Feeling Inadequate? You’re Not Alone!

We are excited to have Bria Parker as a guest contributor this week. Bria has a Master of Science in Information and works for a large academic library in the Midwest. She is also the first New Librarian to contribute to our site (we are so inclusive). I think this post is something that a lot of us new information professionals are grappling with and will spark some great comments, so please feel free to add yours. Thanks for the awesome post, Bria! ~ Ed.

DISCLAIMER: I have a great boss, and none of this is directed at him. ~ Bria

If you’re like me, you were required to take some sort of management course in Library School (Information School, Archives School, whatever). And if you’re like me, much of it seemed like a spectacular waste of time, because really, how many of us are managing a department or institution right out of grad school? Oh you are? How nice for you. You can stop reading now.

For the rest of us, management seems to be in the distant future. For now, we must content ourselves with being managed by others. Whether your an archivist, librarian, or like to live dangerously and walk a fine line between the two, being managed, being a cog in the wheel, is not something grad school really prepares us for. Sure, sure, we are prepared for working in groups and we all probably are adept at interpersonal relationships. But that is with our peers. So what can we do to prepare ourselves for developing effective relationships with our superiors

Sure, sure, we’ve all had jobs before now in which we were managed, but when it comes to the professional world of libraries and archives, how do us neophytes operate in the pre-existing hierarchy that is [insert institution here]. We are now professionals, too, so how do we assert our thoughts and ideas when we disagree? What happens when you disagree with how things are done? Or about the way things are about to be done? What happens when you disagree so strongly that maintaining the status quo compromises your belief in what’s right? What can you say? What is the appropriate action? How could anyone get so worked up about old stuff?

If you’re a New Archivist, it is likely that you are currently facing this dilemma, or will soon. How does a new archivist (or librarian) balance the feeling that you might know more about a particular aspect than your superior(s) (either the particular aspect in question is your specialty, or you’ve studied it more recently than others) with the feeling that perhaps you’re just too naive to really understand the bigger issue. I was recently faced with this exact issue, and it broke my confidence. For months others and I had planned and planned, and had developed reasonable specifications. I felt like the research I had done, and all of my previous study really prepared me, and that the right path was chosen for the project at hand. Then someone stuck a stick in our spokes. “No. We aren’t doing that.” Umm…what? Had I been completely wrong? Where was this coming from? Do others not trust me? Am I too stupid to see something?

Unfortunately, a management class and group projects with peers did nothing to prepare me for such a crisis of faith in myself, nearly buckling to the decrees of others whom I felt did not truly understand the issue (despite us having talked about it for months).

The situation that brought on this rant has been resolved (thankfully) in a manner that did not require me to give up much ground (the compromise was a true compromise, with both sides giving a little). My colleagues and I were able to successfully defend the decisions and choices that were being questioned by others. No feathers were ruffled and nothing was as confrontational as the email exchanges leading up the successful meeting had indicated. This is a good thing. Yet while I leave this situation feeling that yes, my knowledge and training did prove to be correct, I was not really able to address the feeling of naivete and inadequacy that plagued me during the two weeks this went on. I was never able to resolve to myself whether or not one of the issues was that I just didn’t get the big picture.

Ultimately, this has been a great learning process for me, and no class would have prepared me for this lesson. But I’d like to know some of your experiences and seek your wisdom. In the future, what should one do? How can one manage the dichotomy of knowledge versus naivete? What if this hadn’t come to a peaceful solution? Should I have stood my ground and possibly made a bad impression? Or should I have buckled to their collective will? Enlighten me, New Archivists!

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8 Comments

Filed under By-Bria, By-Guest_Contributor

8 responses to “Feeling Inadequate? You’re Not Alone!

  1. @jwax55

    I find it interesting that at the heart of this issue you blame naivete (and yourself) rather than a difference in perspective, age and archival training. As a new professional I am noticing that generational difference makes a huge difference in archival management decisions. The only thing that would keep you from seeing “the bigger issue” is knowledge of larger administrative issues (budget, HR) that you, as a new-ish employee, are not responsible for in the first place. When it gets to that point it’s up to your supervisors to providing an explanation while at the same time you must rely on your best diplomatic skills. Congratulations on successfully negotiating a compromise, by the way. Negotiation and compromise is best learned from life experience, not a management class. Recently I was talking to a pre-K teacher and I asked, “So, what exactly do you teach a pre-schooler?” She answered, “How to be grateful and to compromise.”

  2. Heidi

    Hmm… coming out of one of the top ranked MSLS programs, I compromised on location/local culture in order to have more responsibility, thinking it would be good for my resume. In many ways it was, but I had a boss who told me I cared too much and was unhelpful in moving forward with improvements to services, technology, and collections. That was such a soul-crusher, since I was full of ideas and really positive about the places we could go. My solution was to do the best I could until I could get the heck out of there. I lasted two years. I guess I’m still pretty defensive about that experience; to me it was unfortunate that the community had to go and live up to its less than progressive stereotype.

