Low Self-Esteem and the Academic Librarian. Maybe it is just me. It is probably just me.

Until I actually started writing my FYAL entry for January my plan was to write about academic interviews – how they are horrible (they kind of are!) but also what I like about them. However, I am really focusing on something else right now, still related to getting and keeping a faculty position: the curriculum vitae (vita or CV for short). It’s on my mind because I’m busy putting mine together. Honestly, it isn’t all that different from a traditional resume. Pretty much what you’d expect in academia – it is heavily focused on scholarly achievements rather than just work experience.

The most difficult part about writing mine is that it is giving me a bit of low self-esteem.

 

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In order to get a good feel for what is included in a vita I went snooping around on my colleague’s faculty webpages (note to self: I need to get my faculty profile on the website asap). And then I went back to the faculty directory of the University of Kentucky School of Library and Information Science to get a sense for what the CV of teaching faculty should look like. And I am humbled. My little vita is so…concise. So…well, lacking much beyond education and work experience. And if I’m honest, I actually feel pretty good about how my resume stacks up against other professional librarian’s resumes. I started working in libraries before attending grad school, did multiple internships while in grad school and then have been incredibly fortunate finding jobs that allow me to do what I love – which is to say, jobs working as a librarian. So my resume is pretty good, no employment gaps to explain or toxic workplaces to gloss over, plenty of experience to highlight since all of it applies to jobs in the library world which are the only jobs I’m interested in.

Turning my two-page and totally sufficient resume into a three-page and rather insufficient CV is giving me low self-esteem, though. Last September, just a couple of months after starting out at UNT, one of my colleagues scheduled a webinar on “Imposter Syndrome” that I attended. The full title was actually “Managing the Imposter Syndrome in Academia: How to Overcome Self-Doubt.” At the time, I was skeptical. ‘Why’, I thought to myself, ‘would there be enough self-doubt in academia to warrant a webinar?’ Academics are educated, respected, published…so why wouldn’t they be confident? ‘I am certainly feeling confident,’ I continued thinking to myself; ‘I’ve got this academia thing in that bag,’ I might have muttered.

Well, clearly that was before I knew how much I didn’t know. I have been gradually getting a better view of what is expected of academic librarians since then – the publishing, the outreach, the service, the presenting, the research, etc. Yes, it is challenging – but I am thrilled to be so challenged! I can do this! I still felt confident, not just of my ability to manage the workload and fulfill my job duties but to do so by working hard but not so hard that I forget how to enjoy my weekends.

Until now, until writing my first CV and comparing it to the CVs of other academic librarians made me suddenly realize that I am barely even out of the gate in this race. SO, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m overwhelmingly intimidated I have to admit that I’ve wondered more than once in the past few days how I even got here in the first place. I mean…I’ve never been published in even one peer-reviewed journal…I attend conferences but never bothered to present at them…my vita is only two and half pages long for gods sake most of the CVs I’ve looked at are at least – at least ten pages long.

‘Oh, wow,’ I’ve thought to myself, ‘what if somebody notices that they hired a non-academic?’

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And suddenly it hit me – this is what people mean when they talk about Imposter Syndrome. This is a totally new feeling for me and I have to think it is a “syndrome” that is fairly common in academia, partly because I’ve never experienced this sense of being less-qualified-than-most before. But also because I never heard about the Imposter Syndrome in the public library, library vendor and school library communities that I worked in previously. So now my question is, how do I make this realization work for me instead of against me? I think just being aware of the phenomena is helpful – to know that this imposter syndrome thing is not uncommon, it is not “just me” and it isn’t even really about low self –esteem. Imposter syndrome can hold people back for years.

In my case it would probably tend to “hold me back” by making me work ten times as hard as I actually need to in order to succeed.

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Working too hard or working just to fulfill the perceived expectations of others results in missed opportunities, not to mention how it diminishes the enjoyment that you should be getting out of your work. So, success is, for me at least, about setting reasonable goals that meet or exceed expectations but are definitely attainable. No, I’m not going to publish 5 papers, present at 10 conferences and write a book chapter this year. But I can work toward doing what I need to do to attain those goals. I can write some reviews and present at 2 or 3 conferences. I can learn as much as possible about the research/publication process and look for opportunities.

Recognizing that I am a beginner is helpful. In some ways moving into an academic position is like starting over as a librarian, as one of my colleagues pointed recently. You might have 10 years or more of professional library experience but – here you are, on square one in the tenure process. And that’s okay; being a beginner has advantages. It is exciting and you have many paths open to you because you haven’t chosen a track yet. I have been reminding myself that I am fully capable of doing the things I need to do to achieve tenure (someday, some faraway day from now…), it’s just that I haven’t done them yet. I even looked at the dates on a few highly accomplished CVs to get a feel for a timeline and I noticed that many people started working in an academic library one or even more years before they starting adding significant scholarly achievements to their work history. Nobody comes into this with a 30 page CV, everybody starts exactly where I am – at the beginning.

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