An academic librarian friend of mine recently pointed out to me that I have “Imposter Syndrome.” A second academic librarian friend concurred and admitted to experiencing the same feelings from time to time. The context within which we were discussing this phenomenon was this: Recently, I was asked to present a research study at a paid speaking engagement. Yes. Someone was actually willing to pay me to present my research. I find this to be both astounding and disconcerting.
By way of background, as part of the requirements for the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant I received to get my library graduate degree (more about this in my next post), I was required to conduct a research study in an area of interest to Pennsylvania’s public libraries. My study, “Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave?: An Evaluation of Pennsylvania’s Public Library Web Sites for a Basic Level of Web Presence and Beyond,” will be published in Current Studies in Librarianship, a journal published by Clarion University, and I presented this study along with a group of fellow Laura Bush scholars in April at a professional development conference/graduate student research fair at Clarion University. I felt like an imposter then, too.
When I read other studies in scholarly journals (and I had to read many as a library science graduate student!) or even when I listen to session speakers at conferences, I immediately project a sense of authority and expertise upon the author of the study or the speaker. I accept that they are knowledgeable enough to say whatever it is they’re saying and have it published. And yet when I think about my study, I certainly don’t have the same sense of authority or expertise about myself! It’s true–I did the background research; I collected the data; I followed the protocol; I analyzed my results; I drew conclusions, and I put it all into writing. But it’s one thing to read a completed study in its polished and final format in a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal, and it’s another thing altogether to know that in order to get to your polished and final format you sat at your computer in your pajamas at midnight looking at over 300 public library Web sites checking off evaluation criteria in an Excel spreadsheet while eating some popcorn and spilling red wine all over your data collection instrument!
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it can be hard to accept that something you’ve done is worthy enough to receive any attention or accolades or be used as an example or model. And maybe that feeling of inadequacy has to do with not having found your voice. Finding your voice doesn’t necessarily mean that you are an expert in anything. But what it can mean is that if you have something to say that you believe is worth saying, then maybe what you have to say is worth listening to as well. It makes me wonder how many librarians (a somewhat naturally introverted group) suffer from Imposter Syndrome? How many librarians believe that what they say doesn’t matter, so why say it? We need people to say many things right now. Someone may be sitting on the next great idea to move libraries forward but does not have the ability or maybe even the opportunity to voice it.
In my somewhat limited experience, I have found that many library working environments are hierarchical with clear boundaries drawn between librarians and staff. Often, staff do not have the opportunity to be part of the larger discussions and are instead encouraged to remain focused on tasks rather than ideas. Over the past several months, our System office has been engaged in the strategic planning process with an outside consultant (one of the most dynamic women I have ever met. I suspect this experience deserves a post at some point). During this process, everyone has a place at the table, literally. We come together as a group without boundaries. Everyone has a voice if they choose to use it. Everyone is heard. It has been during this process that I’ve found my voice and probably why I chose now to start a blog. I have ideas. I have something to say–everybody does.
Find your voice and use it.