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Notes from Executive Director Scott Garrison – Dec 2020/Jan 2021

Like me, you may be trying to balance living in a moment to be thankful, being cautious, reflecting as an exhausting 2020 draws to a close, and hoping for a better 2021. While the past several months may have been among the most challenging of our lives, they have also shown us just how adaptable, resilient, and innovative we can be when we stay centered, connected, and collaborative.

Over the past several months, MCLS has been working with the Change Lab, the Wellbeing Lab, and others who have been helping us navigate these strange times productively. I want to tell you about some of these collaborative projects that will make a positive difference for libraries and their communities in 2021 and beyond.

First, thank you to the 211 individuals who answered our call to take the Wellbeing Lab’s PERMAH survey for workplaces in early November (see November’s Notes from the Executive Director for more about the survey and why we offered it.) One of the values of using this survey has been to get an overall picture of library staff members’ state of wellbeing. The survey’s authors suggest that wellbeing is a process that will ebb and flow based on what is happening. We shouldn’t try to aim for a “perfect wellbeing score,” but there are habits, attitudes, and actions that can enhance our wellbeing. If we practice them, we can be more likely to feel engaged, more likely to be productive and satisfied in our jobs, and less likely to experience unhealthy days, burn out, or quit. All of that leads to better outcomes for the organizations where we work.

Here’s a snapshot of what we learned about respondents’ wellbeing based on the survey:

  • 43.6% are Not feeling bad, just getting by
  • 36% are Living well despite struggles
  • 10.4% are Really struggling
  • 10% are Consistently thriving

Looking at this graphically, here’s what we see on scales of thriving and struggle:

MCLS 2020 PERMAH Survey for Workplaces Report, p. 11

Everyone struggles at different moments in their lives. The Wellbeing Lab describes wellbeing as “struggling well.” If you took the survey, you received a personalized report, and I hope you’ve found it useful. I also encourage you to look at MCLS’s full workplace report, which summarizes our respondents’ aggregate data (including more charts like the one above) from the perspectives of individuals, teams, and organizations, the six PERMAH pillars, and the states of wellbeing. The report is organized around an assess, act, and adjust model that you and your colleagues can use to engage with strategies to enhance your wellbeing. As you read, consider the following advice that PERMAH’s creators offer:

  • There is no shame in struggling – the feeling that we need to hide our struggles often leaves us feeling isolated and unable to access the support that makes it easier to care for our wellbeing.
  • If a person’s level of thriving is not as high as they would like, research suggests they may simply be lacking the knowledge, tools, and support to care for their wellbeing.
  • Be mindful of those who are not feeling bad, but just getting by – they need to care for their wellbeing, so they don’t slide toward Really struggling if faced with a significant challenge.
  • Support those who are Really struggling, by making sure they have the immediate support they need (e.g., through employee assistance programs and workplace policies and practices that support them.)

We plan to hold a webinar in January for libraries interested in using the PERMAH survey for their workplace – watch your email and our website for details.

Next, I’ll talk about the Libraries Engage Appreciatively for Positive Change (LEAP) Day event on Nov. 5, a partnership between MCLS and the Library of Michigan. Thank you to the 74 Michigan library staff who joined us for this stimulating and truly life-giving day! Internationally-renowned Appreciative Inquiry (AI) expert Maureen (Mo) McKenna and our Engagement, Consulting, and Training staff introduced the LEAP program and AI principles and practices, and they will continue engaging with the group over the next several months.

One simple but powerful practice common to both PERMAH and LEAP is Stanford University professor BJ Fogg’s concept of Tiny Habits, in which we identify an existing routine we have in daily life, add a new, small, and easy wellbeing behavior to that routine, and then celebrate having incorporated the new “tiny habit,” to create a positive feeling of reward for ourselves. I hope you’ll build new Tiny Habits for your own wellbeing as 2021 approaches.

LEAP Day also introduced a helpful framework known as AIR (Appreciate, Imagine, and Reflect.) Our staff used AIR for our 2020 virtual dialogue series. We knew that libraries were being bombarded with information that shifted frequently during the early days of the pandemic. To help them, we used our dialogues to ask generative questions, and give them a simple but structured way to talk with each other, find hope, and take small steps to get through challenges. Our dialogues attracted hundreds of library staff, and the attendees generated most of the topics themselves. They also generated many ideas for things they could do to serve their communities during coronavirus, and created a shared database for those actions.

Throughout 2020, we have found that libraries want more positive conversations, and we consider AIR a way to spread positive conversations “virally” from tens or hundreds to thousands of people who need them. AIR allows us to:

  • Pause to get grounded or centered, and identify what we want to focus on;
  • Appreciate the best of past and current experience, and what made it so;
  • Imagine the future we want, in rich detail;
  • and Reflect on what actions we will take to bring that future to life, one small thing at a time.

LEAP Day participants also learned that AIR pairs nicely with the Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results (SOAR) framework (more affirming than the SWOT analysis strategy), which MCLS uses with our strategic planning clients. If you’d like to see more about LEAP Day, we have created a short video with images of the day’s activities.

I’ll close with a few brief comments about the MCLS Board of Directors’ 2020 retreat, which had the theme “Centered, Connected, and Collaborative: MCLS And Its Owners in 2021.” For those who may be unfamiliar with the Board’s Carver Policy Governance method, “owners” are essentially the libraries MCLS serves. Given that 2020 was such an unusual year in so many ways, we engaged the amazing Louis Alloro from the Change Lab to facilitate an AI experience for the Board around the 4D model of Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny.

Over a life-giving day-and-a-half, the Board reflected on what MCLS does well, the PERMAH survey data (including the notion that 7 of 10 respondents were confident that MCLS could meet their needs in 2021), what it would look like for MCLS to increase centeredness, connectedness, and collaboration with and for libraries in the coming year, and steps they could take to support that work, individually and as a group. They generated many more great thoughts and ideas than I have space to talk about here, but I hope you’ll rest assured that our Board came away from this very different style of retreat with great energy about how MCLS can build on our existing strengths to continue serving libraries and deliver what they need in a dynamic, innovative fashion.

“The truth is that feelings of struggle and stress are not signs that people are breaking; they are signs that something important for them is unfolding and needs their attention. It is why nature wired us for curiosity, creativity, connection, and resilience, to help us navigate the messy and magical process that is life.” (MCLS 2020 PERMAH Survey for Workplaces Report, p. 4)

I hope you’ll allow MCLS to be part of your “mess” and your “magic” in 2021. Contact me anytime at, or at (800) 530-9019 ext 119.