Career Development

Solving the dysfunctional library: a conversation with Jo Henry, Joe Eshleman, and Richard Moniz

Frankly, it’s not something we like to talk about. There is an unfortunate stigma to acknowledging workplace dysfunction, let alone trying to grapple with the problem. But negative behaviors such as incivility, toxicity, deviant behavior, workplace politics, and team and leadership dysfunction not only make the library a stressful workplace, they also run counter to the core values of librarianship. So what's to be done? In their new book on the topic, Jo Henry, Joe Eshleman, and Richard Moniz take a close look at these negative relationship-based issues and suggest workable solutions. In this interview they discuss their collaboration and how library staff can handle workplace conflicts.  

What was the genesis of the book? Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

As frequent collaborators, we had always touched on different topics related to leadership and management when we got together. At one point we started more concretely discussing the possibility of updating Richard’s textbook Practical and Effective Management of Libraries. It's a solid work for understanding management principles. That said, it didn’t really get after the most difficult challenges librarians and library managers might face. In talking it through we decided that we specifically wanted to a photo of Tug of War by  -Jacky Liutackle the really tough issues. We all saw various examples of dysfunction either in our own libraries or in other organizations that we had interacted with. We all knew colleagues that had dealt with challenging situations. With that in mind, we felt as though we could both learn a lot and maybe help others by diving deep into the topic.

You’ve all collaborated on writing projects before. Was there anything different this time around? How do you keep track of who’s doing what?

That’s true. We really enjoy working as a team. All three of us have a passion for librarianship and we each bring a different perspective. While one of us may take the lead on a given project, book ideas have typically been generated through vigorous discussion.  Once we have a project, we divide that writing by individual interest and set our internal timelines.  Jo is definitely the leader when it comes to keeping us on track. If there was ever an excellent project manager, it's Jo. Joe is our “big idea” person on the team. He challenges himself and the rest of us to not settle for an easy answer. Often times, he will raise unique points “outside the box” that make our projects deeper and more interesting. Richard can be pretty driven when it comes to keeping on track and he frequently brings his practical experience as a library director to bear on issues. We love the talks that we have as we often get together/email while working on a project. There was not a lot different this time around other than an increased trust factor. We don’t want to let each other down and we try to bring our best selves to each project. We think we did that this time as well.

Because of technology, human beings are more connected to one another than ever before; yet basic communication skills seem to be worse than ever. Why do you think that is?

We see both good and bad examples in the workplace and with our patrons. One can definitely see that the younger generation tends to be “plugged in” all the time and may, as a result, have lost a bit of the connection and skill sets for face to face communication which has been shown to be a more robust communication method.  The book even touches on these generational differences in the realm of workplace incivility.  For example, millennials would rather move on in a dysfunctional workplace than try to adapt or find a solution.  We also discuss communication distortion and how sending and receiving messages can lead to misunderstanding.  Utilization of technology in communication may contribute to these misunderstandings.  Also, there is a loss of “humanity” itself when communicating through technology.  (Think of things such as feedback from sound, gestures, or body language.)  Finally, in the book we address how some of the problem in libraries lies in the fact that the profession has such strong roots but is also going through such radical change. We think that part of the challenge may be resistance to change.

book ccver for The Dysfunctional LibraryIn the book, you write, “Conflicts are a normal part of life and the library workplace.” What are some key steps that both managers and staff can take to deal with conflicts better?

There is a whole lot we could say about this but one central point of the book is the need for civility and respect. It is very important that individuals within an organization build rapport, understanding, and learn to appreciate what each person brings to a given team. Conflict should not be avoided when it arises but dealt with in a manner that is respectful and well-considered. Conflicts between individuals should never be allowed to fester. This requires a certain amount of trust. If that’s lacking there is little hope of resolving the conflict.

What advice would you give to a librarian who needs to report toxic behavior or harassment?

We would say to take care of yourself mentally. That could mean a number of things. First, you need to be careful not to blame yourself for being stuck in a terrible situation. We are proponents of mindfulness and one type of meditation we recommend is loving-kindness meditation. We think it is important to reach out to others that you trust to share what you are experiencing. If you plan to report an issue to HR or another higher authority be careful to document facts about the situation or situations. Unfortunately, sometimes toxic behavior is so embedded in an organization that the best thing you can do is find a healthier workplace.

How can library leaders harness instability and change for a more functional workplace?

Library leaders need to embrace that aspect of change that taps into creativity and humanity.  Realizing that good and open librarians are welcome to change and showing the benefits of accepting change up front are key factors here.  In addition to leading by accepting change themselves, library leaders need to realize that change is one of the things that makes us human. Doing the same things day to day or over a long period of time makes us robots and also makes the librarian position one that can be considered to be automated and phased out.  The most functional librarian is one who is invested in aspects of their job that tap into their own needs and passions. This is not to say that some of the day to day tasks need to be completely eliminated, but merely to point out to library leadership that embracing and facilitating change can make us more engaged.

