Curious about emotional intelligence and happiness in academic librarians? And how this research collaboration came to be?


Published: January 23, 2022 by Dr. Michele A. L. Villagran

Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as, “the ability to understand the emotions of oneself and others and to regulate those emotions appropriately” (Martin, 2020)[1]. While happiness is defined as, “high psychological and social well-being” according to Diener (2019)[2]. Emotional intelligence and happiness in the workplace show some connection in three areas: increased competency in the areas of emotional intelligence, increased happiness or well-being, and increased ability to succeed at work. While there is a significant amount of literature on both emotional intelligence and happiness separately, and even connected, there are gaps when it comes to research related to libraries.

Examining only academic librarians, the majority of publications focus on leadership only when it comes to emotional intelligence. Library directors[3], library leadership[4][5], hiring[6], and teams[7] are among the key areas explored in the literature. In comparison, the literature on happiness related to libraries is dismal and quite depressing… meaning the literature actually focuses more on unhappiness. Only a few articles were found about positiveness[8]. Given all of this, academic librarian Lisa Martin[9] and I knew we had to conduct a research study related to EI, happiness and libraries. Let me back up and provide some context and history on how Lisa and I came to this conclusion and began working together.

In October 2018, Lisa and I first became connected via email as I had responded to a call for a program collaboration opportunity on emotional intelligence for the Special Libraries Association (SLA) 2019 conference. That June 2019, Lisa and I met in person and conducted a presentation on Building the Emotionally Intelligent Workplace: Ways to improve the self, others, and overall.[10] This was our first time working together and we knew instantly we had a joint interest in emotional intelligence. She had conducted research with her former institution on EI and I had consulted with law enforcement agencies and libraries on EI strategies in the past. In December 2019, I saw a call for papers focused around joy. I thought it was an unusual and unique call and may fit with the content we had presented on emotional intelligence at SLA. In spring 2020, Lisa Martin and I underwent research together to examine the connection between emotional intelligence and the happiness of academic librarians. Almost a two-year venture in the making, we were excited to conduct a mixed-methods research study on this topic! At the same time, we submitted and were accepted to present at two known conferences on our research: CALM 2021[11] presenting Boost Your Middle Manager Knowledge: Need To Knows About Employee Emotional Intelligence And Happiness, and ACRL 2021[12] presenting Making a Difference: Using Emotional Intelligence and Happiness to Ascend into Organizational Excellence.

Our research was recently published in The Journal of Academic Librarianship. As our abstract highlights, “the purpose of our research was to understand the interrelations between emotional intelligence and happiness through an exploration of academic librarians. We sought to measure respondents’ happiness and emotional intelligence in order to draw conclusions about the library workplace and determine ways to improve it.”[13] Happiness was measured using the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) and emotional intelligence was measured using the Short Profile of Emotional Competence (S-PEC). The results showed that academic librarians self-reported levels of happiness and competence with emotional intelligence that are within average range, however, they struggled to apply emotional intelligence and happiness skills when asked to demonstrate through real life work examples. I encourage you to read “Academic librarians: Their understanding and use of emotional intelligence and happiness[14]” to learn more about our research, findings and recommendations when it comes to EI and happiness in academic librarians. As Pamela Espinosa de los Monteros at The Ohio State University Libraries said, “I am excited to hear Michele that you are exploring future research projects related to EI. Libraries can benefit greatly from approaching organization development from this angle.”[15] Lisa and I plan to continue our collaboration and explore other gaps related to this work in the future.


[1] L. Martin, personal communication, May 2020

[2] Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2019). Well-Being Interventions to Improve Societies. In Sachs, J., Layard, R., & Helliwell, Global Happiness Policy Report 2019: Global Happiness Council

[3] Hernon, P. & Rossiter, N. (2006). Emotional intelligence: Which traits are most prized? College & Research Libraries, 67(3), 260-275.

[4] Hernon, P. & Rossiter, N. (Eds.). (2007). Making a difference: Leadership and academic libraries. Libraries Unlimited, 2007

[5] Hernon, P., Giesecke, J., & Alire, C.A. (2008). Academic librarians as emotionally intelligent leaders. Libraries Unlimited

[6] Promís, P. (2008). Are employers asking for the right competencies? A case for emotional intelligence. Library Administration & Management, 22(1), 24-30.

[7] Kreitz, P. (2009). Leadership and emotional intelligence: A study of university library directors and their senior management teams. College & Research Libraries, 70(6), 531-554.

[8] Bell, S. (2015, October 8). Life, library, and the pursuit of happiness. Library Journal.; Bell, S. (2019, November 5). Academic librarians and the pursuit of happiness: From the Bell tower. Library Journal.; Martin, J. (2018). What do academic librarians value in a leader? Reflections on past positive library leaders and a consideration of future library leaders. College & Research Libraries, 79(6), 799-821.

[9] Assistant Program Director, Instruction Services University of California San Diego

[13] Villagran, M. A. L., & Martin, L. (2022). Academic librarians: Their understanding and use of emotional intelligence and happincess. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 48(1).

[14] Villagran, M. A. L., & Martin, L. (2022). Academic librarians: Their understanding and use of emotional intelligence and happincess. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 48(1).

[15] P. Espinosa de los Monteros, personal communication, Decemeber 2021


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