Report: South Carolina State Library (May 2023)

Wrapping up a busy May, at the end of last month I offered a Renewal Colloquium for the South Carolina State Library. The event was held virtually, and about 50 folks registered (there was a waiting list, as well). Most attendees were formal leaders working in public libraries around the state. Here’s a summary of selected data,

Low-morale experiences

  • 77% 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
  • 28% experienced emotional abuse
  • 33% of perpetrators were library colleagues
  • TIE: Top Impact Factors: Leadership styles and Uncertainty & Mistrust (16%)
  • Top feelings experienced: Frustration (22%), Sadness (11%),  and Anger (10%) 
  • 18% have noticed a desire to change careers; 15% have noticed a decreased willingness to collaborate, a decrease in professional engagement, and a decrease in work productivity.
  • Physical health concerns from low morale include:
    • “high blood pressure”
    • “.lack of sleep and motivation”
  • Mental health diagnoses from low morale include:
    • “Anxiety, depression”
    • “Anxiety – and I know SO MANY people in the library profession with anxiety. It’s a huge problem.”
  • Other things people shared about their experience in general:
    • “If one is in a management role, with supervisors above and employees below, it is possible for those being supervised to mistreat and/or bully the manager by going over their supervisor’s head, spreading rumors, and being uncooperative. I’ve experience this, and if there isn’t support from administration, it’s an almost impossible situation.”
    • “ABLEISM IS A MAJOR THING that I don’t remember seeing listed on the beginning of the survey and this is what has impacted me, personally. You get accused of “absenteeism” when you’re chronically ill (or if your child/family member is). Even if all of your work gets done. Even if shifts are covered. You are still made out to be a bad guy for having a problem no one else does (or no one else shares). I also get told “not to talk about it” a lot… if someone asks “just change the subject…” etc..”

During the Colloquium

After a summary of impact factors, the cohort was asked to consider commonly held expectations of leaders that could also fuel low-morale experiences for leaders.  See the figure below to review some attendee responses.


A general theme seems to reveal gaps in communication and work expectations.

I also asked the group to share adjectives describing their leadership styles:


The most shared adjective was empathetic, and the group was challenged to consider how their stated leadership styles may harbor shadow aspects that they aren’t aware of.

Colloquium Evaluation

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

  • “I felt the presenter was knowledgeable, experienced, and engaging. Information was presented in a clear and useful manner. The section on Low Morale and how some things/issues are dumped on Leaders was timely and interesting. Also, knowing others are in the same boat, different decks is helpful. Thank you.”
  • “That I am in fact already experiencing low-morale BUT I can work on it.”

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

  • “It was touched on, but I would like to dive a little more into assertive communication.”
  • ”Just more time for countermeasures please…”

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

  • “So many ways!! The first part of the training spoke to my personal experience. I want to go back and review everything now to look at it from a managerial POV. I am looking into an assertive communication training. I also want to find ways to point out when someone is doing the aggressions you listed. I also want to assess my style to find ways to rebuild after having the trigger event.”
  • “It’s given me a larger toolset for self-evaluation. For example, I recognize some of the laissez-faire inclinations in my own behavior at times, and it’s good to be reminded about this so I can check myself.”
  • “This will help me take a step back and examine my own behaviors in terms of being a leader. I appreciate the acknowledgement of the Pandemic and the effect it has had on libraries and librarians. I appreciated the open dialogue.”

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

  • “Open communication about expectations and limitations with leadership.”
  • .“Currently working on improving my boundaries and learning how to set priorities for my department so we don’t get overloaded.”
  • “I’ll be real: I’ve been a library director for over 10 years, and I walked into this training fully expecting to hear “this is how you can improve your employees’ morale or at least get them to stop complaining about it.” It did not really occur to me that leaders can have low morale. Like, we can have burnout, stress, etc., but “low morale” is just something for the rank-and-file. It was refreshing and validating to be able to discuss that.”

I want to thank Caroline Smith at the South Carolina State Library for inviting me to speak to South Carolina library leaders – if you’re seeking a speaker and facilitator to offer value to your state or region’s library workers, contact me!


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