Report: Maryland Library Association/Delaware Library Association Conference (May 2023)

Earlier this month I traveled to Cambridge, Maryland to attend the joint conference of the Maryland Library Association and Delaware Library Association. This year’s theme, “Level Up,” offered a sense of play through games, and also hinted at moving libraries on to new heights in practice and thought leadership. The event included three keynotes, and I offered the closing one, titled “Not a Game: Leveling Low Morale in Library Workplaces.” I was able to share a pre-survey with conference attendees as well as gather some data during event (as well as some evaluative feedback after the conference). Here’s a summary of selected data, which continues to offer up-to-the-moment insight about low morale in contemporary library workplaces – from people working at all levels within them.

Low-morale experiences

  • 73% have experienced low morale (“the result of repeated, protracted exposure to emotional, verbal/written, and systemic abuse or negligence in the workplace.)
  • 32% have experienced low-morale between 1 and 3 years
  • 29% experienced emotional abuse
  • 31% of perpetrators were library administrators
  • Top Impact Factors: Leadership styles (16%) and Organizational Structure (12%)
  • Top feelings experienced: Frustration (14%), Sadness (13%), Anger (13%) and Disillusion (12%)
  • 18% have noticed a desire to change careers.
  • Physical health concerns from low morale include:
    • “teeth grinding, migraines”
    • “…back and neck pain…”
  • Mental health diagnoses from low morale include:
    • “constant irritability, low grade depression, lack of focus”
    • “Low grade depression and anxiety”
  • Other things people shared about their experience in general:
    • “I did not like myself during that phase – I started questioning my value system and judgement. I lost respect for my organizational leaders.”
    • “Although my low-morale experience occurred over 4 years ago, I still feel a sense of dread when I see that person’s email in my inbox. Luckily, I do not have day-to-day contact with this person, but we still work in the same system. I fear the day I will need to work with this person on a project or will need to work again at this branch.”
    • “I was fortunate to have a good administrative support system and staff demonstrated great team work. Without this I think this would have been a much more traumatic experience.”

During the Keynote

After a review of workplace behaviors that often contribute to low morale, I asked keynote attendees if they had experienced or witnessed any of them while working in a library: MLADLABehaviors

Most had experienced or witnessed toxicity, followed closely by incivility.

At the end of my keynote, I also asked attendees which emerging self-preservation tool they would be most interested in trying:


There was almost equal interest in collective care and honing emotional intelligence.

Keynote Evaluation

Share something you learned during the Keynote or a concept that was defined more clearly during the Presentation:

  • “The presentation really hit home for me. It verbalized and named what I experienced for almost 10 years. At one point when you talked about the negative self talk and the job search exhaustion i was becoming tearful because I had experienced all of that. You may find it interesting that I had experienced those things as a teacher. I shifted jobs to be a school librarian to change all of those things I had been experiencing. Finally finding the ability to believe I could and apply for a new job and make that change was such and overwhelming relief. I am much less anxious. I am sleeping better and am overall healthier. Hearing you talk and quantify my experiences was very powerful. Thank you so very much!”
  • “Low morale was a relatively new concept to me, in a formal sense, so the whole presentation was wonderful.”

If there was a concept that you wished were covered during the Keynote, please share it:

  • “How to (1) recover AFTER a low morale experience and how to (2) be that safe space so people know this is a supportive and good environment”

Share how the information offered at this Keynote may impact your daily or long-term library practice:

  • “I am still struggling with saying “no”. Sometimes we feel like we have to wait for someone to give us permission. I am going to try to remind myself that it’s OK to say “no” to things that are beyond my scope or taking on too much. Thank you for that!.”
  • “Intentionality! This was great.”

If you have faced low morale, what are your immediate plans to continue your positive recovery (personally or at work)?

  • “Work on saying ‘no’ so that I can maintain boundaries and continue to experience the joy of my work.”
  • “Focus more on creativity outside of work and prioritizing at work.”

I had a great time meeting Marylanders and Delwareans at the lovely Hyatt Regency last month – ready to have a dynamic speaker energize your conference? Contact me for bookings!


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