Report: The Renewal Colloquium for Massachusetts Library Association Conference (May 2022)

Late last month during the Massachusetts Library Association’s Annual Conference (and in addition to offering conference’s opening Spotlight Session), I facilitated The Renewal Colloquium. This event was my first in-person facilitation and public speaking event since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic. It was good to meet people, and I remain hopeful that everyone remains in good health as we continue our collective public health/safety protocols.

This report shares selected attendee data generated from the event’s pre-work activities and evaluation survey (NOTE: Colloquia are often slated for at least 75 minutes; this event was just over an hour).

Pre-Colloquium Questionnaire Highlights

  • Library Type
    • 88% Academic
  • Represented areas of practice
    • 23% TIE: Reference & Instruction; Administration
  • Career length
    • 44% 10 years or more
  • Topic Interest
    • 42% Emerging countermeasures and best practices to reduce/interrupt low morale
    • 31% Behavioral and cultural norms that enable low-morale experiences

Low-Morale Experience Survey Highlights 

  • Have you experienced low morale?
    • 81% Yes
  • Length of low-morale experience
    • 52% One – three years
  • Perpetrators of abuse
    • 22% TIE%  Library colleagues; Library administrators
  • Types of workplace abuse experienced:
    • 44% Emotional
  • Feelings experienced during low morale:
    • 17% Frustration
  • What contributed to low-morale experience?
    • 16% Leadership Styles; 15% Uncertainty & Mistrust
  • Behaviors noted/considered:
    • 18% Decreased willingness to collaborate
    • 17% TIE% A desire to change careers; A decrease in professional engagement

Goals for attending the Colloquium

  • “I hope this experience will better refine if I want to keep doing library work. I’m not sure I do.”
  • “How to provide better support to my staff, colleagues, and myself in order to prevent or assist with recovering from low morale/burnout.”
  • “Honestly, I’m not even sure where to start. Things are so overwhelming for both myself and the rest of the library staff that renewal sounds like a dream. Perhaps finding hope for renewal?”
  • “During these times of shifting work cultures and low morale, I feel I have really wanted to “speak up” and help people in leadership recognize the downside of labeling and thinking negatively of others — I want to be able to say, breathe, take a step back and don’t be defensive and defiant.”

Colloquium Evaluation Report Highlights

Things learned or more clearly defined:

“That a laissez-faire approach and general non-direction from management can be a part of a toxic workplace culture. I think I assumed prior to the Colloquium that only micromanagement was a part of that.”

“Low morale experiences affect both mental and physical health. Also learned the importance of resisting the urge to disconnect in low morale environments. As a leader coming in to my position after toxic leadership, I learned that abuse can also be bottom up and also the importance of being aware of the shadow side of my stated positive leadership style.”

“Tools to begin healing our collectively traumatized staff!”

“That many Librarians go through what I go through. To pay more attention to my stress and my own reactions. To set better boundaries at work.”

Share how attending this Colloquium may influence your daily or long-term library practice:

“This resonated with me because I left a previous position because of low morale. I am going to be more aware of issues as they arise, so that I don’t reach that breaking point again. I am also going to think about the ways that I, as a library manager and leader, may be contributing to low morale in the workplace. I have also resolved to call out instances of abuse or neglect that I may see.”

“Greater awareness of the effects of low morale on my staff even after the environment has improved. I also need to be more transparent with staff regarding what I can and cannot do.”

“I will be more cognizant of superiors behavior and allow myself to feel comfortable in standing up for better treatment in the organization. It was reassuring to know that other people are experiencing similar things and that there are steps forward (including valuing myself more) that can be taken.”

Recovery plans (personally or at work):

“I am not facing LM right now, but I did leave a previous job because of it. My “maintenance” plan right now is to make sure that I am practicing self-care and not falling into some of the same unhealthy patterns that I have been locked in before (e.g. extreme people pleasing).”

“In my previous role I had extremely low morale, at a low morale institution, so I’m trying to recover now by not overextending and getting in the habit of overworking. I’m also making sure to take my full lunch breaks and invite my teammates to join me to try to create a norm.”

“I need to practice more self-care and not feel responsible for everyone else’s self-care needs. Taking time out in the middle of my often hectic days to just breathe – leave my desk and take a walk outside.”

Topics recommended for discussion/consideration:

“I’m interested in ways of applying what I learned to labor and justice movements.”

“I just wish that people in management or supervision were required to take it — and that they did it in a separate session from those of us not in supervision or management roles.”

“I just wish we had more time to explore these concepts, and some time for sharing and discussion. That being said, I know that this was a very abbreviated session and Kaetrena did an amazing job with the small amount of time that she had to work with.”

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