Impostor Syndrome: Librarians, Accomplishments & Compliments

16 Jul

At AdaCamp we were given a number of tools to help us work through Impostor Syndrome.  Some of these tools focused on accomplishment and compliments.  For people dealing with Impostor Syndrome (IS for the rest of this entry), identifying accomplishments can be really difficult.  Even for people without IS, it can be an effort.  The same can be said for accepting compliments.  Those dealing with IS could simply decide compliments are not sincere or (and even worse) that the person giving said compliment will someday realize someone is a fraud.

I thought about my own experiences with accomplishment and compliments as we ran through an exercise about how to begin switching how we understand both.  Personally, I do think I suffer from a minor case of IS.  I know I have been trained to deal with it.  This is me though.  I am a of Generation X technically, but born on the cusp of the Generation Y.  I happy to see the world more like the later generation.  There is a lot written about Generation Y, the millennial generation.  One article (Allen, P. (2004). Welcoming Y. Benefits Canada28(9), 51-53.) talks about how this generation looks for three things in job: meaningful work, shared values with colleagues, and reaching personal goals.  For me, all three of these things are true.  Then again, here are some Gen X values from the same article: “self-reliant, individualistic and determined to maintain a work-life balance” (para 13).  These also can be applied to me.  

I mention all of this because I don’t want to speak for all librarians and their experience.  I also want you to understand why I see what I see.  I am only speaking as one set of eyes in academic libraries in Massachusetts.  You should contradict me and tell me your experience.

Librarians and libraries are good at sharing accomplishments.  We are great at recognizing the accomplishments of others.  Every year one of our major trade publications puts out a list of “Movers and Shakers” to recognize accomplishments.  It’s not a small list either and to be on that list is pretty prestigious.  To know someone on the list is pretty exciting.  As I mentioned in the last post, many of our scholarly publications are the stories of successful programs and projects.  Conferences are filled with panels and workshops with advice from those who are successful at what they do.  

Most of us do not get recognized for our accomplishments outside of our library.  At both my current and previous institution must earn tenure.  I had to learn to sing my praises to get approval from people who had limited understanding of what my job was beyond sitting at the reference desk.  To go through the yearly review process required me to look at the things I did all year and learn to make them sound more interesting than I thought they were.  For example, I doubled the number of instruction sessions run by the library in 3 years.  It wasn’t that high to begin with, but that’s still pretty freaking awesome.  I learned how to write project plans documenting the steps involved in projects so that I could see exactly what we did and why we did it.  I had to get other people to submit letters for my portfolio talking about how great I was and how important my work was to the library.  To see those specific accomplishments complimented on paper helped me really see that my awesomeness was not really the delusion of a narcissist.  I might not yet be a mover or shaker, but I have the potential to be one.

Here is the thing about the compliments I got, and the advice the leaders of the IS workshop providing, the best compliment is specific.  It’s not that I am awesome.  It is that I am awesome at doing something specific.  I have been told I am great at setting a vision for a project and communicating it to build excitement.  I have been told I am great at tailoring instruction to classes to not overwhelm students.  This is the key to compliments: be specific.  What is the compliment for and why?  Gen Y may have grown up being recognized for mere participation, but they value specific compliments.  Personally, I am more inclined to accept a specific compliment over a general one.  I can apply it to what I value as important.  

This is similar with my accomplishments.  When my accomplishments relate to personal goals and values, they are easier for me to recognize.  I loved badges as a Girl Scout and I still do because they are an opportunity to recognize some type of accomplishment.  To be able to have the visual to relive the achievement is wonderful for me.  In libraries, the idea of publishing an article is similar to getting a badge.  The published article is technically two achievements.  First, a recognition of the work you did and, second, the recognition that you contributed to the literature of our profession.  Even contributing to a blog can serve as recognition.

