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!


Recorded: The Librarian Linkover Podcast (June 2023)

Lorene Kennard, host of The Librarian Linkover podcast, interviewed me about my latest low morale study, “The Cornered Office – A Qualitative Study of Low-Morale Experiences in Formal Library Leaders.” Our discussion explores some impact factors of low-morale experiences for formal leaders and surfaces insight on who should be responsible for improving workplace culture and the importance of collective responses. Listen now.

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!


Renewals Reach: High Impact Practices & Student Employment

Liz Vine’s invited paper for the 2021 Association of College & Research Libraries’ conference discusses the role of High Impact Practices through the lens of experiential learning, and with an eye towards equity and learner-centered pedagogy.

The 2019 low morale study (done with Ione T. Damasco) is noted in discussions of BIPOC experiencing a dearth of welcoming workplaces in academia.

Read the paper.

Report: 2023 MOSS Meetup (May 2023)

Earlier this month I offered a keynote at the 2023 MOSS Meetup, hosted by the Idaho Commission for Libraries. The meetup is designed for library workers from Idaho’s colleges and universities to come together to discuss challenges, share solutions, and take those solutions back to their workplaces. This year’s specific theme was “Equality of access to recorded knowledge and information,’ and I offered one of two keynotes for the two-day meeting.

Before and during the event, I gathered attendee data about low-morale experiences and related perspectives. Here is a selection of that data.

Low-morale experiences

  • 73% of respondents have experienced low morale as defined by Kendrick (“the result of repeated, protracted exposure to emotional, verbal/written, and systemic abuse or negligence in the workplace.)
  • TIE: 28% have experienced low-morale for three months of fewer or for more than three years
  • 34% experienced negligence
  • TIE: 20% Perpetrators were library administrators or library supervisors/managers
  • Top feelings experienced: Frustration (13%), Disillusion (11%) and Anger (10%)
  • 18% have noticed a decrease in professional engagement as a result of their low-morale experience. Other behaviors noticed include:
    • “A desire to get a job at a different library.”
    • “An increase in talking to people about what is happening to get their take…”
  • Mental health diagnoses from low morale include:
    • “High anxiety and depression”
    • “…Over the last few years, I dread going to work and interacting with people. On the weekends, I want to stay home.”
  • Other things people shared about their experience in general:
    • “I still have to work with the folks who contributed to my experience. Things need to change. Folks need to learn how what they are doing harms folks of color and in the LGBTQIA+ community. I recommend that library admins read up on the Spiritual Organization of Higher Ed (sic) (Manning).”
    • “It occurred while I was still a student and working in a library, and it really reinforced how powerless I and my coworkers were since we weren’t staff or faculty.”
    • “Thankfully, I am no longer working at that library so my low-morale experience is mostly over (still experience occasional feelings of bitterness about certain things even though it has been three years since I worked there). Happily, I am now working at a wonderful library that I love.”

During the Keynote

I asked folks to share what they think of when they hear the phrase “low morale”:


And these are responses to the query, “share one word that reflects a core LIS value, belief, or practice that could create a low-morale experience:


Keynote Evaluation

As always, I requested feedback about the live keynote from the group. Commentary follows.

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

  • “I learned what ambiguous loss is and now understand why I’m still thinking about and working through what happened to me at my last job more than a year later.”
  • “I learned much more about what can influence morale in the workplace, and especially what can be considered abuse and how to recognize that abuse.”

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

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

  • “This has really inspired me to look further into the behaviors that low morale may cause, and how to recognize when the people I work with are experiencing low morale so I can offer help. I also want to just learn more about this, it’s a really relevant topic to anyone working in libraries.”

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

  • “I’ll check the resources provided during the session and work specifically on recovery with my therapist.”

Thanks to the Idaho Commission for Libraries for inviting me to talk with 2023 MOSS Meetup attendees – it’s clear they found value in our conversation, and I enjoyed their engagement and participation.

