Conspiratorial Thinking in Academic Libraries: Implications for Change Management and Leadership
Some level of belief in conspiracy theories among United States citizens is quite common. Academic libraries have seen significant change over the past 30 years, creating environments ripe for employees to believe in organizational conspiracy theories, or the “notions that powerful groups (e.g., managers) within the workplace are acting in secret to achieve some kind of malevolent objective” (Douglas, Leite, 2017). Through recreating survey research by Douglas and Leite (2017) in several academic libraries, this pilot study aims to discover if academic librarians have beliefs in organizational conspiracy theories and if those beliefs have any impact on an intent to leave. Our study shows academic library employees who have strong beliefs in organizational conspiracies and are unsatisfied with their job do not have intentions of leaving the organization. While additional research with larger sample sizes is required to generalize these results beyond this pilot study, there are important implications for library leadership. One such implication is that organizational conspiratorial thinking is common in academic libraries, which can lead to low job satisfaction. Another implication is that since meaningful work and money or stability were the most cited reasons for staying, leadership can look to these aspects for encouraging retention.
Rob Brotherton, the author of Suspicious Minds, suggests that conspiratorial thinking is so common that it is actually a part of everyday life for most humans. Brotherton provides us with six elements that make up a conspiracy theory: “The prototypical conspiracy theory is an unanswered question; it assumes nothing is as it seems; it portrays the conspirators as preternaturally competent; and as unusually evil; it is founded on anomaly hunting; and it is ultimately irrefutable” (2016, Page 80). Brotherton also reveals that “Just because it has the word “conspiracy” in it does not mean it is necessarily wrong (2016, Page 65) and “Whether they turn out to be true or not, conspiracy theories deep down, are unanswered questions” (2016, Page 66). Douglas and Leite in their article, “Suspicion in the Workplace: Organizational Conspiracy Theories and Work‐Related Outcomes,” offer us this definition of organizational conspiracy theories: “notions that powerful groups (e.g., managers) within the workplace are acting in secret to achieve some kind of malevolent objective” (Page 487).
Psychologists suggest that belief in societal conspiracy theories tends to manifest when a person experiences a lack of understanding of major events in their world, a lack of control or uncertainty, or the need to keep a positive self-image (Douglas, Sutton, Cichocka, 2017). Conspiratorial thinking helps us make sense of a world that is constantly changing, manage what is not within our control, and maintain our sense of being a good and capable person. This can manifest in larger societal issues such as a belief in chemtrails, or conspiratorial thinking can appear in everyday matters, such as a belief that administrators in an organization have hired a construction company for an upcoming building project not because they were the lowest bidder but because the administrators will benefit financially.
Research regarding change management, the process of planning and implementing change in an organization, suggests that all three of these same experiences of loss of control, lack of understanding, and a need to maintain a positive self-image manifest in the work environment when leaders invoke change. Todd Jick (2008), a leader in change management, states in his book chapter, “Recipients of Change,” “For most people, the negative reaction to change is related to control – over their influence, their surroundings, their sources of pride, how they have grown to be accustomed to living and working.” For example, imagine that a library dean decides to remove a reference desk, consolidate the reference and circulation functions at the circulation desk, and remove librarians from answering front line reference questions, replacing them with well-trained support staff. While the dean may have expressed her reasons for this change, librarians might understandably feel a loss of control over their work, a lack of understanding of the reasons for the change, and a need to maintain a positive self-image by imagining that library administration is completely wrong and that the librarians would never do anything as evil as this (i.e., we, the librarians, are much better than those in administration, thus maintaining a positive self-image). As with societal conspiracy theories, organizational conspiracy theories follow the definition proposed by Brotherton and have the potential of being true (2016, Pages 65-66).
Libraries are changing rapidly in response to advances in technology, expectations of users, funding, and other pressures from both inside and outside the library (Hickman, 2017; Pinfield, 2017). Strategic planning often ushers in changes to an organization due to new priorities and goals. Smaller changes and adjustments to library services, office space, equipment, and job duties are commonplace. Assuming that change in libraries produces similar employee reactions as change in other organizations, beliefs in organizational conspiracy theories are a likely part of how employees in libraries cope with rapid change.
