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8 Ways to Improve Your Academic Library's Organizational Health
Discover ways to build a healthy workplace culture in your academic library to reduce burnout and increase collaboration.
Academic libraries are under constant stress. In addition to external pressures like declining enrollments and shrinking budgets, you may also be dealing with silos, poor communication, and high turnover. And while external stressors affect internal operations, you don’t have to fix the former to address the latter.
You can directly impact your library’s internal culture as a dean or director. By focusing on key areas that impact organizational health. Read on to learn how.
Improve Your Library’s Workplace Culture
Build belonging. A sense of belonging is a powerful motivator. When people feel they belong, they are more likely to share their perspectives—enriching the library and campus. Help build belonging by asking people for their ideas and acting on them when possible. Let people provide anonymous feedback and take it seriously. You might not agree with everything they say, but you’ll get valuable information about people's feelings.
Support faculty and staff growth. Setting career goals in an academic library setting can be tricky. Faculty and staff are probably governed differently, and you may not have a direct influence on things like research agendas. But you can help people see how their current work supports their future plans. Ask what they want from their careers, and encourage people to pursue goals that serve the library and their needs. Then, do what you can to give them the tools to succeed. You could offer conference funding, time to take classes, or provide simple mentoring.
Focus on inclusion, not extraction. Many academic libraries are under serious resource crunches. Instead of normalizing “doing more with less”, work with faculty and staff to identify what they can let go of in favor of new or pressing priorities. Taking on a lot of tasks may keep things afloat, but putting energy toward strategic priorities moves the library forward. Once you identify priorities, give faculty and staff space to do their best work. Trust that people are professionals, and train managers to offer support and guidance instead of micromanaging.
Break down silos. As a dean or director, how you communicate affects how people perceive their work. Open, transparent communication ensures everyone gets the same messages and helps people see why decisions are made. You won’t be able to share everything, but modeling open communication can go a long way. Ask questions. Be honest. Avoid defensiveness. If you’re in a culture of complaining, let people air their concerns but ask them to suggest next steps—then do your best to act on them, or explain why you can’t.
Make meaning together. Underneath campus politics, budget woes, and other noise, the goal is to advance education and research. You can use meetings or emails to share how the library aligns with the larger goal. Keep policies student- and employee-centered and inclusive. Procedures should hold people, especially managers, responsible if their actions don’t align with bigger values. It takes time, but alignment helps everyone understand how their work contributes to the bigger picture.
Recognize good work. You may admire faculty and staff's work, but if you don’t say so, they may feel invisible. Let people know you value their contributions. Some people may want you to shout their accomplishments from the rooftop. Others prefer a personal email or note. If you’re unsure how people like to be recognized, ask them! Always draw a connection between someone’s work and the bigger picture so people can see how their work contributes to the mission. And, be sure to praise faculty and staff outside the library so administrators understand what the library does for students.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees. If your library isn’t as healthy as you’d like, take a step back and consider why. Instead of ignoring problems or putting out fires as they crop up, look at the big picture and try to draw connections. Do you need to create a culture of recognition? Communicate more clearly? Help staff set healthy boundaries? Fixing one thing won’t fix everything, but taking deliberate steps to build a better workplace culture will ultimately pay off.
Improve Your Organizational Health Today
If you are wondering where your workplace culture is healthy or where it could use some improvement, we can help.
At Niche Academy, we’ve developed a survey to measure eight keys to organizational health. Over 700 librarians have taken it, and fewer than half rated their workplace as “good” or “excellent”. A full 38% are in environments that “need work”.
If you want to do a health check for your library, this survey is a great place to start. You can assign it anonymously and use the results as a baseline. You’ll quickly see where the library is doing well and where changes are needed.
Once you know where you stand, you can use the tips in this post to address what isn’t working—and build on what is. And we’re here every step of the way. We can help you identify problems and find solutions all in one place.
After your staff takes the survey, we can connect you with our marketplace of professional development tutorials. A subscription gives you hundreds of tutorials on Equitable Workplace Practices, Bullying, Burnout, Conflict Resolution, and more.
Get the survey today. We’ll help you create an organization where people love where they work and what they do!
Source Material for our Organizational Health Survey
- Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
Foundational work on the real economic consequences of inclusive vs. extractive systems.
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
by Brene Brown
Conceptual framework for the value of vulnerability and the conditions that allow and cultivate it.
- The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business
by Patrick Lencioni
A compelling case for the long-term benefits that accrue to organizations who are able to operate consistently based on established trust, space for productive conflict, mutual commitment and accountability, and attention to real results.
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don't
by Jim Collins
A well-researched book showing how a shared and explicitly articulated purpose, and mission accelerate the growth and long-term impact of an organization.
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
by Carol Dweck
A broadly influential work on the psychological patterns that contribute to or hinder success for individuals and organizations. Origin of the terms "growth mindset" and "fixed mindset".