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What Do You Do When It Seems Like the Whole World Is on Fire?

by Kristin Anderson on 2020-09-15T16:11:41-07:00 | Comments

So, still no murder hornets, but have you noticed all this smoke? Fire, evacuations, homes, and businesses decimated. Not to mention, we are still in the middle of a pandemic! 2020 you just won’t stop with the crazy plot twists. Enough already. Seriously, though, the Jackson County Library staff has been in the thick of it by helping those without resources find them: from helping those who have lost everything know what to do next, to helping people find books to use to discuss losing everything with very young children (Pro tip: Eric Litwin’s Pete and His Four Groovy Buttons is a great book for talking about how “stuff comes and stuff goes.”), to keeping folks safe from the smoke and with a place to access Wi-Fi. I sometimes joke that “librarians are the bartenders of the not-for-profit sector.” We hear your stories and we carry them with us, and while we protect individual privacy, we share them with our board so that they understand what libraries can and do do... we are so much more than just a mechanism for circulating books. That has been very evident this week. I don’t get to work with patrons much anymore, but it was empowering to work a shift in the Ashland Children’s Department this week and connect with so many patrons and meet their needs in whatever small way I could. While it's fun to wax philosophical about the good work that libraries do, that’s not what I’m going to write about today.   

Library staff is a microcosm of the community we serve, and there are those of us who are currently not able to return to our homes or who have lost our homes. As a manager of people and a manager of my own inner world, I have noticed that in the focus to handle the physical toll of the fires, we sometimes forget to stop and look at the psychological toll they are having on us. From the harrowing drives home from work some of us had on Tuesday night to not knowing how to interact with those who have lost more than we have while still acknowledging our own stress levels, there are ways we can help ourselves and each other weather the storm of psychological trauma that has descended on our valley.  

Back in 2009, my husband died, and I learned about something called the “Ring Theory” that helps us know how to best help in crisis situations. I’ve found myself referring to this model throughout this week as it has applications in our present circumstance. This is how it works: if you imagine your community as a circle, with those most impacted by the current crisis at the center and those least impacted at the outside, it is much easier to know how to manage our emotional stress. The idea is that you provide support towards the center of the circle and you vent outwards. So my friend who lost everything is at the center. She gets nothing but support from those with whom she interacts and can vent at will. Meanwhile, my colleague who is still not able to return to her home and is dealing with the trauma from the uncertainty of maybe losing her home is near, but not at the center. And, as unpleasant as Tuesday was for me, I am at the outside of the circle. It is my job to show up and help where I can. I vent to those who are impacted in the same ways I was and to my contacts outside the region. What this does is allow us to devote our support giving energy to those most in need while those of us with smaller problems can discuss them with those who are struggling with similar concerns. As real as survivors’ guilt and the other stresses related to events of last week are for all of us who didn’t experience a worst case scenario, we have neighbors who don’t have the emotional capacity to help us process these things as they work on finding shelter for their families. Here is more information about the “Ring Theory.” 

I’ve also noticed that all of us are handling this differently. Some of us are diving into doing the nitty-gritty work of helping our neighbors get their hands on the things they need. Others are finding that we are utterly depleted and retreating into ourselves. I’ve experienced both: it was a relief to feel like I was actively helping people through my library work last week, but I also experienced exhaustion. The moral of this story is that we need to be kind to each other BUT ALSO to ourselves. This is the “put your own oxygen mask on before helping those around you” school of crisis management and it is an important consideration. 

As for what else the library is doing to help: stay tuned, because we are actively discussing how we can use our resources to best support community recovery. We are cooking up a way to help our young patrons who have lost everything rebuild their home libraries. We’ve got pathfinders on recovery resources in the works. AND we have been discussing how best to help students navigate remote learning, which becomes an even more important conversation when you recognize how many students in hard hit areas are without homes to do their remote learning in. 

In the meantime, stay kind to each other, remember which ring you are on so you can support each other as effectively as possible, and take care of yourselves. We are all in this 2020 journey together, but some of us are deeper in it than others.

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