Report: ASERL BIPOC Leadership Development Mini-Conference (July 2023)

Late last month I offered a Renewals Seminar/Keynote at the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries’ 2nd BIPOC Leadership Development Mini-Conference. The event was hosted at Georgia Institute of Technology’s stunning Price Gilbert Memorial Library. Following is selected data from attendees.

Professional Demographics and Learning Goals

  • 20% Access Services
  • 50% 10 or more years of service
  • 25% interested in identifying and cultivating positive leadership styles

Share a specific skill or goal you hope to get closer to or realize as a result of attending this seminar:

  • “I hope to learn how to combat low morale in myself and those I work with while also adding to my own leadership toolkit.”
  • “I just hope I am able to be aware of and/or recognize ‘signs’ that my own leadership skills can be a positive OR negative factor in terms of morale at the workplace. I’m looking forward to this seminar!!!”
  • “How to I stop myself from following a path of low morale leadership? Be a leader not a manager during low-morale.”
  • “I want to be able to build a culture at my libraries where BIPOC Librarians want to be. With that said, I would like to figure out how I can start building that foundation in order to be a place where we can recruit and retain BIPOC folks.”

Low-morale experiences and Recovery Pathways

  • 75% have faced or are currently facing low morale
  • 30% experienced low morale between 1 – 3 years
  • 38% experienced system abuse
  • 16% experienced feelings of Frustration
  • 25% noticed a desire to change careers
  • Physical health concerns from low morale include:
    • “…increased blood pressure”
    • “Extreme weight gain…and fatigue”
  • Mental health diagnoses from low morale include:
    • “I have anxiety due to work environment, political environment, and pandemic.”
    • “Depression and anxiety got worse in my previous role
  • Other things people shared about their experience in general:
    • “After my low-morale experience, I had to re-learn that my work as a staff member was important to my organization.”
    • “It wears you down when you think the grass is greener only to find out it’s not. It’s even more frustrating when coworkers praise your place of work when deep down we know we’re suffering due to lack of resources and clear leadership/management. However a lot of the people who I hear praising the workplace are not BIPOC so that says a lot.”
    • “I wasn’t sure if I had a low-morale experience at first, but after going through more of the answers, I realize I may have. I felt tokenized and taken advantage of, but also conflicted because I wanted to make things better and was being counted on as the person to do so.”

Share a practice/behavior that has helped you as you move(d) through your low-morale experience:

  • “I started to do other things that brought me joy. That helped me take the focus off my poor experiences and re-center myself. Additionally, I nurtured relationships and work that were helpful and rewarding.”
  • “Self-confidence in the work I’m doing to self improve for another role or position that suits me best.”
  • “As a staff member, learning that it is okay to reach out to faculty members in other departments and that collaboration is okay and that you do not have to remain in a little silo.”
  • “Having work buddies, creating a calming space outside of the institution’s walls, and/or leaving to find another position.”
  • “Prayer, and action. I eventually got a new job.”
  • “Learning to advocate for myself, write down things that happen, document the innovative and helpful things I do.”

During the Seminar

I covered and clarified several negative workplace behaviors that cause low-morale and asked the group if they had observed or experienced any of them within their workplaces. See the group response below:

ASERL Behaviors

Bystanderism and toxicity are the top experienced/observed negative workplace behaviors for this group.

Considering the purpose of the ASERL event, I also discussed leadership styles that most likely cause or extend low-morale. I asked the group which of those leadership styles they’ve encountered during a low-morale experience:

ASERL Leadership Styles

The top encountered leadership style was Authoritarian.

Seminar Evaluation

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

  • “The library nice concept. I didn’t realize how much that has both hurt and benefited me. I’ve been told that I’m too blunt. And when I tempted my words, public now think I’m sooooo nice. As a black woman, I see it’s a real balancing act.”
  • “It’s everyone’s job to fix this!”
  • “Empathy vs sympathy and the different leadership styles”
  • “The importance of rest. How to combat toxicity”

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

  • “I’d like to hear more about how to flip the script mentally and not continue as a leader myself now to people please and want everyone to be happy because of how I was abused by my leader.”
  • “How to be yourself in a professional setting that doesn’t come off as ‘the angry Black man/woman.”

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

  • “I feel empowered and validated in my thoughts and understand that it is okay to leave if you are not being supported.”
  • “I’m seriously thinking about getting out of LIS. I think it’s unhealthy for me.”
  • I am going to seek out resources to build skills as a leader to learn how to lead outside of my natural response which is a response based on trauma from previous jobs I have to be nice, agree, …even when I do not. Avoiding conflict because of past trauma is over! Thank you for this presentation!”
  • “I’ve heard Kaetrena’s work before but it reveals something new every, every time I get a chance to revisit it. This time, it helped me to define and assign a name to a low morale experience I had in the past that I didn’t realize I’d had.”

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

  • “Leave the bad situation and make space to recover. Ease into the new job slowly and tap into when I feel overwhelmed.”
  • “First finish reading the resources”
  • “Get some helpers”
  • “I found other things that gave me joy and learned how to mitigate my anger”

Thanks to ASERL (John Burger and Elaina Norlin), as well as Georgia Institute of Technology’s Price Gilbert Memorial Library Associate liaison Karen Manning and Dean Dr. Aisha Johnson for a warm welcome and an impactful day of learning and community-building. 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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