Motivation in Special Library Staff: What Increases It and What Does Not

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

December 10, 2019

Motivation is not something that can easily be explained. It is a complex feeling and behavior that is influenced by both internal and external factors. Understanding this is an important skill for special librarians who manage others.

When talking about motivation, typically, two types are described. There is motivation that is internal (intrinsic) and motivation that is external (extrinsic). Intrinsic motivation is that which comes from within a person because they enjoy what they are doing and want to do well for its own sake. Extrinsic motivators are those things that come from outside, such as winning a prize, or getting a raise. With extrinsic motivation, people do things to get something else.

But how does this relate to motivating special library staff? According to the American Management Association, the top factors influencing motivation are:

  1. leadership style,
  2. the reward system,
  3. the organizational climate,
  4. the structure of the work.

At times, we can feel at a loss for how to impact motivation even though we know that things like leadership style and climate are important. Often, it is the intrinsic motivators that have the biggest impact on job satisfaction—and those things are hard to identify from the distance of a leadership role. The good news is, there are theories that suggest ways to increase motivation in others. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory is the motivation theory I prefer to use and apply in my own work. Of course, there are others that I will write about in the future, but for now, let’s unpack Herzberg’s theory.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

In the middle of the 20th Century, Frederick Herzberg published a book titled Work and the Nature of Man. In the book he shared his findings from interviews he conducted about employee motivation. He found that work situations have two major components: 1) factors that lead to satisfaction and 2) factors that lead to dissatisfaction. These are two separate components and must be considered separately, because according to Herzberg you cannot increase satisfaction and at the same time decrease dissatisfaction. Or to put it a different way, you can decrease dissatisfaction, but that does not necessarily mean satisfaction will increase.

Therefore, before you start implementing a strategy for increasing motivation in your staff you want to consider whether what you need to do is actually increase satisfaction—or whether you need to decrease dissatisfaction. Are people outwardly discontent and cynical? Or do people just seem unmotivated and apathetic?

If you need to increase satisfaction, you should look to intrinsic motivators such as giving people recognition, finding ways to increase their responsibility, making sure their job duties align with their interests and skill sets, and providing clear paths for growth. If you need to decrease dissatisfaction, focus on extrinsic motivators such as working conditions, relationships between co-workers, wages, and policies.

Let’s look at the example of special library staff training (those of you who regularly read my posts know I like to write about education!):

To decrease dissatisfaction, you will want to spend time cultivating the relationship between yourself as the supervisor and your employees. It can be easy to focus staff training on policies, supervision, or security issues. These are not bad things and will help to potentially decrease dissatisfaction if people like what they hear. However, if those types of things are always the focus of staff meetings, dissatisfaction among employees may decrease—but satisfaction is not going to increase.

To increase satisfaction during staff training consider spending time to recognize the contributions of particular staff. Let staff know they are valued and that you see the work they do. Listen to ideas they bring to the meeting and help them discover ways they can gain responsibility in areas they show interest.


I hope you explore Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation in more detail. You can do this by reviewing the recommended resources below.

Recommended Resources

Herzberg, F .I. (1966). Work and the nature of man. Oxford, England: World.

Herzberg’s Motivators and Hygiene Factors. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Karson, M. (2014). The myth of intrinsic motivation. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Lumen Learning on Herzberg’s Two Factor:


Tracy, B. (2018). The four factors of motivation. America Management Association. Retrieved from

<a href="" target="_self">Lauren Hays</a>

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri. Previously, she worked as an Instructional and Research Librarian at a private college in the Kansas City metro-area. Please read more on Lauren’s skills for special librarians, and you may want to take a look at Lucidea’s powerful ILS, SydneyEnterprise.


Similar Posts

Leave a Comment

Comments are reviewed and must adhere to our comments policy.

Electronic Resource Management

Hosting service

Enjoy all of the benefits of your Lucidea solution with secure, reliable, stress free hosting

Programs & incentives

No matter your size or budget, we’ve got you covered, today and tomorrow

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This