Learn more about The Dysfunctional Library: Challenges and Solutions to Workplace Relationships at the ALA Store.

Books hot off the press, Meet the Authors at the ALA Store in Orlando

Located just inside the Shuttle Bus Entrance at the Orange County Convention Center, the ALA Store offers products that meet the widest range of your promotional and continuing education/professional development needs—as well as fun gift items. Make sure to carve out some time in your schedule during the conference to stop by and examine the many new and bestselling items available!

ALA Store hours:

  • Friday, June 24            12:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 25       8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, June 26          8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, June 27        9:00 am – 2:00 pm

ALA Graphics will feature a selection of popular posters, bookmarks, and promotional materials, including new 2016 Teen Read Week and Banned Book Week items. And stop by early to get your pick of conference t-shirts—they sell out fast! We’ll also be introducing several brand new items and exclusive gifts:

  • Libraries Transform Expert Badges
  • CSK Book Award T-shirts
  • CSK Book Award Pashmina (limited quantity and only available at the Conference Store)

ALA Editions and ALA divisions are excited to offer several new titles hot off the press, such as “RDA Essentials,” by Thomas Brenndorfer; “Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice,” by Debra J. Knoll; and “The Librarian's Nitty Gritty Guide to Content Marketing,” by Laura Solomon. Come by the ALA Store for these special Meet the Author events:

Saturday, June 25      

Sunday, June 26      

Remember that you can now find titles from ALA Neal-Schuman and Facet Publishing in the ALA Store. You can also get free shipping on all book orders placed in the ALA Store (posters, bookmarks, and other gift-type items are not eligible for this offer).

Stop by the ALA Store to learn more about our eLearning opportunities. You can also arrange for a live demo of RDA Toolkit—just contact us by June 20 to request an appointment.

Prices at the ALA Store automatically reflect the ALA Member discount, so there’s no need to dig out your Member number. And remember that every dollar you spend at the ALA Store helps support library advocacy, awareness, and other key programs and initiatives!

Continuing the Conversation: Hiring, Training and Supervising Library Shelvers

We just wrapped up Pat Tunstall’s three-part workshop Hiring, Training and Supervising Library Shelvers. This was a fantastic event with some great discussion! 

Pat’s slides for all three parts are posted below. If you didn’t have a chance to participate, check them out!

Continuing the Conversation: Real-Life Strategies for Successful Library Job-Hunting

We just wrapped up Real-Life Strategies for Successful Library Job Hunting: A Forum. Thanks to everyone who attended, to our facilitators Andromeda Yelton and Tiffany Mair, and to JobList, HRDR and Hack Library School for their support.

Don't forget to register for ALA JobList's upcoming Webinar How to Get Unstuck in Your Job Search with Dr. Caitlin Williams, Ph.D.

Keeping up with ALA JobLIST

ALA JobLIST Placement Center information –
ALA JobLIST Direct e-newsletter subscription form and archive –
Facebook –
Twitter –
LinkedIn subgroup: “Librarianship Job Search and Careers” –
Google+ –

ALA  JobLIST Webinars, Podcasts, and Chats

For resources and more, view Hack Library School's Google Doc for today's event:

If you missed the event or you’d like to view it again, please check out the archive:


Tiffany and Andromeda's Slides:

Real Life Strategies for Successful Library Job Hunting

Archive: Tactics for Library Job Hunting in a Tough Market with Jeannette Woodward

Earlier today, we wrapped up our webinar Tactics for Library Job Hunting in a Tough Market with Jeanette Woodward. We want to give a special thanks to our sponsors, LearningExpress and Mango Languages, for making this session possible.

If you’d like to view the archive of this event, it’s available at

Jeanette’s Slides

Tactics for Library Job Hunting in a Tough Market

Continuing the Conversation: Patron-Driven Acquisition: Radically Re-Thinking the Collection, Session 1

Due to the large number of questions that emerged from the first session of Rick Anderon's workshop Patron-Driven Acquisition: Radically Re-Thinking the Collection, we have posted Rick's responses as a separate blog post. Feel free to chime in via the comments area and join in the discussion!

We just wrapped up the first session of the ALA Editions Workshop Patron-Driven Acquisition: Radically Rethinking the Collection  with Rick Anderson. We had some fantastic discussion during this event, and we’re using the comments area of this post to continue it. Whether you attended or not, feel free to join the conversation!

