Renewals Reach: Rejecting overcommitment

Katrina Spencer’s in-depth guide helps readers recognize the characteristics and behaviors associated with overcommitment. It includes a checklist of countermeasures to systematically reduce or respond to expectations that ignore human capacity or exploit/augment systems that promote or perpetuate overwork, over-functioning, and associated physical and mental health outcomes.

The 2017 low morale study is included in further readings.

Read (and be sure to download and apply) the guide.

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Report: Low Morale at Unionized Library Workplaces – Part 1 (August 2022)

Throughout my studies, librarians mentioned that either they were working in an organization with a union – or that their library’s workforce were contemplating starting a union. Additionally, there has been increased efforts from library workers who seek (or have successfully gained) labor organizing and/or collective bargaining rights and recognition.

My previous studies also hinted at or directly shared some understanding of the roles unions may (not) play during low-morale experiences. In my 2019 study, an African-American librarian summarized her union arbitration process:

“[My abuser] was a good actress, and she knew, you know, how to push their buttons so that I could be the one that looked like the big, bad, Black lady, and she could play the innocent, you know, little, young White department head. . . . I had said to the [union representative] after we met that [my abuser] had really spun this situation. And he got really angry and told me that he heard from her a lot of apologizing and that I was too tough and that I probably wouldn’t like him for saying that.” 

Last fall I launched a data collection project to learn more about if and how low-morale experiences manifest and/or are addressed in unionized library workplaces. This report shares results as of June 2022 and will remain open. 

Here are the quantitative results of the report, which reflects 26 responses:

  • 81% are currently experiencing workplace abuse/neglect (low morale);
  • 52% indicate their low-morale experience has lasted between 1 -3 years;
  • TIE: 42% are mid-career librarians/archivists (6-10 years’ experience); 42% are experienced (more than 10 years’ experience);
  • 62% work in academic libraries
  • 89% are union members
  • 68% share that their abusers are library administrators
  • 64% share that their abusers are supervisors or managers
  • 52% did not report the abuse to their union representative
  • Of those who did report:
    • 32% reported system abuse
    • 24% reported verbal/written abuse
    • 12% reported emotional abuse

Part 2 shares qualitative results. This survey remains open, and I will report results periodically. 

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Report Update: Public Libraries Low Morale Spot-Check (July 2022)

In addition to collecting low-morale spot-check data for academic libraries, I’m also gathering spot-check data for public libraries – you can review earlier public library data here. Both surveys remain open, so please participate according to your current library workplace.  Since the original report, I’ve published a low-morale study focusing on public librarians.

The following summation reflects 55 responses (up from 21 during the last report).

  • 98% have witnessed or experienced low morale in a public library environment
  • 56% are working in public service roles (e.g., Reference, Children’s Services, etc.); 23% are managers
  • 87% indicate that their current workplace has low morale issues

The following data are qualitative, in response to the query, “What issues of low morale are you concerned with?”:

  • “Exhaustion from frontline worker status during pandemic.”
  • “Lack of communication, support, and understanding, especially in regards to experiences and input from POC.”
  • “How much time do you have? Staff safety, staffing, administration’s disconnect from frontline workers. Lack of opportunities to be included in decision-making discussions. ‘Do more, with less’ is rhetoric and it’s bogus.” 
  • “Lack of passion and engagement in our work, leading to declining customer service and innovation.”
  • “Our system is currently facing abuse from patrons, administration, and incivility among colleagues.”
  • “Negligence resulting from that poor communication and under-staffing. Everyone is “too busy” to address concerns about morale, much less the lack of professional development or any of the other nice things that are supposed to make one’s job feel fulfilling. The supervisor of my department is also in administration, and admin duties (of which there are many) will always come before supervisor duties. They’re well-meaning, but if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, they’d have no clue about the qualifications needed to fill my position.”
  • “Constant change, micromanaging, only Black manager, passive aggressive use of annual evaluations as tools to not ask questions and instill fear of minor mistakes.”
  • “Staff forced to report to library during the pandemic despite stay at home order. Fear of furloughs and vocational awe used to keep library staff from questioning whether we are safe or not.”
  • “Extremely low pay for a high rent county. Privatized library system that does not pay a livable wage for degreed professionals, nor are noteworthy raises ever given. Many of us rely on family support, or are living hand-to-mouth. High turnover rate due to this, and mismanagement all around.”

These data underscore results from my public librarian study, including the impact factor of Personal Safety, along with related frameworks (e.g., vocational awe and resilience narratives) and Enabling Systems (e.g., leadership). The impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic is also evident (if you’d like to participate in my data collection project on impact of the Pandemic on low-morale experiences, you may do so here).

I will occasionally share more results as I obtain more data, so please check back!

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Report Update: BIPOC, Low Morale, & COVID-19 (June 2022)

Last April I shared Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)- centered results of my ongoing survey on the impact of COVID-19 on low-morale experiences. This report discloses updated data highlighting the responses and experiences of racial and ethnic minority respondents (n=116 – about 25% of the total participant pool). Quantitative and qualitative data are shared below.