Research by Karen M. Douglas and Ana C. Leite (2017) regarding conspiracy thinking in the workplace focused on employees in for-profit companies. They confirmed their hypothesis that people who believe in organizational conspiracy theories have an increased intention to leave the organization and that this same belief is associated with decreased organizational commitment and job satisfaction. What is less known is the impact of belief in organizational conspiracy theories in a not-for-profit organization, such as an academic library. This study aims to answer the following questions: 1) Do employees in academic libraries mimic employees in for-profit organizations regarding a belief in organizational conspiracy theories? 2) If so, does this influence intent to leave and decrease job satisfaction and a commitment to the library? 3) Do library employees stay in an organization even when they have a stated intent to leave? Our hypotheses: we anticipate finding that librarians and staff in academic libraries have strong organizational conspiracy beliefs, that these beliefs decrease job satisfaction, and that this combination of belief and decreased job satisfaction contributes to a decrease in organizational commitment and contributes to an employee’s intention to leave their job.
There are three important implications for gaining this knowledge. First, understanding the impact of conspiratorial thinking will enhance what is known about leading change in academic libraries and will contribute to the national conversation regarding training programs for current and future library leaders.
Second, when employees leave an organization, hiring and training new employees is an expensive proposition taking up the time and energy of many current employees. Third, an employee with low job satisfaction but who stays anyway is also expensive to the library organization in the form of low productivity.
To tackle these questions about conspiratorial thinking in academic libraries, a survey of employees at three research libraries was conducted. This study was approved by the University of Utah Institutional Review Board. These research libraries were located in similarly sized academic institutions with student body counts of 33,000, 28118, and 26,060 at the time of the survey. Other similarities included location in Utah and faculty status for librarians. The deans of each academic library were asked if the survey could be delivered to their faculty and staff, and each dean agreed.
An online survey developed by Douglas and Leite (2017) was reproduced and delivered to library employees at these three research institutions. The survey questions were identical to those created by Douglas and Leite (2017) except an additional open-ended question was added to the end of the survey, “Why do you continue to work at your current job?” The survey was distributed over email using the Survey Monkey platform and asked employees to rate their belief in societal and organizational conspiracy theories, job satisfaction, commitment to the library, and their intention to leave on a scale of 1-7. The email contained a link to the survey, a letter of consent, and information about IRB approval.
Group email lists containing the entire library staff and faculty were retrieved for each library and the survey was distributed using those group emails. A cover letter was in the body of the email, which explained the purpose of the survey and served as the informed consent notice by stating, “By clicking on the survey link, you are giving your informed consent to participate in the survey.” Once a participant clicked on the survey link, they were sent to the survey. Participants did not have to answer every question on the survey, were invited to skip any question they did not want to answer, and could stop the survey at any time.
Once data was collected, a graduate student in the University of Utah Mathematics Department completed the data analysis and statistical computations. The questionnaire consisted of six sections as described below, with each section inquiring about the individual’s beliefs concerning organizational conspiracies; beliefs in general, societal conspiracies; organizational identification; organizational commitment; job satisfaction; and turnover intentions. To analyze the data, each individual’s sections were averaged, which represented the individual’s overall score in each section. These averages were used to create three different linear regressions. The predictor variables were job satisfaction, turnover intentions, and organizational commitment. The response variables varied between organizational conspiracies, general conspiracies, organizational identification, and organizational commitment.
Qualitative data from the one open-ended question on the survey was coded into themes. The question was, “Why do you continue to work at your current job?” The twelve themes that were extracted after coding were:
- Enjoy the Work / Meaningful work
- Money / Stability
- Positives Outweigh the Negatives
- Location of the Job
- Learning / New Projects
- Good Environment
- Like My Colleagues
- No Other / Better Opportunities
In-depth analysis was not performed on the data retrieved in answer to this question due to the small number of people (n=133) answering the survey.
See Appendix A: Survey
Belief in Organizational Conspiracy Theories
To measure organizational conspiracy beliefs participants were given a series of seven statements related to organization conspiracies within their workplace (e.g., “I think that a small group of people in my workplace makes all of the decisions to suit their own interests;” “I think that the powerful people in my workplace often do not tell employees the true motives for their decisions;” 1 – Strongly Disagree; 7 – Strongly Agree).