Here is what is really unique about libraries, compliments and achievement.  In the end it is all about the people we serve.  When a student compliments me, it means more to me than anything.  A professor I love to work with runs 2 sessions with me in her class.  One is a traditional session where I talk about research and they forget it all.  The other is a lab session where they come and work on their project and I just address their issues.  She has them do some self-assessment at the end of the semester and she always comes to me and tells me how many of them wrote that their work with me was some of the most helpful of the program.  These are not feedback forms, but free writing reflection.  She does not prompt them other than by asking them to write what helped them most.  That students would take that away from a class means more than publishing an article.  

In the end it is the simplest achievements that mean the most to us.  Why?  Librarians help you in a very personal level.  When we answer a reference question and impress a user, the thank you and compliment is specific to that interaction and that support.  Our value in libraries is to support our users.  The programs, projects, and field wide accolades all are in support of that core value.  We organize books so they can be found by users. We create archives to preserve information for our users.  We advocate for bigger budgets so we can support our users.  We build communities and run programs to support our users.  When the user is happy, we know we are awesome.

What I wonder is how we can use this to help people in other fields.

P.S. The Atlantic has a great article: Kay, K & Shipman, C. The Confidence Gap. (2014). Atlantic313(6), 14-16, It is about women’s confidence compared to men.  The article authors have a book out as well:—What/dp/006223062X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405541620&sr=8-1&keywords=confidence+code

The Basics of Impostor Syndrome by Sara

10 Jul

I would love to tell you there is a wealth of scholarly literature and reference sources to explain to people what exactly impostor syndrome is.  While Wikipedia has the beginnings of a quality article on the topic, more traditional reference sources don’t have anything.  When I ran a search for the topic in PsychInfo (probably the most important collection of scholarly psychology articles), only 10 results came back.  In a collection of business related articles (Business Source Premier), I only got 18 results back and most of those were news or magazine sources.  My point is, this is still somewhat new and talked about more in blogs and news sources than in scholarly literature.  This should not negate the importance of the topic, especially for women.

What is impostor syndrome?  Have you ever questioned your ability to do your job?  Have you ever been asked to lead a project, run a meeting, or speak to a group and wondered why they would ask you?  Have you done your job, done it well, but still wondered when everyone else will realize that you have no idea what you are doing?  Do you have a difficult time accepting that praise is authentic and meant for you?  These are all aspects of impostor syndrome.  

The concept goes back to 1978 in an article by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes.  It focused on high achieving women.  Their research found that it is experienced primarily by women.  This is not a difficult concept to understand and not a difficult one to treat, but it is critical that we do talk about it, do understand it, and do try to help people (especially women) .  

I first heard about impostor syndrome while I was at AdaCamp this summer.  What surprised me was the uniqueness of libraries compared to other fields.  Libraries are a field dominated by women.  We have been encouraged to celebrate our successes by publishing.  How many of our journals are filled with articles talking about successful programs over qualitative or quantitative studies?  I don’t think other fields publish like libraries do.

While getting my MLS I had a male professor actually complain that we do too much “pat yourself on the back” publishing.  Even I find myself frustrated with the number of articles talking about success.  For me the frustration is focused more on the lack of discussion about all the failure around the success or even the failure in the success.  Articles that talk about one great moment a librarian has embedded with a class clearly can not be scaled to happen with all the classes that could use such a relationship.

One of the suggestions at AdaCamp, as a way to help collectively fight impostor syndrome, was that we talk more about our failures.  This allows us the chance to see that the people around us didn’t just jump right into success.  It allows us to see the chance to understand that failure is critical to the path of success and adds nuance to our authority on a topic.  Personally, I think sharing failure allows us the chance to learn from it and to teach others from it.  

This idea, of sharing failure, is why I thought to discuss impostor syndrome on this blog.  For the rest of the month I am going to focus on ways we can fight impostor syndrome and, if people share them with me, stories of how librarians experience impostor syndrome.  You can share them anonymously or with a pseudonym.  Share your failures, share how you have been dealing with impostor syndrome (librarian and non-librarian alike).  Email me, leave it in the comments, tweet me (@librarygurl), or write about it in your blog (and send me the link).  The key is to start talking about it.

