A Purpose.

Welcome to Renewals, a blog discussing low morale in academic libraries. This blog supports my work on this topic and also serves as a point of reference and resource for those who have faced or are currently experiencing low morale in academic library environments. This space is also for anyone who is concerned about preventing workplace abuse. By the way, because of my study’s definition of low morale, I use the terms workplace abuse, workplace neglect, and low morale interchangeably.

Participant data in my study revealed that low morale is the result of repeated and protracted exposure to emotional, verbal/written, and systemic abuse or neglect in the workplace. While my study focuses on academic libraries, the general response to my research has alerted me that the trajectory and outcomes of the experience may also apply to other library environments. I hope this outlet is also helpful to anyone to whom this applies.

My first few blogs reflect content I originally published at The Ink On The Page, a project I began last year. As this space develops, I will include original content focusing on my 2017 study,  my forthcoming study centering on the low -morale experiences of racial and ethnic minority academic librarians, and other ideas and projects that spring from these works.

I have also created an online community for academic librarians who are familiar with low-morale (Renewers).  Along with this space, I hope Renewers are able to recognize, reduce, and resolve their experiences, return to a fuller sense of joy, and recapture purpose in their careers and communities of service. Moreover, I’d like to offer this space for sustained constructive dialogue on this important topic – let’s connect, create strategies, and fulfill positive outcomes for the long-term improvement of our profession.

All Best,

RenewBlogSigTrans

P.S. You can keep up with my other research and news here!

 

 

 

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#RecommendedReading

Title: Less is not more: Rejecting resilience narratives for library workers.

Author: Meredith Farkas.

LEAD: I teach a course for San José (Calif.) State University’s School of Information on embedded librarianship in academic libraries. Some of the service models we explore in the class are very high-touch, and I was pleased this term that quite a few students expressed concerns about the labor implications of adding much more to a librarian’s already full workload….

Read the full article

The Blame Flame

“[U]nbeknownst to myself, I was blaming, you know, the library I worked in, and all the co-workers, and the college, and the drive to work, and the students, you know, all of this, and it was really, honestly, just [my abuser].” –  Low morale study participant (Female, public services librarian)

“[The emotional abuse I suffered] made me wonder why was I putting so much effort into my job when you know, I, I’d done everything right except for asking for [what I] needed, and I still ended up getting whacked.” – Low morale study participant (Female, cataloger)

“I’m upset with myself because I feel like I gave up so much of my life energy dealing with this situation because it went on for so long.” – Low morale study participant (Female, public services librarian)

“I think that was the first time anybody had ever told me to my face that they had no confidence in me at all. And so I immediately thought, ‘ok, there’s something wrong with me. Maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was.’ Because I had already built a really successful program where I was before. So, I thought, ‘ok maybe, maybe I’m – maybe that was just there? You know, maybe it was where I was before…” – Low morale study participant (Female, public services librarian)

This group of statements share a feeling/perception that is common within the low-morale experience: blame. Moreover, they reveal the kaleidoscopic role blame plays in the phenomenon: 

  • Displaced emotions
  • Self-blame
  • Shame
  • Professional uncertainty

During my data analysis, I discovered that blame was contextualized by emotional or cognitive states (for instance, the participant would mention they were angry or depressed and a few moments later would make a statement indicating some regret or deprecation (i.e “I should have seen it coming earlier,”).

The myriad statements that lead this post also showcase blame’s wildfire-like impact on organizations: creeping disengagement with work, systems, and people;  noxious walls of toxicity and incivility appear; and reductions in effective practice or service provision choke colleagues, users, and communities from their professional abilities or information/outreach needs.

Bullying literature and commentary also highlight the devastating role blame plays in how workplace abuse is perceived: the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 Survey notes that over half of the respondents blame targets for the abuse they received, “mostly for their inability to defend themselves.”(p.18) This finding echoes Namie’s earlier work, which likens workplace bullying to domestic violence, and in which such victims are also blamed for their fate (2003). It seems that victims internalize this feeling, also blaming themselves for similar reasons, making the perceived shortcoming a vicious cycle of precarious paralysis. 

