#lismentalhealth – Employee Assistance Program Primer

This week, January 18 – 23, is LIS Mental Health Week 2016 or ‪#‎lismentalhealth‬ if you are on various social media platforms. This week, co-organized by Cecily Walker and Kelly McElroy, focuses on raising awareness about mental health issues surrounding LIS as well as sharing resources in educating and assisting yourself and/or others in all things mental health. More information can be found at http://cecily.info/2015/12/20/announcing-lis-mental-health-week-2016/ and http://kellymce.tumblr.com/post/137514229595/white-text-on-a-pink-background-reading-lis.

Early on the first day of the week, the mention of Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, came across the hashtag. Since many library workers might not be aware that their workplace has an EAP, or are hesitant or confused about what an EAP can do for them, I thought that a brief primer would be useful to put out there for this week.

Before I continue, a few disclaimers:

  • IANAT/IANYB – I am not a therapist or your boss; this is a high level informational look at EAPs.
  • YMMV – Your mileage might vary at your place of work. Each employer has different EAP benefits, or none at all.
  • The below primer is based off of my experiences with EAPs, including providing information to staff and as a user of an EAP.

What is an EAP?

An EAP (usually run by a third party company) provides a variety of services and resources for employees when they encounter issues affecting overall well-being and/or job performance.

What issues do EAPs provide services and support?

The range of issues can vary by program; nonetheless, the majority should at least cover issues surrounding stress, abuse, addiction, personal and professional relationship problems, and a number of mental health related issues. Some programs’ coverage also includes issues surrounding caregiving, financial, and legal matters, as well as consultation for managers in matters of employee relations and performance.

Who is covered under an EAP?

The employee, though it would be worthwhile to check with your supervisor or HR to see if you are covered if you are part-time or temporary assignment. Depending on the program, everyone in the employee household is covered regardless of if that particular person is covered under the employee’s health insurance. For example, an employee who has a college age child who needs assistance in dealing with a particular issue can contact the EAP to request resources for their child, even though that child is not covered under their insurance. This is a particularly useful benefit if you find yourself needing to find assistance for a family member who is struggling.

What type of services and support does an EAP provide?

Most EAPs provide referrals to mental health professionals, attorneys, financial advisers, and other professionals. Most also provide a limited number of free sessions for counseling and legal/financial appointments.

Another thing to note that these benefits are per issue, not by date. In addition, if you find that the referred counselor is not working for you, you can switch counselors and reset the free session count.

If you need immediate assistance, most EAPs have licensed counselors on call.

Are EAPs confidential?

Yes*. They will not report back to your boss or employer saying that you specifically used an EAP service. Your place of work will receive a total count of how many people used the service within a particular time period, but what you discuss with EAPs are confidential* (*with the exception of mandatory reporter laws).

What happens when you call an EAP?

The EAP will ask for your name and why you are calling. The staff person will ask if you are in immediate danger or if you are thinking of harming yourself or others. If you say yes to these questions, they will direct you to the appropriate resources for immediate help. If not, they will walk you through the referral and benefits process. Depending on your preference, you can request a list of referrals to make appointments on your end or you can have the EAP staff make the appointment with a referral for you.

They will also ask for your employer’s name to determine what benefits are available to you like referrals and free sessions, but again will not give your name to your employer when reporting the number of employees using the EAP for your place of work.

A special note to managers

For those of you who want to promote your work’s EAP outside of the standard spiel that HR gives during the benefits session, reminders never hurt. Most EAPs have brochures, flyers, magnets, etc. that you can give to your employees directly or leave somewhere in a “neutral” area, like the break room. Having this information available for employees to access outside the gaze of other employees or their supervisor is important due to the stigma that surrounds seeking help.

