Thinking about compassion and love in academic libraries


Compassion – meaning suffering-with – is a universal human quality that has been discussed widely in world religions and philosophies through history. There is considerable evidence that the cultivation of compassion and altruism is beneficial – it strengthens pro-social feelings and qualities, improves relationships, and increases emotional well-being (or happiness), both in the person who practices it and in the people around that person. Whether we think of self-compassion or compassion towards our communities, these qualities can be cultivated to encourage caring, love, and well-being. In this way, compassion can be thought of as a component of wellness. Love, one of the emotions that informs compassion, is understood as containing power by some feminist scholars, particularly those in the Feminist Love Studies Network.This power may be exploited, particularly by employers in increasingly neoliberal work contexts. How does one balance a desire to serve as a librarian, to create dynamic connections with students and faculty, without spilling over into exploitive self-sacrifice even as the employer expects more of everything with less? How does one work with the productive and reproductive power of love to create vibrant, kind, and interesting workplaces? The work of librarians and professionals in other feminized, care-focused professions, includes the use of love and compassion. Care work, love, and compassion are intertwined. Compassion could also be viewed as essential to academic librarians in their work with patrons: teaching; creating balanced, accessible collections for the public good; and in their interactions with each other and other work colleagues. The potential for unhelpful compassion, in the form of niceness, or the enabling of addictive or harmful behaviour, exists in the term idiot compassion, coined by the Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa. Both compassion and love may be abused, especially in the white capitalist patriarchy within which we labour as librarians. Naturally, such misuse of fundamental human emotion is detrimental to wellness on an individual level as well as to the greater group within institutions. In this presentation, we will offer suggestions from the literature for ways of addressing idiot compassion in libraries.

Jun 6, 2022 10:00 AM