Belief in General, Societal Conspiracy Theories
To measure general conspiracy beliefs participants were asked to read seven statements related to general conspiracies (e.g., “The American moon landings were faked;” “The AIDS virus was created in a laboratory;” 1 – Strongly Disagree; 7 – Strongly Agree).
Participants were given six statements related to the measurement of identification the individual has with their current workplace (e.g., “This workplace has a great deal of personal meaning for me;” “I consider myself a person from my workplace;” 1 – Strongly Disagree; 7 – Strongly Agree).
Participants were asked to choose from 16 statements related to their commitment to their workplace (e.g., “I think that people these days move from workplace to workplace too often;” “If I got another offer for a better job elsewhere, I would not feel it was right to leave my workplace;” 1 – Strongly Disagree; 7 – Strongly Agree).
Participants were given seven statements related to job satisfaction (e.g., “The number of hours you work;” “Your opportunities for advancement;” 1 – Very Dissatisfied; 7 – Very Satisfied).
To measure intent to leave their current workplace participants were asked four questions (e.g., “Do you intend to leave your job in the next 12 months;” 1 – Not at All; 7 – Very Much).
Open Ended Question
Why do you continue to work at your current job?
Participants were able to provide a free-text answer to this question.
Results and Discussion
Data collection took place October and November 2018 after each of the universities in the study had begun fall classes. Out of 294 academic library employees invited to participate in the survey, 133 people responded, which was a 45% response rate. To begin our analysis, we averaged the results of each variable on the survey. For example, with the variable of “Belief in Organizational Conspiracy Theories” there were a total of seven statements. For each statement, the participant was asked to rate their belief as 1-7 with 1 – Strongly Disagree and 7 – Strongly Agree. We tabulated all the responses in the survey with respect to their category and proceeded to calculate the average of all the statements. The average for organizational conspiracy beliefs was 3.15, which indicates library employees surveyed had some beliefs in organizational conspiracy. The average for general conspiracy beliefs was 1.41; this tells us that most employees surveyed do not have a strong belief in general conspiracies. The average for organizational identification was 4.99, this tells us that the majority of library employees strongly identify with their organization. The average for organizational commitment was 3.53, meaning that most library employees felt committed to their organization. Lastly, the average for job satisfaction was 4.70, indicating that most library employees have a high job satisfaction.
Descriptive statistics of results from each survey section mean (average), standard deviation, and correlation coefficients are presented in Table I. When looking at the averages for each category, there were very high averages for organizational identification (average = 4.99 out of 7.00) and job satisfaction (4.70 out of 7.00), while organizational conspiracy beliefs (i.e., library administration is up to no good) averaged a little lower at 3.14 out of 7.00, indicating library employees surveyed had some beliefs in organizational conspiracies, but not a strong belief on average. The standard deviation for this last value at 1.56 means that there were averages as high as 4.70 and some as low as 1.58.
|1. Organizational Conspiracy Beliefs||3.14 (1.56)||—||0.0873||-0.2819||-0.2299||-0.5268||0.2541|
|2. General Conspiracy Beliefs||1.41 (0.687)||—||—||0.0960||0.2509||-0.0032||-0.0086|
|3.Organizational Identification||4.99 (1.099)||—||—||—||0.6120||0.5109||-0.1069|
|4.Organizational Commitment||3.53 (0.715)||—||—||—||—||0.4553||-0.0709|
|5. Job Satisfaction||4.70 (1.26)||—||—||—||—||—||-0.1939|
|6. Turnover Intentions||2.39 (1.81)||—||—||—||—||—||—|
The relation to belief in organizational conspiracy theories and job satisfaction have the highest correlation. At a -0.5268, this means that a belief in organizational conspiracies was connected to low job satisfaction. This is an indication that our hypothesis that a belief in organizational conspiracies has an effect on low job satisfaction is correct.
However, there was not a correlation for high turnover intentions with high organizational conspiracy beliefs, meaning that even though people believed their administration was up to no good, they did not intend to leave the organization. Additionally, a correlation between a strong organizational commitment with low organizational conspiracy beliefs was not found. This result means that these library employees were very committed to their organization and still had strong beliefs that their library administration was up to no good (organizational conspiracies). These two results indicate that our hypothesis that strong beliefs in organizational conspiracies will result in higher rates of turnover intentions and a decrease in organizational commitment was not correct.
