I spent much of yesterday and today at the PaLA Annual Conference in Gettysburg. I was fortunate in that I was able to divide my time between educational sessions, a committee meeting (which was also a dine-out), and catching up with librarian friends from across the state. The Gettysburg Wyndham provided lovely conference and overnight accommodations, along with The Courtyard Marriott and the Gateway Theater, all of which comprise the area known as Gateway Gettysburg on Presidential Circle. This was my first time attending a conference where some of the sessions were held in actual movie theaters (comfortable seating and huge PowerPoint presentations!) and conference meals were set up in the theater lobby. I enjoyed my surroundings; however, it was difficult to walk past the box office and concession stand without buying a ticket and popcorn.
My favorite session was today’s Conflict Management: My Problem or Their Problem? presented by Tracy Carey, who is the Director of Public Services at Centre County Library and Historical Museum. This presentation discussed conflict management in the workplace. As part of the culture change initiative ongoing in my System office, we have often discussed the problem of conflict avoidance. I would argue that not only is conflict management/avoidance an issue in the library workplace and critical to establishing a healthy work environment, but when you consider the recent publicized conflict between libraries and publishers about ebooks (see here, here, here, here, and here), perhaps conflict management/non-avoidance is key to libraries’ and librarians’ efforts to establish and maintain successful, fair, and equitable partnerships.
The facilitator of today’s session used a self-assessment quiz called the Conflict Resilience Quotient, which can be downloaded from this page. There is another self-assessment tool on this page–Conflict Mastery–that we did not use, but which I think would be helpful, too.
I don’t know how the results of this quiz fell out in today’s well-attended session. I do know that my personal results showed that I am fairly conflict resilient, which may explain why I (and others who may score like me) often speak my mind rather than keep my thoughts to myself. It’s not that I’m more confident or more self-assured or enjoy conflict more than anyone else; it’s that I bounce back more easily from conflict. And I see conflict as an opportunity for growth rather than as a potential disaster. Therefore, I am more likely to engage in it in order to attempt to achieve a (hopefully) positive outcome. What this assessment showed me, however, is that if someone is not conflict resilient, they will most likely not speak out and will instead allow underlying issues to go unaddressed, which will ultimately create more conflict. Sound familiar?
I don’t know if conflict avoidance is more prevalent in the library world than in other work environments, but I do know that it exists. I know that I have experienced it myself, in a variety of workplaces, and it doesn’t serve to advance any cause. Once again, the culture of libraries–or the culture of any workplace–plays an integral role in the ability of that organization to advance to the next level, whatever that next level may be.
Now is not the time for any library or librarian or staff member to be timid. Now is the time to speak our minds and get the issues out on the table where they can be examined and addressed and resolved. Sometimes it is necessary to lock horns in order to come to agreement. It’s not always pleasant or pretty or comfortable. But it is necessary.
Entering the ring does not mean taking off the gloves–disagreement can be civil. It simply means being willing to go the extra round.