  3. Bria – great post! I am finding the candid nature of this blog the most distinctive and refreshing amongst so many others.

    Know the feeling. I’m not easily humbled, but certainly was over the previous Summer while I was doing digital preservation auditing for LOCKSS. My take-away from the Summer was that young librarians, archivists and preservationists really need to suck it up on some levels because for better or worse the professional climate in these fields are awash in big brains (who deserve respect), hard-workers, (who REALLY deserve respect), big egos, and lots of entitlement cases.

    Not sure what the specifics of your case were but when I realized that in the end it does not really matter how much I ACTUALLY know, how much I THINK I know, how badly I BELIEVE things need to change – you don’t get to make an impact until you have done some swimming for a while and cut your teeth.

    And interestingly, I have found that in my new work for the MetaArchive that when I have paused before thinking I have got the next biggest or best idea, that I am usually surprised by what I was missing in terms of the big picture. Good luck with navigating these crazy waters! Keep trusting your instincts and practicing your diplomacy!

  4. Pingback: Librarians, archivists, money, and a Lost Generation « Touchable Archives

  5. S

    I think one of perhaps the more overlooked aspects of job hunting is attempting to figure out if you think you’ll fit in with your new colleagues. You may ace the interview and they may be cordial, but will you all get along once the real work begins? I think part of that includes whether or not the atmosphere appears to be conducive to new ideas. If so, where are the new ideas coming from? Of course it’s not completely possible to know this even after asking them questions and doing background research.

    Perhaps it helps to talk to someone outside of your department but within the same organization who is familiar with the inner workings of your department? That outsider’s perspective could provide considerations you have not thought of about how to navigate the climate and associated personalities.

  6. Lance

    The thing that I can identify most with this post is the fact that, until we get more experience, we will naturally tend to questions ourselves more, especially when something that we do professionally does not go as planned.

    I think a lot of that stress is determined by the relationship we have with our colleagues. Do they also view themselves as our mentors, and view our missteps or misunderstandings as opportunities for growth (I mean everyday missteps here, not coming to work naked or eating manuscripts)? Or, do they view our inexperience as a burden? It is a great thing when it works out, but I am guessing that you need a lot more of the diplomacy and compromise that Bria and the commentors here mentioned when that is not the case. I wish I could relate a sure-fire method of making sure we enter a job that will be conducive to our professional growth, but I guessing that will come with experience, by which point we will not need any mentors. Curse you, irony.

    Great job Bria!

  7. Bria

    Thanks to everyone for the comments and feedback! It’s nice to know that so many of us are having these experiences.

    @jwax55 – generational differences can certainly account for a lot of these gaps! That wasn’t the case in my situation, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. I can, however, blame a difference in archival training, as the individuals against whom I was butting heads (ever so gently!) aren’t archivists, or librarians, at heart, but rather programmers. That makes it even more difficult when trying to explain your perspective – they really cannot relate, while at the same time, I may not be able to relate to all the programming aspects.

    @heidi – sorry your experience was such a downer – I hope you’re much happier where you’re at now!

    @mgschultz – Good thing this job comes with dental, as I’m definitely cutting my teeth to the max! Also, I’d like to know more about MetaArchive – sounds like a cool gig!

    @S – you are so very right. An outsider’s perspective could be valuable as I move forward. However, it can be difficult to get and outsider’s perspective sometimes without it feeling gossipy!

    @Lance – I often feel like my inexperience is a burden to coworkers. I try to navigate the waters a lot myself, and I am a self-starter, but I always hesitate to ask “what’s next?” or “what should I be doing?” as I sometimes feel like I am bothering them.

    One thing I think we should all remember is that our bosses should also be our mentors. Helping us, and teaching us, is what they are supposed to do. If they seem bothered (hopefully not exasperated) maybe we can just relax and think “hey, that’s their problem.” what, too snarky?

  8. Angelique

    Great post Bria! For me, it has been doubly hard to try to voice my opinion on some things because not only am I the new archivist, but I’m also a contractor, so I don’t have the same pull as an actual employee would have. About two months ago we began a huge database project to migrate from Access to SQL. It’s been incredibly stressful, but we all realize that it will be completely worth it in the end. There have been times throughout this process where I have tried to voice my opinion on functional aspects as well as design aspects (for the web interface), but it’s been difficult to do so because (1) this is my first “real” job, (2) I just graduated from school, and (3) I’m only a contractor. While I love my colleagues, it can be frustrating because I do think I can contribute valuable opinions to the project, but when you have people who are used to doing things a certain way and are not as willing to embrace new technologies/ideas, it can be hard to get your point across. I think as new archivists (or librarians, etc.) we do second guess ourselves and we don’t necessarily have the confidence yet to stand behind our opinions when speaking with our supervisors/colleagues/etc. It probably just takes more time and experience in order for us to feel comfortable enough to stand up for our opinions/suggestions without being afraid of being shot down…until then, I guess we’ll muddle our way through.