As stated above, we anticipated finding that librarians and staff in academic libraries have strong organizational conspiracy beliefs, that these beliefs decrease job satisfaction, and that this combination of belief and decreased job satisfaction contributes to a decrease in organizational commitment and an employee’s intention to leave their job. To test our hypothesis, we used linear regression on the averaged variables listed in Table I as variables 1-6. We then bootstrapped a sample of size n = 10,000 on the β coefficients from the linear regression in order to calculate a confidence interval (CI) for the coefficient in question.
First, we use job satisfaction as the response variable (see Table II).
|Predictor Variable||Coefficients||P-value||Confidence Interval|
|Organizational Conspiracy Beliefs||-0.327287||0.000649 *||(-0.3225, -0.1078)|
|General Conspiracy Beliefs||-0.118224||0.367522||(-0.5503, -0.1187)|
|Organizational Identification||0.396363||9.99e-05 *||(0.1054, 0.5428)|
|Organizational Commitment||0.302790||0.048502 *||(-0.1383, 0.1859)|
|Age||0.014846||0.042453 *||(-0.0135, 0.0150)|
* p-value < 0.05 indicates significance
This tells us that the significant coefficients in predicting job satisfaction are organizational conspiracy beliefs, organizational identification, organizational commitment, and age. However, of these significant coefficients the bootstrap confidence intervals tell us the only reliable coefficients (meaning their confidence interval did not contain zero) are organizational conspiracy beliefs and organizational identification. These results indicate that an individual could believe very strongly that organizational conspiracies are taking place and still feel satisfied with their job.
For the next regression, we use turnover intentions as the response variable, see Table III.
|Predictor Variable||Coefficients||P-value||Confidence Interval|
|Organizational Conspiracy Beliefs||0.26135||0.0182 *||(-0.0042, 0.4396)|
|General Conspiracy Beliefs||-0.11435||0.6452||(-1.0526, -0.0374)|
|Organizational Identification||-0.06456||0.6452||(-1.0526, -0.0374)|
|Organizational Commitment||0.06774||0.8144||(-0.8464, 0.4714)|
* p-value < 0.05 indicates significance
The only significant coefficient in predicting turnover intentions is organizational conspiracy beliefs. However, the confidence interval from the bootstrap contains zero, which means the estimated coefficient of organizational conspiracy beliefs has a chance of being equal to zero. The linear regression for turnover intentions is not producing a reliable model. This is an indication that the turnover intentions of the participants is not following an obvious trend and therefore is making turnover intentions hard to predict. This could be evidence that individuals that are unsatisfied with their jobs are not intending to leave their organization. There are likely many factors that influence an intention to leave or stay; for example, an employee who is close to retirement may choose to stay in an organization despite low job satisfaction or strong beliefs in organizational conspiracies.
For the last regression, we use organizational commitment as the response variable (see Table IV).
|Predictor Variable||Coefficients||P-value||Confidence Interval|
|Organizational Conspiracy Beliefs||-0.0.0441721||0.20721||(-0.1384, 0.0104)|
|General Conspiracy Beliefs||0.2313055||0.00312 *||(0.1544, 0.4510)|
|Organizational Identification||0.3689078||1.37e-11 *||(0.3309, 0.5724)|
* p-value < 0.05 indicates significance
The significant coefficients in predicting organizational commitment are general conspiracy beliefs and organizational identification. Both of these significant coefficients are positive and have a bootstrap confidence interval that does not contain zero. We conclude that if an employee who answered the survey believed in general, societal conspiracies and identifies with their organization, then they are committed to their organization. This conclusion seems peculiar because our hypothesis for individuals who do believe in general, societal conspiracy theories was that they would have a low commitment to their organization. This result likely occurred because our dataset had only one individual who exhibited a high average for general conspiracy theories; this individual is satisfied and identifies with their organization. This was a surprising result in that, of the 133 survey participants, only one person exhibited a high average for belief in general conspiracy theories. In the survey, general conspiracy theories included statements such as “The American moon landings were faked;” and “The AIDS virus was created in a laboratory.”
At the end of the survey, participants were asked one open-ended question, “Why do you continue to work at your current job?” The comments are useful to gain insight into the perspectives of the participants about why they stayed in their current employment. Answers from the 133 respondents created 267 separate entries that were coded into twelve categories (see Figure I).
