Librarian Personality Types, sans Legos: A Look at Real Colors and StrengthsQuest

My satirical look at librarian stereotypes and personalities using Legos got me thinking about the real thing.

Last week, the division I work in at the university (Information Services: library, academic technology, management information systems, infrastructure & networking, user support, and web services–some 50+ employees) held a staff retreat. Normally, I’m not big on staff retreats. If there are roleplaying games, “trust” falls, or kumbaya songs, I immediately tune out. You’ll see why in a bit.

To get us thinking about our work environment, strengths, and how we interact with co-workers, a facilitator was brought in to administer the Real Colors personality assessment. Real Colors takes the 16 personality types from the Myers-Briggs test and boils it down to four temperaments. Each is assigned a color: gold, blue, green, and orange.

What’s Your Color?

In finding your color, you first examine a series of pictures assigned to each color. After that, you read textual descriptions of the colors, and wrap-up by answering 10 multiple choice questions. You receive a score for each color, ranging from the low teens to mid-40s. The higher the number, the more dominant you are in that color. This is a copyrighted test, so I can’t provide all of the details, but here are some takeaways:

What do the colors mean and how are they applicable to librarians?

Gold: practical, well-organized, punctual, rules, authority, uncomfortable with change. To me, this screams cataloger or circulation worker: where rules and authority are key.

Blue: insightful, caring, compassionate, patient, loves to talk, avoids conflict. I could see many children’s librarians and some instruction librarians filling this category.

Green: curious/asks questions, independent, research-oriented, logical, questions authority, avoids discussing feelings. Reference librarian, anyone?

Orange: competitive, performer, enthusiastic, rule breaker, bored easily. Typified by entrepreneurs. So maybe some forward-thinking library directors belong to this category? It tends to be a small group for our field.

Many of my co-workers scored 40+ in one particular color and teens for their lowest color. A few of us, like me, didn’t have such a wide spread. I came out to:

Green 38 / Blue 32 / Gold 27 / Orange 23 – I’m choosing to read this as an adaptable person who can work well with people of all color types.

After scoring, we were then placed into groups according to our color and examined the meanings more closely. Here’s where I realized that a green personality like myself dislikes group work and staff retreats: greens are independent! (although I do consider myself a team player).

The facilitator asked our groups questions like, “How do you organize your sock drawer?” Many of the gold personalities (being organized) arranged socks by color or type (sounds like a cataloger!), while some orange personalities (rule breakers) didn’t even have a sock drawer at all–or did not care.

In another example, the facilitator asked: “If a friend asked you for advice in buying a camera, what would you say?” The green group (reference librarians!) basically treated it as a reference interview: What kinds of things do you want to do with your camera? How much are you looking to spend? Have you seen the Consumer Reports? – all hallmarks of a green personality.

Approach with Caution

Because this test boils down personality types to just four colors, it’s important to remember that although you may be dominant in one category, everyone possesses qualities of each category. Case in point, the facilitator asked me: “What would you do if you won the Powerball or MegaMillions lottery?”

My response:

I would quit my job on the spot!

Now I like my job and my place of work, but a typical green personality response would be to look at all of your options and to invest the money wisely. Evidently, a little of my orange personality seeped into my response: life is too short, do the things you want to do if you have the money to do it! Being Mr. Library Dude is good, but being Mr. Lottery Winner sounds better. :)

Discussion wrapped up with how we can communicate better with people of different personality types. This is key. It’s not “bad” to be a certain color: we all have strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has something to bring to the table. Understanding how people think and feel is important.

Focusing on Your Strengths

I think a lot of people can be turned off by personality tests because of negative qualities that might be assigned to their personality type. There’s also the risk of being pigeon-holed as a particular type of person. One test that goes in the opposite direction is StrengthsQuest/StrengthsFinder, from Gallup.

After taking a series a multiple choice questions, this survey instrument identifies your top five strengths from among 30+ categories. I did this test with my department colleagues to see how our skills complement each other. Here’s a look at my top five categories as an example:

  • Adaptability: go with the flow attitude
  • Input: likes to collect and archive information (sounds like a librarian to me!)
  • Empathy: is able to sense the feelings of others
  • Individualization: can figure out how people who are different can work together productively
  • Consistency: keen sense of treating everyone the same

What’s nice about StrengthsQuest or StrengthsFinder is that it also generates an “action plan” that highlights how you stand out, plus questions that you might want to ask yourself to help maximize your strengths. This test is great to do in large departments. If you work in an academic library, this might be a tool to use with your student employees to highlight their strengths and to help them develop their skills.

So if you’re thinking of doing a personality test for your library, give Real Colors or StrengthsQuest/StrengthsFinder a try. Of course, being a green personality type: I researched the issue and gave you a couple options to try. That’s the reference librarian in me.