Want other things to read? Here are some citations:

  1. Bell, L. (1990). The gifted woman as impostor. Advanced Development255-64.
  2. Kets de Vries, M. F. (1990). The impostor syndrome: Developmental and societal issues. Human Relations43(7), 667-686. doi:10.1177/001872679004300704
  3. Kolligian, J., & Sternberg, R. J. (1991). Perceived fraudulence in young adults: Is there an ‘impostor syndrome’?. Journal Of Personality Assessment56(2), 308-326. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa5602_1  (this one looks at college students)

And We’re Back- Well, Sara is!

30 Jun


It’s Sara- after almost a year away.

I know, it almost seemed like I failed at this blog.  No worries!  I am back!  Leslie is still in the UK becoming super smart about history and asylums.  I have been very busy with the normal hubbub of the academic years.  Everything that was not a priority last summer suddenly became the most important thing in the world in September.  I also want to acknowledgment that we were running out of things to talk about.  We felt a bit like we were going in circles.

It may have taken a while, but I think we are ready for the next phase in this blog.  Watch for some new themes:

  • Impostor Syndrome and libraries
  • Admitting failure simply as failure
  • Failure: talking about it on resumes and cover letters
  • Wallowing in failure
  • Burnout after failure
  • Failure as a conference session
  • When to admit defeat
  • And much,much more!

Want to contribute?  The July theme is going to be Impostor Syndrome.  All the entries are going to be about said theme. Anyone is free to share their stories about dealing with Impostor Syndrome, overcoming Impostor Syndrome, ranting about Impostor Syndrome, or even just wallowing in Impostor Syndrome.

My goal is 1 post per week unless there are submissions about failures or the monthly theme.

Project Planning: First Open Session Review

10 Oct

I can be honest about things and I know when I didn’t technically fail at something, but still kind-of did fail.  Case in point: the first open research lab session.

When we last left this project, I had been promoting, setting dates, getting excited and trying to avoid patting myself on the back for things that hadn’t happened.  The next thing I knew I was in bed for a week with the flu (or flu-like sickness).  It hit on a week when students were working on their first big assignments and when I had a few classes I had expected to meet with.  One class was specifically a research lab.

As I checked my email I was able to re-think how I promoted the planned open research lab.  One professor told her students to come to the open session if they wanted an extension on their assignment (8 of 20 showed) and graduate level students who needed appointments selected to meet at the open session rather than a later appointment.  In the end I had 10 people show up, which was a good number.

I know why they showed up though.  Had I not gotten the flu, I may have been alone that evening.  As much as I had promoted to specific classes, I need a way to remind people of the upcoming session.  Flyers around the library will work, but other libraries seem to find email to still be the best way to communicate with students.  I think this is the key to make sure this success isn’t a fluke.  If I can communicate better with the identified classes, then I can maintain a good turn out to sessions.

Want to read an a great article about this?  Here is one I found!

Torrence, M., Powers, A., & Owczarek, L. (2012). Research Rescue: The USF Tampa Library Enhances Library Instruction. Florida Libraries55(2), 31-37.

Project Planning Step 2: Just Do What You Want

26 Sep

There are many difficult steps in planning something including step 2: moving beyond setting goals.  It is easy to decide what we want to do and why we want to do it.  It is more difficult beginning to get it done.  This is even more true when academic librarians move from the quiet, project driven summer and move into the hectic, chaos driven fall.  I often have the best of intentions in the summer because I have no idea how things will play out in the fall.  I always feel that proper planning in the summer allows me to relax in the fall.  In the summer I have no real idea what will happen in the fall.  Every fall is different.  This is my 4th fall at this specific library.  This year I actually feel a little less chaotic about what is going on, which is weird and probably won’t last much longer.

