Automation and Job Satisfaction among Reference Librarians

By Whitlatch, Jo Bell | Computers in Libraries, September 1991 | Go to article overview

Automation and Job Satisfaction among Reference Librarians


Whitlatch, Jo Bell, Computers in Libraries


How automation can be used to maximize job performance

Lynch and Verdin (1987) noted that librarians are interested in job satisfaction because of the generally held assumption that a high level of job satisfaction will lead to a high level of job performance.

But is this true? Research findings are mixed. In studies of business organizations, the most common pattern is a low but consistent association between satisfaction and performance.

There are several possible explanations for this positive but low association. It may be that contented employees give god but not necessarily superior performances.

On the other hand, how do we know that employee satisfaction really leads to better performance? Perhaps good performance leads to satisfied employees.

Studies of Reference Librarians In the reference field, we have two contradictory studies. My study of five academic libraries found no relationship between reference librarian performance effectiveness and the job satisfaction of individual librarians. However, Ralph Lowenthal's study of seven public library departments found high correlations between reference librarian Performance effectiveness and satisfaction scales.

These two studies were very different in their focus. Lowenthal looked at departmental level performance and satisfaction while I looked at individual performance and individual reference librarian satisfaction. Neither Lynch and Verdin nor I found any significant difference in satisfaction levels of librarians among the different libraries.

No Automation Influence At the present time, automation doesn't appear to influence reference employee satisfaction. This observation is based on studies by two groups.

Lynch and Verdin (1983) performed an excellent study of three large academic libraries in 1971-72 and replicated it in 1986. Little automation existed at the time of their first study, while by 1986, the libraries were largely automated.

In both studies, Lynch and Verdin found that reference personnel reported significantly higher levels of job satisfaction than people working in other areas.

In the replication, reference personnel were actually slightly more satisfied than they had been fifteen years earlier. Circulation personnel were significantly more satisfied than they had been fifteen years before. Lynch speculates that this could be attributed to the automation of routine work.

The other study is by Estabrook, Bird, and Gilimore (1990). They collected data from four academic libraries in 1988 and found that use of technology alone did not make any difference in job satisfaction.

They concluded that individual sources of job satisfaction appear to have remained constant at a time when work was becoming increasingly automated. Positive sources of satisfaction were found to be independence, autonomy, working with the public, and interaction with co-workers.

Is Stress the Key?

How can we change our work characteristics to make the most effective use of automation in the provision of services?

When attempting to improve service through automation, stress might be a more profitable focus than job satisfaction. We should look at how our changing job conditions relate to stress and how we can use what we learn to provide the most effective service.

The general consensus concerning stress is that too much or too little stress is not good. Under low levels of stress, there is little stimulation and boredom is the result Under high levels, physical and mental capabilities are strained. However, under moderate levels of stress, a person is motivated, but not anxious, and can use personal resources to full capacity.

Automation doesn't require that we change in absolute ways. Rather, automation provides us with opportunities to make changes by selecting from a number of possible choices. As we introduce automation, we need to look at products, services, policies, production processes, and organizational structures. …

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