Quantitative

  • 82% are female; 9% male; 3% non-binary/third-gender
  • 40% are Hispanic/Latino; 26% are African-American; 16% Multi-racial; 16% Asian American/Pacific Islander; 5% Native American 
  • 30% are new librarians/archivists; 30% are mid-career librarians/archivists; 26% are experienced librarians/archivists
  • 48% work in academic libraries; 44% work in public libraries
  • A majority of participants have experienced increases in:
    • Negligence (72%)
    • System abuse (64%)
  • Participants indicate the abusers are:
    • Library administrators (72%)
    • Supervisors/managers (47%)
  • Enabling Systems most often encountered by this group include:
    • Uncertainty & Mistrust (53%)
    • Leadership (47%)
    • Staffing & Employment (41%)
  • 46% of respondents indicate that outside of concerns about COVID-19,  physical health conditions have developed or worsened as a result of their library’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 68% of respondents indicate that mental health conditions have developed or worsened as a result of their library’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • During their library’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, participants have also experienced/dealt with:
    • Burnout (“a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do ‘people work’ of some kind.” – Maslach, 1982) – 78%
    • Resilience narratives (e.g., “do more with less,” “lean in;” “have grit,” “it’s your job to fix/fill in system gaps” – Berg, Galvan, & Tewell, 2018) – 75%
    • Vocational awe (the weaponization of LIS values/library value or librarian stereotypes/identity; job creep, mission creep – Ettarh, 2017, 2018) – 71%

Qualitative

Please share your experience(s) of increased abuse/neglect during the COVID-19 pandemic:

I am new to my position (started in January) so I am having to remind my colleagues and administration that I am still new and need to be trained on systems and services. With all of our work being moved online, some of my colleagues have a fear of training people because then other people can do their jobs and they wont be able to justify their position. This has resulted in me not being trained for the work that i was supposed to learn and leaving only a “select” few to do the required work when it should be everyone’s jobs. I have to set up my check-in’s with my supervisor and I feel like I am bugging people for work.

Boundaries set have become more fluid because our campus has gone virtual/online. I feel increased pressure to respond to emails sent/received beyond my “work time.”

I had to go in to work as the Person in Charge while my supervisor called in sick every day while our admin was deciding to close the library. I had the pressure as his assistant supervisor to pick up the slack during this stressful time.

Please share your experience(s) encountering Enabling Systems as a result of your library’s response to COVID-19 pandemic:

I feel like vocational awe is going to land us all in therapy or suffering from long term effects. I say this because some folks believe it is a badge of honor to put our lives at risk. While this disease does not discriminate, BIPOC are usually more high risk. I feel like this will never be acknowledged and whiteness definitely plays a part in ˜business as usual”. (Whiteness)

The feeling that there is a scarcity of resources when there is enough work to go around. There is also the feeling that you have to have a domain and being cross functionally trained will make current positions (as they exist) obsolete. (Staffing & Employment)

Please share any other thoughts or concerns you have about your low-morale experience and its relationship to your library’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Regarding resilience narratives – we lost a good amount of staff and can call on subs anymore but they keep adding back hours. Now we are forced how to keep building open (almost back to our pre-pandemic hours) with fewer people.

I have some colleagues who are still arguing the library should be open and we should continue providing face-to-face reference services, but most of us recognize that as ridiculous vocational awe. It feels generational as the people making that argument are closer to retirement age.

Works Cited 

Berg, J., Galvan, A. & Tewell, E. (2018). Responding to and reimagining resilience in academic libraries. Journal of New Librarianship, 3(1). Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2J29Lwf

Ettarh, F. (2018). Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves. In The Library With The Lead Pipe. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/ 

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.”

Ready to host a Renewal ColloquiumLet’s plan your event!

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Report: The Renewal Colloquium for Washington Research Library Consortium (May 2022)

Last week I facilitated The Renewal Colloquium for the Washington Research Library Consortium‘s plenary meeting. This meeting discussed the trajectory of low-morale experiences with a focus on how the COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted these experiences. I also introduced Pauline Boss’ concept of Ambiguous Loss and how it has affected library employees.

This report shares selected attendee data generated from the event’s pre-work activities and evaluation survey.