When it comes to blame — whether it’s the victim’s feelings or the witness/abuser’s perception — the true destructive property of blame placement is its ability to ensure a reduction or lack of actions that reduce or cease workplace abuse: victims don’t trust themselves to be able to take advantage of (good protocols) or subvert (bad protocols); and abusers continue leveraging emotional abuse to fuel the victim’s paralysis. Witnesses spend their time trying to avoid blame by doing nothing or assigning it to the victim.

Understanding the insidious development of the low-morale experience can help those dealing with the experience come to terms with some aspects of self-blame. The slow movement and build-up of abuse recognition — combined with aspects of resilience narratives, academic competition, and collegiality conflation inherent in our profession (Shin 2012; Berg, Galvan & Tewell 2018) — can make low-morale particularly difficult to identify and react accordingly.  

How did blame manifest in your experience? How were you able to extinguish it? If you have yet to overcome this feeling, what steps are you taking to regain self-compassion?

Works Cited

Berg, J., Galvan, A. & Tewell, E. (2018). Responding to and reimagining resilience in academic libraries. Journal of New Librarianship, 3(1). Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2J29Lwf

Namie, G. (2003). Workplace incivility: Escalated incivility. Ivey Business Journal, (November/December). Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Lmnxbl

Freedman, S. (2012). Collegiality matters: Massachusetts higher education librarians’ perspective. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 38(2): 108-114. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2GEr6df

Workplace Bullying Institute. (2014). 2014 U.S. Workplace bullying survey. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2KMbpiB

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Perfectionism.

“I tried to please as best as I could, you know? Knowing full well, though, that no matter what I did, it would never, it would never be enough, you know? …I would be anxious about, you know, making sure that all my bases were covered, all my I’s were dotted and all my T’s were crossed, you know, and it made me focus on everything that I was doing at the same time. Well, I was probably trying to do too much. But I felt obligated to take on more …” – Low morale study participant (Male, cataloger)

The low-morale experience is impacted by numerous enabling systems, one of which is Uncertainty and Mistrust. This enabling system is particularly harsh because it appears at the start of the low-morale experience (the trigger event) and continues even if workplace abuse is completely resolved. 

One of the ways participants dealt with uncertainty was trying to anticipate or meet every demand of their abuser/bully. In particular, participants who were targeted or who were on the receiving end of poor communication channels were more likely to create and implement protocols that manifested symptoms of perfectionism. The Centre for Clinical Intervention (n.d.) states that perfectionism has three key parts:

  1. The relentless striving for extremely high standards;
  2. Judging [one’s] self-worth based largely on [an] ability to strive for and achieve such unrelenting standards; and 
  3. Experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing to go for them despite the huge cost [to the self].

Coping strategies include conscious and unconscious positive or negative behaviors (Kendrick 2017), and participants who experienced low-morale and gravitated to perfectionist coping strategies noted that even though they never received validation for their work – and in some cases, were punished for it – they created even higher standards hoping to please their abuser/bully. As a result, they developed negative mental health impacts, including anxiety and depression. 

Shame researcher Brenè Brown (2013) notes that perfectionism can also be contextualized within vulnerability. She notes, “It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’” Read more on my thoughts about shame and the LIS low-morale experience.

Due to a mix of external and internal factors, perfectionism in the low-morale experience can be especially difficult to overcome; however, many resources share common strategies to reducing effects:

  • changing negative self-talk to positive affirmations
  • recognizing and accepting realistic outcomes of plans and decisions
  • taking time to relax (including true “free-time” and physical health regimens)

Did perfectionism show up in your low-morale experience? How did it manifest? How did you reduce it? 

