Combatting Imposter Syndrome with Comradery and Critical Pedagogy

One of my friends from my graduate program is currently an instruction librarian at another institution. At the beginning of the academic school year, he asked if I would like to join him in reading partnership centered on instruction and pedagogy through a critical lens. So far this year, we have read bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. While reading these books we have met weekly or biweekly to discuss the contents of each chapter. I am as sick of Zoom as the next person, but these meetings were often the highlight of my week.

During these sessions we have shared our experiences, opinions, and instruction strategies as they relate to the work of hooks and Freire. It is hard to select just one topic from hours of lively conversation, but one common theme has been resonating with me as I reflect on last semester and look ahead to the new one – the complicated student-teacher relationship.

Both authors problematize the traditional hierarchical classroom setting where the teacher is always the leader of the classroom and students are often stripped of their agency upon entry. Rather, hooks and Freire explore the ways in which it is necessary for teachers to empower student agency, and to enter into a teaching and learning relationship with the students.

Creating a classroom where students have agency, and their experiences and voices are truly valued is demanding work that becomes more complicated when applied to the library one-shot instructional model. Part of this complication comes with the course instructor/librarian relationship. If the course instructor teaches with a traditional lecture model, and does not see the value of centering student voices and experiences in the classroom, librarians may not feel empowered to create this environment, or may even run the risk of not being asked to return.

As a new librarian at a new university, building relationships with teaching faculty has been one of my primary goals. Through my various communications with faculty in my liaison areas, I have not encountered any strong push back to my instruction style. However, and this may be completely in my head, I often feel that there is an expectation that I will come into the Zoom room as the Expert and fill the students with my Librarian Knowledge. This unspoken, and perhaps fully imagined, expectation feeds into something I have written about before – imposter syndrome.

This is made worse by the fact that I am what some of my colleagues like to refer to as a “generalist” – I do not have a master’s degree in any of the fields with which I liaise. This is where student experiences, voices, and expertise come to play. My reading comrade and I have been discussing strategies that implement hooks’ engaged pedagogy and Freire’s dialogics – essentially centering student voices and experiences in the library one shot.  

In reality, I am not a generalist. I specialize in library pedagogy and information literacy. When I give over half of the classroom time to the students to share their thoughts, experiences, and even expertise on information literacy topics, I am seeking to empower student knowledge, and allowing for them to teach and learn from each other. Of course, I bolster their ideas with additional perspectives where and when it is helpful. By creating a learning environment that centers students, I am able to bring together my subject expertise and their knowledge base.

Learning to navigate classrooms norms and pedagogical power structures is something instruction librarians are always participating in. In conversation with my reading comrade, I have developed several new strategies for this. It is my hope that as I push and break down the boundaries of the hierarchical classroom, my new colleagues will see the value of this practice.

Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect : An Update from Nisha Mody

Since 2008, ACRLog’s “First Year Academic Librarian (FYAL) Experience” series has annually featured 1-2 academic librarians in their first year on the job in an academic library. This new series, “Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect,” features posts from past FYAL bloggers as they look back on their trajectories since their first year. This month, we welcome a post from Nisha Mody, Associate Director of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region at UCLA.


The question “Where am I now?” seems heavier that it might have felt a month ago, and way heavier had this been a year ago in the “before times.”

I have stayed true to my interest and commitment to social justice in libraries and in the world, which has made the past year, and this month, especially challenging in terms of doing the work and in terms of emotional regulation. Since I was an FYAL, I went to many conferences, presented, worked on great projects, and have had a chance to lead teams, but, in the end, so much of of my “progress” comes back to meeting myself where I’m at and allowing myself to (1) not know everything (2) take a break from being a “professional” when the world is overwhelming me and (3) ask for help.

With that being said, a few notable things have changed for me since I started at UCLA Library in 2017. I had the opportunity to become Team Lead of the Teaching and Learning Functional Team, and as of June 2020, I became the Associate Director of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region at UCLA. I feel like this all happened so quickly. However, I know that my pre-library experience in multiple settings equipped me with the tools to be in this position.

Being in administration has helped me examine how it feels to be someone who is in middle management, someone who has transitioned from being a librarian to a manager, and how to best embody my values as a leader and a person. While it has been exciting to be a leader, I miss engaging with students during teaching and research consultations. But I’m still glad to have the opportunity to teach a little bit in other venues.

In my post “I Liked, I Wished, I Wondered: A One-Year Review” from March 2018, a year after I started at UCLA, I closed with:

What Now?

