When I was in my teens and early twenties, the concept of wellness wasn’t really a thing. Yes, there were many diet books to read and fitness shows on television, but it was nothing like today where wellness is a part of everyday life from social media to the workplace and, in the last few years, libraries.
To get a bit personal, let me share a bit about my own experiences with wellness. Growing up, I loved everything about fitness and health. I devoured books about healthy living, became a fitness instructor in my early twenties, and a vegetarian in my teens. “Wellness”, though the term was not commonly used, was a way for me to improve myself and became a big part of my identity. My university friends knew me as the girl who did aerobics classes and never ate fast food; this made me feel proud and like I was doing everything right, just like the models I read about in magazines.
This was the time when supermodels reigned and Kate Moss had the body that I wanted to have. I think it’s a common feeling, when you are young, to aspire to be someone other than yourself and I believed that this was the right thing to do – if I could be the thinnest, prettiest me then I had done everything right.
Now, as wellness flows through every part of our daily life it may be worth reflecting on all aspects of wellness – the positive and the negative. On the surface, wellness encompasses the positive goals of good health, a peaceful mind, and loving relationships. Dip below the surface, however, and you may discover some of the darker aspects of the wellness movement: feelings of inadequacy, intense competition, and struggles with food and exercise.
As libraries (public and academic) move further into wellness support and programming, it is a perfect time to have discussions around wellness. For instance:
- What are the motivations for pursuing wellness?
- How is wellness presented?
- How do we address the cost, both in time and money, to pursue wellness initiatives?
- What role do academic libraries play in wellness, for students (and potentially staff)?
- Where does wellness fit within the Library’s traditional role of providing resources and support for research?
I believe strongly in wellness and it is a big part of my life (even if I don’t love the term!). Providing programming and resources that can help students deal with stress, build resilience and improve their focus is undoubtedly helping support them in their university education. Libraries, often referred to as the ‘heart of campus’, may be the ideal space (figuratively and literally) to offer wellness support.
Over the next few weeks, I would like to address some of the questions above based on my experience as a librarian, fitness/yoga instructor, and longtime wellness devotee! I don’t have all the answers but I think the discussion is worth having. When libraries offer wellness support, it needs thought, reflection, and conversations with students. If not, I worry that libraries are just covering the surface of wellness, because it’s the thing to do.
There are so many amazing opportunities for wellness programming in libraries, ones that are research-based and have the potential to make a lasting impact on students. Gathering research on various wellness initiatives is an important part of the process and sharing that research with students helps them become active partners in their own pursuit of wellness (and introduces them to scholarly research!). Conversations with students about what would help them is another important part to discovering where the library can fit in wellness programming, shaping where and how we can best contribute.
And finally, remembering that wellness can have a dark side. There is a sense of impossible perfection when an individual dives deep into wellness on Instagram or picks up the latest diet* book (*books rarely have diet in the title these days – it’s usually ‘plan’). There is an idea that if we follow all the rules – do what the fitness influencer is doing, eat the way the actor did to prepare for that role – then we will be the prettiest and/or thinnest version of ourself. I remember so clearly that feeling in university and I would never want to cultivate that in the students we are serving!
Perhaps the library has a role to play in educating students about how to delve more deeply into the ‘influencer’, how to separate the bad advice from the reputable, and determine their OWN definition of wellness. It may even include finding a better word for wellness! I could imagine a workshop on “investigating the influencer: do they really know what they are talking about?”
Stay tuned for some more reflections on wellness and libraries!