Friday, February 16, 2007

A Job Story

This week has been jobs week for the AL, and I've been surprised at the volume of comments. I think we've pretty much destroyed the myth of the librarian shortage, but I thought I'd pass this on. The following letter came to me second hand with permission to post it and with the injunction to have a martini instead of writing. Okay, you twisted my arm. Here's someone else's job story. The chanting and the mantras are an especially nice touch.

Here's the letter:

In my first class in Library School in January of 2004 a visiting director of a local college library ended her talk about academic librarianship by practically chanting "you will get jobs, you will get jobs."

I went to a career seminar sponsored by the grad school where another academic librarian had us repeat after her, over and over again, "the sky is without limit in my library career."

A professor assured me "men get hired."

Others talked about rich prospects thanks to a wave of librarian retirements just around the corner.

I graduated in August of 2005. In May of 2006 I abandoned my quest after over a hundred applications and 15 interviews. I just could not close the sale, despite 20+ years of IT experience and lots of library volunteer experience. For jobs offering pay ranging from lousy to pathetic, I was competing with 25 to 30 other applicants public and many more academic, most of them who had been working in the field for years. I was to learn later--from the ALA's own magazine--that you should have five years working experience in a library before you even start your MLS degree. And that doesn't guarantee you will find anything. I've also talked to lots of experienced librarians who struggled for years to find full time positions. The Chicago Public Library has been hiring entry-level (L1) librarians with five to ten years experience, when they hire at all, which isn't often.

Meanwhile I've seen since that this notion of lots of opportunities after the retirement binge starts is a myth. Those retired librarians are never going to be replaced, or else they will be replaced with other retired or unemployed librarians with years of experience. Not just Social Security, but pension funds all over the country are underfunded. Taxes will have to go up to pay for municipal retirees to go play golf in Florida. Will they go up again to hire their replacements? Don't count on it!

Where else in academia do professional programs play these silly games about the job market? Students of art, music, drama, dance know the score. Students going to law school know that we have twice as many lawyers as we really need in this country. Co-eds who want to become veterinarians know that it is much harder to get into vet school than into med school. Why do library schools and the talking heads at the ALA live in a world of fantasy?

Oh well. I'm happy in my new job, back in my old career field, and making nearly three times as much as I would have made working for a suburban public library, if they had offered me anything, though they didn't. It was great fun getting an MLIS degree, I learned a lot, the profs were terrific, and it didn't really cost me that much. But I wouldn't direct anyone else to consider librarianship as a career field without a lot of frank talk about the prospects both to enter the field and for advancement.

15 comments:

Miss Brodie said...

I'm really hoping things aren't quite as bad as this in the UK; if they are, nobody has told me about it (though I guess they wouldn't, would they?). Unfortunately my library school course isn't much fun and is costing me quite a lot (relative to what I earn, anyway), and going back to my old career (assuming I would ever want to, which is a big assumption) is not a realistic option, New Testament lectureships being even thinner on the ground than decent library jobs.

Maybe I'll start playing the lottery...

janitorx said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I'd like to share a tale of a recent LIS grad. We made an offer to an entry-level librarian and she is trying to negotiate for a salary that is the same as mine! Keep in mind, I have 9 years experience. Also, I supervise 2 people and manage a department. She will be a reference librarian supervised by another department manager. She is currently working in the local public library as an LTA, so she really has NO professional experience. It pisses me off to no end because I know there are earnest new grads who want a chance to work in an academic library and gain some experience. I have witnessed other examples of this type of behavior from some NextGens. The market is currently flooded with new librarians and such hubris isn't going to get you a job--even in the middle of nowhere.

I see nothing wrong with negotiating a little bit, but her demands were beyond the pale. She didn't even meet all the preferred qualifications.

Truth be told, this field is unrewarding monetarily and intellectually. Most of us are here by default. I wish LIS profs. were more honest about the realities of librarianship. Instead, they spend their time pumping up their students with unrealistic expectations.

IL Library Student said...

Is this the case for public libraries? It seems most of the comments over the past few days are in relation to academic libraries. There are obviously fewer of those than academic, and while I have nothing against a career in academia, it wouldn't be for me.

I'm looking to the public side, and am curious if the same holds true? After I graduate, besides my degree, I'll have five and a half years of part-time, paraprofessional work at a public library reference desk, three years of paraprofessional work in the Access Services department of a small, midwestern, liberal arts private university, a year and eight months of full-time work as a public library Public Information Officer, and a little over a year as a consultant to a public library in running its referendum campaign.

So, am I screwed because eight of the above years of experience are not so-called "professional?"

romck77 said...

There ARE job opportunities (more so for public libraries than academia), if you're willing to move...which is depressing for those of us with families (nuclear & extended) who aren't willing to move. And you need to avoid the large cities - there are too many people fighting for the few jobs that are availabe, the rural areas have better career opportunities and more affordable housing than cities. Everybody knows its tight, all the MLS grads I know are piecing together several part-time positions in order to make a living, and this is how its going to be anyway, since no one wants to pay for benefits. Being able to work p/t in a profession you have a passion for while raising children is a WONDERFUL thing. There is always hope that with better advocacy public libraries will get better funding - and yes, occasionally librarians do retire.

IL Library Student said...

Darn head cold. I meant fewer academic libraries than PUBLIC.

Anyway, I had an inkling that was the case rom. I was planning to move away from this city and look for a job in a more rural area. Of course, I'm single. The only ties I have are my immediate and extended family, as they are all in this area.