I did a much better job of doing what I really should have been doing in step 2: promoting this and getting stakeholders.  I am just beginning to feel the panic that will result in just doing whatever I want.  My project, for those who just started, is running open sessions for the College of Health Science students.  Before I moved into actually talking to people, I had to decide who to speak to.  My stakeholders are:

  • College of Health Science faculty: these are the people who invite me into the classroom (when they can), encourage the students to work with me, and who want to collaborate with me.  These are the people who can’t always embed me in their classes in any way, but know how important research skills are for their students.  Focusing on this group brings me to the School of Nursing faculty who have been my biggest supporters over the past 3 and a half years.  I should include the Exercise Physiology and Community Health faculty who have recently discovered what I can do for them and want it all.
  • Undergraduate CHS students: these are typically the ones learning new skills when it comes to critical thinking and have to learn to navigate the library webpage and resources on top of that.  I rarely get to see these students as these students have so much content to learn, that time with me is almost impossible for the professor to give up.  The School of Nursing designed a freshman semester class where I see them 1 time.  The other two departments that utilize my services are still trying to find the right place for me in the program so I know I am missing many of their undergraduate students.  Few of these students are critical thinkers, but most understand the concept of research when you explain the aspects they need to keep in mind.
  • Graduate CHS students: these are my best customers, especially those in the School of Nursing graduate programs.  They usually just need help using the tools rather than understanding the big information literacy issues.  Most of these students have been working as professional nurses and don’t write the way we do in academia nor have they been doing research.  They are critical thinkers, but they need help with the rest of it.
  • Library & Campus Administration: my supervisors are stakeholders because we need to show our role in the modern university.  A successful program can be tweeked and used with other departments.  It can also be used in our annual report.  The College of Health Sciences can even use it to promote a unique aspect to their program.

I opted to focus on efforts on the CHS faculty and the School of Nursing graduate students as outreach efforts.   I identified the classes I wanted to promote to and got syllabi for them.  The goal was to select the date when students in these classes were working on assignments.  The selected classes would also see me early in the semester so I could promote this as follow up to sessions.  I openly acknowledge and don’t try to cram everything into my sessions. I can easily talk to them about these types of sessions and what we will accomplish in them.  I also decided to designate the third of the sessions (happening in early November) to RefWorks since so many of them have problems using RefWorks, but do universally use it on campus.

With the dates and classes selected, I have begun promoting the sessions.  Bless LibGuides and their calendar tool.  I just slap it on the LibGuides for each class and for the programs.  I even put it on guides for other classes.  Even though my plan includes three specific classes and dates were selected based on those classes, I want to see who else will come to the open labs.    The faculty’s immediate feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, but nothing counts until the students actually come to the labs.  The faculty are stakeholders, but the students are the primary ones.  They need to show up for this project to be successful.

This leads me to Step 3: running the labs and measuring my success.

Fails of Our Field: Education

19 Sep

Before I start this, I want to thank the Tumblarians who responded to my request for feedback on my questions.  Not only did you spread the word, but you responded in amazing ways.  Thank you all so very much.

It has been a while since an entry.  Leslie has departed for the UK for a year at Oxford Brookes University to get a second masters degree in the History of Medicine.  I have jumped feet first into the fall semester trying to build upon what I have already done and improve the service I provide as a librarian.  More on that later.  A few weeks ago the Tumblarians passed around this image:

It's a meme!

It’s a meme!

It got me a bit fired up because it came a few weeks after a big Time article about the problem with the Millennial generation.  I feel terrible for new librarians and I get frustrated seeing more and more come to the field without any idea of what they are walking into.  Not only are they not seeing the problems with jobs in the field in general, but their education may not be preparing them properly.

This December will mark the 10 year anniversary of my graduation from my MLS program.  I have been a professional librarian in the field for 9 years and have been in the field for about 15 years with my student positions (some a various levels of professional status).   I had no idea what I was doing.  I was told I had to learn how to catalog even though I knew I was going to be a reference/instruction/out reach librarian.  I was told to take classes in the subject area of my preference so I would know what sources to direct people to.  I was told to take an instruction class to learn how to teach (even though I had spent years supporting countless librarians in the classroom and was teaching a few myself).  I was told to decide if I wanted to take a research class OR a management class.  I was told to take tech classes like learning how to code webpages and how to manipulate search engines.  So I did all of that and got into the field and had no real idea about what to do.  Not that my colleagues had any other idea.  They were still a bit stuck on the fact that this type of education was no longer useful for their own jobs.

