I have been reading the discussions regarding “movers and shakers” and the “self-promoting elite” with great interest. See these posts (and many comments on the first two) at The Shifted Librarian, Walt at Random, Caveat Lector and The Liminal Librarian. I find it very interesting how a post about how libraries can keep the people doing great things can turn into a discussion about self-promotion. But I think it’s really indicative of the general attitudes about self-promotion in our profession (and really, in most helping professions).
A little over a year ago when no one knew me, I really didn’t mind being a “drudge.” I’ve always hidden from the spotlight and that’s why I liked blogging because I could write, but still be somewhat anonymous. Ok, it didn’t really work out that way. Not only am I being asked to write articles and speak at conferences, but somehow I got a book deal out of my blog. This was never my intention, not that I’m complaining. Somehow, the more recognition I get, the more uncomfortable I feel. The more I am mentioned in the blogosphere and asked to write things and speak at conferences, the more worried I become about how people perceive me. Why?
The day the Movers and Shakers issue of Library Journal came out, the fact that two Vermont Librarians were named M&S was announced on the Vermont Libraries e-mail list, and my Director then sent an e-mail out to everyone at the library letting them know about it. Strangely, that entire day, no one else at work congratulated me. I went to a public services meeting and no one said anything to me about it. I just felt really weird about it — sad and embarassed. A day that should have been so happy for me was the exact opposite. I was actually embarassed for having been named a Mover and Shaker.
Where I work, there really isn’t a big push to speak at conferences and publish. And the vast majority of people don’t. So each time I get some sort of recognition, my Director publicly congratulates me and I feel embarassed. Why? Because for some reason I feel like I should be ashamed about getting so much attention when other people at work are not. I worry that people will think I’m an egomaniac or a “shameless self-promoter.” I even feel too embarassed to tell most people at work about things I wrote or when I’m giving a talk they could attend because I feel like I’m “tooting my own horn.” I just feel like a jerk. What’s the deal?
If I am a self-promoter, I have to be the stupidest one in the world. I started the ALA Wiki because I was sick of being clueless at conferences and because I thought it might help others too. I take opportunities (like chairing HigherEd BlogCon or doing an OPAL talk) based not on money or what will get me the most attention. I take them because I feel committed to the promotion of free online education/conferences or because there is something that draws me to them. I just agreed to give a talk beacuse a friend of mine was going to be there! I am a complete idiot about money. The first time I agreed to speak at a conference, I thought when people mentioned a “small honorarium” that it was like $30. I found out a friend of mine is getting paid to do something that I agreed to do for free. I am horrible at promoting myself and asserting my worth because I am not used to thinking that I have all that much worth. And yet the opportunities keep coming and some even pay. I asked a librarian whom I consider a mentor for advice about money, and we both felt very weird talking about it. Why?
I’m willing to admit that part of this has to do with my own inferiority complex, but since I entered the blogosphere I have sometimes heard people talking about how this successful librarian or that well-known librarian is a shameless self-promoter and that they don’t deserve the recognition they get. Ouch. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if people are really shameless self-promoters or if they kind of fell into this because they did something good. Maybe they became known for something and then lots of people started talking about them. Maybe they were asked to speak at things and write things and they had to get savvy about promoting their interests because otherwise they’d be speaking for free when everyone else was getting paid. Or maybe they were just more savvy in the first place about promoting the work they did so that it got people’s attention. Is there something wrong with being smart like that?
Not only do I think self-promotion is not wrong, but I think we should offer classes on it! Like Rachel said, self-promotion is an art that we librarians are really bad at. I feel so clueless about this stuff and it was so helpful for my mentor to tell me about how much people get paid and what I should ask for at this point in my career. We should be helping each other learn how to promote ourselves at work, get people to notice the good work we did, deal with book contracts, how to write proposals, how to build an audience with a blog, which publishers are the best to work with, which conferences treat their speakers the best, etc. Because this knowledge does not magically come to us when we get our diplomas. If we don’t promote ourselves, we will not only not get attention for our hard work, we will likely end up getting screwed.
You know what? I’m pretty damn proud of everything I’ve accomplished over the past year and I’m not going to keep being embarassed about it. For someone who has spent 27 years of her life not getting recognized for hard work, it’s nice to finally be on the other end of things. And from here on in, I am not going to feel guilty for all of the good things I have accomplished. Yay me!