Zillah said...

1) Job Story - not sure where you are looking and how that might factor in. I would say, with your experience as listed and your ratio of applications to interviews, that you should have someone with whom you are not a friend or relative look at your resume and your cover letter .

2) "Most of us are here by default." If there were fewer default people in the field, those who really want to be here might have better job opportunities.

That being said, I do know some fine librarians who did not enter the field out of passion for it. But it is something that I look for when hiring.

3) IL grad student - it so much depends on the library as to if they will count any of your pre-MLS experience. They should probably count your higher-level work like the referendum. However, what will most likely be the case is that this experience will get you interviewed and perhaps hired, but not come into account when they decide your starting salary. It happened to me.

Privateer6 said...

As another recent grad and husband of a librarian, I too know how difficult it is looking for a job. When my wife got her MLS, she had 4+ years as a parapro, a grad assistantship, and an internship under her belt and we were able to move to a limited degree. The first place she applied for wouldn't touch b/c she didn't have "professional experience" even though the position she was applying for had been open for several months;it was literally a library in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately she found a branch librarian position in a rural area but it required us to move.

Since that time, we have moved twice to get closer to my in-laws. We are not able to move because of their health and trying to find a job has been a challenge. After several applications and two interviews, I now have a job that I start monday. BUT I had some connections getting the job. I really, REALLY lucked out. The librarian I am replacing wants to spend more time with her kids and suggested me to her boss.

Not trying to change the subject, but I hold ALA somewhat responsible for both the glut of librarians and the low salaries. They keep advertising the demand for librarians, when there isn't one as I can tell. Also instead of promoting increases in salaries like other organizations,i.e. the teachers' unions, and getting lobbiests and real data to support their cause, the come up with stupid resolutions on that do not deal with librarianship. They have done 1 thing so far to promote salaries, but it contains no hard facts to support increasing salaries; it is only an emotional appeal to raise them

Carlo said...

No demand for librarians? Have you read the online ads lately? I didn't have any trouble finding plenty of jobs to apply for and I got several interviews out of the bunch. I did have a bit of trouble finding a librarian job that was not the typical reference/instruction position, but I managed to land a different kind of job in the end. But if you want to find a good job, you have to be flexible about moving and about the type of library you want to work for. I applied at academic and public libraries, small schools, large universities, medium-size universities 80 miles from anywhere, technical schools, community colleges, etc. As a result, I got lots of interview experience and eventually ended up in a library doing what I wanted to do with a great bunch of coworkers. There are jobs. Lots of them. They just won't jump into your lap.

AL said...

I've never had a problem getting a job, but then again I've never moved somewhere hoping to find one. My first job wasn't a very good fit for me, but it was a pretty good job. However, even that one I had before I left library school and moved because I had the job. I'm so lazy that if I'd never gotten a job, it's possible that I'd still be hanging out in wherever it was I went to library school.

The Hag said...

Speaking as one of the Elderly Librarians you are all hoping will retire, first let me say that you don't want me gone any less than I want to be gone. Unfortunately, I have at least another 4 years of blocking the road in me, since I prefer to leave the cat food eating to the cat.

I work for a private corporation. I am very very well paid. I often wonder if this company will both retain the library after I leave AND hire another professional librarian to replace me. It would be just like them to take the easy route and throw a secretary in here. I do promise to do my best for those of you salivating at the gate.

AL said...

Hang in there, Hag, I don't want your job!

Privateer6 said...

While there is a demand for librarians, there are more librarians graduating than jobs. And if you add in factors such as unwilling, or in my case unable to move, plus being in a location with three (soon to be four) ALA accredited library schools, you have a glut of librarians.

Grant you the demand is greater than my original calling, US military history, but there is still not enough jobs for hte number of librarians in the area.

Anonymous said...

Queens Borough Public Library is always hiring, and I mean, literally, ALWAYS hiring. My entire graduating class ended up working there within 2 months of graduating.

While the library's a cr*phole, you get something to put on your resume, and they'll even pay for your move to NYC if you stay 1 year.

Queens has actually convinced the rest of the public library world that they're a remarkable system, so getting a job somewhere else once your year is up at Queens is no sweat.

Anonymous said...

Re: Queens always hiring....

Is it absolutely necessary to live in Queens? Not that I object to living in Queens per se, except that I am sure I can find something more affordable elsewhere. (NYC/Jersey City is about the only place I would consider relocating to as I too, dislike "Country Buffets").

Is there a better way to apply than simply sending one's resume to the Black Hole of the Human Resources Department? (I do not think I have ever gotten anywhere by dealing solely with HR....and they are the same EVERYWHERE).

Anonymous said...

It can be rather disheartening to read these posts. I have two years experience and two masters (one of which is my MLIS) and I only got one response for the dozens of open positions I applied for.

The worst part is the separation from the community I feel. I do not know if this is common with others. I have finished my program at school now I take part time book store jobs and hoped that someone will call me for a chance to work in any library!

Even for entry level I know I am up against applicants with more experience. What grinds me is that the jobs that I apply for make no mention of a preference for post graduate experience.

I would give anything to have a chance at any job in a library. When I recently inquired about doing volunteer work at the Chicago Public Library I was discouraged too. The director of volunteer workers (a nice man) said it was just as likely a waste of my time.

So my question is: how do you get a job in this business?