Ready to bring value to your annual meeting, professional development/staff day, or retreat? Contact me for bookings!


Report Update: Job-Hunting during Low-Morale Experiences – Part 2 (April 2023)

This report update shares qualitative responses of from my job hunting during low-morale experiences data collection project. View earlier qualitative responses here and here, and view Part 1 of this latest update here.

If you haven’t started looking for a job yet, how have your job search concerns impacted your daily work?

“It is difficult to concentrate sometimes and I have daily anxiety about being in the current workplace.”

“[E]very time I experience an incident deepening my low morale, I am distracted for an hour or more searching online for job opportunities.”

“I feel paralyzed. Not good enough to do what I know I’m good at doing.”

How have offers and/or rejections impacted your daily work?

“Feelings of dejection, what am I doing wrong, feeling hopeless that I won’t find anything. But, also has strengthening of skills as I do more interviews and hear and answer a variety of questions.”

“Experiencing constant rejection over a span of years while seeing less qualified people hired in the positions for which I applied has contributed to my low morale.”

“I feel discouraged and down each time, but I also find ways to rationalize why an offer was not in the cards for me.”

How have the offers and/or rejections impacted your perceptions of the library profession?

“This profession feels impossible to succeed in. I’ve been working precariously and applying for jobs for years and don’t see an end in sight. It’s honestly starting to make me suicidal.”

“Confirmed the presence of white supremacy in academic librarianship.”

“I feel like my experience is not taken seriously. I have no idea what people are looking for anymore.”

Considering your job hunt activities (or desire to begin looking for a new job), how has your low-morale experience affected your perceptions of career mobility?

“I’ve come to realize that no matter what competency I display in my current position: successful projects, continuing education, unique skills there is no way I can advance in my career. And I’ve seen several other of my peers leave the system for the same reasons I’m discouraged.”

“Just reading job descriptions is tiring. More often that I find myself opting out of applying because it’s demoralizing to submit variations of the same application portfolio to receive–if I’m a lucky–a two-sentence rejection by email.”

“I feel stuck and I am unsure of my skills and competencies. Are they transferable? I want to look outside of libraries, is that realistic? In short, a lot of self doubt.”

Feel free to share other concerns, advice, or ideas about job hunting during low-morale experiences.

How are we supposed to get letters of recommendation? Or even talk about our recent experiences or why we want to leave?.”

I’m worried that I’m too broken and infected by this workplace to fit into another organization. I’m worried that interviewers will somehow sense that I’ve been broken by my current job.”

I recently did find a new job. It’s a much better environment and I’m so far doing better. I am still considering next moves. I don’t know if I will stay in the library and archives field or not.”

I am pretty sure the rejection I received from my final round interview was because I use a mobility aid. I met with the current librarian whose position I would be taking if I received the job, and she immediately gave me a lecture about how I should be prepared because the work is “very physical.” I’ve worked in libraries for nearly 10 years now so I’m aware of what it takes. I worry that this job just didn’t want to accommodate my need for occasional help.”

The survey remains open. I will periodically publish updates. 

Report Update: Job-Hunting during Low-Morale Experiences – Part 1 (April 2023)

In March 2021 I shared an update of my ongoing data collection project on how job-hunting is impacted by low-morale experiences. Specifically, the survey explores the impact and outcomes of the job-seeking process while also dealing with the cognitive, mental, emotional, and physical health tolls of workplace abuse and neglect.  You may also review the initial quantitative data released in Spring 2020.

Here are the quantitative results of the report, which reflects 199 responses:

  • 97% are currently experiencing workplace abuse/neglect (low morale);
  • 42% indicate their low-morale experience has lasted between 1 -3 years;
  • 67% are currently looking for a new job as a result of their low-morale experience;
  • 81% are searching for work in other libraries;
  • Those who haven’t yet started looking note the following concerns:
    • 84%: presence of workplace dysfunction or low morale at potential workplaces
    • 69%: salary
    • 65%: labor of job searching (e.g., writing cover letters, updating resumes, gathering references)
    • 55% relocation
    • 52% distance (commute)
  • Of those who have been looking for work, 69% have had between 0 and 3 interviews.

