Librarians: closing the confidence gap

Are librarians being held back in their careers by a lack of self confidence? How can LIS educators, professional associations and library leaders help close the confidence gap?

I recently ran some professional development workshops with groups of librarians. As one of the workshop exercises, I asked participants to identify a fear they would like to overcome in preparing to lead the library of the future. The workshop participants wrote their fear on a post-it note, discussed it in pairs, came up with some practical ways they might overcome their fear, and then stuck the post-it note on a wall for other participants to see. One participant dubbed this the ‘communal wall of terror’. Some of their fears centered on a perceived lack of technical skills. Strikingly though, most of their fears related to a lack of confidence around interpersonal communication, public speaking/presentations, leadership and decision-making.

A few examples of their expression of a lack of confidence were:

“Initiating contact with people I don’t know very well.”

“Do I have the ability to succeed?”

“People not taking me seriously.”

“Voicing my opinion.”

2014-02-07 17.11.22One participant said they didn’t like speaking in public. They feared that the audience would judge them because they are overweight. This was a very personal and brave statement to make. It really got me thinking about the role confidence plays in helping or hindering librarians in their careers. I had been reflecting on this when I stumbled across an article in The Atlantic, The Confidence Gap. The message of this article is that confidence matters as much as competence for success at work. The authors argue that there is a confidence gap between the genders which results in women being less successful than men, despite being equally or more competent. The authors describe confidence as a ‘virtuous circle’.

Confidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action. In turn, taking action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed. So confidence accumulates—through hard work, through success, and even through failure.”

Taking this definition, confidence means you are more likely to take actions that lead to success, for example negotiating salary increases, applying for promotions or increased responsibilities, voicing an opinion, and taking risks.

I have been thinking that if the fifty or so librarians in the workshops I ran suffer from a lack of confidence then it probably represents a more wide spread professional issue. Librarianship is a female dominated profession, and one that often attracts introverts. These two features quite possibly tip the scales towards lower self confidence. If there is a confidence issue amongst librarians, and this is is holding them back from taking actions that might lead to more successful career, how can this confidence gap be bridged?

The good news, according to the authors of The Confidence Gap, is that confidence can be acquired.

While acquiring confidence is a complex and personal journey, there are some clear ways that it can be fostered. There is an opportunity here for LIS educators, professional associations and library leaders to focus on closing the confidence gap. What better gift could we give the next generation of librarians than self belief and the courage to act?

Self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to achieve something”, and is a useful starting point for thinking about how to support confidence growth. There are four sources of self-efficacy, according to this article:

  • Mastery experiences – things you have succeeded at in the past
  • Vicarious experiences – seeing people who are similar to you succeed
  • Social persuasion – hearing from others that you’re capable
  • Emotional status – staying positive, and managing stress

Library leaders, LIS educators and professional associations could consider ways to encourage these four sources of self-efficacy.

As a library leader or LIS educator, how can you create mastery experiences for your employees and students by setting stretch projects to build their confidence? How can you encourage social persuasion by giving constructive and positive feedback on performance? How can you support risk taking, learning from mistakes, perseverance and building resilience? How can you help your employees and students set and achieve realistic but challenging goals?

As a LIS educator or professional association, how can you design vicarious experiences for your students or members through mentoring support and networking opportunities? Are there other ways you can expose your students or members to successful peers that can role model action and success?

Of course, librarians also have to take individual responsibility for closing the confidence gap themselves. As a librarian, how can you take charge of tapping into your sources of self-efficacy to build your confidence? A few areas you could focus on are building on your past successes, surrounding yourself with successful peers and mentors, seeking constructive feedback and putting your hand up for stretch projects and challenging opportunities. Critically, you can also focus on managing your emotional status by being positive and motivated, managing stress and taking responsibility for your own success, or as the authors of The Confidence Gap say “stop thinking so much and just act”.






12 thoughts on “Librarians: closing the confidence gap

  1. Pingback: Librarians: closing the confidence gap | supercindy01

  2. The vast majority of Librarians where I work are outgoing, confident, enthusiastic and interact well with patrons & staff. They also tend to be pretty aggressive when it come to career advancement. This may be the case in some situations, but I don’t think Librarians in general are introverted, withdrawn or anti-social. This may be related to other factors such as an ongoing sluggish economy, a reduction of full-time 40-hour positions in favor of part-time positions working less than 29 hours per week, where benefits aren’t paid by the employer. It may even be related to a lack of private-sector experience, which tends to focus more on competition than public-sector jobs.

    • It varies according to the countries/regions that the librarians are coming from. For instance, here in Asia, we tend to be introverted as most of us are brought up that way due to our cultures. It’s not that we are withdrawn or anti-social. Just that some values or culture are imparted in us that now when we need to be more outgoing and enthusiastic now, it becomes a challenge. I can totally relate this article to our current situation here…..

      • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment and for highlighting the different cultural perspective. I’m glad you could relate to my post. Thanks for visiting!Justine.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for taking the time to read my blog post and leave a comment. It’s always interesting to hear the experiences of others. It sounds like your colleagues are a great team to work with. Justine.

    • I agree with the comments below about it being a cultural issue. I am also in Melbourne Australia, where the author is located and I have found it near impossible to find librarians to employ, who are enthusiastic and have the self efficacy to promote, not only themselves but the library services as a whole. I ended up headhunting a Library Services educator from Higher Ed to fill the latest position and I hope in the future she will have enough contacts to feed through the right applicants, as the hard reality is, I don’t have time to manage another persons emotions, motivation, stress and drive alongside my own! I know this sounds harsh but as you’re right , as adults, “Librarians have to take individual responsibility for closing the confidence gap themselves”. Libraries have changed dramatically in recent times and the workforce needs to adapt, as I want my library to be noisy with the sounds of learning and I need staff that WANT to work in this type of environment.

      • Thanks for leaving your comments. It will be interesting to see which capabilities and competencies emerge as being important for recruiting/developing as libraries continue to develop and change their focus.

  3. Pingback: "Librarians: Closing the Confidence Gap" - Justine Hyde | iSchool MLS

  4. Hi Justine, lack of confidence in you ladies certainly helps us blokes get up the career ladder. There’s an interesting study by Hewlett-Packard that shows a woman needs to be 100% confident in her abilities to apply for a promotion, while men will apply for the same position with 60% confidence. I wish I had some answers, but there are some useful references to that study and similar in this link.
    Great blog btw, keep instilling confidence in your workshop attendees, we need more female management 🙂

  5. Hi Justine, recently had this same conversation with one of the librarians at our state library. I work full time as a legal assistant and a part time Masters Library/Information Science student. I found E-Courses are important resource for librarians seeking additional education. Some of the courses tend be expensive and employers may not see the need or willing to pay the cost. Since computer technology changes all the time librarians have to be motivated. You can either make the decision to either step up or be left behind. Learning is lifelong commitment.

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