.
    As a male school librarian, I deeply appreciate the article and additional context about affective labor. I previously thought that gendered work wouldn’t effect me as a guybrarian. However after working in a school library for four years, and before that working in a public library, the struggle is real. This framework helps explain so much about people’s mixed expectations, stretched-thin-in-every-direction treatment of the library space, and overall undervaluing of the emotional library work I do.
    I already made a library display using the Crisis Text Line and will be coming back to this post to utilize the other excellent resources.

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