Part 2 will share qualitative results. This survey remains open, and I will continue reporting results periodically. 


Renewals Reach: Work conditions and organizational justice

Matteson, Ming, and Silva apply organizational justice theory to decision-making in library administration and consider the role of this application in improving employee perceptions of the workplace, particularly where perceptions of fairness, autonomy and other factors. Access the article (possible paywall).

Five Years up

Today Renewals is five years old! We’re also recognizing the five year anniversary of the Renewers Facebook community, and the three-year anniversary of Renewals’ Twitter and Instagram communities. Renewals communities have continued growing – respectively, our Facebook community, now has 2,054 members, Twitter: 1,311, and Instagram: 940. Also, data collection projects have continued and/or commenced, and I’ve expanded Renewals services that confirm its mission to reconnect people and organizations to their purpose, create empathetic strategies, and center positive and wholehearted outcomes for the improvement, integrity, and humanity of our workplaces. 

I also am continuing to gather and report data on various aspects of low-morale experiences. This year I added one project:

As a reminder, I will cease gathering data on low-morale experiences during COVID-19 when the United States federal government ends its formal recognition of the Pandemic. If you’d like to participate, please do so before that time.

My insight on workplace morale continues to be sought after in media – in June 2022, I was included in American Libraries’ lead article, “Quitting Time,” wherein I discussed the role of the Pandemic on library worker attrition (note: the original [print] article mis-represented my discussion of self-preservation, and the online version was updated to clarify my stance on this important skillset/countermeasure for low morale).

Organizations invited me to lead Renewals professional development events, including: 

  • Washington Research Library Consortium (April 2022)
  • Massachusetts Library Association (May 2022)

I was also invited to offer keynotes or panels/interviews to professional library and archives organizations:

  • Massachusetts Library Association (May 2022)
  • Association of College & Research Libraries – Louisiana Chapter Summer Research Forum (July 2022)
  • Society of Georgia Archivists (October 2022)
  • Institute of Research Design in Librarianship Online Conference (November 2022)

I am scheduled for additional facilitated events and public speaking this year, so please follow this blog to keep updated, and be sure to contact me for public speaking, interviews, and more.

Low-morale experiences deeply impact people’s mental health, and these impacts are more deeply and broadly felt by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. To that end, I continued my efforts to build sustainable safer spaces for this group to share their experiences in real time via the BIPOC in LIS Mental Health Summits. During this reporting period, I’ve co-led/co-organized two events with Twanna Hodge:

  • Exploring the Healing Role of Somatic Experiencing with Xan Goodman – Part 1 (October 2022)
  • Exploring the Healing Role of Somatic Experiencing with Xan Goodman (and yoga practice with Kelsa Bartley) – Part 2 (February 2023)

You can review presenter and attendee-generated resources at the BIPOC in LIS Mental Health Summit Community Record.

Through Renewals Coaching, I’ve continued collaborating with people who are seeking career clarity and/or support as they navigate within or transition from dysfunctional workplaces. E. Callahan shared the following about her Renewals Coaching experience: 

“…It is so clear that Kaetrena knows the ins and outs of the struggles library workers are contending with… I felt heard and validated, but also got immediate tools to help me reframe my situation in ways that don’t perpetuate negativity or sap the energy I need for progress and change.”

Building on this purpose and similar feedback from other clients, this year, I expanded Renewals Services to include coaching for organizational groups, and individual coaching for formal leaders: 

I remain deeply thankful to be able to do this work and continuously identify ways for workers dealing with low morale to find validation and victory in their recovery. I am grateful for the encouragement and support of my colleagues, mentors, family, and friends, and am looking forward to expanding my courage in the coming year.

In addition to this blog, you are welcome to keep up with my  formal research, speaking engagements, and other work here. I will continue to improve. Please look forward to it.

All Best,