Many survey participants indicated that they remain in their current jobs because they truly enjoy the work or find the work meaningful (70 of 267 entries or 26.2%). The next largest theme, 39 of 267 entries (14.6%), was the need for the money provided by employment or the need to have some financial stability, which was closely followed by participants liking their colleagues, 34 of 267 entries (12.7%). This is not too surprising as many people work in libraries for the enjoyment of the job rather than the amount of money they are paid. Still, money and stability were important factors for many.
The following quotations from respondents are examples of the types of responses received where money and meaningful work are described:
“It is a good place to work. It allows me to do meaningful work. The pay is more than fair. I have great relationships with coworkers.”
“Steady income and benefits are needed to live in this economy and I enjoy the work I do. Eventually though I might have to move on because as things stand currently there isn’t room for advancement or pay increase in my current position.”
“I enjoy the work; the pay is good in comparison to other institutions; I like the atmosphere; I like my coworkers; I think there are a lot of opportunities for professional development and growth offered at my job.”
One implication of the very high number of entries about meaningful work (70 out of 267, or 26.2%) and money (39 of 267 entries, or 14.6%) is that these are two areas library leadership can concentrate on as they seek to retain employees. Engaging our employees with an understanding of how their work impacts the library, users of the library, the university, and society can provide a sense of meaning that was clearly important to these survey participants. Finding ways to increase salaries is a constant pressure and one that is worth the time when administrators are looking to retain employees.
Even with the above comments about meaningful work, survey participants also indicated having low job satisfaction. Low job satisfaction among employees who choose to stay at their jobs can create other problems for the library. Assuming Todd Jick is correct that for many employees a “negative reaction to change” involves a loss of control, lack of understanding, and a need to maintain a positive self-image and that these reactions create the mindset needed to believe in organizational conspiracies (Douglas, Sutton, Cichocka, 2017), and that believing in organizational conspiracy theories is connected to low job satisfaction as described in this paper and in research conducted by Douglas and Leite (2017), then invoking change in libraries must be undertaken with great care.
What was revealed in this pilot study was that library employees with low job satisfaction and high beliefs in organizational conspiracy theories did not contribute to an employee’s desire to leave, which means that they remained employed in the library. Faragher, Cass, and Cooper in their 2005 meta-analysis of close to 500 studies found an “immensely strong relationship between job satisfaction and both mental and physical health.” Many other research articles describe the connection between low job satisfaction and low productivity (Aziri, 2011; Bayona, Caballer, & Peiro, 2020; Hochwarter, Perrewe, Ferris, & Brymer, 1999; Roberts & David, 2020; Vrinda, 2015). While it is expensive when an employee leaves an organization, it is also an expensive proposition for libraries when their employees have low job satisfaction and low productivity. Correcting the complicated connections between belief in organizational conspiracies, low job satisfaction, and low productivity requires educating our library leadership workforce, particularly as they work to invoke change.
The assumption at the base of this research is that the survey developed by Douglas and Leite (2017) accurately captures an employee’s belief in organizational conspiracy theories, intent to leave, job satisfaction and commitment. A 45% response rate (133 out of 294) was a strength of this study, nevertheless, a study group of only 133 participants is a limitation, and therefore, the results cannot be extrapolated to all academic libraries. Additionally, results were from three institutions that are relatively similar in terms of the size of the student body and are geographically located in a similar area of the country. The smaller study group still provided valuable information, which will assist in adjusting the approach of future research.
Another limitation to the study was that only one person exhibited a high average for belief in the general conspiracy theories mentioned in the survey. This meant that we could not effectively use the average of this particular variable in the linear regressions.
As part of the informed consent, participants were encouraged to send “comments, questions, or complaints about the survey” to the PI. Two emails from participants indicated that some of the survey statements contained too many negatives, making it difficult to know how to answer. In conducting further research, survey statements will need review and possible adjustment to remove this confusion.
There are three important implications for understanding organizational conspiratorial thinking in academic libraries. First, understanding the impact of organizational conspiratorial thinking will enhance what is known about leading change in academic libraries and will contribute to the national conversation regarding training programs for current and future library leaders. Second, when employees leave an organization, hiring and training new employees is an expensive proposition taking up the time and energy of many current employees. Third, an employee with low job satisfaction but who stays anyway is also expensive to the library organization in the form of low productivity.
