Meeting Date: September 26, 2019
Presenter: Brianna Howell-Spooner
Citation: Barr-Walker J, Bass MB, Werner DA, et al. Measuring impostor phenomenon among health sciences librarians. J Med Libr Assoc. 2019;107(3):323-32.
Article Abstract: Objective: Impostor phenomenon, also known as impostor syndrome, is the inability to internalize accomplishments while experiencing the fear of being exposed as a fraud. Previous work has examined impostor phenomenon among academic college and research librarians, but health sciences librarians, who are often asked to be experts in medical subject areas with minimal training or education in these areas, have not yet been studied. The aim of this study was to measure impostor phenomenon among health sciences librarians.
Methods: A survey of 2,125 eligible Medical Library Association (MLA) members was taken from October to December 2017. The online survey featuring the Harvey Impostor Phenomenon scale, a validated measure of impostor phenomenon, was administered, and one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to examine relationships between impostor phenomenon scores and demographic variables.
Results: A total of 703 participants completed the survey (33% response rate), and 14.5% of participants scored >=42 on the Harvey scale, indicating possible impostor feelings. Gender, race, and library setting showed no associations, but having an educational background in the health sciences was associated with lower impostor scores. Age and years of experience were inversely correlated with impostor phenomenon, with younger and newer librarians demonstrating higher scores.
Conclusions: One out of seven health sciences librarians in this study experienced impostor phenomenon, similar to previous findings for academic librarians. Librarians, managers, and MLA can work to recognize and address this issue by raising awareness, using early prevention methods, and supporting librarians who are younger and/or new to the profession.
1. As a health librarian, how did this article make you feel?
– feel a little bit better that other librarians feel the same way
– interesting topic, first time heard of it, able to relate to a lot of the feelings from the beginning of career
– Not sure, a lot of the issue that came up in the scale appear in any job, it a reality but it’s also part of the process; for me I had similar feelings in other library jobs, in those jobs I felt like the information I was giving wasn’t something I made happen, but people didn’t notice
– The anxiety is normal, only really a problem if maybe it existed after the first
– Could be a problem in workplaces that feed those anxieties-
2. Were you surprised by the results?
– a little bit surprised that the results were so comparable to the study on academic librarians
– depending on the setting a lot of librarian’s have advanced degrees in the area they are working
– is this the same for academic health librarians, not everyone, seen it happen at academic libraries where the subjects weren’t the ones they studied but they are liaising with departments they don’t have a background in.
3. Even though this was an American based study, do you think it applies to Canadian health librarians?
– Not much difference
4. Do you think there might be other factors affecting imposter syndrome in health science or hospital librarians than the ones hypothesized by the authors (hypothesized factors: less educational background and work experience in the health sciences and yet expected to be subject experts).
– I hypothesize that health librarians who were interested in science in their earlier education or have always had a personal interest in science, but did not pursue a university degree in the topic might have an ambivalent score on imposter syndrome scale.
– Would they feel that they didn’t belong because they don’t have the paper to back them up, were they discouraged earlier in their education by others who didn’t think they could hack the hard sciences, or did they find a different interest in their undergrad but never lost interest in the topic on a personal level?
– Mental health issue, some of the participants could be more prone to self-esteem or feeling that they are not up to the work
– Type of workplace; if the workplace isn’t supportive, that might contribute, if it’s open to collaboration that might help alleviate feelings of needing to go it alone
– The type of work that we do is very challenging to parse the searches; (other agreement)
– Some of the terms are difficult to parse
– More collaboration makes it feels less burdensome, in workplaces that are competitive, that vulnerability might be turned back on you
– New concepts and new ways to work can be destabilizing, feedback and support helps
– If someone doesn’t deal well with stress and anxiety, can compound it
– Mentorship: difference between academic and special?
– Special: asking is expected
– Academic: how many colleagues are working with the same material/subject?
5. Did anybody download the supplementary materials and score themselves on the survey instrument? Did you feel that it reflected what you perceived?
– difficult to score yourself without throwing it off
– some of questions depend on where you are in your career, changes the answers
– always learning, so some of the questions didn’t reflect some life philosophies
– in the moment feelings will affect the outcome
6. In relation to the supplementary materials, the authors were trying to match the study to a previous one so the questions they could ask were limited. Assuming that limitation was removed, are there questions you would have liked to ask if you were researching this topic?
– experience that participants had before their position in the health sciences library, were they in a similar environment, what tools do they have, did they ever have to learn new things on the go?
– “how many years in health science” versus “how many years in library work do you have”?
– more qualitative questions; did they NEED the job because of economic constraints or did they seek it out? What is their history with health care or even science?
– different types of academic libraries, what were the types?
7. Are there any weaknesses that you would want to address in follow-up studies?
– Interesting to see a more global scale
– Compare American versus Canadian context
– Could they have gotten around the MLA selection bias; convenient but limiting
– Social media
– Reach out individually
– more representation, demographically,
– they did list their limitations
– Enjoyed the article, new topic, more possibilities for studies, good starting point
– Fairly good job getting started
– Coping strategies? That might’ve been something they could’ve added, we’ve all gone through this, what could employees/employers do to make this an easier thing?
– Try to remind myself that I might not be a content expert but I am an expert in searching for the things,
– Clinical staff don’t realize that we don’t have the background, if we point that out they do help us with figuring out terminology and thought process
– There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ search strategy, you learn how to put it together day by day
– Don’t be afraid of new things; acknowledge that you’re starting at square one and take it one step at a time.
– Remind yourself that people want you to succeed
– It’s a growth process
– Has anyone had to help someone with imposter syndrome? What would you do to help?
– Had an employee who wanted to quit because he didn’t think he was learning things fast enough
– Explained the reasons why he was hired, I believe that you have the skills, not expecting you to become a super librarian overnight, it’s okay to ask when you don’t know, you won’t get in trouble, what is it that you’re struggling with, what are your needs?