The Library, Wellness, and Campus Transformations

The recent visit by Alex Pang to talk about rest and contemplative computing was an opportunity for us in the library to consider some of the important ideas that Pang discusses in his work. Pang encourages us to consider how and when we use technology, and how some of our technology habits can undermine our productivity, our ability to focus, and our overall wellness. Rather than taking a Luddite position that rejects all technology, Pang instead proposes we practice what he calls ‘contemplative computing’, which is the deliberate and mindful use of technology, combined with deliberate and mindful rests away from the distractions of Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube cat videos.

For us in the library, this opens up an interesting and important question both in how we do our work, and what role we might play on campus in promoting healthier relationships to our devices. To date, most of our effort in this area has been focused on contributing to the work of the Wellness Committee. If we expand our notion of information literacy to consider questions of attention literacy, we may want to consider how to integrate some of these concepts into our workshops, tutorials, and one-on-one reference work. The questions posed by attention literacy — what is important? what should I focus on right now? how do I spend my time most effectively? — are in many ways broader versions of questions we challenge students to confront during their research: how do I decide which of myriad sources in myriad formats should I use? how do I use technology to effectively manage my research process? when do I have enough information to move on to analysis and writing?

The second and closely related dimension of Pang’s talk had to do with rest, and its role in the creative process. His observations about the central role of rest in the lives of highly productive people generated a range of reactions. While some felt that his examples drawn from largely dead white men with lots of financial resources and high degrees of autonomy might not apply to most of us, others felt that there were important ideas to be explored about how we might structure our work time to ensure that we had large blocks of time for uninterrupted work. What can we do in our day to day lives to provide space for day dreaming, for reflection and contemplation, for allowing ideas to marinate while the mind worked on other challenges through serious play and other forms of deliberate rest? What can we do to contribute to broader cultural change on campus that can promote wellness, mindfulness, and healthier balance between work and play? These are important and potentially transformative questions, and it is gratifying that we in the library can play a role in helping to take these important ideas and integrate them into our personal and organizational practices.