What role do librarians play in supporting student mental health and DEI?

By: Guest contributor, Mon Jan 30 2023

Author: Guest contributor

Do librarians have a role to play in supporting student mental health? Can they do more to ensure diversity and equity across their archives and catalogues? And what support do librarians themselves need? To mark the launch of Nature Mental Health, we held a webinar covering these topics and more. In this blog, we look at some of the highlights from the discussion.

Nature Mental Health is one of a number of new transformative journals that recently joined the Nature Portfolio. With a multidisciplinary and inclusive approach to mental health, it brings together innovative research spanning neurobiological and psychological factors that underpin psychiatric disorders as well as contemporary work on the effects of public health crises.

To mark the journal’s launch, Chief Editor of Nature Mental Health Rebecca Cooney was joined by guest panelists Sara A. Howard, Librarian for Gender and Sexuality Studies and Student Engagement at Princeton University Library and Carrie Wade, Research and Instruction Librarian at Harvard Countway Library in a webinar for World Mental Health Day. The panel discussed the roles that journals and libraries play in the worldwide mental health community and some specific efforts to advance support and equity for students and researchers.

Librarians are in a unique position to support students

In her introduction to Nature Mental Health, Chief Editor Rebecca Cooney explained the journal’s fundamental belief that an individual's mental health and well-being are crucial for the positive functioning and flourishing of families, communities, and societies. With that in mind, the first question put to the panel was to ask how librarians can support the mental health of students and researchers at their institutions.

 “The position of the librarian really gives you the ability to bond with students and researchers in ways that are not intimidating,” said Carrie Wade. “We often have these limited interventions [with students]. But within those limited interventions we have this unique power and position that we don't have to be intimidating because we don't have much control over student outcomes or researcher outcomes. I think that librarians are really well positioned as caring support on campuses.”

They were more likely to let their guard down because they didn’t feel there was any expectation...

Sarah Howard echoed this sentiment, explaining she felt that students and researchers didn’t feel the need to put on the same sort of ‘performance’ with librarians as perhaps they would with their supervisors and lecturers. They were more likely to let their guard down because they didn’t feel there was any expectation of them from a librarian.

But how can librarians support students and researchers when they do open up about challenges? Carrie Wade emphasised the importance of using librarians' natural skills as information providers and connection makers. She spoke about how librarians should (ideally) have information about the support and guidance available on campus and how they can connect students with that support.

However, both panelists also flagged the need for more support for librarians to be able to perform this role. “The training [at the moment] is ’call this number or do this action’,” said Sarah Howard. “But how do we speak to the student in the moment [of crisis]? I think across the academy we really must push ourselves to do more, especially if things are being asked of us. I think we need training that thinks holistically about the communities we're working with and their mental health.”

Underrepresentation in mental health research

Another theme of the discussion was diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in mental health research. Rebecca Cooney explained in detail the work Nature Mental Health wants to do to improve representation in mental health research. This included considering how to boost publications and increase the number of reviewers from underrepresented groups and from emerging countries. It will also encompass encouraging research that focuses on mental health in communities that are underrepresented in the current literature.

The panel were asked what librarians could do in this area, as well as how publishers could support them. “We need to think about when our researchers are coming [to the library] and whether they’re seeing themselves represented in the archives and in the catalogues,” said Sarah Howard. “As information systems, we haven't done a great job of representing traditionally and purposely marginalized communities.”

She went on to voice her belief that librarians and information managers need to consider different sources of information to ensure that the voices of all people are included in archives and catalogues. And that more engagement and outreach need to happen with marginalised communities to ensure that this happens.

…we have to be open to other scholarship – maybe in a narrative form or ethnography or other methodologies that are being brought into the scholarly conversation.

“Research is being produced that only looks at certain segments [of the population],” she concluded, “so we have to be open to other scholarship – maybe in a narrative form or ethnography or other methodologies that are being brought into the scholarly conversation. If we don't open up to smaller studies, things from grassroots NGOs and community organisations who have built trust with that community, then we're just limiting ourselves. We talk about open access, but let's also be open to other things we're bringing into the more traditional scholarly canon. And that way, I think we'll get out of these traditional white coloniser, cis normative narratives.”

Watch the webinar recording for the full discussion and more insight into how Nature Mental Health will be working with the research community. You can also read the journal’s Aims & Scope.

More on this topic

Read the blog “5 things librarians can do right now to support the UN SDGs” and more about The Sustainable Development Goals Programme at Springer Nature, which connects researchers who are tackling the world’s toughest challenges with the practitioners in policy and business.

  • The changing role of the library – read more about how the role of librarians and the library itself is developing.
  • New journals – find out more about the new journals launching in the Nature Portfolio this year. 
  • Mental health research – read and explore an exclusive collection of the latest research on mental health and well-being.

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Author: Guest contributor

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