June 18, 2018

Champion of Confidence | Office Hours

I chatted recently with New Zealand librarian Sally Pewhairangi, who shares her unique approach to encouraging library professionals on a new website called The Library Boss. Pewhairangi helps librarians embrace things digital and flourish at work. Her ideas should inspire LIS students, new librarians, and seasoned professionals.

Stephens: Office Hours has often covered the struggles we encounter when responding to evolving information behaviors. Many of our internal struggles are born of confusion about going forward into a landscape that seems new and frightening. What have you observed?

Pewhairangi: Doubt. The things you say to yourself when you know you can get by but feel as if you don’t know what you’re doing. “I wish I didn’t feel so out of my depth when a library member asks me to help them with their Facebook profile.” Or it may be an experience outside your comfort zone: “If I was more confident in my presentation skills I would run classes on how to spot fake news.” It’s a little whisper that shows up when you aren’t sure.

I’ve given myself pep talks on occasion, before a big presentation or in the depths of a research project, because of that little whisper. It also feels like a twist on imposter syndrome: like my colleague or library user will realize I may not know what I am doing! Doubt and its relation to user service is critical. It might be reluctance to use a tablet on the library floor because you doubt your tech skills or constantly referring questions “up the chain” because you’re doubtful of your ability to solve the problem. How do we counteract doubt?

Library training overlooks the importance of confidence. Every workshop or training program I have ever attended emphasized competencies through a step-by-step process, with some time to practice and maybe an opportunity to apply it. The process works well but doesn’t always achieve the desired results. Learning how to flourish in a digital world requires both competence and confidence. Believing that you are capable is vital because if you don’t believe you can, whether you are able to or not doesn’t matter.

When you add technology and digital literacy to the mix, the opportunities for self-doubt increase. Having the confidence to try things and fail is probably more important than the step-by-step competencies you mention.

Right. For example, if I had more confidence I would create a video to accompany this column in which viewers could see and hear my enthusiasm for librarians embracing things digital. It would be awesome! But I am afraid to try. Even though I know how to make a video (and actually have), I have no confidence in my video-making abilities. This sounds irrational. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

There are lots of reasons why you might lack confidence. Most of them boil down to fear: of failure, not being good enough, and what others may think. (Mine is the latter.) But if you can overcome your fear, the benefits are huge:

More free time: When I am confident in my abilities, I don’t worry about every detail and that frees up time to spend on other things.

Clear decision-making: When I lack confidence I question myself on every decision, and as a result it takes forever. But when I believe in myself and my abilities, the decision seems obvious.

Healthy risk-taking: I am less willing to take risks when I am unsure. Confidence turns thoughts into actions.

The role of managers and supervisors, then, should be to encourage confidence and offer support for learning how to make videos or whatever the task may be. Knowing that the higher-ups “have your back” surely instills confidence.

Next time, we’ll continue this conversation, and Pewhairangi will share six qualities that can help boost your digital literacy confidence.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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