Personality Types and Librarians (Part 1)

Diorama at Cabela's

It takes all types.

Millions of people have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) instrument in the hopes of understanding themselves better. The theory behind the MBTI® is that we are born with preferences which do not change over time. These preferences add up to one of 16 psychological types. Knowing your type helps you not only understand yourself better, but also helps you in relationships, at work, in school—in just about anything that you do. Psychological type doesn’t explain everything about you—and it specifically doesn’t measure skill or talent—but it does point to how you are wired.

If you’ve taken the MBTI®, you probably recall that your type is a four-letter combination: ENFJ, ITSP, ETFP….  Those four letters are abbreviations for four different dichotomies:

  • I (Introversion) or E (Extraversion) considers where you focus your energy.
  • S (Sensing) or N (Intuition) considers the ways in which a person collects information. Sensing types focus on the five senses. Intuition types focus on patterns and interrelationships.
  • T (Thinking) or F (Feeling) describes decision-making tendencies. Thinking types focus on logical analysis and objectivity. Feeling types focus on harmony with personal values.
  • J (Judging) or P (Perceiving) expresses how you seem to the outside world, and the two previous scales influence it. Judging types prefer decisions and closure achieved through the decision-making preferences of either the Thinking or Feeling function. Perceiving types prefer to keep their options open, based on their style of collecting information expressed in the Sensing–Intuition function.

Jody Condit Fagan and I summarized the published literature about librarians and the MBTI® in our book Web Project Management for Academic Librarians like this:

Scherdin (1994) set the benchmark for MBTI® types found within librarianship. Through a 1992 survey of 1,600 librarians sponsored by the Association for College and Research Libraries, she found the most common types to be ISTJ (17%) and INTJ (12%)…. Scherdin analyzed that same data again in 2002, focusing on just academic librarians, and still found a large percentage showing preference for ISTJ (16%) and INTJ (12%), as well as INTP (11%) types (2002, 243). A high occurrence of ISTJs and INTJs was found again by Agada (1998, n.p.) who studied students in library science programs. (Fagan and Keach, 87).

Here’s a bar graph listing all the MBTI® types, sorted by the percentage of Scherdin’s librarians in each group.

So, here are some reasons why you might care about these percentages:

  • If you are one of the types found within librarianship in high percentages, you may find that the work and the people already in the profession appeal to you.
  • If you are not in the majority within the field, you are likely to stand out from the crowd a bit more. And, that can be both good and bad–it’s all what you make of it.

When working in librarianship or speaking to a group of librarians, consider that the ISTJs and the INTJs in the group may influence the entire group to value behaviors that are typical of Introversion, Thinking, and Judging types. You may have a group of logical problem solvers, working out solutions in their heads and independently and not loudly and collaboratively. The people in the group may come to conclusions readily–basing their decisions on either facts (ISTJ) or patterns (INTJ). Expect librarians, as a group, to like to engage with ideas and experiences. Develop and showcase your own similar preferences–or develop them if they aren’t your own preference–and you stand a good chance of connecting with others, understanding their perspectives, and being understood yourself.

Or, at least, that’s what the data suggests. In practice, groups within a workplace influence each other strongly to conform to group norms and often select others similar to themselves when hiring new members into the group. Any particular library can end up being much more talkative (typical of the Extraversion types) and warm (typical of the Feeling types) than you’d ever expect from the data.

In the next post, I’ll share more about how librarians differ from the rest of the population.

In the meantime,  learn more about all 16 psychological types on the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT) website. If you would like to learn more about your own type, seek out a certified MBTI professional to complete the instrument and discuss your results. I’m certified and interested in working with you.  Here’s how you can contact me.

Read More

Agada, John (1998) Profiling librarians with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: Studies in self selection and type stability. Education for Information 16 (1): 57–69.

Fagan, Jody Condit and Jennifer A. Keach (2009) Web Project Management for Academic Libraries. Cambridge: Chandos.

Myers, Isabel Briggs (1998) MBTI Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. 3rd ed. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Scherdin, Mary Jane (2002) How well do we fit? Librarians and faculty in the academic setting. Portal: Libraries & the Academy 2 (2): 237–253.

Scherdin, Mary Jane (1994) Vive la différence: Exploring librarian personality types using the MBTI. In Discovering Librarians: Profiles of a Profession, 125–156. Chicago, IL: Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association.

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4 comments

  1. Pingback: Myers Briggs Personality | Mallory McKinney

  2. Pingback: What I think I do | Historically Literate

  3. Pingback: Leadership in libraries | Historically Literate

  4. Pingback: Introversion, Extroversion and the Percentage of Personality Type

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