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Supporting Library Staff during #COVID19 Lockdown

The Library I lead has been incredibly busy reimagining library services in lockdown and you can read more about our customer facing services here. But we have also been very aware that our library staff need more support when they also are feeling and anxious about the COVID-19 virus in their lives as well as undergoing the challenging transition to working from home. We are also asking staff to support other teams, such as our Communications team and our People and Culture team, as some areas’ workloads increased at this time.

The staff Wellness Community Hub that our People and Culture team have developed is a place staff can go to to share and talk about the challenges, coping mechanisims and daily hacks they use to get through the day. Staff are encouraged to send photos or contribute to some conversations about their lives when working from home. It has been set up on the staff Microsoft Sharepoint hub.

The Wellness Hub has been sorted into The Conversation, The Daily Dose, Activities for the Body, Mind and Soul and a Recipe Share section as we are all missing those morning tea get togethers.

In the Daily Dose there is a daily upload of links, blogs and discussions about wellness. Particularly selected for our current times. The first daily dose article chosen was one on better Hand care and then we added a Ted Talk on Its Ok to be Overwhelmed . There is even one on how to set up your Working from Home office.

The Conversation section asks staff to share their hacks, daily joys and the first conversation includes the joy of the daily walk with a pet. We are hoping that staff connect with each other a little more with this conversation but it is early days.

Activities for the Body, Mind and Soul is just what it says. Tips for Staying Active, 15 minute Yoga stretches for neck, shoulders and back, access to free exercise apps and classes such as This Girl Can are all together to encourage staff to be active every day. There is a mindful section that links staff with videos, apps, articles and resources and guided meditations to help staff relieve stress. One of our staff has done a mindfulness course and developed some in-house training that she delivered for staff which is also included. We have also included a section on ideas to relax and wind down to encourage staff to look after their mental wellness too.

In the Recipe Share page we have links to healthy recipe sites such as the SBS Healthy Recipe site and a link to the Whats in my pantry options where you can search recipe sites to match the food you have on hand. We are hoping that staff share the photos of the food they are cooking with each other to compensate for the lack of staff get togethers that centre around shared food. We have some amazing cooks on staff so are looking forward to the sharing of their tried and true recipes.

We also have an Employee Assistance Program that links staff with trained counsellors should they need. Our provider has developed some resources, tips and strategies for staff to deal with COVID19 stress and anxiety that we have also included on the Wellness page. For all our Senior Managers we have run a debrief session with our provider to help our senior managers manage stress. It was run over Microsoft Teams and I think the counsellor could have been more proactive at reaching every staff member instead of just talking at us but we will all improve at attending online meetings and being more willing to engage in this way over time. We are also implementing a 15 minute telephone call from a counsellor to every staff member, just to check-in. Staff can opt out of this service but we wanted to be proactive and give staff the opportunity to engage with a counsellor in a non-emergency way so they can debrief if need be.

Our Leadership team has also been very proactive at developing flexible leave options at this time. Being a Corporation means that we have the autonomy to do this which many local government libraries do not have. Personal leave, special COVID19 leave, access to leave at half pay and easier access to long service leave have all been offered to support staff to navigate the lockdown. Flexibility in work times have also been negotiated as with the schools still closed and partners also working from home we recognised that normal work days may not be achievable. While I did need to make some tough decisions and move all staff to a Monday-Friday timetable with no access to penalty rates and our casual staff had to be informed that we had no work for them in the foreseeable future we are trying to ensure all permanent staff remain employed and that they all have access to meaningful work. Our staff who are over seventy or who have underlying health issues have opted to take some leave or continue to work from home.

We have also given support to staff in setting up their working from home offices. Laptops, individual tech help, internet phones and wifi dongles have been given to those staff that required it. Staff have also been able to take home their office chairs, second screens and other equipment needed to support them working from home. Specific Library guidelines pertaining to our library service have also been developed for staff to assist them in working from home. Staff who continue to work at the Branches have specific safety guidelines and social distancing guidelines in place to ensure that can remain safe in the workplace.

FAQs on the impacts for staff because of COVID19 and statewide restrictions are updated and available on the staff Sharepoint Intranet that has been especially developed for this current situation. Communication with staff has been one of the main areas of focus for the Library leadership team to give staff surety of their employment and tasks to focus on. The Senior Leadership team of managers and the executive was meeting daily, but as the situation has become more stable we are now meeting twice a week to discuss new services, safety and risk for staff and to check in with each team. The CEO, has also been conducting CEO On the Spot meetings with all staff where they can ask questions, inform staff of the next steps for the service, give them the Library Board’s messages of support and congratulate them all on their efforts at reimagining a library service delivered to the home.

There is still a long way to go before libraries get back to normal delivery and our library service will continue to find new ways to engage and support staff going forward. I look forward to hearing from other libraries on how they are supporting staff during this time so that we can all learn from each other. My thanks to the wonderful senior leadership team in my library who have all pulled together to ensure we remain a viable library service with every permanent staff member remaining employed and supported along the way.



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Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics