Impostor Librarians: C-EBLIP Journal Club, November 15, 2016

by Jaclyn McLean
Collection Services, University Library
University of Saskatchewan

Article: Clark, M., Vardeman, K., & Barba, S. (2014). Perceived Inadequacy: A Study of the Imposter Phenomenon among College and Research Librarians. College & Research Libraries, 75(3), 255-271. doi:

My turn to lead journal club gave me another chance to discuss something that’s been a bit of a pet project for me the past several months: Impostor Syndrome. The first thing we discussed is that, though we colloquially call it Impostor Syndrome, the authors use the term Imposter Phenomenon. Two different spellings of Impostor/er, and a Syndrome or a Phenomenon? The first difference is easy to sort out. They’re both right, but “or” is the recommended spelling in most English reference sources. The conundrum of Syndrome or Phenomenon is a bit trickier, but it seems that Syndrome is more commonly used in popular media, and Phenomenon in the academic literature. Dr. Pauline Clance, who first identified it, calls it Impostor Phenomenon (IP). And so do the authors of our article, so now that the grammar inquiry is complete, what did the group think about this IP article?

Overall, we were pleased to see the inclusion of the instrument as an appendix, and the amount of data that was provided. Most of us were looking for more of the qualitative data, thinking it would provide a helpful counterpoint to the bounty of numeric and tabular data. Another point of agreement was that this article has a LOT in it, but still managed to be an interesting read that had good flow.

We dug right into the article, and had a few major themes to our discussion:

  • What about anxiety disorders or other psychological diagnoses? How do they factor in with librarians who score high on the Harvey scale? (we discussed how you could control for this in future studies, since it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect librarians to be psychologists)
  • Librarians like studying themselves, and we sometimes seem like a unique group. We were hungry for more on that aspect: e.g., how do the Meyers Briggs tendencies among librarians line up with the five dimensions of personality the authors discuss?
  • We wondered about how long some of the higher-scoring librarians had been in their current jobs? Not how long they’ve been librarians, but whether they had taken on new responsibilities, and how long ago, and whether that had an impact.
  • We were a bit confused about the distinction of “technical”, as we feel that every librarian position now requires a degree of tech ability. Or were the authors looking for a distinction between public services and technical services librarians? We felt a bit of definition around the term “technical” would have helped our understanding.
  • We also hoped for more in the recommendations than the ones provided about a supportive supervisor. What about building a supportive workplace, having a peer network, mentorship program, or other forum for discussing IP?

The most interesting part of the discussion for me was that people zeroed in on data points that corresponded with their personal experience, me included. I fixated on this one phrase: “Tenure-track librarians with less than 3 years of longevity experience IP feelings at a higher rate than their non–tenure-track and staff counterparts” (Clark, Vardeman & Barba, 2014). That phrase gives me hope as I close in on the end of year three in academic libraries.

I appreciated the opportunity to have an open discussion with a group of my colleagues about something a bit sensitive, a bit outside our norm. And that I have the chance to dig into a topic related to neither my practice nor my research, but that will support both of them. In case you’re looking for any further reading, like a slightly less scholarly take on IP or a more qualitative discussion of IP, check these sources out.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.