Leslie Burger and the ALA used to talk about the librarian shortage. Since that claim was palpable nonsense, they later changed it to a shortage of librarian "leadership." This is definitely a crisis I want to solve, not by providing any leadership myself, certainly, but by pointing out some obstacles to solving this "leadership crisis." I would provide some library leadership if I cared at all or if I weren't so selfish. But I don't and I am, so there it is.
My investigation of this problem led me to the ALA Joblist, which had 418 job listings when I looked at it. That's a lot of jobs, but then library schools graduate a lot of people each year. Still, they're not graduating any library directors, so maybe there's a shortage at the top. There were plenty of library director jobs. I don't know how long some of these have been open, but I do hear that it's hard to get good help these days.
But if we look closely, is it really the case that there's no one qualified for the jobs? Or is it more likely that a lot of jobs are in places where no one would want to move?
In my vast and limited experience, most librarians either want to get jobs in the area they are from or else they're attracted by jobs or places elsewhere. I've known numerous librarians who still live in the same area they were born in, who went to the closest library school and stayed close to home. I've also known many, like myself, who were mobile and attracted enough by certain jobs to pack up and move cross country. I know others who have just moved to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles and hoped for something to come up. If you're from an area, then it may have a built in attraction for you, but if you're not, there usually has to be something to draw you there, usually something besides just library job. New York, yes. Poop Creek, OR, no.
Could it be that the real problem is not too few library "leaders," but too few library leaders in particular areas and not anything interesting enough to attract anyone from the outside? Let's take a look at a few jobs actually available. You could apply to be the library director of the following libraries:
Manistee County Public Library, Michigan
My first question was, where? I looked it up. It's in western Michigan on Lake Michigan. I suppose that could be an attraction. The other attraction is that it's within a hundred miles of Big Rapids, MI, which I think is the only town in the country named Big Rapids. That alone might be worth going for an interview, I suppose.
Cochise County Library District, Arizona
I suppose this would be exciting if you were a cowboy or gunslinger, but otherwise I don't see the attraction. Cochise County contains the city of Tombstone, the one with the gunfight at the OK Corral, and, according to its website, "America's best example of our 1880 western heritage." Notice that qualifier. I'm all for good examples of the western heritage, but that "1880" spoils it for me. Since the "1880 western heritage" seems to consist of gunfights among drunken, illiterate cowboys, I'm not sure what the excitement's about. It also has Bisbee, which, if I remember correctly, is the town that fancy prostitute in L.A. Confidential is from, but you could probably soak up any associated glamor with just a short visit. You wouldn't have to live there.
Bossier Parish Library, Louisiana
I'm not even sure how to pronounce this one, so I don't think I would want to live there. The parish clerk's website has a picture of a lot of large women in red jackets waiting to help you. I think it's supposed to be welcoming, but I find it a little disconcerting, and it doesn't make me want to move there.
Columbia County Library, Arkansas
This is in Magnolia, AR, which looks like another tiny place in the middle of nowhere. If you like that kind of thing, this might be the place for you. With a name like that, perhaps it has lots of quaint southern charm. The only qualification is an ALA-accredited MLS, so anyone can apply. "Salary is based on experience," they say. Up to a point, I'm sure. They note that they "reserve the right to reject any or all applications received." That's awfully snooty, so the place must be nice. According to the Magnolia website, it's "located deep in the beautiful pine forests of southern Arkansas and host city of the World Championship Steak Cook-Off the third weekend in May." To which I can only say, sign me up, baby! It's also home to something called Southern Arkansas University. Oh, a university town. That makes all the difference. That way you get all the cultural benefits of living near a center of the higher learning.
Truckee Meadows Community College, Nevada
This one's in Reno, which I suppose might be nice if you like to gamble in the desert. You could live large in the casinos on your librarian salary, I'm sure. In your spare time, you could also work on a degree to be an apprentice gambling dealer, which is more than you can do at my university.
North Harris Montgomery Community College District, Texas
Now we're moving up, because this in charge of a whole district, with several campuses. The headquarters is in some place called The Woodlands, TX. Catchy name, that. It looks to be about 40 miles from Houston. So you could be in the middle of nowhere in Texas, but drive 40 miles and then be in...Houston. No, just doesn't seem worth it.
Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma
This is in some place called Weatherford, OK, and boy does it look like it's isolated, but if you enjoy the wind coming whipping down the plain, this could be the place for you. And it's only 70 miles from Oklahoma City! I took a look at the Weatherford website, which has some lovely pictures--of windmills, of a road sign, of a park. The YMCA pool looks attractive. "I can't think of anywhere I would rather be when it comes to working, living, or raising a family than Weatherford." This is from the mayor, but I guess he'd have to say that, wouldn't he. At least it's a "university" town.
Don't all of these places sound really exciting! It's not like they're jobs that suck, or at least they probably don't suck more than a lot of library jobs, but look at the places. I'm not even saying they're terrible places. They might be delightful places to live, but are they the sort of places that would attract people from around the country? Reno, maybe, for the gamblers. But Magnolia, AR or Weatherford, OK? I look at them and wonder not why anyone would live there, but why anyone would move there.
Perhaps I'm wrong, and this very minute these libraries are sorting through hundreds of applications from people dying to move to Cochise County or Bossier Parish. But sometimes I see these job ads and it makes me wonder why they don't just advertise in their local paper instead of on a national website.
But then I'm a terrible snob, as you all know.