Gale Bacon has been the library director in the city of Belgrade, Montana, since 2006. Gale said, “personally, I’m a strong wellness advocate, I walk my talk, I workout every day, so I see the benefit and the value in it. I also very much advocate for workplace wellness. It’s just a part of how I live and work and breathe.”
Gale’s advocacy for workplace wellness inspires her employees to see their work in a new light. Gale said that her passion for workplace wellness and fitness leads her to make different choices than other library directors that she knows. She said, “I think that because I had an interest or a passion in this, it made it easier for my programming staff to say, ‘this is something that we care about, this is something that is on our radar.'”
By making wellness a priority, Gale created space for her staff to also make wellness a priority, not only in their lives, but also in their programs and partnerships. Gale said, “other library directors are very strong, for example, in technology. And so their technology and their technology programs are probably amazing. This just happens to be something that I care about. And so we’ve gotten more involved in it.”
Since college, Gale has been personally interested in fitness, becoming a part-time fitness instructor at a YMCA. One of her first jobs was at a medical device company in Minneapolis. There, Gale led after-hours aerobic programs for employees as part of the company’s workplace wellness program. Later, when Gale was raising her kids, she continued to lead fitness classes at churches and other community centers.
Eventually, Gale became a branch librarian in the Minneapolis area, but continued to lead fitness classes on the side. When Gale became a library director, she wanted to bring the worlds of librarianship and worlds of wellness together. She said “there was a desire for some fitness programming that we were picking up on” in the community. Gale said that given “the size and type of our library, the community looks to us to be not only as the library, but also as a community hub.”
Since Gale’s duties as library director precluded her from always leading the classes, she did some research and discovered they could use the library’s public performance licenses to play a self-paced DVD for aerobic workouts in the library’s meeting room. Gale said, “I attracted more of those 50 and older to do the workout [at the library], because it’s non-threatening, and because it’s self-paced.”
After doing the DVD-based exercise classes for five years, Gale thought people might be bored with it. But when she pivoted to offering something different “I got phone calls from the people in [the class] and they were like, ‘No, we really want this program, we want you to bring it back. Now that we have this little group of people, we feel comfortable together, we feel not threatened, we don’t feel challenged. It’s free, it’s affordable, it’s also not going to the health club and standing next to a 25 year old and going through all that. And we’re just really comfortable with it. And we want you to continue it.’ so we did.”
Gale also makes a point of supporting wellness among her staff. She recalled that during the COVID lockdown, “we were all reading about or hearing about mental capacity issues that have arisen. So the first thing I said is, every one of my staff was entitled to a 20 minute walk break sometime in the afternoon, in addition to your lunch break or your coffee break. I told the city manager this is important. We’re going to be hunkered down at our computers, we’re going to be more virtual than ever before, they have got to get up and walk away from their desk, and he had no problem with it.”
With Gale’s encouragement library staff have led or gotten involved in a range of wellness initiatives, which we will explore in further detail in this case study.
This case study is part of HEAL (Healthy Eating and Active Living) at the Library, funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum & Library Services (# RE-246336-OLS-20)