by Lea Leininger, Health and Life Sciences Reference Librarian, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC
Several years ago, an administrator sent an email to faculty and staff at my library. He asked for suggestions on how to use a small, windowless room that was coming up for grabs. My response probably raised some eyebrows. I asked for a lactation room. Even though the UNCG student population is predominantly female, and even though we have female employees working in cubicles and other public settings, the campus had no private space dedicated to moms who needed to express milk when away from their babies. That lack was understandable. There is a lot of competition for space on university campuses with so many pressing needs. How many UNCG women are having babies then breastfeeding? There were no records for that group, but it sounded miniscule.
The response from library administration surprised me. It wasn’t an outright no. It was a qualified no. They had decided on another use for the room in question. But they were open to providing a campus wide service that isn’t normally associated with libraries. Administrators asked me to submit a more detailed plan with participation from campus partners, for instance Student Health Services and licensed health professionals.
I started contacting faculty, health professionals, and service providers around campus. People from all over campus came together to review lactation room policies from other universities and create a sustainable plan: the director of the UNCG Center for Women’s Health and Wellness, the assistant director and the dietician from Student Health Services, the chair of the UNCG Faculty Senate Benefits Committee, faculty and a few students from nursing, nutrition and public health education, a human resources administrator, and a key member of the library Access Services Department. Our group presented a plan to University Libraries administrators. If they could supply a private, lockable space with an electrical outlet, we could supply other basic needs. The campus would have a lactation room and a breastfeeding committee.
In March 2009 the Jackson Library Nursing Mother’s Room opened for business. Ann Perdue, the Jackson Library Stacks and Remote Storage Manager, and I are the main contact people for the room. We respond to questions, give optional room orientations, and serve on the Breastfeeding Committee. Ms. Perdue and I have donated our offices to moms in need several times when the room was already in use. I monitor the library web page for the room and contact our web editor periodically to arrange updates. Ms. Perdue collects sheets from the optional but highly encouraged sign in log that is kept in the room, plus a brief survey that is also kept in the room. She takes care of the simpler requests (“please add another chair to the room”) and forwards sign in sheets and survey responses to Dr. Paige Hall Smith, the chair of the Breastfeeding Committee. Dr. Smith donates research assistant labor for compiling depersonalized data about room visits and needs.
Responses have been very encouraging. From March 2009 through February 2012, 50 people signed into the room log. The number of room users has increased each year. 749 separate visits were logged during that period. Lactation room business has been booming. Moms leave wonderful thank you messages and helpful requests. Some requests have been easily accommodated (paper towels – not a problem for housekeepers to supply during routine visits). Other requests remain on the back burner. There are other amenities that could be added, but this space is integrated as simply as possible into existing services and processes.
One of my informal measures of success is enthusiasm about the room encountered while performing one of my more traditional roles – providing library instruction. I’ve had course instructors ask me to discuss the room “because one of my students is pregnant” and mention the room as a positive example of a change supporting healthy behaviors.
Dr. Smith recently expanded the Breastfeeding Committee. She invited decision makers from the campus office of space planning to join the group so that we could get serious about requests for more rooms. She spearheaded efforts to add 4 more lactation rooms! UNCG now offers three dedicated lactation rooms and two flexible spaces (lactation space can be supplied upon request).
My job as Health and Life Sciences Reference Librarian keeps me more than busy, so my role in the recent expansion has been limited to participating in some of the planning meetings and reassuring the newbies. Breastfeeding moms don’t require the campus to supply expensive amenities, though moms would gladly use any that could be supplied. So far there have been no biohazard incidents. Housekeepers haven’t reported any messes. Lactivists aren’t flashing ta-tas all over campus. Other populations on campus aren’t protesting the availability of these spaces. No library employees have freaked out and required therapy as a result of interacting with patrons on their way to bare a breast.
For myself, it’s nice to have that extra connection with students and with the health faculty on campus. I like the fact that my library is willing to give up a little space in order to play a non-traditional role in the lives of students and employees.
I highly recommend providing this kind of service to your patrons. If your library already provides a café to make the building more welcoming or offers other non-traditional spaces, why not include a lactation room? It’s a natural fit with library facilities and policies. It can be a very basic, low maintenance space. It increases library visibility and prestige on campus. It can help a campus comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act as updated in 2010 by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, i.e., supply a private space, not a bathroom, to nursing mom employees. Plus, you’ll be in good company. Other university and college libraries are doing it, too! You can find examples with a quick Google search for lactation room library site:.edu
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