This pilot study confirmed our hypothesis that a strong belief in organizational conspiracies has a connection to low job satisfaction for the academic library employees who participated in the study. However, this belief in organizational conspiracies and low job satisfaction did not connect to an intent to leave the organization, meaning that many people remain in their positions even when they are not satisfied with their jobs and believe that their library administration is making decisions based on their own self-interests or that will ultimately harm the library organization. While additional research with larger sample sizes is required to generalize these results beyond this pilot study, this correlation has important implications for library leadership.
First, organizational conspiratorial thinking is common in academic libraries, is connected to low job satisfaction, which has been associated with low job productivity, and should not be ignored or easily dismissed since having employees with low job satisfaction and low productivity is an expensive proposition for any library. Organizational conspiratorial thinking is often a result of significant change in the workplace, so library leaders should invest in their own professional development that improves their ability to invoke change with the aim of addressing conspiratorial thinking directly. National leadership institutes frequently cover change management and can be an excellent source of learning and improving leadership skills. Second, since library employees tend to stay at their organizations, library leaders do not need to worry as much about employees leaving the library even if they believe in organizational conspiracy theories and have low job satisfaction. What they do need to be concerned about is improving low job satisfaction, thus improving productivity as well as retaining highly productive individuals. With a majority of respondents indicating that meaningful work and money were reasons for staying in their current employment, leaders can concentrate on how employees define meaningful work, find ways to increase opportunities for meaningful activity, and seek to increase salaries at every opportunity. Conducting this or similar studies designed to reveal retention strategies for employees who are members of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities would improve leaders’ abilities to retain the individuals they work hard to hire. Further research with larger sample sizes would provide an opportunity to learn more and potentially extrapolate findings to academic libraries in general.
We are grateful to peer reviewer Ikumi Crocoll, and Jaena Rae Cabrera, publishign editor for In the Library with the Lead Pipe, for your insightful comments. Your expert feedback made this a much stronger paper.
(Editors’ note: Some have requested to have their names removed from the acknowledgements.)
Aziri, B. (2011). Job satisfaction: A literature review. Management Research & Practice, 3(4).
Bayona, J. A., Caballer, A., & Peiró, J. M. (2020). The relationship between knowledge characteristics’ fit and job satisfaction and job performance: The mediating role of work engagement. Sustainability, 12(6), 2336.
Brotherton, Rob. Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. NYC, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2016.
Douglas, Karen M., and Ana C. Leite. “Suspicion in the Workplace: Organizational Conspiracy Theories and Work-Related Outcomes.” British Journal of Psychology 108, no. 3 (2016): 486–506. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12212.
Douglas, Karen M, Robbie M Sutton, and Aleksandra Cichocka. “The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 26, no. 6 (2017): 538-42.
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|Themes||Number of Responses|
