The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine has opened a wellness room within its library to prioritize the mental health of its community members. The room, also called a pod, offers a peaceful space for students, staff, and faculty to focus on their spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being. 

A commitment to wellness

Under the leadership of Kyrille DeBose, associate professor and director of Health Sciences Libraries, the college's veterinary medicine library, a branch of of the University Libraries, recognized the evolving demands on students and faculty. 

"The wellness room is an innovative addition designed to cater to individual's mental health and wellness needs, offering a quiet and reflective area for students, staff, and faculty alike," DeBose said.

The project began with the college's academic affairs department acknowledging the importance of addressing spiritual, mental, and emotional health. What started as a quest for spaces dedicated to prayer expanded to include meditation and overall wellness.  

“Maureen Perry and the Wellness Committee were vital in the beginning to note the need for this type of space and start conversations, and many others have also contributed to keeping this moving along, including some of the staff that have been using it since it opened to enhance what it can offer. It’s turned into a real oasis within the library and college," said DeBose.

Mental breaks crucial for students' health

Jacque Pelzer, associate professor and assistant dean of Student Affairs, said students also need to have private spaces available to use. "We realized the importance of providing not just touchdown spaces but quiet areas for prayer or where they can just take that 15-minute mental break,” Pelzer said. “It's great that we have it embedded within the college environment."

Students, as well as staff, also needed spaces to accommodate virtual health care and wellness appointments, DeBose said. "We recognized that many students and staff, residents and interns lack personal office spaces. We don't want them trying to have an appointment for telehealth with a laptop or phone balanced on the steering wheel of their car. Having a designated space close by would be much better."

Privacy panels, natural light, and amenities

DeBose wants the library to be a space that reflects the current and evolving needs of the whole college community. To do that, an area that stored rarely used books — about 1,100 titles that hadn't been checked out since 2005 — on dusty shelves was repurposed as the wellness room. The room features frosted glass panels for privacy, natural light, and amenities such as resistance bands for light exercise and yoga. Its location within the library also facilitates easy reservations.

The space is available in 15-minute increments.

"Having designated areas within the college where students can take a 15-minute mental break is essential,” Pelzer said. “It allows them to recharge and walk away from the academic pressure they might be experiencing."

DeBose said she would like to further enhance the library by adding sleeping pods to accommodate individuals needing rest and rejuvenation while maintaining ample study space within the library.

An investment in well-being

A recent 2022 U.S. Workplace Survey by the Gensler Research Institute supports providing quiet spaces that "positively impact individual employee well-being" and promotes high-performing workplaces. 

"Workplaces which are both effective and offer a great experience offer a range of work settings from quiet zones and focus rooms to innovation hubs and maker spaces," the survey states.

Many of these critical spaces will be included in the proposed expansion of the Small Animal Teaching Hospital.

"I've gotten a few emails from students just thanking us for investing in this space. They see that as an investment in them, quite honestly, and their well-being," said Pelzer. 

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