I have always disliked the idea of having a 5-year or 10-year plan. I believe in intention, serendipitous moments, and blending that with your personal drive and abilities. I did not come to librarianship through a straight path, and, while I don’t want to change my career again, I am open to different possibilities that can harness and enhance my skill set. Writing this out has definitely forced me to reflect upon the past year, see how far I have come and what the future might hold. One year down and many more to go!


I still dislike a 5-year or 10-year plan, but I have come to a place where I can create goals based upon my values instead of quantitative outcomes. I recently wrote about creating values-oriented goals. While I still don’t care for 5- or 10-year plans, I do care about embodying my values in different areas of my life including my professional trajectory.

As I mentioned in the article, my core values are community, compassion, vulnerability, equity, curiosity, humility, creativity, and unlearning. In the context of my work, here are some ways I’d like to lead with these values.

  • Examine my biases toward my team, my institution, and the people I serve.
  • Imagine more community-based partnerships to serve marginalized communities.
  • Share my mistakes and hopes with people in all levels of my organization, especially when it comes to anti-racist work.
  • Unlearn traditional ways of leading when working with others as a leader or as a contributor.

I think these goals are useful regardless of my position. On the practical side, I had to truly take charge when it came to project management as I transitioned into leadership. I had no idea that I would be in my current position when I wrote about leadership and project management. And even though I had experience in the corporate world, it took a significant mental shift for me to implement project management concepts. But I’m glad that I was able to set up these structures because I noticed it created a lot of ease with my team, and for myself! Before I entered this role, I also had the opportunity to take DeEtta Jones’ Inclusive Manager Toolkit which was also very supportive for my values and my work.

This is definitely a journey, and I’m glad to have had so many opportunities to grow within one institution. With that being said, I started my career at the beginning of a problematic U.S. Presidency which shifted to COVID-19 and then to the events at the beginning of 2021. And I think this is important to name because the world still keeps going while we are working. And the beliefs that are projected on a global scale also exist on a local scale.

These are opportunities to take a look inward on an institutional level, on a work relationship level, and on a personal level. Some questions I have pondered are:

  • How does my positionality in terms of identity and hierarchy denote my privilege(s)?
  • When should I speak up? When should I stand down?
  • What does equity mean when everyone has different ways of working, needs, and professional goals?
  • How am I unintentionally speaking for others?
  • What am I being transparent about? What am I not being transparent about? What am I afraid of when I’m being transparent or not transparent?
  • Am I meeting the expectations others have of me? Do I need to meet those expectations? How do I acknowledge and/or reset expectations?

These questions come up a lot, and I think they are important to write about and discuss at different points in time during your career. The answers to these questions can help with setting your own expectations, communicating with people in your organization, and examining how your metaphorical and literal positions have changed over time.

If 2020 taught us anything, it is that time is relative and super weird. But it has also taught me to take a step back to reflect, reset, and rest. I hope that we can all find space to slow down, question urgency, and restore ourselves in the face of challenging times.

Seeking Creativity in the Pandemic

I have always struggled with forced creativity. Working in an office, working at a desk, working at a computer have always been stifling. Good thing I chose to be a librarian, right? Of course, I have developed several strategies to help cope with this and inspire creativity and positivity in my work: multitasking, going for short walks, breathing exercises, and perhaps most importantly, listening to music. In high school I discovered that I did my best, most focused school work when I blasted music.

Music sooths my anxiety, allows me to focus, and inspires creativity when I need it most. This has led me down some fascinating music rabbit holes and to develop quite the record collection. As the pandemic began and I transitioned to working from home, I quickly realized a silver lining: I’d be able to listen to my records while working. In fact, I am currently spinning David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Working from home has opened the door to other new paths to inspiring creativity. A couple of weeks ago I attended an LIS Pedagogy Chat moderated by Lisa Hinchliffe. I have been extremely grateful for each LIS Pedagogy Chat that I’ve been able to make this semester, but there were a couple of discussion points from this one that really hit home. The session titled “What’s Going Well?” encouraged all sixty or so participants to share what had been working for them this semester. I didn’t have the energy to weigh in during this session, but listening to the successes of the other participants was a nourishing experience. For me, the question that brought out the most inspiring and relatable answers was, “What environments bring out your best work?”

The answers to this question included a variety of environments and actions that ranged from taking a nap after an instruction session to baking cookies while brainstorming. The librarians sharing their experiences not only portrayed these practices as legitimate but in some cases as necessary. This broader understanding of work environments and practices has been helpful to understanding the ways in which I work best.