Works Cited

Brown, B. (2013). Overcoming perfectionism: Brene Brown talks perfection and authenticity with Oprah. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/29/brene-brown-daring-greatly-perfectionism-oprah_n_3468501.html

Centre for Clinical Interventions (n.d.) Module 1: What is Perfectionism? Retrieved from http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/1%20What%20is%20%20Perfectionism.pdf

Kendrick, K.D. (2017). The low morale experience in academic librarians: A phenomenological study. Journal of Library Administration, 57(8): 846 – 878. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01930826.2017.1368325

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Can We Talk?

[This content was originally published on December 4, 2017 at The Ink On The Page.]

As a lurking/functional member of social media society, I have recently come across several threads in closed and open LIS online communities that prompt the following thought:

Librarians need assertive communication training. 

I remember in library school, classroom conversations about applying ethics in practice were brief – mainly covering what we’d do to ensure equitable space usage or signage opportunities for “not-so-popular” groups in our various communities. We also had discussions about dealing with difficult patrons – keeping in mind that “difficult patrons” covered everything from the lady who doesn’t want to pay her overdue fines to the guy who wants total and all-day access to the computer(s). 

Issues and laws some perceive to dilute the ALA Code of Ethics – like the Children’s Internet Protection Act, for instance – also make for intriguing and awkward conversations between librarians and library users; after 9/11, the PATRIOT Act also highlights friction between the balance of intellectual freedom and expectations where the protection of public safety are involved. Add to that myriad state and local laws, and even local community customs/norms – and you quickly recognize the host of relationships librarians in all environments and specialties are concerned with forming, navigating and sustaining in order that everyone have equitable access to information, technology, community, etc.

The formation, navigation, and sustaining of these relationships – with our patrons, with our colleagues, with our stakeholders, and with law enforcement – requires us to be able not only know our purview and how it relates to these groups’ expectations – but to be able to clearly state our boundaries with confidence and an expectation of courtesy and professionalism from those to whom we relate. 

I observe that librarians seem to have particular difficulties responding to areas well within their purview because they either:

  • a) don’t have or wrestle with which words to use in order to relay a clear message; 
  • b) (more often the case), are concerned with how they’re feeling about the upcoming discussion; or 
  • c) are concerned with how the listener may feel (about them personally or the library in general) as a result of the conversation; and 
  • d) also concerned about the status of the person to whom they must talk about some unpleasant issue.

Librarians don’t want to be (perceived as) rude or inflexible. Luckily, being assertive is neither of those things! 

Check it – RMIT University’s Counseling Service offers the following definition of assertive and its associated communication style: 

The term “assertive” is used to describe a communication style that is respectful of others but clear and firm in intent. Assertiveness is sometimes confused with aggressiveness – being rude, hostile, blaming, threatening, demanding, or sarcastic is not being assertive – these are all examples of aggressive communication styles. Assertive communication does mean standing up for yourself but doing so in a way that does not trespass on the rights of others and respects your own rights and feelings and the rights and feelings of others.

Assertive communication is based on mutual respect for the messenger and the receiver. It uses language that stresses civil focus on the matter at hand rather than judging the people involved in the conversation. It strives to validate both parties and offer clarity on defining problems, coming to solutions, and both parties’ roles in those solutions. 

In ethical spheres, being assertive means that a person’s worries about how they are being perceived does not result in unintentional breaches of professional conduct.

I mentioned my concerns about assertiveness training for librarians a few days ago, and a colleague offered some books that helped her develop her assertive communication style (thanks, Katie!).

I took an assertive communications course years before I became a librarian, and it has helped immensely when I talk or write to colleagues, administrators, employees, and library users – in positive and negative situations.

Have you attended professional development on communication? How have you developed your communication style as a LIS professional? Do you have reading or continuing education resources to share? Leave your comments.

Works Cited

RMIT University (n.d.) Assertive communication. Retrieved from http://mams.rmit.edu.au/owx2c90pize9.pdf

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