The Saboteur in the Academic Library

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Dohe, Kate, Celia Emmelhainz, Maura Seale, and Erin Pappas. “The Saboteur in the Academic Library.” In Libraries as Dysfunctional Organizations and Workplaces, edited by Spencer Acadia, 1st ed. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2023.


In 1944, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services released the Simple Sabotage Field Manual. Originally intended to aid the WWII-era citizen in committing small acts of sabotage within an enemy organization, the Field Manual developed a second life on social media after its declassification, as its advice on how to make erroneous decisions, stonewall, and lead others astray echoed the pitfalls of modern office work. We observe that academic library staff also use ‘neutral’ actions to actively delay and derail work, including an insistence on following proper channels, creating committees, haggling over precise language, and holding unnecessary meetings. This chapter shows how academic libraries find themselves uniquely susceptible to unintentional and willful saboteurs alike. Library saboteurs have the potential to derail and impede our organizational missions, as well as to push back against toxic leadership and mismanagement. This chapter explores the power and powerlessness of the library saboteur, and outlines how staff at all levels can identify the saboteur in the next cubicle—and in their own learned behavior.