Further Thoughts: The Low Morale Study

[This content was originally published on November 6, 2017 at The Ink On The Page.]

A few days ago, my latest article – “The low morale experience of academic librarians: A phenomenological study” – was assigned to its Journal of Library Administration (JLA) issue after being in pre-print for a bit over seven weeks. During the pre-print window, the article garnered over 6,600 views, over 100 tweets, and it’s also been added to a few Mendeley libraries. Currently, it’s also the most read article of 2017 in the Libary and Information Science (LIS) discipline at Taylor & Francis, the publishers of JLA.

If you’d like to read it, it will be available open access until December 2017.

In addition to these stats, I’ve received several calls or emails referencing the study and thanking me for producing the work. Within some of those emails are details outlining the writers’ experiences of low morale; others have sent emails asking questions about aspects of the study for clarification or in the hopes that I will expand the study in various ways.

Soon I will be leading a two-part webinar series for the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL). The webinars will focus on the study and identifying and responding to low morale, respectively.

This is all wonderful; however, Twitter’s @MrDys said it best:


When I began this study and requested invitations for participants, I thought I would learn about how my colleagues were dealing with what we all probably think about when we think about low morale: under compensation, maybe issues stemming from opaque or uncommunicative leadership, and in this day and age of consistent staffing and resource budget cuts, the stress of being asked to do more with less. I even expected to hear about issues and conflicts with teaching faculty, or the difficulties surrounding librarians’ integration into the curriculum via information literacy. 

But that was not the case.

From each of my original 21 participants (one eventually abstained from the study), I heard in-depth narratives of workplace abuse. Mostly emotional, and a lot verbal, written, and systemic (something horrible being done TO a victim). All made worse by negligence (nothing positive or mitigating being done FOR a victim).

As I consider the reactions to the article, several things come to mind:

  • negligence is not readily recognized or identified as a form of abuse in workplace environments. Is this because employees, to some degree, have come to expect that leaders will be slow or flat out refuse to acknowledge traditional (and narrow) markers of “low morale” (low pay, nebulous job descriptions, lack of continuing education, etc.)? And worse, that these leaders will allow incivility, bullying, and toxicity to continue in service to an organization’s financial success?
  • the emotional conflict librarians experience when they are exposed to protracted workplace abuse cannot be overstated. Librarian perceptions and stereotypes, and the double-smack down of dealing with abusive library and college administrators – combined with affected librarians’ desire to stay the course in abusive workplaces because they believe in the value of their profession – result in a uniquely debilitating cluster of doubt, anger, and disillusion.
  • although not emergent in the study, consideration must be given to another real possibility of low-morale contagion: the victim-turned-offender in the same workplace. Those who are abused may begin to abuse others – and keep in mind that such actions do not negate they are experiencing low morale.

What do you think? I’d like to hear your constructive thoughts about these ideas or your collegial questions about or responses to my study, in general.

I  can’t say I’m happy that this work has resonated with so many colleagues. I am honored to hear that the study is helping people understand what they have gone through or make sense of what they are currently facing. That, in any case, was my goal, and once again, I thank my participants for sharing their experiences with me.




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