The Restorative Library | Editorial

It is crucial that libraries help their communities grapple with pressing current issues. But it’s also important to rest, both individually and collectively.

Providing rest and rejuvenation in hard times

Meredith Schwartz head shotWe all need a break. The news cycle feels like an endless assault—lost rights and mass shootings at home, war and famine abroad, and the endlessly mutating pandemic on top of it all. Libraries, in particular, are besieged—sometimes literally, as the changing front line in the culture wars brings invasions of Proud Boys to disrupt Drag Queen Story Hour at multiple libraries.

It is, as I frequently write in this space, crucial that libraries help their communities grapple with those issues. But it’s also important to rest, both individually and collectively. It’s way too easy to feel guilty for our exhaustion because someone else has it worse or doesn’t have the luxury of stopping, but guilt doesn’t actually restore our strength, it just saps even more emotional energy. (This also applies to guilt for not doing self-care "right," by the way. There’s a role for aspirational ideas that take effort in changing habits that no longer serve you, but if the actual overall impact of trying to meditate or do yoga is to make you feel worse, maybe that is not the right form of self-care for you right now.)

So my wish for you, your colleagues, and your patrons today is that you make rest and respite an explicit priority in planning for your library, as well as addressing safety for patrons and staff. Can you host a nap pod in your academic library, as the University of Michigan and Wesleyan University did? Can you offer your employees an app that helps with stress and sleep, as Ozy Aloziem did at Denver Public Library? Can you bring therapy bunnies to visit, as the American Library Association did at its most recent conference? Nothing brings the blood pressure down like petting a chill tribble with a pink nose. And despite my example of self–guilt tripping above, offering yoga and meditation programs may help some patrons and staff too.

You could check out our fall books to watch and consider choosing Nap Ministry founder Tricia Hersey’s October title, Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto, as a book club or display pick. Or perhaps multiple editors’ pick Ross Gay’s Inciting Joy, because rejuvenation for the spirit is just as important as rest for the body. Both titles explicitly address seeking rest and joy as a Black person in a racist culture.

You could build and celebrate booklists of happy, healing titles and ask your patrons to share the books they find restorative, the ones that break reading slumps and bring comfort on hard days.

Often, even for adults, these are children’s books. So consider looking to your children’s programming and see if there is something there that adults, too, might enjoy if it were offered to them. Remember the adult coloring trend? Opportunities to play and get silly and imaginative together are sometimes few and far between for grownups, especially those without young children.

What are your happiest programs and displays, the ones that make patrons’ eyes light up when they see them and leave grinning? Can you make it a goal to schedule one of those a month? A week? Can you reach out to partners to find ways to showcase joyful community artwork, whether paintings and sculptures or song and dance?

When it’s time to refresh your space, can you apply the principles of what delights in a children’s or teen space—unique reading nooks, playfully surprising design twists—to adult needs and sensibilities? Can you plant gardens on your roof, lawn, or even windowsill and invite your patrons to share the slow joys of nurturing them? What little thing can you do to make coming to the library a rejuvenating experience—for staff as well as patrons—in a world full of exhausting ones?

It’s important to recognize, and to acknowledge, that short-term spirit lifters are not a substitute for needed structural change. No one who doesn’t make a living wage is going to respond well to attempts to placate them with a pizza party instead of a raise. But that’s not to say that little pleasures have no role to play. Structural change is a long hard slog. Fun and rest along the way can contribute to maintaining energy and momentum, rather than distracting from it. And they can help build a supportive community in which each individual knows they can take a rest when they need it, while trusting that the whole will keep moving forward together.

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Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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