|Location of the Job||10|
|No Other / Better Opportunities||10|
|Positives Outweigh the Negatives||11|
|Learning / New Projects||11|
|Like My Colleagues||34|
|Money / Stability||39|
|Enjoy the Work / Meaningful work||70|
Appendix A: Survey Tool
1. What is your primary work classification?
__ Full time staff
__ Part time staff
__ Full time faculty
__ Part time faculty
2. What is your age?
3. How long have you been employed at your current workplace?
|__ Less than 1 month||__ 4 – 5 years|
|__ 1 – 6 months||__ 5 – 6 years|
|__ 6 months – 1 year||__ 6 – 7 years|
|__ 1 – 2 years||__ 7 – 8 years|
|__ 2 – 3 years||__ 8 – 9 years|
|__ 3 – 4 years||__ 9 – 10 years|
|More than 10 years, please indicate: ____|
4. What is your gender?
__ Prefer not to say
5. Please indicate how much you agree with each statement below by selecting the appropriate response in each case.
|1 – Strongly Disagree||2||3||4||5||6||7 – Strongly Agree|
|My employment in my workplace is a big part of who I am.|
|I consider myself a person separate from my workplace.|
|What my workplace stands for is important to me.|
|I share the goals and values of my workplace.|
|My membership in my workplace is important to me.|
|I feel strong ties with my workplace|
Organizational Conspiracy Beliefs
6. Please indicate how much you agree with each statement below by selecting the appropriate response in each case.
|1 – Strongly Disagree||2||3||4||5||6||7 – Strongly Agree|
|I think that a small group of people in my workplace makes all of the decisions to suit their own interests.|
|Employees in my workplace are not always told the truth by those in charge.|
|I think that a small group of people in my workplace secretly manipulates events.|
|I think that the powerful people in my workplace conceal important information from employees.|
|I think that very important things happen in my workplace, which employees are never informed about.|
|I think that the powerful people in my workplace often do not tell employees the true motives for their decisions.|
|I think that there are secret groups within my workplace that greatly influence decisions.|
General Conspiracy Beliefs
7. Please indicate how much you agree with each statement below by selecting the appropriate response in each case.
|1 – Strongly Disagree||2||3||4||5||6||7 – Strongly Agree|
|Scientists are creating panic about climate change because it is in their interests to do so.|
|There was an official campaign by MI6 to assassinate Princess Diana, sanctioned by elements of the establishment.|
|The AIDS virus was created in a laboratory.|
|The attack on the Twin Towers was not a terrorist action but a governmental conspiracy.|
|The American moon landings were faked.|
|Governments are suppressing evidence of the existence of aliens.|
|Lee Harvey Oswald collaborated with the CIA in assassinating President John F. Kennedy.|
8. Please indicate how much you agree with each statement below by selecting the appropriate response in each case.
|1 – Strongly Disagree||2||3||4||5||6||7 – Strongly Agree|
|I enjoy discussing my workplace with people outside it.|
|I do not feel emotionally attached to my workplace.|
|I really feel as if my workplace’s problems are my own.|
|I think that I could easily become attached to another workplace as I am to this one.|
|I do not feel like a ‘part of the family’ at my workplace.|
|This workplace has a great deal of personal meaning for me.|
|I do not feel a strong sense of belonging to my workplace.|
|I think that people these days move from workplace to workplace too often.|
|I do not believe that a person must be loyal to his or her workplace.|
|Jumping from workplace to workplace does not seem at all unethical to me.|
|One of the major reasons I continue to work here is that I believe that loyalty is important and therefore feel a sense of moral obligation to remain.|
|If I got another offer for a better job elsewhere I would not feel it was right to leave my workplace.|
|I was taught to believe in the value of remaining loyal to one workplace.|
|Things were better in the days when people stayed with one job for most of their working lives.|
|I do not think that wanting to be a ‘company man’ or ‘company woman’ is not sensible anymore.|
|1 – Very Dissatisfied||2||3||4||5||6||7 – Very Satisfied|
|Your work in general.|
|The number of hours you work.|
|Your relationship with your fellow workers.|
|Your opportunities for advancement.|
|Your present situation in comparison to others working in this workplace.|
|Your future prospects in comparison to others working in this workplace.|
9. How dissatisfied or satisfied are you with the following aspects of your job?
10. Do you intend to leave your job in the next 12 months?
|1 – Not at all||2||3||4||5||6||7 – Very Much|
|Do you intend to leave your job in the next 12 months?|
11. How strongly do you feel about leaving your job within the next 12 months?
|1 – Not At All Strongly||2||3||4||5||6||7 – Very Strongly|
|How strongly do you feel about leaving your job within the next 12 months?|
12. How likely is it that you will leave your job in the next 12 months?
|1 – Not At All Likely||2||3||4||5||6||7 – Very Likely|
|How likely is it that you will leave your job in the next 12 months?|
13. Why do you continue to work at your current job?
I have to admit, I’m perplexed at the purpose of this paper, and why it’s in a journal dedicated to critical librarianship. Honestly, it’s astounding that the authors never really grapple with WHY library workers might be conspiratorial and/or paranoid, other than to connect such feelings to “change”. Perhaps the paper could have been stronger had the authors conducted a more nuanced analysis of “conspiratorial thinking” and what it actually entails as well as whether it matters whether a conspiratorial belief has truth-claims or not. As it stands, there are numerous examples of bad, institutional behavior that lead to perfectly legitimate reasons for an employee or group of employees to believe that institutional leadership has antagonistic goals. Case in point: https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/tempe-quietly-fires-its-library-director-after-staff-complaints-11538051. There may be no real, ulterior motive for ignoring or waving away such anxieties, but in doing so, the authors end up putting forward an argument that analyzing and managing conspiratorial thinking are matters of creating and sustaining a submissive and malleable labor force rather than considering the need for large scale, structural changes, something which would actually implicate library leadership.
