Monday 22 June 2015

Librarians and Imposter Syndrome: afterthoughts.

So, I've had a couple of days to consider my quickly-jotted thoughts regarding librarians and Imposter Syndrome. I stated that we shouldn't pretend that we're better or worse than we actually are, and that delusion achieves nothing. However, Katie made an important point in her reply - it's not really about pretending, but believing.

Of course, when I lived in Japan, I met a number of people who would pretend that they couldn't speak English - but it turned out that they could, but were just afraid of looking bad for not being fluent. They just didn't believe in the skills that they had. Having more conviction in our skills - owning them - and believing in ourselves is certainly one way of overcoming Imposter Syndrome.

Similarly, there are still librarians out there who will "get the tech guy" to come and do an online task that they themselves should very well be able to do. Whether this is "pretending" that they don't know, lacking in confidence in what they actually do have the skills and knowledge, or they're actually incompetent depends on the situation. But the worst thing that they can do is say, "Sorry, I'm just the librarian - I'll go call the guy who knows stuff about computers." After all, they're they ones with a Masters in Information Management.

At the same time, there are the ones that will proclaim their expert via their Masters in Information Management, but never deliver an expert service. Are they the actual imposters? To some of us, it would seem that they are. And it's working in an industry that sometimes breeds this attitude that makes the rest of us doubt the value of our own skills.

One factor is that it's a diverse industry, and not every job is going to work to our strengths as an information specialist. We need to be mindful of what we're good at - whether you've got the meticulous mind for classifying and cataloguing, or the people skills for working out exactly how their information-seeking behaviour operates, or the creative expression skills for engaging an audience, or the super-brainiac skills for processing and organising huge amounts of data into accessible knowledge, and so the list goes on. If you take on the wrong job, then you're going to feel like an imposter. Unfortunately, we have an industry where we tell graduates to take on any work that they can, because you have to get whatever experience you can get. I disagree with this. You need to be mindful of your strengths, and capitalise on them.

This leads to another contributing factor: the idea of being "industry-ready" when we graduate. Frankly, almost every job that I've had has been a severe learning curve, because we live in a diverse industry with diverse clientele, and no two jobs are the same. It's in these situations that we most need to believe in our skills and knowledge - especially when we have to think and redefine our own roles. Again, in almost every professional role I've had, I haven't had the convenience of a mentor to guide me in my role. I've had to use my brain, take initiatives, seek out partnerships, and often make mistakes.

And the reality is that any so-called "information imposter" (as they henceforth shall be known) can follow a procedural manual. But not knowing how to do your job - and then using your information and knowledge management skills to define your role and tailoring it to the context of your clients and improve the way your organisation uses information and knowledge - that there is called being a professional. And you're not going to be able to do it unless you believe you can.

Just don't expect to be able to do it straight away either; also accept your limitations.

And, to rephrase my initial statement - let's not delude ourselves in believing that we're better or worse than we actually are. Be mindful of our skills. Work to our strengths. Accept our weaknesses - and if they us feel like an imposter, then do something about it. Develop those skills that you lack, or seek out opportunities that work to your strengths.

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