Further Considerations on Citing Your Colleagues, and the Detrimental Effects of “We”

This morning, I posted here on Storytime Underground a piece about the importance of citing your colleagues’ work, and how to make sure you always give them credit. Take a moment to read it if you haven’t yet; there’s a “10 Things I Hate About You” gif at the bottom as a reward for making it all the way through.

Now, I love discussion, so I was pleased as punch when fellow librarian and friend Marge posted a response on her own blog. Now go take a look at that one.

Marge ends her post with the question: “What do you think?” So here we go.

I would like to respond to Marge’s response from the perspective that, actually, focusing on the “we” of a collaborative team effort isn’t covering all of your bases; it’s usually not academically responsible, and it’s often detrimental to individuals and the profession–even when it’s used with the best of intentions. And I’ve got a few arguments as to why.

First, I’d like to assert that there are multiple contexts in which we all have the opportunity to share programs, successes, and accomplishments, and they all require consideration as to how to talk about these feats.

Let’s take the perspective of a department manager:

Scenario One: The manager is going out into the community to discuss the great things the library can offer. The purpose of this meeting is to give a general overview of the library’s excellence; too much detail will possibly weigh down the advocacy. Verdict: “we” is okay; the manager is conveying the sum total accomplishments of a group.

Scenario Two: The manager is going to a meeting of the library administrators or board of trustees to give a report about what’s been happening in children’s services. Verdict: “we” is NOT okay; there are key decision-makers in this type of meeting, folks who can have immediate impact over the career trajectory of individual employees, and thus should have a full understanding of the specific accomplishments of those individuals. Credit for specific projects needs to be given to the project owner.

Scenario Three: The manager has a public platform from which to share program (etc.) information–a blog, a column in a journal, a conference presentation, a keynote, a teaching opportunity–and details a specific program, or a list of specific programs. Verdict: “we” is NOT okay; when you have a public platform associated with your career, that platform is, by default, an academic medium. As such, it is subject to standards about voice of the author and crediting intellectual property holders. When you say “we” in an academic context, it is implied that you as an individual are the mind behind the statement unless that “we” is immediately followed by the names of all contributors. Saying “we” without naming specific contributors is academically dishonest.

As a rule of thumb, “we” is generally acceptable, but only when it is immediately followed by naming the contributing parties.

(image from glitters123)

(image from glitters123)

I am a huge fan of the collaboration in this profession, and I recognize that many, many excellent services are the product of a melding of many minds. But “we” doesn’t cut it, because again, the person saying “we” is going to automatically be given the credit; it’s how the English language works. It is imperative that any “we” statements are immediately specified by the names of the contributors in order to give full and equal credit for collaborations. So when Blossom says on her conference panel that “We saved the day!” she needs to immediately say: “It was a collaborative effort between Bubbles, Buttercup, and myself.” Relatedly, when Splinter tells Channel 3 reporter April O’Neil that “My team saved the city,” that means diddly squat in terms of attributing accomplishments unless those team members are explicitly named.

There are a lot of unintended potential effects of a “we” mentality, and they are damaging to the individuals who make up that we.

When you say “we,” it devalues the individual strengths, skills, and accomplishments of your team members. It can be a huge drain to staff empowerment and morale to only feel like you’re an unnamed piece of a larger machine.

When you say “we,” you’re keeping your teammates from the potential opportunities that their accomplishments might bring them. If Ms. Frizzle’s name is never attached to her ideas about transformational field trips, she will never have the chance to get tapped to author an article, present a training, or contribute to a webinar on the topic in which she has seen great success. The worst case scenario for Ms. Frizzle is that her principal gets paid to present trainings on the Friz’s Field Trip Philosophy while she never has that chance.

When you say “we,” you’re reducing your teammates’ opportunities for advancement. Every smart HR team knows to do a Google search and talk to supervisors of candidates they’re thinking of hiring, whether for in-house promotion or a whole new job. If you, the one with the platform to talk about ideas, don’t name the names of your contributors when you talk about collaborative accomplishments, those contributors are left without a paper trail to speak for their excellent work. That’s a huge detriment in a competitive workforce.

The idea that because we’re a collaborative field we need to just go with the team mentality is misleading, and potentially very, very damaging.

Our culture often teaches us to prioritize the group above the individual. In the library world, for example, when a voice speaks up about sexually aggressive behavior at conferences, the disproportionate number of white people in the profession, or the disproportionate number of white men in positions of authority, the discussion is ultimately shut down by the assertion that “We need to stick together!” But all that does is preserve the status quo.

With regard to giving individuals credit for their work, that’s akin to implying to, or outright telling, professionals that their individual professional wellbeing isn’t that important in the scheme of things so long as we’re Doing! Great! Together! Like the library profession is utopian or something, as opposed to what it is: often patriarchal, frequently dismissive of the contributions of youth services folks, and bestowing of preferential treatment upon those with the biggest platform for spouting opinions. In fact, when librarianship is unabashedly excellent, the major reason is because of those individuals who passionately share their ideas outward.

If we keep saying “we” without qualifying it, we’re not promoting ideas and progress on a large scale. If we keep saying “we” without qualifying it, nothing will change. And there’s plenty that needs to change, my friends.

Excellent librarians are responsible for great changes every day, and I want them all to get full credit for their work.


About Amy Koester

I'm a youth services librarian with a penchant for exciting ideas and engaging programs. It's a sure bet that if you talk to me about STEAM, whimsy, and trying new things, we'll be best friends forever.

Posted on June 5, 2014, in Rants. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Still in agreement with all the points. I am trying to get at something else which is the claim that “I” did something when it is a web or scaffold of work that we all build on. Here’s post 2: http://tinytipsforlibraryfun.blogspot.com/2014/06/i-v-we.html

  2. Good point about the Google accomplishments check. At the library where my daughter works, many people take turns writing blog posts, but the only name listed is the person who posts them: the business manager!

  1. Pingback: Inspiration, Citation, and Collaboration: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due | wrapped up in books

  2. Pingback: Tracking the Conversation on Giving Credit | Storytime Underground

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