Impostor Syndrome

Man in the Iron Mask
“L’Homme au Masque de Fer” By Anonymous; cropped by Beyond My Ken, 30 April 2010 (UTC) – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.07185.

In the 1970s, clinical psychologists Drs. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes coined the term “impostor syndrome” to describe high-achieving individuals (mainly women) who don’t internalize their accomplishments and thus fear being exposed as a “fraud.”

In the library Twitterverse, I saw plenty of unbelievably accomplished librarians complain of impostor syndrome.  While I don’t doubt their statements – I fully believe these colleagues when they speak of their emotions – I couldn’t relate.  For the most part, I have been comfortable in my positions; nothing ever seemed out of scope.

Then, I landed my first professional gig.

While I don’t match impostor syndrome perfectly, I can now fully relate to my peer’s uncertainties.  My new gig is not entry level and it carries with it a lot of responsibility – to the library, to the university, to the profession, to academia.  (Thank you, tenure-track job.)  If I think too long on it, I get dry-mouthed and somewhat breathless.  Yes, I can do all of that stuff; I’m fully capable.  But it’s so much responsibility.  And it’s amazing to me that my new employer has that much confidence in me – and that I had the amount of confidence that it took to apply, interview, and accept that position.

So, to my peers facing impostor syndrome: I can now relate.  But let’s agree to be amazed at what we can accomplish and have accomplished.  That feels a bit better than thinking we’re frauds (which we are very much not).


Processing East Asian Materials

Acquiring and processing materials in languages with which we’re not familiar is not uncommon, particularly in academic libraries.  It could be Spanish, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Danish…but luckily those use Latin characters.  But what happens when you have to work with Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, etc. characters – and you don’t speak/read those languages?  Stuff gets a lot harder.

map of east asia
By – Ajia tōbu yochizu, CC BY 2.0.

In my acquisitions position, I have had to handle all sorts of items, including Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese.  (And I know I would be pretty much indispensable if I could do much of anything with Hangul. Alas.)  I’m not particularly versed in any of those languages.  But an acquisitions librarian has to do what an acquisitions librarian has got to do.

Because the library I work in is massive, we have the luxury of having native-speakers of most languages.  Still, things can go awry and the poor graduate assistant (me) gets a heap of foreign language materials to process.  Sometimes, the library has only one native-speaker and one person cannot handle the volume of stuff we order, receive, catalog, and further make accessible to our patrons – so someone else has to jump in and help.  Other times, a colleague is out for whatever reason.

That happened with Chinese books.  The Chinese language had to be out of the office for an extended period of time, leaving a bunch of non-Chinese speakers to figure out what to do with a large shipment of books from Taiwan.  And, yeah, I was the one who got to receive these books and move them to cataloging.

This incident is why I’m writing this blog post.  I want to give some advice about how to process East Asian materials…in case you get stuck with figuring out what to do with books and journals you cannot read.

So, here’s my advice:

  • When you go to order these books, make sure somewhere (whether it’s an Excel file or in your MaRC records) that you have the original characters linked to the Romanization linked to another identifier (like an ISBN, ISSN, or vendor-assigned number).  We had Excel sheets with Chinese characters, pinyin, ISBNs, and corresponding purchase order numbers.  This helps immensely when trying to match the item to the order record.
  • “Steal” from OCLC. If this East Asian book already has an OCLC record, use it.  No need to struggle through cataloging something that you can’t read if it’s already at least somewhat discoverable.
  • WordReference and Google Translate are your friends.  This is where the Romanization comes in handy.  Type the Romanization (for example, the pinyin) into one of these services.  The services will bring up the characters.  I used this to figure out the difference between the Simplified and Traditional ways of writing “Taiwan.”
  • Go check out Helena Byrne (Trinity College in Dublin)’s post on LibFocus on cataloging Korean books.  She has some excellent ideas, both for Korean and for foreign languages in general. A few non-language-specific highlights include:
    • Use an online keyboard. Byrne recommends Branah.
    • Watch foreign-language films to get used to people and place names, the look and sound of the language.
    • The Library of Congress has rules for Romanization. You can follow them, if need be.

What does a librarian do?

Kalamazoo Public Library
By Kalamazoo Public Library [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.
When I was entering graduate school for my Masters of Library and Information Science, I had a few ignorant questions about what librarians do. Basically, most people ask: “You need a Masters degree to help people find books?” While I do think society does create false connections between higher education and the ability to perform work, these questions aren’t interrogating a system which saddles individuals with huge amounts of debt, stress, baggage, etc. for a supposed career (that continues to become less and less achievable).  These questions are either out of sheer ignorance or out of an attempt to devalue librarians’ work.

So, this post is mostly for the ignorant and a bit to push back on those malicious attempts to devalue my and my colleagues’ work.  I want to tell the ignorant what we do, and prove to the malicious that librarians put in a lot of high-level work.

