Imposter Syndrome. It’s Not for Me.


Imposter Syndrome

We’ve all heard of it – a belief that one isn’t qualified to be in a position of leadership or in a job because they don’t have the right credentials, experience, or intellect. That definition completely described me when I became a member of Oakland Unified School District’s Library Leadership Team (LLT). 

In the Spring of 2016 I was trying to decide what direction to take my professional life after 20+ years in college textbook publishing and a long stint as a stay-at-home mom to my then two teenage daughters. I saw a job posting seeking an individual to reopen OUSD’s Bret Harte Middle School Library after a closure of about 6 years. Since much of my “free” time at home had included hundreds of hours of volunteer work at my daughters’ elementary and middle schools, including a partial reopening of the Montera Middle School Library, I thought “Hmmm…I could do that.” So I applied for the job.  

After a scary interview that included 9 staff members peppering me with questions, I actually got the job! At the same time, Montera Middle School offered to turn my volunteer library work into a paid position. In the span of two weeks, I moved from a part-time library volunteer to a full-time paid professional working in two libraries with no “official” work experience or specific library educational degree.

Even though a room full of professional educators considered me qualified for the role, the feelings of imposter syndrome crept in: I’m qualified, right?

Fast forward to early 2020, I have earned a Library Technology Certificate from Diablo Valley College and I have 4 years of professional work experience managing two different middle school libraries. I’m working full-time at Montera, have successfully reinvigorated the library, and promoted a reading culture throughout the school.

COVID hits and we all head home. 

Around the same time, OUSD eliminated the key position of District Library Manager leaving more than 30 library employees with no representation at the district level. We hold  staff meetings on Zoom to discuss how to manage our new situation.  A suggestion is made to form a Library Leadership Team (LLT) to communicate with the district on behalf of all library staff and lead future staff meetings. I’m nominated by a few of my colleagues and I became part of this elected team.

Again I wonder, I’m qualified, right?

Not having previously led professional development for the district-wide library staff community, the LLT set off on two years of consistent and focused work with Lead by Learning to hone our skills as leaders and developers of monthly professional development opportunities for OUSD library staff. 

In our first few meetings with Lead by Learning, I think I probably held back a bit. I didn’t come into this position with an educational background. Over the years, I have noticed that educators often speak in a specific language that is affectionately called “eduspeak.” Would I be able to speak this language? Would I be able to understand it?

With Lead by Learning, we took an inquiry stance to our leadership and set specific goals for our staff meetings. We used the Cycle of Inquiry model, with plenty of Public Learning, think alone, and reflective activities. Our work involved regular meetings with Lead by Learning where we were patiently and expertly guided to stay consistent and remain focused on our staff meeting goals to:

  1. Develop library staff identity and agency as OUSD librarians
  2. Develop library staff skills at collection development to build a successful library space. 

Notice that I have repeatedly used the words focused and consistent. During my journey towards leadership, these words guided me whenever I felt confused or doubted myself. At each meeting, we were reminded of our goals and priorities. If we stumbled or moved off-topic, a quick redirect towards our common goals reminded me of our purpose. We were in this position to lead our colleagues and provide expertise and guidance. I learned that just like students need focus and consistency to thrive as learners, so do adults as adult learners. 

Fast forward, and I’m rushing to get to the library staff meeting. I’ve had a busy day and haven’t even looked at the agenda for the meeting since we created it the previous week. I get to the meeting late, pull up the agenda, and see that I’ve been assigned to introduce a section, but I can’t remember what I’m supposed to talk about. I really have no clue what I’m going to do or say. I quickly locate my LLT colleague Sam Solomon and ask for help. She simply says “That’s the Think Alone part.” 

Guess what? Focused and consistent work with a professional and experienced team had prepared me for this moment. I knew what to do. I knew what to say. The “Think Alone” was something we had learned from Lead by Learning. It is a dedicated time for colleagues to reflect on their own practice before collaborating and sharing as Public Learners. 

As I guided my colleagues in their think alone that day about collection development I realized it turns out that I am qualified. I am qualified as a library professional and as a Leader. 

Not only did I grow as a leader this year, but so did my colleagues. After each staff PD, we asked participants to fill out a feedback form. Initial data from meetings early in the year showed that 77% of our participants did NOT feel confident with their collection development skills. The same question asked at the end of the year, after multiple staff meetings focused on collection development, revealed that 100% of the participants DID feel confident with these skills. Further, 83% of the participants mentioned that Public Learners (an essential part of the inquiry model) played a large role in helping them gain confidence and skills.

Working on a supportive and collaborative team with the guidance of the Lead by Learning team and the incredible participation of the larger OUSD library team, I am now comfortable considering myself a leader. I have learned that experience and expertise comes in many forms:

  • My volunteer experience is valid work experience, even if I was not paid for it.
  • My life experiences with my children and their peers is valid experience for working with youth in a professional setting.
  • My prior corporate work experience is valid work experience for any professional setting.
  • My Library Technology Certificate represents a valid education specific to my “new” career.

And the focus and consistency of the work we did as the Library Leadership Team prepared me to accept my role as a professional who is qualified to offer leadership and expertise.

Imposter Syndrome. It’s not for me anymore. Like my colleagues on the LLT and the OUSD library staff, I have the experience, expertise, and education to accept myself and my accomplishments. There will always be room for growth and improvement, but I will do so knowing that I’m qualified. 


Maggie Rogers has been a Library Technician at Montera Middle School in the Oakland Unified School District since 2016 and spent time growing as a leader on the Library Leadership Team from 2020 through 2023. She has been focusing on joyful reading this school year with Montera’s students and staff. When she’s not in the library, you can find her working on her Master of Library Information Science, cycling through the Oakland hills, trying hard to become a successful backyard gardener, or traveling with her husband and two daughters.