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Social and Institutional Empathy to Improve Academic Library Visitor Experience

Underrepresented and minoritized students experience barriers to seeking assistance in academic library settings, and the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified social inequities. Academic libraries, as centers of community and education, must work to provide services empathetically, equitably, and inclusively as they maintain physical and virtual services amid a pandemic. To break down these barriers, it is crucial for library workers to comprehend and minimize the effects of visible and invisible trauma to minoritized communities and individuals caused by the pandemic, examine their organizations’ institutional body language (including their policies, collection decisions, and building accessibility), and practice self-reflection by gaining awareness of how implicit biases and privilege play a role in face-to-face and virtual interactions. Additionally, library workers will need to acknowledge and seek to curb compassion fatigue and distinguish how it affects empathy toward library users. To do this, library workers need opportunities to increase their awareness of how implicit biases and privilege play a role in service interactions and how to manage compassion fatigue. This lightning talk describes how a team of library and Academic Technology workers at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) created an IMLS-funded online training course for library workers that aims to help participants explore and apply empathetic practices in library settings. The training is self-guided, open, and interactive. Attendees will reflect on social empathy and institutional body language as vehicles for social change, explore how case studies can highlight minoritized voices in library settings, and identify tools and strategies to address compassion fatigue and for applying empathy. This training will be available nationwide to equip participants with the language and tools to respond equitably and inclusively to library users. All planning materials will be openly available for others to use to replicate and adapt.
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