Kelly Jo Woodside, a consultant with the Massachusetts Library System, offers a short presentation on how (in)consistent communication impacts performance management. She notes the experiential definition of low morale (Kendrick 2017), discusses the different approaches to employee feedback and development methodologies, and offers context of common, but overlooked human responses to change in library organizations.
My study focusing on the low-morale experiences of public librarians has been published in the international Open Access (OA) journal, Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Science Practice and Research. Read the article.
Since 2019, I’ve been facilitating Renewal Workshops & Seminars (and since 2020, Renewal Colloquia). As part of these events, I ask attendees to share a favorite song. Now, I’m pleased to share something new – Renewal Miniplays. I hope these short curated playlists uplift & energize your spirit, knowing that the recommendations come from people who are on the path to increased awareness, healing, & empathy. The first Miniplay is now available, and be sure to follow RenewersLIS on Spotify!
Barnett and Wittenstein highlight the gap between the stated American Library Association and Association of College and Research Libraries value of diversity and persistent Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) underrepresentation in the field. Using Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) methodologies, they created and implemented a protocol designed to discover best practices for integrating equity -minded work in their academic organization.
Late last month I facilitated a Renewal Seminar at the Academic Library Association of Ohio’s (ALAO) 2020 Virtual Conference. I’m honored that ALAO invited me to lead this session with our academic library colleagues.
Seventeen people attended the Seminar, representing a range of specialties. Seminar attendees are offered an opportunity to take two surveys:
- Pre-Seminar Questionnaire (basic demographics and impetus for joining the Workshop)
- Low-Morale Experience Survey (exploring basic markers of a low-morale experience)
At the end of the Seminar, I also circulated a evaluation form. Following is a selection of data from the Seminar (quantitative queries show majority responses only)
Pre-Seminar Questionnaire Highlights
- Represented areas of practice
- 50% Reference & Instruction
- Career length
- 75% 10 years or more
- Goals for attending the Seminar
- “Identifying ways that past low morale experiences tinge other, more healthy environments and relationships.”
- “I’m hoping to remain positive in the face of adversity.”
- “Identifying techniques to improve low morale, particularly techniques that don’t cost a lot of money.”
- “Sharing difficult information without contributing to chaotic thinking.”
- “Combating my own low morale.”
- “How to stop a departmental domino effect of low morale.”
- “How to be more positive in our current situation of staff reduction.”
- “How to take care of myself (mitigate the impact of low-morale experiences) so that I don’t transfer my pain from those experiences on my coworkers and employees (and my family).”
- “How to improve my morale to support my own mental health and to be a support to my colleagues.”
- “Strategies for helping others with low morale.”
- “I hope to learn how to identify low morale and learn some techniques to combat low morale and how not to be an unintentional perpetrator of low morale.”
- “I need to resolve my own low morale – you have to help yourself before you can help others. But, as a supervisor, I very much want to help my staff as well. I tend to be a pessimist and negative, and I know that influences my staff, so I have to learn to do better.”
Low-Morale Experience Survey Highlights
- Have you experienced low morale?
- 58% Yes
- Length of low-morale experience
- TIE: 30% 1 – 3 years; more than three years
- Perpetrators of abuse
- TIE: 60% Library administrators; campus administrators
- 50% Library colleagues
- Types of workplace abuse experienced:
- 67% Negligence
- 56% Emotional
- 56% System
- Feelings experienced during low morale:
- TIE: 90% Anger; Frustration; Worry
- 80% Disillusion
- 60% Despair
- 50% Depression
- What contributed to low-morale experience?
- 90% Uncertainty/Mistrust
- TIE: 60% Leadership Styles; Staffing & Employment
- TIE: 50% Library/Librarian Perceptions; Human Resource Limitations
- Behaviors noted/considered:
- 70% A decrease in work productivity
- TIE: 50% A decrease in professional engagement; Decreased willingness to collaborate
Seminar Evaluation Report Highlights
Topics recommended for discussion/consideration:
“More info on workplace mobbing….”
“I wish there had been more time to discuss increasing workplace civility and self-preservation.”
Things learned or more clearly defined:
“The concept of shame, library nice, and negligence.”
“I hadn’t yet fully understood vocational awe. I appreciate having a better understanding. A lot of things clicked.”
“How to use assertive communication and how assertiveness is a mitigation technique AND that I need to read the books Kaetrena recommended.”
Recovery plans (personally or at work):
“My immediate plans are to work on my assertive communication and to make self-preservation practices a priority.”
“Centering wellness into my work life.”
“This time is really difficult for me. I’m not sure what I can or will do.”
I am thankful for the Seminar attendees, all of whom were engaged and thoughtful as we navigated the content and shared reflections. I also send a special thanks to Mandi Goodsett, who diligently offered coordination and technical support as we planned and led the online event.
Ready to host a Renewal Seminar? Contact me for a customized prospectus.
Andrews shares the definition of impostor syndrome and summarizes the topic’s entry into LIS practice and research. She underscores that this phenomenon exposes problems in library systems, culture, and how we perceive &/or promote LIS mythologies and values – and not failings of individual library employees.