So, what does a librarian do?  Tough question.

There are so many different types of librarians.  There are school (i.e. elementary and secondary education) librarians, public librarians, and academic (i.e. university) librarians.  Then, there are law librarians (who work in a law firm), corporate librarians (who might be in an archives or a competitive/business intelligence center), medical librarians (who work in a hospital or medical school).

Then, in each of those broad categories are other categories.  There are public services librarians – and they could be an instruction librarian, a research librarian, a reference librarian, a scholarly communication librarian, a copyright librarian, etc. Or there are technical services librarians. They could be catalogers, acquisitions librarians, electronic resources librarians, serials librarians, systems librarians, etc.  Then, there are library administrators, who deal with management and financials and all other sorts of tasks.

I won’t go into describing all these jobs.  In fact, I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of many of these library positions.

As my regular readers know, I am a tech services person in an academic library.  More narrowly, I’m an acquisitions librarian.  My job is so varied and sometimes specialized that  I can’t fully describe it, but I hope I can give a little bit of insight.

First, you can look at my post on “A Day in the Life of an Acquisitions Graduate Assistant” to get a peek at what I might do on a given day.

So, what does an acquisitions librarian do?  Well, anything having to do with buying library materials (books, magazines, journals, ebooks, ejournals, subscriptions to databases, audiovisual materials, etc).  That could be, very simply, ordering those items and paying for them and making sure the funds are allocated appropriately.  Then, there is plenty of research and analysis concerning the best ways to purchase materials.  For example, we analyze whether streaming videos is an economically viable alternative to purchasing DVDs.  We’re also on plenty of committees.  As the graduate assistant, at 20 hours per week, I’m already on two committees/task forces with the possibility of a third.

That’s what an acquisitions librarian does – very narrowly and briefly.

In terms of what reference and instruction librarians do, I’m also a bit lost.  Yes, I get what reference and instruction are…but what else does a reference and instruction librarian do?  (Most of these librarians aren’t on the desk or instructing 100% of the time; it’s too draining.)

Iris Jastram helped me out with her post “What does a reference & instruction librarian do all day?”  It’s a great, short post that I recommend you read.  But in summary, she breaks her work as a reference and instruction librarian down into four categories: subject liason work, supporting the library as an organization, supporting the university as an organization, and professional development activities.

I barely scratched the surface of what librarians do, but hopefully these two examples give a slight glimpse into the profession.  And yes, it can warrant a Masters.

So Many Exellent Writers

Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t become a librarian because I love books.  But even if that’s not the reason I became a librarian, I still love books.  And being a librarian sometimes means doing reader’s advisory.  Yes, I know I’m a tech services librarian so I don’t get really get to do reader’s advisory for my job.  So, like with my “A Few of My Favorite Things” posts, I’m going to use this blog to do some reader’s advisory.

So, are you wondering about some authors to try?  Want to get out of your usual genre?  I’m sure someone on this list will appeal.

If you’re into science fiction and fantasy, like I am, then I’ve got some good news for you: I know of lot of authors for you to try.  There’s the obvious ones like Ursula Le Guin and J.K. Rowling.  If you haven’t read at least one book by either of these authors, get on it.  N.K. Jemisin‘s The Fifth Season has been a recent smash hit.  I personally love Nnedi Okorafor and her post-apocalyptic Who Fears Death (I even included the book in “A Few of My Favorite Things”).  Then, there are the “newbies” of sci fi and fantasy.  Fonda Lee and Sabaa Tahir premiered Zeroboxer and An Ember in the Ashes in 2015; I’m still reeling from those two books.  Read these authors and be amazed.  There’s also the short storyist Shveta Thakrar; I particularly recommend “The Rainbow Flame.”

For my political and/or activist reader, I have a few suggestions. Hillary Clinton is a 2016 presidential candidate and a (rather) prolific author, with five published monographs.  It might be worth your while to read the works of one of the most powerful people in the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche is probably most famous for being sampled in a Beyoncé song.  But she’s a lot cooler still: she is a famous feminist an theories with five books ready for you to read. Malala Yousafzai is a women’s education advocate, famous for standing up to the Taliban.  Her book I Am Malala is a must-read.  (I really should be getting onto that…) Another must-read is Sheryl Sandberg‘s Lean In.  I doubt there is any book so talked about and referenced in the past 5 years, except maybe Fifty Shades of Grey or the ever-popular Bible.

Do I have any romance readers in my audience?  I don’t always read romance (like I *always* read fantasy), but when I do – I read it hard.  Pun intended.  My favorite romance author is Jeannie Lin.  I can’t get enough of her romance, but she’s also writing a new steampunk series which might entertain some of my sci fi and fantasy readers too.

Whew, that’s twelve excellent authors for you to look out for and try.  Stay tuned at this blog, and I might post more excellent writers.

Featured image by: Karin Porley von Bergen, CC BY-SA 2.0.