Discussion Questions

  • What’s your definition of Patron-Driven Acquisition?
  • The presentation presumes that print is dead, which is debatable. The Gutenberg led to mass -produced books, therefore allowing multiple simultaneous users. Could you elaborate or give your perspective on the difference between book as abstract text and book as object?
  • If librarians aren’t good at selecting, who is? Selection by librarians saves the time of the user. People want the best sources, but often settle for the easiest to find. Librarians’ selection skills give users accurate information. Regarding the concept of “at least one use,”  do we have research on whether what patrons acquire is what they need?
  • It seems there is a tension between libraries roles in archiving and giving access.For large research libraries, collecting for current users has to go hand-in-hand with preserving the scholarly record for unanticipated future uses. Circulation statistics can’t capture that role, yet it’s important.
  • Are libraries using PDA with media other than books and articles?
  • What are the considerations for the library's systems department in implementing PDA?

Rick’s SlidesPatron-Driven Acquisition: Radically Re-Thinking the Collection, Session 1

Community Partnership: How to Raise Money and Build Relationships

Paul Signorelli is currently teaching the ALA Editions eCourse Community Partnership: Raising Money and Building Relationships. The course begins today, but its not too late to register at the ALA Store.

At a very important yet oft-overlooked level, every member of library staff is now a fundraiser in a very competitive environment. That’s because great fundraising comes from the building of great relationships, and all library staff members play a role in nurturing and sustaining positive and mutually beneficial relationships between libraries and the communities they serve—in good as well as in challenging times.

Fostering effective collaborations is at the heart of the ALA Editions’ Community Partnership: How to Raise Money and Build Relationships, which runs online from Monday, October 3 through Sunday, October 30, 2011. But don’t let the fundraising aspect scare you. We’re as much concerned here with the collaboration-relationship side of the equation as we are with the funding and in-kind gifts that result from those relationships.

There are wonderful resources to be explored here, including the Urban Libraries Council report Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development. It’s as fresh today as it was when it was published in January 2007. We’ll be using it as an anchor to our explorations and discussions of how partnerships are developed and what some of our most creative colleagues have been doing to serve as active participants within their communities.

We’ll also have access to the complete version of Providing for Knowledge, Growth, and Prosperity: A Benefit Study of the San Francisco Public Library rather than the executive summary that is available on the Internet. Reading and discussing that document in conjunction with the use of other articles, short online videos, and PowerPoint presentations from several sources will help us recognize the benefits we bring to our communities so we can better demonstrate the worth of our organizations to our current and prospective community partners.

And we’ll finish this four-week interactive course with an in-depth look at one of the hottest recent library-business community partnerships—the e-reader project between the Sacramento Public Library and Barnes & Noble.

There will be plenty of other resources to explore, and the collaborations we develop will include the interactions among our learning colleagues from libraries across the country as we use an online bulletin board to share weekly assignment postings, engage in optional weekly office-hour chats, and produce resources we can immediately use in our efforts to create, nurture, and sustain partnerships that benefit our communities.

To register, please visit the ALA Store.

A Free Webinar for Library Job Hunters

reportJeannette Woodward, author of our special report A Librarian’s Guide to an Uncertain Job Market will host the webinar “Tactics for Library Job Hunting in a Tough Market” on October 20, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Thank you Mango Languages and LearningExpress for sponsoring the webinar. Register today!

Below is a sample from the report. We are offering $5.00 off the special report, in all formats print, eEdition, or combined. Visit the listing in the ALA Store and use the coupon code LGJF11. Offer expires October 17. 2011.
UPDATE(Oct 3): Bigger savings! Use this coupon code for a 50 percent discount on any format. 
Employment Prospects for LIS Professionals

Continuing the Conversation: Be a Great Boss

We just wrapped up the ALA Editions Workshop Be a Great Boss  with Cathy Hakala-Ausperk. We had some fantastic discussion during this event, and we’re using the comments area of this post to continue it. Whether you attended or not, feel free to join the conversation!

The Preliminary Readings from Today’s Event
Cathy’s Slides

Be a Great Boss--ALA Editions Workshop

"A gem of a book ... ought to be on the shelf of every high school guidance counselor in the country"

The stated mission of the American Library Association is, “To provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” New from ALA Editions, How to Pay for College: A Library How-To Handbook is an effective guide emphasizing the help that the local library can offer in this process, using its reference materials, the Internet, and the advice of experienced researchers.

Gail Buckner, writing for FOXBusiness, agrees; in her rave review she notes, "The publishing arm of the American Library Association has assembled a gem of a book that  ... ought to be on the shelf of every high school guidance counselor in the country. How to Pay for College is only slightly larger than a paperback and a bit more than a half inch thick, yet the editors who pulled the information together manage to cover more material than books that are four times larger and twice as expensive. And they do it in plain English. This is not only a book that parents should read, but they should also share it with their teenager."

Check out the full article and then surf on over to the ALA Store and order a copy for your library today!

Syndicate content