Throughout the work day I often get urges to get up and cook, water my plants, take a shower, walk my dog, or generally get out in nature. In the past this has felt like some kind of breach of professionalism. And, while I have felt apprehensive about giving myself over to these meanderings, I have found that my most productive and creative brainstorming frequently occurs in environments that do not include the cold light of my computer screen. Taking a moment to unpack this, I realized that the act of doing something creative but relatively mindless, like cooking, triggers my creativity in ways that a standard work environment does not. Alternatively, less creative, but physically active measures keep both my mind and body from stagnation.

I’ve felt guilty about my wandering path to creativity and productivity, but hearing from other librarians that this can be a legitimate strategy has allowed me to embrace that work can take different forms and my best work doesn’t always happen in the conventional work environment associated with academia.

Transitioning Supervision Models

Three years ago I would start my day by opening a restaurant – taking down the chairs, laying out the silverware, starting the coffee, turning on the food warmers, setting up the bar, and commiserating with coworkers. On long days, I would end my day 14 hours later closing up a different restaurant – putting up the chairs, rushing the silverware back to the dish pit, dumping out the old coffee, tearing down the server station, and sweeping the floors. In those moments, I was quietly working by myself or catching up with a coworker. In either case, I was free from supervision – the front of house manager was usually counting money somewhere or just relaxing in an office with a coffee or beer depending on the shift. I mostly enjoyed working in the food service industry, particularly in the moments when my coworkers and I were free to exist and work without being monitored and surveilled.

There are a myriad of difficulties that come with transitioning from food service industry work to library and information science work, but one of the most bizarre has been the transition away from a strict supervision model. As a food service industry worker I was often micro-managed in my work and there were specific workflows. There was little room for creativity or taking time for self-care. As I transitioned to a gig as a reference graduate assistant, I found that I had more freedom but still had guidance. Projects and tasks were defined for me, workflows were mostly established without my input, but I was not micromanaged or surveilled. I enjoyed the work that I did and I learned a ton, but I still longed to define my own projects and workflows.

As it turns out, that freedom is a bit of a double edged sword. In my current role as a librarian, I have generally defined goals from the strategic plan of our library and my job posting, but my path is totally up to me. This has been a little anxiety inducing. While I know that I could reach out to my colleagues at any time, the nagging thoughts loom: You’re doing it wrong! You don’t know what you’re doing! Shouldn’t you have someone check your work?! These thoughts are vestiges from work and education experiences past. The reality is, I know that in choosing my own projects and pursuing my own workflows, I am able to bring a unique and valuable approach to the tasks at hand. But how do I ward off those nagging thoughts?

A few strategies have been helpful in combatting the ever present self-doubt. One is regular communication with my colleagues and peers. It has been particularly encouraging to have honest conversations with folks that have more experience. One of my colleagues told me they regularly ask themselves what the heck they are doing. Which helps remind me that being cautious and critical is natural and can be positive!

I’ve also found it helpful to stay connected with librarians through social media and regional and national library organizations. I’ve been able to ask questions when I need to, but often times I find that just reading and hearing that other librarians are struggling with similar issues and even making similar decisions has been helpful.

I do miss the work I did as a food service industry worker, but I don’t miss the strict supervision model. Librarianship comes with its own responsibilities and challenges, but also rewards! Some have said that imposter syndrome never really goes away. While I hope that this is not true, I suspect that I wouldn’t be a critical and creative librarian without a good healthy dose of self-doubt.

Librarianship in the Time of COVID

As I write this, I’m entering my third month as an Outreach and Engagement Librarian. I’m excited to be starting this new position in a new field, but must admit that this is a strange time to be starting anything well…new. Yet, 2020 has been nothing but new adjustments in our household as we also welcomed a baby in the spring during the height of the pandemic.

It has now been eight months since the pandemic began and the campus remains quiet as students learn remotely. Faculty are teleworking, and with little reason to be there, most students are scattered as well. This means that I’m doing outreach and engagement from my bedroom rather than on campus. I quickly realized that I was presented with a challenge: I need to “put myself out there” on campus without being there.

I realized that to do my job I needed to be proactive and reach out to others rather than simply walking over to their offices. This has involved reaching out individually to campus members who typically work with the library, like the writing and student success centers. I’ve looked into a social media plan and am dusting off our old library newsletter. What has been far more challenging is finding ways to replicate online the student experience in the library. This is something that I continue to mull over in my mind. How can I create an online experience that is even a shadow of the one in person?

It is an honor to work with these students and I can’t believe that I get paid to talk about the library. Still- I can’t help reflect about the bizarre and terrifying situation unfolding in parallel with my work. I’m trying to ensure that we highlight the ways that students can receive basic care: counseling services, food assistance, help with utilities, alongside information literacy and citation help. My brain almost can’t process this dichotomy, but I suppose there is no time like the present to start trying.