One way to lessen that stigma, if you are comfortable in doing so, is to talk about your experiences with EAPs. You do not need to go into detail about your experiences – as you can see above, I did not go into exact personal details about my experiences using EAP services. Nonetheless, as a manager you have some influence over how your employees cope with work and life stress and, to some extent, workplace culture. By promoting EAP services and in engaging in other actions in supporting your employees’ well-being, managers stand a better chance of building a healthier workplace culture.

A mishmash of #mashcat thoughts

There are many thoughts I want to present in this post, but the connections between the thoughts are not fully developed. Therefore, the post comes in several parts.


When I started my first post-MLIS job at Miami University, I was repeatedly told that the position I held – bibliographic systems librarian – was an unusual position in traditional technical services departments. My predecessor (an authority control librarian) essentially automated himself out of the job; he took authority control workflows and made a suite of scripts (mostly macros and server-side scripts) that made his full time job into a part time duty for a support staff member. The role I took on was essentially Technical Services Developer: split between cataloging and programming.

I inherited my predecessor’s scripts, learned the workflows that they covered, and then built new scripts based on the needs of the department. Most of the programming knowledge I have was learned at MU. As the workflows became more complex, more complex and powerful tools were needed. From my predecessor’s Macro Express and Perl scripts came an abundance of AutoIt and PHP scripts. Before I left MU, I started to build scripts using pymarc, digging through the script wizard function of MarcEdit to automate certain database maintenance projects.

My goals were many. Keystrokes saved equal more time to work on other projects. Simple decisions made by the script meant that the staff person can focus their attention on more complex decisions, ones that are not so easily scripted, at least for a novice coder. All of these technological goals needed to operate within the overarching goal of creating and maintaining access of these resources for library users. The scripts I wrote were constructed after analyzing workflows and deliberation about the level of quality that needed to be met in said workflow. We had to strike a balance between entirely system automation and manually editing everything. Once we agreed on a midpoint, a proof of concept scripting phase could begin.

In short, efficiency without sacrificing quality. Saving the time of the user as well as the staff. My purpose was to serve both the public and the staff.

When I asked about the other candidates who applied for my position, a coworker detailed the two types of candidates that made up the majority of the candidate pool: the pure catalogers and the pure systems people. “You were neither, but you had the ability to work with both sides. You were the only one in the pool who got it.”


I walked into the Technical Services department one morning, having been gone the day before to an OhioLINK meeting. I saw one of my coworkers and smiled and said my hellos. Something was off when she didn’t return the greeting. I asked if everything was ok.

She was one of several Technical Services staff to receive layoff notices the day before.

In all, my department was cut almost in half during the first round of layoffs and “early” retirements. The majority of the layoffs and retirements in the libraries came from Technical Services.

The library dean at the time continued to funnel sparse resources into other departments, even with additional rounds of layoffs being planned by the university. Technical Services was left to keep up production with essentially half the staff and a deficit of 60+ years of tacit institutional knowledge.

Second round of retirements and layoffs came soon after the first. Luckily TS was spared; however, it became apparent by the library dean’s actions that my position was seen as a nicety for the department and not a necessity.

I don’t think they ever replaced me when I left in 2011.


Catcode and Libcatcode grew in tandem in the Codecademy’s Code Year push of 2012. After years of being called the odd one in the worlds of Technical Services and #libtech, I saw these efforts as a possible way to get people to see the obvious. Cataloging/metadata work and library coding are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are secret siblings. For me, this is on the level of saying that grass is green and the sky is blue. It just is.


And the conversation started. A code4lib preconference on the subject. An ALCTS/LITA interest group forming and a preconference at Annual. The first #mashcat conference.

And then conversation stalled.

This isn’t the first time a conversation about cataloging and coding stalled. Many have started on various levels, and yet we always find ourselves having to start from Square One each time we revive the conversation. Why is that?


“Not all catalogers.”

