Privilege, Intention and Impostor Syndrome

I know, this is where the Coolest Thing post goes. Here’s the deal. . .I have a dance recital this week, and have been in practices A LOT and have not read ANYTHING on the internet this week. So, if you posted something or read something that you feel sure belongs in a Coolest Thing post, please email/comment/tweet/FB me and let me know, and it will go in next week’s.

Last week I mentioned that I don’t like the word intention when it comes to storytime, but I loved Sara’s use of deliberate. A couple of people said they’d like to hear about why I feel that way. You needn’t ask me twice to share my opinion!

Part of why I dislike the word “intention” goes back to The Secret. The idea that you manifest the intention you set for yourself seems to me to be one so steeped in privilege it’s unsupportable by those of us who serve the underserved. My patron base is made up primarily of people who have been the victims of systemic, institutionalized racism for hundreds of years, and whose lives are still being affected by it daily. I’m talking 3rd world poverty conditions, no electricity or running water in homes, very young kids without their teeth because of lack of nutrition and access to dental care. Those parents, who bring those kids in to my library? They didn’t manifest abject poverty for themselves and their beloved children. That’s not the intention they set. And, no amount of intentioning out of it will change the nutritional, educational, economic or institutional roadblocks they face daily. So, already, I’m not into the intention thing. I think it carries a lot of “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” weight that makes me very uncomfortable both personally and in terms of our professional ethics.

I’m also not into the idea of living with intention, for the same reason that I think it’s all privilege, all the time.  This is maybe not fair. Merriam-Webster says intention is:  the thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose.  Leaving aside the cultural baggage (as if) that comes along with how the word is actually used currently, which conjures ghosts of white women in Whole Foods after their yoga class talking about Living With Intention (I know. I’m a white woman. I do yoga. If I lived within 100 miles of a while Foods I would totally shop there. I’m able to own that I’m part of that privileged class while hopefully also acknowledging that that’s what it is). So, just the non-baggage-ridden definition, then. In terms of, let’s say, librarianing (I’m making everything a verb today! Verbs all around!) with intention, let’s look at that. It’s smart to have a career plan. It’s smart to have a bigger idea of where you’re going with storytime, whether it’s changing demographics, upping attendance, getting better parent feedback, etc. But this all takes quite a bit of time, and space, and support. Some of us have amazing management/staff/boards/communities that support us continuing to innovate constantly, putting a lot of work time into planning storytimes from the brain development research down to the flannel making. Some of us have down time at home to do those things, or find doing them really spiritually/emotionally/professionally fulfilling so we make those our down time. Some of us are working part time trying to cover three unfilled positions, or working at Starbucks after hours because our fulltime library gig doesn’t make ends meet, or going to library school full time while working full time, or are trying to set up a nursery for a second baby while also parenting a toddler, or building a life partnership with a new love, or are chronically ill and only have the spoons we give at work and no more to devote to storytime, or are so burnt out from our 40 hours that doing anything at home would negatively affect our interaction with kids when we get back to work so instead we knit/bingewatch Supernatural/write fanfic/obsess about the Red Wings’ chances this year/play fantasy football/dance with swords on our heads. Some of us are so busy with state association or committee stuff that we’re like, yo, no flannels at home. Some are wearing so many hats at work that storytime gets exactly 20 minutes of planning and THAT IS ALL. Each and every one of these is a valid thing to be.

This brings me to Impostor Syndrome (you thought I forgotten about it, didn’t you?) which seems to be coming up a lot in my corner of the internet. All kinds of amazing youth services librarians feeling like they’re not doing “enough.” Enough innovating, enough NEW, enough shiny. Our own Master Splinter, Mel, feeling guilty that she’s not doing enough internet stuff because she’s doing too much local stuff (like starting A NEW BOOK AWARD). This is caused by a bunch of factors, I think.

1) Val talked about us all feeling like we need to be A Name, which is partly just a professional zeitgeist but also for real, leaving aside all of the crap about jealousy and being famous in Bulgaria, friends, being a known name has a real-world impact. The world is full of amazing youth services librarians. the SU Facebook group alone has 468 members as of this writing. That’s a fraction of the Storytime Guerrillas out there in libraries across the country. If every time you apply for a job, 10 or even 5 librarians of the caliber of our Ninjas applies as well, you need to have something to set you apart. Having a Name in this profession is a way to ensure that you might get a job in a town you like, with a boss you like, doing work you love and making enough to buy bread. That’s pretty huge.

2) There are strong and valid reasons to work hard to get known. There is also, amongst children’s librarians, the impulse to show HOW AWESOME WE ARE because NO ONE SEEMS TO BE PAYING ATTENTION (hell, we have a whole blog for that),

3) and of course there is the — “This is my vocation, I am in a lot of debt for the degree, I am super passionate about it and I am going to be SO AMAZING OMG LOOK AT WHAT THEY’RE DOING AT HENNEPIN I NEED TO DO THAT DAMN YOU PINTEREST” — impulse. We all respect the hell out of each other, and we want to be as good as everyone else. We should be reading books on early childhood development and learning a new song a week and expanding into shadow puppets/cut+tell/draw+tell/iPad apps/whatever we don’t already do.

And look, obviously I’m into all of the above. We have an SU book club (sort of)! We think shadow puppets are the coolest! New skills are always better than stagnating! But. . .I think there’s a correlation between this idea that we need to Librarian (verb) with Intention and impostor syndrome. We all feel like we should be intentioning harder. Here’s where Deliberate comes in.

