#npc2011 Talking Point – Are New Professionals too Cliquey? One Perspective

There has been a lot of brilliant posts covering the entire day at the New Professionals Conference from Hulme Hall, Manchester on 20th June. Because of this, I thought I would focus on a few of the points that stood out for me from both the presentations and workshops. This topic came from the very excellent presentation from Rachel Bickley discussing establishing dialouge with more experienced professionals. When examining perceptions of new professionals by these more experienced, among all the positive feedback, there was the comment that new professionals seem to be ‘cliquey’ (apologies for the taking out of context to the nth degree).

Before I start I need to clarify 2 things:

  1.  This is by no means is attempting to be a complete piece of work, rather hopefully a discussion piece based upon my own opinion. People more coherent and lyrical than me, will be covering this in the upcoming days. It will be almost solely based upon my own personal anecdotal evidence. I have, where possible, hidden names as I don’t want to embarrass or fall out with people, as i may still work with some or do so in the future! It is not intended to be a spiteful piece as these experiences have in no way harmed me long-term, and upon reflection have made me stronger as a professional. If you do recognise yourself and want to rebalance the side please leave a comment and i will be happy to communicate.Or fight you at the bus stop after School. Which ever suits really.
  2. I honestly do not really view myself as a ‘new professional’ despite fitting into the description. I have worked full-time in Libraries for almost 8 years, the past 3 years as a service manager (and most senior ‘library’ person in the organisation). Before that for I performed many tasks that are associated with a clinical librarian role, in conjunction with more traditional ‘library assistant’ tasks.

Now once Rachel said that, my first impression was ‘that’s correct’ and thought about the NP ‘twitterati’ as well as those very few I have personally encountered. Very closed exclusive groups, not very open to new ideas, or especially new people. A text-book definition of a clique. However, behind that impression was a few thoughts:

There are always cliques within a workplace – be that inter-organisation or intra-organisational.It is by no means library specific:

  •  People being driven from a position (in fact two people, after one had replaced the other) purely because ‘they did not fit’. This was a healthcare position. These perpetrators were not ‘new’.
  • A  large, very ‘political’ office had to be re-arranged because of the different clique’s and the issues that this was bringing. Where genuine complaints were made because individuals were no longer sat near their friends! Again these were not new professionals.
  •  A library specific example – A group of library staff only operated between themselves. They ate together, sat together. mass-desicions, the same way without fail.On one very memorable occasion I was made to feel very uncomfortable at a meeting where it was basically this group and me. I made attempts, but was ignored. Sat on a table on my own drinking coffee before and at the break. These were not new professionals, these were senior and had made a decision to exclude me and others before and after me – without the excuse of being ‘new’. There were other ‘political’ reasons they excluded me. I still don’t believe I am viewed as an equal by those from the group that remain.

Though not entrenched within a new professional society or activity I have never heard of anything like even remotely close to these examples. I am also positive that these happen all over the library community and in different communities beyond that.

So why are new professionals (even by one person) viewed like this and why did I originally agree with the statement?

Is it because they are a close-knit group of friends? Does that mean they are a clique? If so, anybody who has partaken in the MA Library and Information Management course at MMU in the past 2 years (especially the 2nd year), should probably view me as a part of clique. I probably would. I saw groups/cliques within the full-timers. Us? A small group – always sat together, went out for lunch/socially together (and really never invited anyone), did group work together – made in-jokes, kept to ourselves. It wasn’t because we thought we were better than everyone else – we just had a similar approaches to the course, felt the same way about it (it was shite), in the same classes, no integration ever really took place etc. We were a peer support network.

New professionals may have met at Library School, or just maybe are experiencing similar things, dealing with similar issues and just prefer and have been drawn to those people within their support network. This is how you make friends in the real world. It can be difficult to approach someone who being an information professional aside, you have no connection to, especially if networking is not a strong suite. If they can find a support network, a comfort zone or just a bit of protectionism and reassurance from like-minded folk. is this wrong? Is it just strength in numbers? I think as long as you evolve that network as you develop I would not class it as cliquey. How much of the advocacy work going on in public libraries at a local level would happen without this network.

There is also the fact that if a group dynamic works, in a professional sense, why change it? Again within the region there are specific groups and when pieces of work come up – they have the prefered people to work with. Is that wrong? Is a sub-community of practice cliquey? Not all the time in my opinion. You can have this at any level, at anytime. If you find people who you work well with – good. Is that what a team is? As long as it is not at the detriment to overall purpose.

If you have gotten this far, thank you for reading, this really became a stream of consciousness! Overall I can understand why new professionals could be perceived that way, but as a kind-of outsider, I would not class them that way. Mean Girls we/they/us/them are not!

Let me know what you think – am I wrong, have I missed anything?

p.s. Buy the Bon Iver album!


