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ACRL Library Worker Retention Toolkit: Guide

From the equity, diversity, and inclusion subcommittee of ACRL’s New Roles and Changing Landscapes Committee, this Toolkit provides effective employee retention strategies for academic libraries.

Defining Retention

Retention is the ability of an organization to reduce turnover among employees and keep employees for as long as possible. Retention is an important part of building a cohesive team, increasing productivity, and improving morale. 

There are many reasons for employee turnover and just as many strategies to help retain employees. While effective retention strategies benefit all employees, they are especially crucial for institutions committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is recommended that organizations have a comprehensive onboarding process that provides new employees with the training and information they need to succeed and feel like they are a part of the organization. 

Compensation, including benefits and flexible work schedules, can help retain employees. Training, professional development, mentoring, and recognition are also ways to demonstrate to employees that they are valued. Communication, transparency, and trust between management and employees are vital to creating an environment in which employees want to remain for longer periods of time. 


Baker, P., & Sutner, S. (n.d.). Definition: Employee retentionTechTarget

Reily-Reid, T. (2017). Breaking down barriers: Making it easier for academic librarians of color to stay. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(2017), 392-396.

SHRM. (n.d.). Managing for employee retention

Calculating Retention


Retention rate is the total who stay divided by the total at the start of a timeframe, times 100


Retention rate is calculated by designating a timeframe to be measured (for example, one fiscal or calendar year or more frequently).

Count the number of employees at the beginning of the timeframe, then again at the end. Divide the number of employees remaining at the end of the timeframe by the number of employees at the beginning, then multiply by 100.

New hires who come onboard after the first date of the timeframe are not included in this calculation.

While retention is the inverse of turnover, understanding why people stay (in addition to how many leave) gives organizations a broader perspective, and the opportunity to follow individuals over a period of time and make adjustments to keep valued, experienced employees.



SHRM. (n.d.). How do I calculate retention? Is retention related to turnover? 

Waldman, J. D., & Arora, S. (2004). Measuring retention rather than turnover: A different and complementary HR calculus. Human Resource Planning, 27(3), 6-9.



Two women engaged in conversation

Managing Retention


  • Management is responsive to changing workplace conditions such as the COVID-19 pandemic and work-from-home policies.
  • The employees feel they are seen and recognized for their effort and achievements.
  • There are opportunities for advancement and development.
  • Employees see value in the benefits, compensation, and other perks and opportunities.
  • There may be personal reasons such as their partners' employment or other family obligations and responsibilities.
  • Employee dissatisfaction. The fix: Monitoring workplace attitudes. Identify and address reasons for turnover.
  • A better opportunity arises. The fix: Ensure your organization is providing competitive pay and rewards, developmental opportunities, and quality of the work environment.
  • The change is planned for personal reasons. The fix: Increase rewards for tenure in response to employee needs.
  • They have a negative experience. The fix: Provide training to employees to address harassment, unfairness, and inconsistent treatment, and provide mechanisms to deal with conflict, flexible work schedules, employee assistance programs, etc.

An "exit interview" gives organizations an opportunity to identify problems and make improvements. However, because the employee already has chosen to leave, there is a missed opportunity for positive change that might have prevented the loss of a valued team member. The "stay interview," or "retention conversation," is proactive and presents the opportunity for a positive interaction to determine why employees stay, how they might be better supported, and what actions can be taken to keep them as long as possible.

There are guidelines for properly conducting stay interviews to avoid the conversation morphing into a performance evaluation and to steer clear of violating human resources and ethics policies. However, when done well, it is a powerful retention tool that strengthens relationships with team members and makes the organization a more desirable place to work.

Tips for conducting successful retention conversations

  • Keep the meeting friendly and informal; make it a dialogue rather than an “interview”
  • Ask about your employee’s professional goals and how you can help them achieve them
  • Find out how you can improve as a manager
  • Conduct the conversation regularly and not around the annual evaluation time

  • Come prepared to listen and not to counter or argue



Finnegan, R. P. (2018). The power of stay interviews for engagement and retention. (2nd ed.). Society for Human Resource Management. 

Recruitment: Be honest and transparent about the job responsibilities and compensation.

Socialization: Help new hires feel welcome. Plan informal activities to help them get to know their team and consider mentor-pairing.

Training and Development: Provide new employees with the training, tools, and information they need to be successful.

Compensation and Rewards: Offer competitive compensation/pay and benefits as well as flexible work schedules. Recognize the efforts and achievements of every team member.

Supervision: Treat all employees at all levels fairly and with respect, and train other supervisors to do the same. Create a work culture that values fairness, equity, and inclusivity.

Engagement: Encourage engagement by using tools such as the "stay interview" and "appreciate inquiry" to get feedback about the needs and concerns of employees.


Broad-based Strategies

  • Effective practices: Find out what others are doing to retain employees.
  • Benchmarking surveys: How do you compare to others?

Finnegan, R. P. (2018). The power of stay interviews for engagement and retention. (2nd ed.). Society for Human Resource Management.

Fyn, A., Heady, C., Foster-Kaufman, A., & Hosier, A. (2019, April 10-13). Why we leave: Exploring academic librarian turnover and retention Strategies. ACRL 19th Conference: Recasting the Narrative. Cleveland, OH, United States.


Sample Questions for a Stay Interview

"Stay interviews," also known as "retention conversations," can be effective ways to engage with your employees, understand their professional interests, and learn what does  or does not appeal to them about their work experiences.

Retention conversations are one-on-one conversations that serve as informal check-ins with employees. These conversations should be part of an ongoing dialogue and include career coaching as well as seeking feedback from the employee. Regularly checking in with your employees should provide you with valuable information to improve the work environment and employee satisfaction, which should result in higher retention rates.

