Inferiority Complex

Jared Harmon is pursuing his MLS with a Technology Management Specialization at Indiana University Indianapolis.  He also helps run an ILL consortium at the Indiana State Library and works the reference desk at the Indianapolis Public Library.  Jared is interested in how technology is shaping our libraries, and he hopes to work with digital libraries and other library technologies to help evolve our profession. 

It’s really hard to keep up with the overachievers.  I know this because I used to be one.  In college, I was constantly on the run.  I was completing a double major while also participating in multiple extracurricular activities.  A few months after graduating I was working a full-time job on the night shift at a TV station.  All my side activities (and social life) basically ground to a halt (aside from my then-girlfriend, now-wife).  Out in the real world it’s much harder to stay busy all the time, especially on a night shift.  When you actually have to make money and maintain a livable dwelling, getting to a bunch of other things just becomes exhausting.  A few years later I relocated with my wife, and, after some soul searching, existential couch-sitting, and an experiment with substitute babysitting teaching, I decided on the recommendation of a friend to check out library school.  Now, I’ll be honest.  Libraries never factored much into my life before I entered this Masters program.  My aunt is a non-professional librarian at my small town’s library, but other than the occasional free movie rental or book loan, I never thought much of it.  But I needed a purpose again, and the classes sounded interesting.  So off I went, not really knowing what to expect.

Nearly two years later, I’m quickly reaching my spring 2012 graduation date, and I’m reflecting what I have learned and the decisions I have made.  I’m starting to think about how I stack up against my peers.  I know it’s not exactly a competition, but the job market sort of is, right?  Anyway, my latent overachiever within is beating me over the head constantly with the successes and opportunities of my schoolmates and colleagues.  Sure, I’m happy for those of us that make good.  I’m seeing all these super-competent and successful librarians attending every single conference, giving presentations, and getting to do all kinds of generally cool librariany things.  I’m wondering how I’m ever going to get there.

Don’t get me wrong.  I haven’t exactly been slacking.  I started volunteering for the Digitial Initiatives Librarian at the Indiana State Library doing metadata work and also at the Indianapolis Public Library pulling items and processing holds before I even started library school.  I eventually got actual jobs at both libraries, and to this day I work full time at the State Library doing ILL work and on a substitute basis in adult reference (formerly in circulation) for IPL.  I decided to go for the 9 extra credit hours to get the Technology Management Specialization tacked on to my MLS.  I got involved in my school’s student organization, and I now lead our book club and serve as an officer.  I went to ALA last year, and I joined two NMRT committees.  I almost got to speak at ILF.  I have an interview for a technology fellowship next month.  I know this is starting to sound like a cover letter, and I’m not bragging.  This is all just to say that I’m still suffering from an inferiority complex.  Despite all my experience, I worry it’s not the right kind of experience or that I’m not getting the professional opportunities I’d like to get.

I’m writing this for two reasons.  First, I can’t be the only person that feels this way.  I thought getting this out there might help us all have some kind of collective therapy experience and realize we’re all okay.  Second, Christmas break has left me with little to do, and this has only amplified my unease about my school present and professional future.  I feel like I should be doing something or I’ll fall behind.  My newfound sense of peace with taking it easy once in a while that I gained after leaving college is at war with my inner overachiever.  Also, I’m bored.  Okay, so it’s three reasons.

So, what should you take from this post?

  1. I guess that you shouldn’t necessarily measure your own worth by comparing yourself to others.  There will always be somebody more awesome than you.  You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggonit, the library world likes you.
  2. You shouldn’t feel like you have to always be doing something to advance your career.  Stop and reflect on why you got into your library program.  It’s probably because you care about the field or you love some aspect of it.  Think about what you can do to make it better.
  3. Don’t take this to mean that I’m suggesting you settle or back off on your goals.  Go for it, just don’t do it for the wrong reasons.

Categories: Honesty

18 replies

  1. Until a few days ago I was sweating bullets about my classes. Now during the break I was doing the same about my career, Instead I should be more calm about what I’m doing and where I’m going. Thanks for reminding me of that.


  2. I’ve been feeling this way and I’m only in my second semester. I also worry about how and with whom should I network and how I’m going to fit a meaningful internship into all of this (you see, I’m a part-time distance learning student with a full-time day job). In my cohort there are more than a few who are already employed in libraries (some are truly role models, and some are pesty know-it-alls) and this can feel intimidating. I’m not without valuable experience, but I’ve spent then past 20+ years doing information technology, not library work.

    I’ve just spent the past three days alone contemplating these things. I have the rest of the week off, and so I get to go forth this week in order to put a rational plan in place for next semester. Keeping focused on *my* goals while *learning* from what happens around me (without focusing too intently on what others are doing) seems like a reasonable way forward.


  3. I’m graduating in May 2012 and think it’s pretty difficult not to have an inferiority complex in this job market. Getting involved in paraprofessional activities or landing awesome internships also puts you in proximity of other really smart, qualified people, which can paradoxically make you feel like you’ll never know enough or have enough experience. Thanks for the reality check.


  4. Great post, Jared, thanks! I’m in Henry’s boat, I’ve got a full-time job in IT and am only working towards my degree part-time. It’s tough to find the time to get that real-world experience that’ll make getting a job in a library easier.


  5. I graduated in May 2011 and found myself in exactly this same position. My approach and mind set was pretty much like Jared’s: go all out, be persistent, have faith in yourself, and be creative.

    I ended up getting an amazing job as a content manager at Kaplan Publishing that I never saw coming and more to the point, never thought I’d love. Best of all, I would not have been hired if not for my library/archives experience.

    Find what you want and then go for it. I sent out 300 resumes, and got 5 responses. All you’ve got to get it 1 response to make up for all those negatives.


  6. Jared hits it “right on” for me too! LIS is a second career for me also. I graduated in 2008 with a great library education; did my practicum in health sciences and volunteered concurrently at a world class hospital/research medical school.

    Only one thing though. After all of that “face time”, I haven’t been able to land a med. librarian job in my geographic area. I am not mobile geographically because of family responsibilities.

    I deal with the “inferiority complex” a lot. However, I have a good job, but I want to do more. I think, sometimes, I don’t stop to smell the roses of my efforts.

    I think to advance in this profession (particularly for someone my age), is to remake yourself daily. Often, I have low points knowing that many have much more experience and perhaps, will always have more – they got an early start 🙂

    I am interested in three areas and will actively pursue them in 2012: copyright management, map librarianship, and business reference experience. I also believe picking up a foreign language is so very important; whether you catalogue or serve a minority community – French and Spanish are high on my list.

    Best wishes to all, and Jared, you chose the best profession in the job world – I still truly believe that!


  7. Thanks for the article; coming out of winter break I’m trying to get some things in place for my job hunt next year and I’ve started to feel overwhelmed. I know I already am well qualified for many of the job postings I’m reading (or I am on my way to getting there) but I always feel like I should be doing something more – get one more internship, volunteer on one more committee. Nice to have affirmation that I’m not alone.


  8. I appreciate the sentiment in your last bullet point. My experience has been that even if you do something awesome for all the right reasons, you need to make certain they’re your reasons not someone else’s. You can only contribute a finite amount in life, make sure it works for you and your passions.


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