Pre-Colloquium Questionnaire Highlights

  • Library Type
    • 87% Academic
  • Represented areas of practice
    • 23% Reference & Instruction; Other
  • Career length
    • 68% 10 years or more
  • Topic Interest
    • 37% Emerging countermeasures and best practices to reduce/interrupt low morale

Low-Morale Experience Survey Highlights 

  • Have you experienced low morale?
    • 56% Yes
  • Length of low-morale experience
    • 36% Eighteen months or more
  • Perpetrators of abuse
    • 28%  Campus administrators; 24% Library administrators
  • Types of workplace abuse experienced:
    • 36% Negligence 32% System
  • Feelings experienced during low morale:
    • 12% Frustration
  • What contributed to low-morale experience?
    • 15% Uncertainty & Mistrust; 15% Staffing & Employment
  • Behaviors noted/considered:
    • 18% Decreased work productivity
    • 17% Decreased professional engagement
    • TIE: 15% Increased procrastination; Decreased professional development

Goals for attending the Colloquium

  • I would like to be able to identify the causes and conditions of low morale.”
  • Recognizing the signs of low morale earlier, so that interventions can be put in place before the situation has ‘boiled over.’”
  • “I’m interested in wrestling with some of the big, deep questions that need to be asked and reflected upon to create transformational change of structures, systems, cultures, and mental models that are rooted in white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.”
  • “…the pandemic isn’t over! Regardless of mask mandates and the itching desire to get back to what life looked like prior to March 2020. I would love to walk away with some tools to empower me being mindful of the loss, grief, and experiences of librarianship moving forward.”
  • “I want to be able to help those I supervise with low morale as I suffer from it as well.“
  • “I would like learn about strategies or changes that will help me feel less burnt out and more excited about my work.”
  • “A better understanding of what I and others are currently going through.”

Please share any other details you’d like about your experience during the Pandemic

  • “Lack of empathy from university administration with the insistence that everything is okay, when it is not. Employees and resources were cut by 30% in Summer/Fall 2020 with no acknowledgement of how that affected those cut, and those who kept their positions.”
    • “Life was/has been on hold during the pandemic. Uncertainty lead to fear of change, therefore career stagnation.”
    • “It was very aggravating that despite the fact that there is mask mandate in effect at our library, many of the students do not wear masks and the university administration did not want to try to enforce it with small fines or some other penalty.”
    • “I’m actively looking for positions in organizations I feel support their employees better.”

Colloquium Evaluation Report Highlights

Things learned or more clearly defined:

“I really enjoyed this experience. Empathy is so important and I want to thank Kaetrena for helping me narrow my [research focus]. Everything she stated aligned with my lifestyle and core beliefs concerning empathy. This was amazing :).”

“Resilience narratives–specifically within the context of how it’s implied that a failure to perfectly adapt to severe conditions is our fault, rather than being due to the severity of those conditions.”

“Seeing the [live collective] responses showed that we are not alone re: how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all…”

“The discussion about our leaders’ roles in low morale environments (that leaders have a role, but that they often can’t fix everything on their own) was powerful recognition of the complex systems we work in. It’s easy to look to leaders for solutions, and leaders often want to provide them. Yet, it’s more complicated.”

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

The importance of understanding the reverse side/downside of a well-developed or overused skill or work style. Kaetrena provided herself as an example that was quite relatable.”

“Mostly I’m grateful I was able to leave a prior toxic environment, especially since my new workplace has some better systems and structures in place to prevent/guard against a number of the problems I had in my previous job.”

“I think I need to reassess some of the ways in which my staff and I work together, as well as in which my supervisor and I work together.”

Recovery plans (personally or at work):

“I want to get back into some of my creative endeavors that have been dormant, though I haven’t been able to muster the energy or ideas to actually follow through on that desire, so I’m trying to be patient with myself in the hope that those things will come back again with time…”

“Shift to focusing on my family. Long term: planning on leaving the profession.”

“I need to reach out. My isolation and silence is taking its toll on my mental/emotional health and now on my physical health too.”

Topics recommended for discussion/consideration:

“Self-Awareness perhaps, but that could lead down another rabbit hole easily.”

Ready to host a Renewal ColloquiumLet’s plan your event!

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Renewals Reach: Power and privilege in libraries

Stark and Dobry’s poster session for the 2019 Northern California & Nevada Medical Group/Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona Joint Meeting includes an overview of literature on libraries as dysfunctional workplaces, along with associated behaviors and outcomes. They offer brief recommendations for roles library workers and formal library leaders can take to reduce workplace abuse, particularly in allied health/medical library organizations. Review the poster

Reserved: The Renewal Colloquium @Massachusetts Library Association Conference (May 2022)

On May 23, I’ll be leading The Renewal Colloquium during the Massachusetts Library Associations annual conference. The event will take place after the Opening Keynote/Spotlight Session where I’ll center low-morale experiences in public libraries (view the associated study). 

Reserved: The Renewal Colloquium @Washington Research Library Consortium (May 2022)

I’ve been invited to this year’s Washington Research Library Consortium plenary meeting to facilitate a special session of  The Renewal Colloquium focusing on the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on library employees. The virtual plenary is slated for May 18 at 1PM EST.

Learn more about the WRLC, which serves ten member libraries in metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. 

Renewals Reach: Identity, Emotional Labor, and Service

In their chapter, “We’re not libraries; we’re people: Identity and emotional labor in providing face-to-face service in libraries,” Hernandez and Oberlies explore LIS service norms and how they clash with library employees who work in public services. They also share the results of a survey they distributed to gather information about the distribution of emotional labor across several demographic indicators. 

Read the chapter.