Sounds of Low Morale An analysis of the demoralizing experiences of librarians and their triggers through sound

Kaetrena Davis Kendrick’s “The Public Librarian Low-Morale Experience: A Qualitative Study” was the leading force in my data physicalization project . Kendrick’s study explores the experiences and consequences of low-morale for librarians.

A major part of this study is the description of different types of trigger events and the stages of the low-morale experience. These experiences affect librarians’ ability to work and their overall productivity. Another consequence is a library’s ability to retain employees and a healthy work environment. Reading this study brought to mind past readings from the course in regards to libraries’ difficulty hiring and retaining a diverse staff. Under this duress, librarians experience burnout and compassion fatigue leading to and caused by workplace dysfunction. These toxic cycles, upheld by vocational awe, inhibit progress and systematic changes needed to create a healthy, diverse work environment.

Lack of diversity and exclusion of diverse voices in the decision making process has a direct impact on the success and well-being of libraries. Librarians have notably warned of the pitfalls of mission creep, compassion fatigue, and vocational awe within the profession. To compound these struggles, the majority hegemonic staffs of white, female librarians create an echo chamber of skewed initiatives that are not fully informed or experienced in the needs of the diverse communities they serve. Those who are librarians that fall outside of the prevailing identity of the job are even more vulnerable and unsupported in the workplace than others.

The Composition of Sounds

Physicalizing this data through sound will be able to translate the emotionality of this issue. I recorded "book sounds" - sounds created from the physical manipulation of books made from dropping them on my desk and leafing through their pages. Each recorded sound I assigned to a particular trigger. Based on the data set, that trigger, or particular sound, occurs in the sound scape the same amount the trigger has been recorded to occur in the workplace according to the study. These recorded sounds are built on top of sampled sounds that reflect the tedious, repetitive work of a librarian and the emotional stages of being triggered in such an environment. I also used automated voice overs of quotes I pulled from the study. The quotes used immediately struck me one with an undertone of humor, one of my favorite coping mechanisms, and the other with the explicit expression of marginalization which has been a major topic in the class over this semester. My goal is to create an auditory experience that can evoke a connection with the data, and will hopefully drive listeners to learn more about the subject and bring awareness to the severity of this issue.

Automated Voice Over Quotes

“The environment was very clique-ish. If you look like someone, or if you talk like someone, or if you thought the same way, then you were in the clique. If you didn't, then you were marginalized…” (22)

“[My new White female supervisor] proceeded to kind of bumble that too and tell people how sad she was that [patrons in an African-American community] didn't welcome her more warmly. And it was kind of like, ‘well you know, I've got to tell you: African-American neighbours who've lived there for sixty years don't actually have to welcome the hipster middle-aged White lady.” (24)

I used Ableton Live 10, a digital audio software, to compose particular sound elements to the low-morale experience triggers and align their prominence in the track to reflect the percentages from the given data.

A Screenshot of the Ableton Software
I counted and divided the bars of music in the track to get a numerically accurate representation of the data

The growing emphasis on racial justice in collections of libraries and archives needs to be applied to staff itself. Without both of these actions occurring, their efforts fall flat and institutions’ lack of a holistic approach to these issues stunts progress towards equity. As we embark on a career that provides and supports diverse communities, we must remember that empathy is equally important to hold for others as is ourselves. Libraries should give employees limited responsibilities to avoid pressures to overwork and take on more work then they can handle. Support should be readily available from higher ups or at least provided via assistants or apprentices. It is difficult to break toxic cycles, but that is no excuse to perpetuate systems that actively hurt people and diminish a resource's ability to perform its duty. To avoid complete burn out, we must be able to protect ourselves, so we can readily defend others and the information they seek.


Dataset Source Study Davis Kendrick, K. “The Public Librarian Low-Morale Experience: A Qualitative Study”. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, Vol. 15, no. 2, Jan. 2021, pp. 1-32, doi:10.21083/partnership.v15i2.5932.

Original Video Source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrCPP0SuhOQ

Cover Photo Elena Lacey: Getty Images


Elena Lacey, Getty Images