Resilient: Librarian Strength in Times of Change

Resilient: Librarian Strength in Times of Change

A supervisor and colleague told me that librarians were a hardy bunch. She was right. From the trenches of war-torn Ukraine to the elegant offices of the Library of Congress and everywhere in between, librarians are resolute in their mission. Resilient in their roles of creating paths to information.

When the world turns upside down, libraries are one of the few places people can turn to find consistent humanity amongst the rubble of their chaotic lives. No matter what’s going on in their life, a compassionate librarian will be happy to help them find the information they need. This is due mainly to the fact that librarians are known to be resilient and adaptable. states, “According to the Oxford English Dictionary, resilient means “able to … spring back into shape after bending, stretching or being compressed.” That’s concerning an object. Concerning a person, it means “able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.” Librarians’ work days often require them to spring back into shape.

Learning how to build one’s resilience takes time. According to, “Resilience is a process, an ongoing one. Attaining resilience in the face of such iteration is like mastering sailing. When setting sail upon open waters, it is a fact of life that there will always be changes in conditions… The skilled sailor learns to expect constant change and is always ready to adjust to the unexpected, improvise solutions, maintain a positive balance and stay on course to the extent possible. The seasoned sailor reflects on experience and learns from it to strengthen resilience for the next challenge.” The same goes for librarians. They have learned how to adapt to change. Some of the ways in which to build resiliency are:

  • Determine what the challenge is

  • What resources do you have which can help the situation

  • Choose your next destination

  • Identify the best way to get there

  • Self-care

The ALA has also addressed librarians’ resiliency, stating, “Discussion of resilience has increased in the wake of several recent natural disasters… resilience is broadly applied as a strategy to help address climate change, natural disasters, and even terrorism.” Librarians across the world work and live in difficult conditions regularly. It takes a particular persistent personality to sustain the resilience needed in rougher situations. Some of the main personality traits of emotionally resilient people are listed by Psychology Today:

1. They know their boundaries.

  • Resilient people understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the cause of their temporary suffering. The stress/trauma might play a part in their story, but it does not overtake their permanent identity.

  • Librarians learn and know their boundaries as they plan and assist others. They build on their resilience daily, especially when working in conflict areas.

2. They keep good company.

  • Resilient people tend to seek out and surround themselves with other resilient people.

  • A solid support network of colleagues, in-person and even virtually, can make a significant difference for even the most resilient librarian. Much like a marriage, relying on one another for support and kindness in good and bad times provides an ideal place for resiliency to bloom.

3. They cultivate self-awareness.

  • Being self-aware is vital for anyone but especially librarians. Being immersed in public service requires a great deal of self-awareness. A professional appearance and a helpful attitude are two of the key components.

  • Likewise, a negative outlook and demeanor will have the opposite effect.

4. They practice acceptance.

  • Resilient people understand that life can be difficult for various reasons. The phrase “it is what it is” often is used by those who have learned how to adapt to circumstances.

  • Those who have dealt with significant tribulations often have less difficulty adapting to and being resilient in other situations.

    • For example, those who’ve experienced a significant loss, such as the death of a close loved one, are sometimes unphased by lesser traumas.

5. They’re willing to sit in silence.

  • Practicing mindfulness—being in the presence of the moment without judgment or avoidance, takes practice. It’s one of the best ways to build resilience.

6. They don’t have to have all the answers.

  • This part of resiliency is difficult for librarians. We’re supposed to know the answer or where to find it. Not getting stressed about being unable to locate information is also part of resiliency. Knowing you did your best to help them is sometimes inadequate.

7. They have a menu of self-care habits.

  • Self-care is imperative for everyone. Librarians are certainly not exempt from this. Some may assume a librarian unwinds by reading books all day, but that is far from reality. Many have hobbies, go home to families, and try to have a portion of their day where someone does not need them.

8. They enlist their team.

  • Relying on colleagues for help, and knowing they can do so, is a huge part of maintaining resiliency. A well-functioning team often becomes like a second family and can help provide an atmosphere where everyone can build resiliency.

9. They consider the possibilities.

  • Knowing that the situation can easily change, and thus the response to it must be flexible, is an important part of resiliency.

10. They get out of their head.

  • It’s easy to get wrapped up in the thought hurricane that happens in our minds when there’s an urgent situation around us. In the library or elsewhere, an emergency causes chaos first and the demand for steady, resilient, leadership second.

  • Librarians in war zones and other areas of conflict face this reality daily. They can’t get stuck on the emotions raging through their heads for too long when people depend on them to know what to do.

Resiliency is usually learned but is sometimes part of a personality as well. A natural “toughness” of sorts. This isn’t to say all librarians must be tough, but instead that some form of resiliency is likely part of their natural personality, making them good librarians.