I tweeted that phrase some time ago. It is a problematic phrase to use; for example, it echoes back to “not all men…” to defend against criticism from feminists. But then you have “not all women…” being used as well. I suspect this usage stems from the desire of the speaker to break away from the stereotype being invoked in the conversation. And yet, at the same time, using the phrase in this context reinforces the social trappings that come with the stereotype – “not all $x” denotes that a set within a group does indeed fit the stereotype being discussed and the speaker shares the feeling of disdain for those who fit the stereotype; therefore, reinforcing the majority view of hir group.

Am I that desperate to climb the class structure in librarianship? To reinforce the stereotype by showing that I do not fit it, thus gaining social credibility with my peers?

However, I am no longer a cataloger. I am a systems person who is being hurled into the realm of library middle management.

Perhaps I am experiencing the library equivalent of my inserting an “r” when I say “wash” when I forget that that is not the “proper way” of saying the word while in certain company.


Knowledge is power. Technology is power. Which one has more power, though? I have the knowledge and the technology. I can create the metadata as well as systematically work with it. There are people who have the knowledge and there are people who have the technological skills. However, we see the conversation between the two as more of a one way street.

“You have the knowledge? Here, learn the technological skill!”

Is that what we want from catalogers and metadata people? Are we expected to lean in, to pull ourselves by our bootstraps and code ourselves to relevancy in the current library landscape?

Lean in. I know many who did… only to fall, mostly through no fault of their own.


I watch the new round of conversations start, a #mashcat revived. Every year I feel less lonely; the odd TS person out is joined by other odd people, these hybrids, these “non-traditional” library people. Many folks wear many hats; one thing I heard from folks in the first #mashcat Twitter chat was that they work in both metadata and systems. Great!

And yet… I worry.

While I am excited about the resurrection of #mashcat, we will run into The Wall like the previous conversations did. Folks will hit The Wall hard like I’ve done many times before. There are so many times one can throw themselves against The Wall, but I’m still breathing and able to figure out how to break down The Damned Thing.

I am not sure what The Wall entirely consists of: stereotypes, inertia surrounding change, cynicism brought on by previous conversations. One big component of The Wall, though, is the apathy of librarianship at large about this conversation. They expect the technology to work. They expect the metadata to be there. They don’t care how things are made, like we don’t care how some things that we use in our daily lives are made. As long as it’s there, we’re fine. Status quo achieved for the day.

I don’t know if dragging every library worker kicking and screaming into this conversation is the way to knock down The Wall, but it has become apparent through observations that The Wall cannot be bypassed or knocked down by only a few. We can’t lean on The Wall to knock It down. We need tools: hammers, pickaxes, jackhammers, sledgehammers. We need people to not only provide these tools but to help us to knock The Wall down. It doesn’t do us any good if the same people try to take down The Wall time after time. We need all the help we can get.

A wrecking ball would help as well.


It’s time to have the conversation not be dictated by cowering to stereotypes, to power structures, to class structures.

It’s time for this conversation not be dictated by the actions of a few and being expected to excuse or apologize for these few, reinforcing the status quo every time we do so.

And it’s about time to drag every G*d-damned library manager and administrator by their ears, kicking and screaming, into this conversation.

Rumor is that they have a wrecking ball we can use.

New, shiny things @ your neighborhood university library

Today saw the launch of two major projects from Miami University:

New website! We finally got to move away from the university template (which didn’t allow room for much of anything) and this is the product that was years in the making. The site was build with drupal and right in the middle of the front page is MULtifacet, our home-grown next-gen OPAC. We just finished a two-phased usability study on MULtifacet and its former incarnation, Solrpac. Still in the analysis stage, but once the report is finished, I’ll let you all know.

New orientation video! While a vodcast isn’t anything new to MU, producing a vodcast in Mandarin Chinese is. This is part of the Libraries’ plan to accommodate the near 500% increase in international students coming to MU in the last five years, with the majority coming from China. We have plans to create other videos in other native languages of our international and ESL students.

New, shiny things are good! Especially before the students come back…