Promoting Wellness at Smith College

What does “wellness” mean to you? Chances are it means different things to different people. Here at Smith College, we are trying to promote “wellness” in its variety of forms to all of our libraries’ staff.

Our collective journey began in the spring of 2005 when our Wellness Group formed at the suggestion of our Library Staff Council as a measure to improve staff morale.

by Betsy Barone

What does “wellness” mean to you? Chances are it means different things to different people. Here at Smith College, we are trying to promote “wellness” in its variety of forms to all of our libraries’ staff.

Our collective journey began in the spring of 2005 when our Wellness Group formed at the suggestion of our Library Staff Council as a measure to improve staff morale. Recent budget cuts and staff reductions, along with the impending implementation of a new library integrated system, had taken their toll on morale, and something was needed to improve the staff’s sense of well-being.

With no budget for outside programs, we focused on making resources already available to us at Smith more easily accessible to libraries’ staff by instituting a Wellness Release-Time Policy. With the support of our Library Director, Chris Loring, and other members of library management, staff members were allowed to use up to one hour per week of work time to attend approved wellness activities. We are very fortunate here at Smith in that the College offers several classes (including aerobics, yoga, and aqua-aerobics) at a reduced rate to faculty and staff through the Exercise and Sports Studies Department. Additionally, there are free workshops through the College’s Get Fit Smith program on a drop-in, first-come basis, including yoga, pilates, awesome abs, strength and conditioning training, personal training, and aerobics.

Some of our other early initiatives included creating a website for staff, Wellness in the Libraries, with links to the release-time policy, wellness activities at Smith, ideas for taking breaks, local hiking spots, staff’s favorite healthy recipes, and links to websites on health, fitness and exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, and health-risk calculators. We also began submitting a “Healthy Tip of the Week” to our libraries’ weekly newsletter, highlighting events around campus as well as health-related information in the news.

That first summer we offered a Fitness Group that worked out together at the College’s new Olin Fitness Center, a state-of-the-art facility with a wide variety of weight machines, treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes. We also had a Walking Group that took walks around campus and used pedometers to track their progress. Later, we organized longer group walks after work or on weekends to some of our favorite local hiking areas and brought in speakers on topics including ergonomics and stress reduction. During the summer of 2006, we urged staff to get away from their workstations and “Take a Break!” with their colleagues to enjoy a healthy snack on Thursday mornings. In the spring of 2007, we held our first Healthy Potluck lunch for staff, using the recipes gathered on our website.

While most of our early efforts focused on traditional health and fitness, in the spring of 2008, we expanded our view of “wellness” to include many more types of activities. With the support of our Library Director and a small budget, we organized Wellness Week, which we hope will be an annual event in the Libraries. Scheduled to coincide with “no-meetings week,” events included chair massage, line dancing, games, chocolate and wine tasting, hand crafts, guided visualization and meditation, and Qigong, in addition to the established yoga, aerobics, and walking programs, and our second annual healthy potluck lunch. Staff members were encouraged by library management to attend as many events that week as they could with the approval of their supervisor while maintaining public service coverage. The event was a huge success with about 62% of staff attending at least one event, and comments from staff were effusive!

Building on that momentum, this summer we have organized a program of Wellness Wed nesdays. Every Wednesday between noon and 1 pm, we have arranged for a variety of fun activities, including walking tours of our famous Smith College Art Museum, botanical gardens, costume collection, and historic campus, interspersed with fun and stress-reducing craft workshops led by our own staff members. This program requires no budget and takes advantage of resources we have right here on our own campus, along with the knowledge and expertise of library staff members.

By offering a variety of activities, and with the support of our Library Director and Library Leadership Team, we are hoping to address all aspects of “wellness” and increase staff participation. We’re trying to involve staff by showing that just because it’s good for you, it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!

To learn more, visit their website, Wellness in the the Libraries.

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Submitted by the Smith College Libraries’ Wellness Group (Betsy Barone, Joe Bialek, Judy Biardi, Esther Boyer, Mia Brazill, Chris Hannon, Mimi Lempart, Trish Mailler, Barbara Polowy, and Marlene Znoy)