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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: 

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

Namie, G. (2003). Workplace incivility: Escalated incivility. Ivey Business Journal, (November/December). Retrieved from

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

Workplace Bullying Institute. (2014). 2014 U.S. Workplace bullying survey. Retrieved from

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