Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The care and feeding of tall poppies

I wrote a guest post over at Letters to a Young Librarian last week directed toward librarianship's tall poppies. I wanted to follow-up that post with a second one directed toward everyone else.

If you are a librarian who has been in the profession for any length of time, you probably have tall poppies in your midst. You know, those high-achieving librarians, mostly newer to the profession, who have great ideas. It's possible that you have a tall poppy for a colleague in your library or that you serve alongside one in the professional association of your choice. Unfortunately, tall poppies aren't treated very well in librarianship. They are often attacked and alienated because their drive to succeed intimidates people. As a result of this treatment, tall poppies often end up leaving librarianship for more welcoming professions.

As a colleague of a tall poppy, I think that it's your duty to help create a warm, welcoming atmosphere in which a tall poppy can flourish.

We can start to create an atmosphere where tall poppies can flourish by creating a workplace where they can ask questions and make suggestions without fearing alienation from colleagues. Maybe you've been a librarian so long that you've forgotten, but I think that being a new librarian is really tough. I think it's doubly difficult when you come to a workplace with ideas and get shut down by colleagues who say but we've always done it this way! By being the colleague who listens to a tall poppy's ideas and giving feedback, you can help them understand the best way to present an idea to the appropriate person at the appropriate time. Being a mentor to a tall poppy is the best way to ensure a smooth transition for that new librarian into their new workplace. Yes, being a mentor is time consuming and you have a lot to do, but we owe it to our tall poppies to help them assimilate.

I think that another way to create a warm, welcoming environment for tall poppies is to stop treating them like new hire messiahs. While they come to us with a variety of talents, our tall poppy colleagues do not have the ability to magically transform our libraries into vibrant, user-centered spaces. And furthermore, this kind of work can't be done by a single person. We can't expect that our tall poppy colleagues will be good at everything, nor can we ask them to single-handedly create a library-wide service without support from library leadership. Rather than expecting a tall poppy to carry the library on their back, managers needs to develop the skills to support tall poppies as they develop as professionals and assume their place as leaders in librarianship.

Finally, we must start owning our behavior when it comes to being cruel to tall poppies, especially in online spaces. If you spend any time online, you are probably familiar with Wheaton's Law. Essentially, it boils down to making the choice not to be a jerk to people. When we encounter a tall poppy, our first instinct might be to feel threatened by their success. Or, we might feel weary by all of the awards and accolades handed out to tall poppies. Both, I think, are reasonable responses. But we have a choice: we can react unkindly and attack the accolade and the recipient or we can react kindly and congratulate the tall poppy on their success. If we truly feel like the awards system is flawed, we can work to change it. But I would argue that we should also endeavor to choose kindness we can.

Last week, Rachel argued that what we're about in the Unified Library Scene is ownership: owning our profession, our institution, and our community. Part of ownership is taking responsibility for creating a safe space for others to grow. By caring for our tallest poppies, we build the Unified Library Scene. And that's what we're about here.

Stay positive,

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