The sample questions for retention conversations in this toolkit are divided into five categories:

  • About the employee

  • About the job

  • About the company culture

  • About the work environment

  • About resources

Select questions from this toolkit that feel most natural for you and your employee, or create your own.

Two women talking at a small table

About the Employee

  • What do you look forward to at work each day?
  • What do you dread about work each day?
  • When was the last time you thought about leaving the library (or librarianship)?
  • What prompted you to think of leaving?
  • Why do you stay here?
  • Would you recommend this library to others looking for work? Why or why not?
  • What would tempt you to leave the library?
  • What are your short- and long-term goals?

About the Job

  • What is the best part of your job?
  • What part of your job would you get rid of if you could?
  • Do you feel like you are making an impact?
  • What are one or two things you would like to change about your current job?
  • Which of your talents or skills are you not using in your current role?
  • What are you learning here? What do you want to learn?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • Do you have clear goals and objectives?
  • As your manager, what can I do better? More of/less of?
  • What can I do to be a better manager?
  • What can I do to make your job better?
  • If you were the manager, what would you do differently?
  • Do you feel like you have advancement opportunities?

smiling employees at a conference table

About Workplace Culture

  • Do you feel valued and recognized by the library?
  • How would you like to be recognized by the library?
  • What is not being done in the library that you feel should be done?
  • What challenges is the library facing? How would you recommend addressing those challenges?

About the Environment

  • What needs to be changed or added to our offices?
  • Does the current work-from-home policy apply to you? What changes would you like to see in that policy?
  • Does the work-from-home policy seem to be equitably applied?
  • Is the physical environment of your workspace comfortable, inviting, and easily navigable?

Person typing on a laptop at a conference table

About Resources & Tools

  • Do you have the proper tools and resources to do your job properly and efficiently?
  • If not, what is missing?
  • How satisfied are you with tools used to communicate with colleagues (for example, Zoom, chat, shared docs)?
  • What tools or software should we stop using?
  • What resources and/or support do you need to achieve your career goals?

Finnegan, R. (n.d.). How to conduct stay interviews: 5 key questions. SHRM.

Liu, J. (2021, November 30). Why the 'stay interview' is the next big trend of the Great

Verlinden, N. (n.d.). 21 best stay interview questions to ask. Academy to Innovate HR.

Retention Resources

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Bunshaft, J. A. (2018). The quest for employee voice and the role of Appreciative Inquiry. AI Practioner, 20(3), 46-51.

Davis-Kendrick, K. (2009). The kaleidoscopic concern: An annotated chronological bibliography of diversity, recruitment, retention, and other concerns regarding African American and ethnic library professionals in the United States. Association of College and Research Libraries.

Dongrey, R., & Rokade, V. (2022). A framework to assess the impact of employee perceived equality on contextual performance and mediating role of affective commitment to enhance and sustain positive work behavior. Discrete Dynamics in Nature & Society, 1-14. 

Dupreelle, P., Schachtner, M., Yousif, N., Zawadzki, A., & Khandhar, K. (2023). Companies are failing trans employees. Harvard Business Review

Heady, C., Fyn, A. F., Foster Kaufman, A., Hosier, A., & Weber, M. (2020). Contributory factors to academic librarian turnover: A mixed-methods study. Journal of Library Administration60(6), 579–599.

Kendrick, K. D., & Damasco, I. T. (2019). Low morale in ethnic and racial minority academic librarians: An experiential study. Library Trends, 68(2), 174-212.

Kung, J., Fraser, K., & Winn, D. (2020). Diversity Initiatives to Recruit and Retain Academic Librarians: A Systematic Review. College & Research Libraries, 81(1), 96.

Magurany, A., & Dill, E. (2022). BIPOC librarians and retention: Mentorship and supportive relationships in the workplace. College & Research Libraries News, 83(11), 474-476.

Orbé-Austin, R. (2023). A 10-point plan to end toxic workplaces in higher ed. Inside Higher Ed

Riley-Reid, T. (2017). Breaking down barriers: Making it easier for academic librarians of color to stay. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(2017), 392-396.

Sorensen, P. F., Yaeger, T. F., Savall, H., Zardet, V., Bonnet, M., & Peron, M. (2022). A review of two major global and international approaches to organizational change: SEAM and Appreciative Inquiry. Organization Development Journal, 40(2), 21-27.

Walker, S. (2015). Critical race theory and the recruitment, retention and promotion of a librarian of color: A counterstory. Georgia College Faculty Scholarship


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Bombaro, C. (2020). Diversity, equity, and inclusion in action: Planning, leadership, and programming. ALA Editions.

Bussin, M. (2018). Retention strategies: The key to attracting and retaining excellent employees. KR Publishing.

Carter, J., & Hougaard, R. (2022). Compassionate leadership: How to do hard things in a human way. Harvard Business Review Press.

Finnegan, R. P. (2018). The power of stay interviews for engagement and retention. (2nd ed.). Society for Human Resource Management. 

Stavros, J, & Torres, C. (2021). Conversations worth having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to fuel productive and meaningful engagementBerrett-Koehler Publishers. 


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This guide was created in 2023 by Jennifer DeVito, Michele Nicole Johnson, and Mary Beth Lock of the New Roles and Changing Landscapes Committee of the Association of College & Research Libraries. Thanks to Cindy Pierard and Lilly Ramin (2021 ACRL NRCL members) and Je Salvador for their contributions.


Image Credits: Toolkit icon by Brian Ejar; articles by Royyan Wijayabooks by Jakub Caja; video icon by Yoyon Pujiyono; website by Rahmat Hidayat; and, news by Teguh Arif, all on Noun Project. All photos are by on Unsplash.