Will Staffing in Libraries Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels?

Most people who work in libraries and related fields are painfully aware that there are fewer employees. Much of the shortage is due to layoffs and hiring freezes instituted within the last eighteen months. When we asked readers to tell us what they needed to feel comfortable to return to work, respondents’ replies indicated that they were feeling the crunch of having fewer staff in their libraries. One person commented, “We need our hiring freeze to end. We also need to hire enough staff to [be able to] all take off for mental health days without putting too much strain on our coworkers. We’re all exhausted, but the workload prohibits us from taking time off. Often, we don’t even have enough staff to stay open if just one person is out sick.”

These sentiments have been echoed in workplaces across the nation, as those employees who were not laid-off and continued working during the pandemic have been forced to carry heavier workloads. Many feel overwhelmed and stressed. The pandemic has caused many people to seek professional help for their mental health concerns.  The 2021 State of Mental Health in America Report suggests that more people than ever before have been affected by stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Based on the over 1.5 million people who have taken a screen on MHA Screening from January to September 2020, they found the following:

  • The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.
  • The number of people screening with moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety has continued to increase throughout 2020 and remains higher than rates before COVID-19. In September 2020, the rate of moderate to severe anxiety peaked, with over 8 in 10 people who took an anxiety screen scoring with moderate to severe symptoms. Over 8 in 10 people who took a depression screen have consistently scored with moderate to severe depression symptoms since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

What can employers do to help alleviate some of the stress that their employees experience?  In addition to providing tangible resources, employers might consider increasing the number of staff they employ. This could help relieve the workload for the current employees. But is that possible right now? Have library budgets improved and the fear of the effects of the pandemic dissipated enough to warrant mass hiring? If not, how long will it take? When will widespread hiring in libraries begin?

Some hiring is occurring within libraries now. In the March 2021 issue of Library Worklife, we asked readers to take a brief survey to let us know the current hiring situation at their libraries/organizations. Fifty percent of the respondents (all were from public libraries) said they were currently hiring or would be within the next six months. Also, if you look at job postings on the ALA job site, JobLIST, you will see that there are at least a couple hundred jobs posted. In addition, several recruiters are participating in the ALA JobLIST Placement & Career Development Center’s Job Fair being held Sunday, June 27, 2021, 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Could these all be indicators that the economic situation in libraries is about to take a turn for the better? Perhaps. However, I have a feeling that it may take much longer for things to improve. Realistically, it could take years for library budgets to recover to a point where staffing is at pre-pandemic levels (if it ever returns to those levels). So what do library workers do in the meantime? How can they avoid getting burnt out? In addition to defining and explaining the signs of burnout, this article offers tips for preventing burnout. The author suggests that self-care is critical. It must become part of your daily routine. Even if you’re working long hours, you should try to sprinkle some joy into each day. Small self-care gestures (i.e., taking short walks, getting enough sleep, doing things that please you, etc.) can stop stress from turning into something more serious, like burnout.


Centers for Disease Control

Workplace Mental Health – COVID-19: Mental Health and Well-being