UPDATE 11/9/20: This invitation is now closed. Thank you for your interest. Be sure to monitor this blog for study updates.
Kendrick’s studies reveal and validate that low morale is the result of repeated and protracted exposure to emotional, verbal/written, and systemic abuse or neglect in the workplace (Kendrick 2017; Kendrick & Damasco 2019). However, there remains a significant dearth of information on formal leaders’ experience of low morale in library organizations. Research is needed to understand how low morale manifests for and impacts this group of practitioners.
If you are:
- a credentialed (earned the MLIS or equivalent) librarian who
- has experienced low morale as defined above while employed as a formal library leader (defined as a position that has formal supervisory, administrative, and/or managerial duties),
you are invited to participate in a research study designed to: 1) to discover the emotional trajectories of and physiological impacts of low morale on library leaders, 2) to identify professional, social, institutional, or political systems, policies, or practices that cause or impact the development of this group’s low-morale experience, and 3) to discover how these causes/impacts, systems, or practices and emotional and physiological changes are identified, mitigated or resolved through myriad cognitive, physical, verbal, or other processes and actions.
This study is investigated by Kaetrena Davis Kendrick (Dean, Dacus Library & Pettus Archives, Winthrop University).
If you choose to participate, I will conduct a telephone interview with you that will last 45-60 minutes, and you will also be asked to complete a brief survey which should only take 5-6 minutes to complete. Survey responses will be anonymous and kept separately from interview responses. Interviews will be confidential and participants will not be identified personally.
Participation in this study is completely voluntary. If you are interested in participating, please contact me directly by phone or email to set up a telephone appointment. If you know of anyone else who might be eligible and who is interested in participating, please feel free to forward this invitation to them.
Principal Investigator contact information:
Kaetrena Davis Kendrick at 803.323.2232; email@example.com
If you have questions about this study, you may contact the researcher at the contact points listed above. If you have questions or concerns about your rights as a participant in this research study, you may contact Winthrop University’s Grants and Sponsored Research Development Office at 803.323.2460.
Thanks for your interest in and support of this study.
Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, M.S.L.S.
Walker and Watkins offer a qualitative study resulting in a model of toxic leadership informed by those who follow toxic leaders. The original study is cited as part of a global concern among those concerned with improving leadership in various workplaces.
This is the second of a two-part report summarizing the latest results of my ongoing survey on the impact of COVID-19 on ongoing low-morale experiences. This second part centers qualitative data. Please view the first part focusing on quantitative data.
Please share your experience(s) of increased abuse/neglect during the COVID-19 pandemic:
A lot of library administrators work from home and have no firsthand knowledge of what it is like to work in an actual library during a pandemic. I work at a library branch that is located in a Covid-19 hotspot. I am terrified every day because many customers are mentally ill with no understanding of Covid and therefore do not wear masks or social distance. Trying to explain the virus and the importance of masks and social distancing has proved futile. Also helping customers on computers and with copy machines is difficult to manage and most attempts to maintain proper social distancing often fail. Customers get frustrated and sometimes very angry when you cannot help them properly. They sometimes yell at you. I take care of family members, so I especially live in fear of getting the virus and then passing it along to my elderly mother.
Sudden micromanagement, needing to provide weekly reports to supervisor of work completed for the week when this information was previously not requested (feels like a lack of trust). Lack of communication from supervisor concerning pandemic and health (mental and physical) of workers.
A lot of emotional labor required – asking for personal stories and vulnerability to instill “trust” for cohesive team work but systemic problems remain the same or are dealt with in a way that I don’t feel support or stability in job. But my trust and vulnerability is still expected.
Classes cancelled yet library staff expected to be at work.
Please share your experience(s) encountering Enabling Systems as a result of your library’s response to COVID-19 pandemic:
Dean is taking a “wait and see” approach at a college where we have the most confirmed cases. Many of us have children now at home. College is more concerned about providing services than looking our for health and safety. (Leadership)
I think that the Whiteness of the profession has been an issue but COVID-19 is exposing it. It seems that the pressure to be productive comes more from our White colleagues and it is hard to fight that when you are the only Black librarian on your campus. I feel like it is a constant fight. I feel like librarians are trying to prove that they are relevant, but now is not the time for that. (Whiteness, LIS Perceptions)
We will be understaffed because we have several staff member who will have to stay home because compromised immune systems and needing to care for children because school is closed. Admin has no plan for how the library will function while being understaffed. (Staffing & Employment)
Librarians as a whole were traumatized and bullied by the Head Librarian prior to this and that hasn’t stopped. Head using the pandemic to remove power from faculty over infantilizing matters like attendance. Furloughs and employment fragility hung over everyone’s head by UL and directors. Attempts by faculty to actively support BLM and recruit diverse librarians scorned in writing by Head, who used response to threaten signatories’ jobs. Director’s happy talk and privilege and forced collegiality is grating…*she* cries when other people are laid off but her complicit behavior and inability to stand up to her boss enables her to receive title changes and perks (Leadership; Diversity Rhetoric)
There have been changes to the promotion process, but due to the lack of official communication from library HR and library leadership, we have to learn about these changes through word-of-mouth. People are worried about their jobs, and library leadership does not seem to care. HR is no help and is actually part of the problem. Library leadership is a club, and if you’re not in the club, you’re out of luck.(Promotion & Tenure; Leadership; HR Limitations)
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was open, flexible and problem-solving. I sent an email regarding what might make the library experience better for customers and spent a lot of time on writing it. A library administrator emailed me back that we were already doing everything I suggested. That’s when I began to shut down. I knew I did not have any administrative support. Now, I just try to get through each day. I am definitely shutting down and trying to tune out to protect myself. The administration changes plans, programs, etc. every day, and I can no longer keep up.
