Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tall Poppy Librarians, by Erin Leach


I’ll get to to the meaning behind the title of this post in a moment.

If you are one of the "young" librarians who read this post, welcome to the profession. Chances are your ambition made you stand out from the other candidates for your new job. The people above you in your library’s organizational chart have the sense that you can help save their library from drowning in stagnant waters. New blood can be good. You’re not the first person to experience this phenomenon. In a 2011 post, The Library Loon dubbed this new-hire messianism. As a result of being treated like a new-hire messiah, you may feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility for your library’s well-being. Hopefully you are supported by your supervisor and your colleagues. It’s possible, though, that you are being treated unkindly by some of your more change-averse colleagues. They feel threatened by your new ideas and your ambition because they feel like you signify their marginalization. This treatment can feel isolating, but you’re not the only one to be treated this way. In a follow-up post, The Loon shares the thoughts of a fellow new-hire messiah. I hope you take comfort in them.

Unfortunately, Tall Poppy Librarian, your poor treatment probably doesn’t stop in your library. You may experience people you encounter, both online and in your work with the professional association of your choice, who attack you for your success. Your goal-oriented nature and your drive to succeed reveal in them an anxiety about opportunities your attackers missed and they respond cruelly. This is especially true on social media where people can hide behind perceived anonymity. As with new-hire messianism, you are not the only person to experience this phenomenon. In fact, that’s why I called you “Tall Poppy Librarian,” because this phenomenon has a name: tall poppy syndrome (brief summary – it’s the tallest poppies that stand out and are more likely to be a target). This happens in all fields, but lately it seems that librarians are especially terrible about cutting down the best and brightest in our field. And it’s not fair to you, Tall Poppy Librarian.

This all sounds pretty grim, right? I imagine you’re ready to flee librarianship for a more welcoming profession. Don’t go, Tall Poppy! We need people like you to make librarianship a better place. Admittedly, librarians have driven some of our best and brightest into other, more welcoming professions. But it would be a shame to lose you just after you’ve arrived. You’ve probably already learned that drive can be isolating and divisive. But that doesn’t mean that you should be ashamed of being a high achiever.

The good news, Tall Poppy, is that you are not alone. There are other high achieving librarians like you, both in your own library and in the professional association of your choice. Find those people and build a community that supports one another, both in achieving your goals and enduring criticism. Continue to develop as a professional by taking advantage of opportunities offered both at your own library and through the professional association of your choice. As colleagues retire (admittedly a slow process with this economy, but it does happen), there will be a growing need for librarians to step into middle and upper management positions. Your ambition makes you a perfect candidate to assume such a role. Speak up, Tall Poppy, in meetings and online. Be present on social media and consider starting a blog. I am certain that you have awesome ideas and I, for one, can’t wait to hear them.

The point is, your ambition is nothing to be ashamed of and your drive is nothing to hide. Change threatens people and social media emboldens people to act like jerks. But that’s nothing for you to worry about. Your concern is to work hard, dream big, and continue to ask thoughtful questions about the future of libraries and librarianship. You can do it, and I will be thrilled to see the amazing things you’re able to accomplish.

Erin Leach just started as Head of Serials Cataloging at University of Georgia and is still trying to figure everything out. She is Chair-Elect of the Continuing Resources Section of ALCTS. She tweets about music, running, beer, and libraries at @erinaleach.  After her last go-round on Letters to a Young Librarian, Erin started a blog called Constructive Summer with Rachel Fleming, a fellow LtaYL alum. Erin and Rachel can be found at Unified Library Scene. Despite her seemingly cynical exterior, Erin embraces Jessica's theory on brutal optimism and loves librarianship for better and worse. And, yes, Erin is a fellow ambitious librarian

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