Whether you have tons of time or very little for storytime planning, you’re a professional, and you’re trained, and you choose every element of storytime deliberately. Does this song have repetition, and rhyme, and new vocabulary, and teach counting and body awareness and exercise fine motor skills? It is also fun? GREAT. Is this book too long/the joke too sophisticated/the illustrations too small for a crowd? You know. You know what you’re doing. You choose every element with professional deliberation, because you’re great at your job. No seriously. You’re reading a storytime blog, probably at home in your spare time. You want to be a better educator. You’re great at your job. If you want to/love to/feel better about/have time for setting an intention for storytime, I love it. I want you to. Thank God for you. The profession and your patrons thank you. But if you don’t? You’re not an impostor!!! You have less time for planning or you choose to do different things with your off work time or your administration isn’t as supportive or you have an infant and are living on caffeine and prayers or whatever. You are still beloved by 3 year olds. You are still teaching a parent how to help their child learn to read. You are still a force for social justice and glitter and great books in your community. Be deliberate. Know how and why you do what you do. If possible, have an aim, and a goal, and a larger purpose towards which you are working in your personal career or as part of your library’s goals. But, if where you’re at on your personal Maslow’s hierarchy, for any reason, is “do my personal best to put on fun storytime that teaches stuff” then the people who pay the taxes that pay your salary are still going to be really damned grateful to you for rocking your shit.

And I am grateful to you for rocking your shit.


Like you, Dolly Parton rocks her shit hard (in a bedazzled sweater, no less) and contributes in a world-changing way to early childhood literacy efforts. Basically, you’re just like Dolly.


Posted on October 9, 2013, in Rants, Storytime Badassery. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Thanks! I needed that!

  2. First of all, I LOVE anything that debunks The Secret, as debunking The Secret is one of my #1 hobbies.

    Second of all, PREACH.

  3. Yes, yes, and yes! Thanks!

  4. That was a great way to start my morning! Thanks!

  5. I believe! I love the parents that come in and you know they just don’t have much, but they are “generals” in the uphill fight to get their kids educated! They ask questions, they read to their kids, they insist on proper language and grammer and you just know they want soooo much more for their families! When you can see how important it is to them, it becomes important to you and you make that extra effort to help because they truly appreciate it. I love storytime!!!!!

    • Even more important to me are the parents who have never had anyone, in school or out, tell them anything about correct grammar, who know that even if they don’t know proper language the library is a safe place where they’ll never be judged no matter their own literacy level, and who have heard it’s important to read to their kids, so they’re here doing it.

  6. Laura (@lissla_lissar)

    OMG HENNEPIN…made me laugh at my desk because I do this to myself all the time! Thanks for saying it’s okay to work your 40 hours and not take your job home with you.

  7. Yes. I suffer from imposter syndrome ALL THE TIME and am trying not feel like I have to do ALL THE THINGS everyone else is doing because they are so cool and I’m not a cool, cutting-edge librarian if I’m not doing them. And it starts with not feeling guilty because I have not blogged as regularly as I want. And not feeling bad because my library is not innovating as much as others – we are DOING THE BEST WE CAN.

  8. Cory, you hit the nail on the head in a 1000 profound ways. Must reading for every children’s librarian forever.

  9. Thank you for writing this. I agree 100%. It really is a constant struggle against Imposter syndrome every day. Yes, we want to be reading and learning from what other libraries and other libraries are doing, but the purpose is not to be making you feel guilty for what you are not doing or are not able to do. We all do the best we can with the resources we can, and you know what, our patrons are going to benefit from it no matter what!!

  10. Cory, thank you so much for this post. It made me tear up b/c I often find myself feeling like this. That I’m not good enough, or doing enough, or rocking it out enough. Thank you for the encouragement and insight that I’m just what my library patrons need me to be.

  11. So. Freaking. Brilliant. You are a wise woman of much wisdom.

  12. Jeanine Lancaster

    What they all said–thanks for your wisdom and encouragement. I am so clearly neither cool nor cutting-edge that I don’t have any ambition to become so, but I do want to keep learning and trying new things and figuring out how to do my job better. I also want to go home to feed my family and make sure my 15-year-old actually does his homework and maybe have a little time in the garden before falling into bed. So some days I fall further short of my professional aspirations than others.

    But today I found just the right books for someone who had despaired of finding them, and yesterday we sang ‘Everybody knows I love my toes’* in storytime, including a verse about loving our hips and our thighs. The mothers and I agreed that learning body parts is good for kids, and learning self-love is good for everyone…so we sang a little louder about those hips and thighs.

    Making those connections is the heart of my job, just as the relationships between adults and children and stories are at the heart of literacy learning. So some of the body parts may be a little flabby…the heart is strong and true.

    Here’s a verse for all of you:

    Everybody knows we love story time,
    Everybody knows we love story time.
    We love stories and songs, rhythm and rhyme,
    And everybody knows we love story time!

    *Thanks to Katie B:

    • This gave me all the warm fuzzies. Just The Right Book is still my most cherished superpower, and I am tearing up just thinking about your connections with the moms, and that kind of body positivity. I think that IS cutting edge, and it’s sure as hell some great activism. Thank you for being amazing for those kids and parents!!!

      • Jeanine Lancaster

        Thank you, Cory! I like realizing that superpowers come in small doses, too, not just in Hennepin size. 🙂

  13. Youth Services Librarians: fighting for social justice and glitter and good books in your community. Amen!

  14. I really needed to read that today. Thank youuu!

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