Underneath My Confident Librarian Mask
Every time I begin an article for Knowledge Quest or another publication, I ask myself, “What qualifies me to write about this topic?” I have concerns about writing for a predominately public school librarian audience when I work at an independent school. More doubts creep in about being in an incredibly rural area when many of the readers are from large metropolitan areas. These ruminations leave me wondering what I can offer school librarians who are far more accomplished than myself. And often, I think that there is nothing innovative or cutting edge that I can bring to the table so far removed from the advantages of the larger cities and schools.
When all of these thoughts come to my mind, I must regroup and realize that I may be experiencing something called imposter syndrome. A 2014 study titled “Perceived Inadequacy: A Study of the Imposter Phenomenon among College and Research Librarians” addresses the phenomenon in the daily work of an academic librarian. “The tasks of a modern librarian within an organization are fluid and often an amalgamation of vastly different roles such as educator, social worker, IT professional, and printer troubleshooter. Striving to be seen as an authoritative figure can lead to internal conflict when the librarian does not feel he or she is knowledgeable or experienced with the subject at hand” (Clark, Vardeman, and Barba 2014).
If a university librarian can have these doubts, think about how many different tasks a school librarian must tackle. The best advice for school librarians is not what some articles might suggest; that is “fake it till you make it.” We should instead have confidence in our library training and credentials. Besides industry-specific skills, librarians also have transferable skills. One skill is the ability to find information. Knowing where to find everything–rather than knowing everything–does not make us imposters. Think of each new task in the daily work and in career growth as opportunities, not roadblocks.
Range to “Dance across the Disciplines”
If this confidence is something we need to learn as librarians, it is also something we need to teach to our students. We must model trying new things and applying skills to different disciplines. How many times have we shown research in language arts only to find that students do not transfer any of this knowledge to science or history? Of course, there are discipline-specific techniques, but many skills transfer. Sports psychology author David Epstein reports something we often see in the library in his book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. “Almost none of the students in any major showed a consistent understanding of how to apply methods of evaluating truth they had learned in their own discipline to other areas.” He further writes, “everyone needs habits of mind that allow them to dance across disciplines” (Epstein 2019).
From Imposter to Genuine Article
We might know how to teach our students to be confident despite the task, but how do we motivate ourselves? Here are some articles about combatting imposter syndrome.
- The Five Types of Impostor Syndrome and How to Beat Them.
- Imposter Syndrome — Why It’s Harder Today Than Ever.
What are your tips for overcoming professional doubts? Please share in the comments. Or better yet write a blog post or make a presentation to colleagues. You can do it!
Clark, Melanie, Kimberly Vardeman, and Shelley Barba. 2014. “Perceived Inadequacy: A Study of the Imposter Phenomenon among College and Research Librarians.” College & Research Libraries 75 (3): 255-271.
Epstein, David J. 2019. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. New York: Riverhead Books.
Author: Hannah Byrd Little
Hello, I am the Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle. I use my past experience in college and university libraries to help my current students in school libraries transition into college, career, and life. I am currently the lead Senior Class Adviser for the Capstone Project. I also served at the state level with the Tennessee Association of School Librarians executive board from 2009-2013 and was the TASL president in 2012. I am certified as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, have a BS in Communications with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations, a BS in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Education and Information Systems and a Masters in Library and Information Science.
Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Professional Development
Great article! Budget cuts are looming in my district, and I am faced once again in my career with not being validated for the skills I bring to the table. Each one of us as a school librarian (library media specialist) has so much to offer! We must keep believing in ourselves and the value and skills we bring to the table.
I believe true confidence is in one’s ability to say, “I’m not exactly sure how to do this, but I’m confident I can do it or I will figure it out.” We need to believe in effort as the best course of action.
Confidence is the key to success. I truly believe confidence comes with time only after attaining a good knowledge about the related subject. Hannah, you have rightly differentiated between the true confident librarian and an imposter.