Thursday, March 12, 2015

Don't Let the Old Guard Get Ya Down, by Amy Diegelman

When you start a new job, especially early in your career, you may have to face the dreaded ‘Old Guard.’ The Old Guard are the librarians who have been in the field or institution you’re entering, for a long, long time. They resist all your ideas, brush off your opinions, and scorn your enthusiasm. (Please note that I know not all experienced librarians are the Old Guard. Heck, some new librarians act that way.)

It can be crushingly frustrating, but it isn’t insurmountable. There are a few things you can try:

Give them their due - Most (though not all) people aren’t actually evil, malicious, sabotaging monsters who want you and/or the library to fail. So, regardless of your personal feelings about your Old Guard, it's important to recognize the work they have done. Maybe 10 years ago they championed a needed library remodel. Maybe they were the first in the library to institute some change in service that we consider a given now. At the very least, they have probably shown up and done their job with some level of success. They know the library and the community, even if they feel differently about it than you. Acknowledge these things, give the Old Guard credit. Not only will this make them more willing to work with you, it will make you a little less miserable. Hating people is super exhausting.

Take it slow - It’s easy to get wrapped up in new ideas and possibilities and want to jump right in. That’s great! But you have to remember that you’re the new kid and this team existed before you got here. Your coworkers probably don’t know much about you, so it will take a little time for them to trust your judgment and see your strengths. They also need time to integrate you and your ideas into their normal processes/routines at work. This is the time to learn, get the essential parts of the job locked down. If you push huge new ideas and changes before showing that you’re willing to learn and work, the people who’ve been busting their butts for 20 years aren’t going to be very interested in investing their time and energy in you.

Involve them - One of the biggest problems you can run into with the Old Guard is making them feel (probably unintentionally) like they’re being ousted. Ask for opinions, run ideas by them before taking it to the boss, ask if there are things in their departments/interests that could be incorporated into your ideas. This is good for you, too. They can help you navigate things that would take years to learn otherwise - community priorities, trustee preferences, administration policies, etc. Plus, if you have an idea that is going to shake things up, getting even one member of the Old Guard on your side is going to help sway others. 

Reciprocate - You don’t have to make back-room deals or secret alliances to get the Old Guard on your side, but you can be supportive. Support people on things that they clearly feel will be a benefit your organization, even if you are not particularly passionate about them. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the Old Guard wants, but when you agree, say so. It will make the times you disagree easier for them to stomach.

Remember they were you once, and you might be them - Everyone was new once, including the Old Guard. So cut them some slack. Remember that things you want to change may be things that they had to fight for against their own Old Guard. And someday you may be someone’s Old Guard. We all hope we can retain an openness as time goes on, but the truth is that everyone gets tired, everyone gets a little set in their ways, and everyone grows attached to their projects. Consider how you’ll want to be approached when that time comes. Hopefully any of us who reach these points will have fresh colleagues come in and shake things up - and hopefully they’ll remember that we’ve been in their shoes. 

Amy Diegelman is a young adult librarian in Massachusetts. You can find her shouting about libraries, teens, and being a big geek on Twitter at @amydieg.

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