12 thoughts on “#npc2011 Talking Point – Are New Professionals too Cliquey? One Perspective

  1. Excellent post, and thank you for giving your perspective on the whole “clique” issue. You make some really good points about how a group of people with something in common will band together. I immediately worried when I saw that “clique” comment in my survey results, and didn’t really think about other ways of looking at it.

    I am also gobsmacked at some of the examples you give of cliquey behaviour amongst people who should be experienced enough to know better!

  2. Really enjoyed reading this, and like Rachel I was shocked at some of the experiences you describe. I’ve never experienced anything like that since leaving school, either in librarianship or out of it.

    I wonder if the ‘cliquey’ aspect is a perception rather than a reality – I know when I first started blogging and tweeting I felt quite intimidated and wasn’t sure how to join in with all these people who seemed such good friends. It took me a long time to get up the courage to be more active on Twitter but once I did I realised that this friendliness was extended to new people just as much as old hands.

    Having said that, if the perception is there then that is a problem whether it is true or not.

    1. Thanks Laura & Rachel, I was only personally involved in that 1 incident, but some of the stuff I’ve heard about and its not just in my organisation, is shocking. Something that has just occured to me reading your comment is the possibility of professional jealousy at what is now available? (someone i forget who – apologies to them – said that this is quite a new concept). There may be waryness about being left behind as well – The king is dead, long live the king etc. I agree it can be quite difficult to change a perception – maybe talk in secret behin their backs 🙂 It would be good to get someone who truly believes that to lay out why they think like that.

    2. I think you’re totally right about the ‘perception not reality’ thing – part of it might be that if you’re not used to Twitter it can look a bit cliquey, even though on the whole it’s really not. I know I was pretty scared – in an awed way – of the Twitterati group that Michael refers to when I first went on there – but once you get in and start typing you realise it’s actually quite a disparate group and very friendly. Plus, everyone’s perception of who The Clique is are different because we’re all following different people!

      And I think librarianship in general can be pretty cliquey (see Michael’s horrfying tales above) just because people do often know each other from groups or previous jobs, so when you’re either first starting or you see a group you’re not part of, it can be a bit isolating and scary. And if you’re experienced and used to being part of the group-who-knows-everyone, to see a whole new group form in a medium you’re not into could seem pretty threatening.

      1. Hi Samantha, I think you have totally nailed maybe why people have that perception. Being a ‘old’ professional you may have your own personal comfort zone, working relationships or may not have been good at networking when you were a professional nipper, but have developed these bonds, relationships and possibly even clique’s – but then these must become ever decreasing circle’s as well – people move on and then you feel that possibly you could be back where you started…

  3. I’m glad that people are mentioning the dreaded C word. There are two kinds of clique: the Mean Girls/boys club type, where a self-selected group deliberately try to keep others out in order to bolster their own sense of superiority and exclusiveness, and the unwitting clique. If there is a clique in the new professionals Twitterati (and there kind of is, isn’t there?) it is almost certainly the latter.

    Sometimes one is so busy having fun talking to friends that one fails to notice the people on the fringes of the conversation. It’s hard butting in and taking the floor. And it can be hard work to always make sure that one is being inclusive, to actively scan the horizon for those people on the fringes.

    Maybe it’s better to think of this professional network as a real network – some nodes have more spokes sticking out and others have fewer and are further out but we are all connected in the end.

    And I would also agree that there is an element of professional jealousy when it comes to perceiving cliques. Personally I hate all those people out there having a good time being passionately engaged in their careers and swanning about at conferences and talks!

  4. Interested to note that under the strict “new” definition you are in fact no longer “new” (5 years post quali) – welcome to the old professionals (non) clique!

    I think we all have groups of people we know and talk to more that doesn’t make them a clique. Twitter might be interesting in that it can mean people are actively seeking out a few people when they finally get a chance to meet in real life. I wonder if this causes strange dynamics at an event?

    I don’t think there was a new profs thing when I was a new prof – I might have enjoyed it. In practice I just got on with participating in professional life in general. Provided new prof activity is not at the expense of general prof activity it should be useful for people. I have said elsewhere that we also need to help people gain access to relevant networks at other points in their career (first manager post? first senior liaison post? first Asst Director? First solo? etc etc)

    1. Hi Alan, Cheers for the comment – I am 2 years through my masters – just got dissertation to do – so I felt i still applied within the 5 year definition! When I first started in Libraries there was nothing either, in the region now they do new starters day, which at least introduces you to everyone. My example was very much the exception, there are a lot of people who have gave me and still give me to this day lots of support and advice – I truly believe in the idea of professionaly ‘paying it forward’ , and i would include ensuring people know the people to talk within this.

      1. Ah – sneaking back under the wire – like it! We have a new starters day in London where I am the poor fool who has to try and explain how the NHS hangs together. I have to pretty much bin my slides each time it comes around.

      2. I can imagine that talk soon just being ‘So how does the NHS work?’ (shrugs) (leaves stage/room) 🙂

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