We need to lead by example, and close to show we are taking this seriously – not encourage people to come out and visit by remaining open.
The staff at my library are bullet-fodder for the pandemic. Literally the only thing they care about are the customers. I can’t work like this, and now with their newfound censorship of all things inclusive, I can’t even run the safe space for customers I did before. I am looking for a new job, and I don’t think I will ever work in a library again. I loved the work. I really did. I was so excited when I got this job. But it’s one of the worst things that has ever happened to me.
I am a new library assistant; I graduate this May and was looking forward to a bright future with my library organization. However, if this is how my organization is going to treat me, I don’t see this organization being apart of my future. I am paying attention to the organizations who are giving their employees leave with pay–those are the organizations I want to work for as a librarian; an organization that believes in the safety and security of their employees during these health crises.
In the last few days I have realized that the situation is much worse than I recognized. We have been trying to get our director to pay attention to our concerns. I am worried about myself and colleagues who are describing experiences similar to mine. Although we see “your health and safety are top priority and you must take care of yourself” messaging, it appears to be performative. Thank you for undertaking this work.
In March 2020 I shared qualitative and quantitative data from my ongoing survey exploring how people who were already dealing with low-morale before the development of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States have been impacted by COVID-19. As a result, this report and future report concerning this survey’s data will only reflect the responses of participants who answer(ed) “Yes” to the query: “Are you currently experiencing low morale (defined as ‘exposure to repeated, protracted exposure to workplace abuse/neglect’ – Kendrick, 2017)?”
Here are the quantitative results as of September 24, 2020 (review quantitative results):
- 85% are female; 8% male; 6% non-binary/third-gender
- 70% are Caucasian; 13% are Latino/Hispanic; 8% Asian/Pacific-Islander; 8% African-American; 5% Multi-racial; 2% Native American/Indigenous
- 38% are new librarians/archivists; 32% are experienced librarians/archivists; 29% are mid-career librarians/archivists
- 54% work in academic libraries; 40% work in public libraries
- The most common ways participants’ libraries have responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic include*:
- Administrators have canceled all library programs and/or events (51%)
- Campus has stopped face-to-face classes (55%)
- Administrators have reduced library hours (49%)
- Administrators have stopped all in-person services (40%)
- The lowest quantitative responses to how participants’ libraries have responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic include:
- Administrators have added or expanded in-person services (5%)
- Administrators have expanded library hours (3%)
- Administrators have added library staff (<1%)
- A majority of participants have experienced increases in:
- Negligence (81%)
- System abuse (58%)
- Participants indicate the abusers are:
- Library administrators (75%)
- Supervisors/managers (47%)
- Enabling Systems most often encountered by this group include:
- Uncertainty & Mistrust (78%)
- Leadership (70%)
- Staffing & Employment (56%)
- Human Resources Limitations (48%)
- Librarian/LIS Perceptions (43%)
- 41% of respondents indicate that outside of concerns about COVID-19, physical health conditions have developed or worsened as a result of their library’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 77% of respondents indicate that mental health conditions have developed or worsened as a result of their library’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- During their library’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, participants have also experienced/dealt with:
- Resilience narratives (e.g., “do more with less,” “lean in;” “have grit,” “it’s your job to fix/fill in system gaps” – Berg, Galvan, & Tewell, 2018) – 77%
- Burnout (“a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do ‘people work’ of some kind”- Maslach, 1982) – 74%
- Vocational awe (the weaponization of LIS values/library value or librarian stereotypes/identity; job creep, mission creep – Ettarh, 2017, 2018) – 71%
- Job Precarity (“contractual, ambiguous, insecure, unprotected, and poorly paid labor/work/employment.” – Brons, Riley, Yin, & Henninger, 2018) – 48%
*Check out Lisa Hinchliffe’s work tracking COVID-19 academic library closures.
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
Brons, A., Riley, C., Yin, C., & Henninger, E. (2018). Catalog cards from the edge: Precarity in libraries. Presented at the British Columbia Library Conference. Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/reader/161652150
Ettarh, F. (2018). Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves. In The Library With The Lead Pipe. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/
Kendrick, K.D. (2017). The low-morale experience of academic librarians: A phenomenological study. Journal of Library Administration, 57(8): 846-878. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01930826.2017.1368325
Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.