I must say I mostly agree with Meredith Farkas’ assessment of this article, in her post “So I’m a conspiracy theorist now? A call for retraction” (https://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2022/03/19/so-im-a-conspiracy-theorist-now-a-call-for-retraction/). This article seems to be written by two authors with little to zero experience on the front line of libraries (one a career manager and the other a data scientist, both from the same institution). I’m sure they meant well, but this article should be considered for retraction.
If you read this article, I recommend reading this, too.
I don’t know if the editorial board has seen the discussions on Twitter about this article or the call for retraction on my blog (https://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2022/03/19/so-im-a-conspiracy-theorist-now-a-call-for-retraction/), but I hope the board will look at the criticisms and calls for retraction and consider them seriously. This article is not only a poorly-researched and unhelpful contribution to the professional conversation, but it is also not consonant with the values of your publication. Lead Pipe has consistently been an important and admirably values-driven publication and I think we all are hoping to at least hear why the editorial board feels that this should have been published (and in this particular publication).
In my experience, poor organizational culture and low morale are indicators of a leadership problem, rather than a worker problem. For example, leaders who don’t communicate well or at all and who make decisions without involving the front line people with the most experience can incur resentment, low morale, and, frankly, *well-founded* belief that leadership doesn’t care about them and their experiences, or respect their “sources of pride.” That’s not conspiratorial thinking but, instead, well-drawn conclusions based on astute (and likely repeated) observations regarding leadership’s openness about decision-making.
It is the leader’s responsibility to cultivate the trust, communication and collaboration practices, as well as a work atmosphere of respect and gratitude that will make everyone’s work appreciated and successful. Leaders should do this not to bank goodwill for times when change is needed, but because it respects the human dignity in everyone; We do it because it’s the right way to treat people. While the last paragraph of the article does nod towards the need for improved leadership skills, I think the author’s analysis needs to go well beyond the question of change management practices. Labeling workers’ distrust of leadership “conspiracy theory” (akin to belief in faked moon landings!) is antagonistic and unlikely to engage anyone in productive conversation about work culture. You describe “employees with low job satisfaction and low productivity [being] an expensive proposition for any library.” Think of how costly library leaders who cause low morale and low productivity are.
Because I was asked by colleagues on twitter to clarify my comments, I’m adding here that I’m not saying that workers are always right and leaders are always wrong. Or that leaders can’t be bullied/abused by employees. I know that happens. What I’m saying is, if you’re a titular leader your responsibility is to build a culture of respect and trust. It means creating a culture of accountability for oneself and others, and then holding people accountable, including the titular leader/s.
This is an excellent clarification because while non-managerial workers can and do contribute to workplace toxicity, the greatest responsibility lies with the administration. This article does not seem to take these elements of power and accountability into consideration.
A good deal of hard and important work is contained, herein; and, I hope that it makes a significant impression.
Thanks to M.. Soehner and M. Roe.
In this research, how did you distinguish from organizational conspiracy beliefs and the appropriate conclusion that decisions were being made without worker consultation, based on leadership hype cycles? It seems like you’re blurring these together. When workers conclude that decisions are being made in limited spheres, that their opinions aren’t valued, and that decisions which greatly impact their work will be made without them, they’re not necessarily engaging in a conspiracy. Administrators stated goals and values do not always line up with their behaviors, which is the failure of administration, not of the workers.
For an example that relates to actual conspiracy theories… the statement “The rich and mega-corporations are keeping everyone else down” can be part of some really egregious and racist conspiracy theories. It can also be part of an appropriate analysis of taxation structures, legal structures, etc.
(I also wonder why you ignored years of critique of the “male,” “female,” “transgender,” “other” options on surveys and how this does not appropriately represent transgender respondents.)
I noticed that the book “Academic Libraries and Toxic Leadership – 2017
by Alma Ortega, was not included in the list of references.