I got very lucky with one thing though.  My management professor was an adjunct with a 9-5 job as a library director.  He was also a leader in the field when it came to management of academic libraries.  I took a class on academic libraries with him.  If it had not been for him, I would have been obsessed with the wrong things when I started my job.  I did walk away from my degree with the ability to develop a project plan, the ability to build support for my ideas, and a sense of what issues were facing academic libraries.  There were under-tones of his two classes: this degree will not prepare you for anything you deal with daily.  Part of me has hoped that education has improved, but most of the value of my degree has really been in connections and it being a golden ticket into professional jobs that I had actually been trained for in the field.  I get more value from professional development classes than I did from my MLS classes.

The problem, as I see it, is the divide between what they are teaching us as theory and what is happening practically.  They are two different things because the web is changing our field.  It’s no longer about the reference book that will help answer a question as much as how do we empower our users to find things.  A lot of classes focused on minutiae details about how to catalog, how to search dialog, which source will answer this type of question.  Many Tumblarians said their classes are focusing on really big picture issues like advocacy, censorship, and soft skills.  A lot said they lacked a good management course.  Another said a class about PR and outreach would have been great.

I agree!  What have I learned on the job that I wish I had learned in school: information literacy (not BI), setting outcomes and assessment, creative thinking, pretty much all of what I learned at the ACRL Immersion program, leadership skills as well as more management, PR and outreach, grant writing (over other types of writing), and more that I can’t think of anymore.   I wish my course work could have been better connected to the type of library I knew I wanted to work in.  So many issues I learned about were for public libraries that have little to nothing to do with my job.

Management should have been required instead of a full cataloging course.  Yes, I should have learned cataloging, but I only ever need the basics.  A light course would have been much better to teach me why it’s important and how I will use it instead of how to measure a book so I can put it in the correct field on a MARC record.  Research should have been required too since I was focusing on academic libraries.  I don’t think it would have been too hard to design courses of study for people who do identify a specific type of library and position they want to have.  Many have no idea, but most do know.

I will also put one other idea out there that many others have said to me (those who know our field, but aren’t part of it), yet no librarian has ever suggested it.  Most practical fields require frequent re-certification of skills.  I have teacher friends who spend their summers in continuing ed courses to keep their certification current.  We are teachers, we are in a rapidly changing field.  Why aren’t librarians expected to be certified and re-certified?  I am not sure it’s the answer to our educational issues, but it is something worth considering.

See my original call for help on Tumbler and the responses people are adding.  People are still adding comments and I am excited to see if anything changes.

Switching Things Around

13 Aug

I know we missed an entry last week.

I had one, but I dumped it after a re-read.  Why?  It was angry and negative.  That’s not what either Leslie and I want for this blog.  I go through phases of anger and frustration with librarianship, as a field.  I love what I do, but many of us know that being a modern librarian is not easy at the moment.  My entry was a good vent, but not appropriate to share with the public.

I want to make sure you all know that things are about to change here on Librarian Fails.  First, the school year is about to start and that means it will all be crazy-go-nuts.  I know public librarians are wrapping up the insanity of summer.  Academics will spend from now until May in a similar state of constant panic.  That means this blog is going to do just one entry a week.

Also, only I- Sara- will be posting entries.  Why?  Leslie is off to the UK for a year!  The story is for Leslie to share, but the gist of it is that she is going to be focused on a different subject entirely.  Since Leslie is going to make herself super-smart, I will be burning the midnight oil to make sure you get a post a week.  I am open to ideas, guest posts, and more.  We are still accepting entries about how QR codes have failed.

So, this week I am getting organized with what I want to cover here.  Feel free to submit your fails or comment on what we have already posted here.  Also, leave Leslie a message about her year in the UK!


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