Monday, April 23, 2007

Librarianship as Charity Work

The ALA has been going on about the so-called librarian shortage for so long even politicians are starting to believe it, so now there's yet another government act designed to subsidize a group not in heavy demand. Yes, I'm talking about the LIBRARIAN Act of 2007, which has been introduced into both houses of Congress by a bipartisan collection of dupes. Here's one senator speaking straight from the ALA Talking Points Memo: “With a shortage of librarians across the country and with many more set to retire, we must urgently encourage more people to enter the library science field and work to retain valuable librarians who are already serving our communities.”

"Shortage of librarians." Who believes this stuff anymore? Politicians, apparently. You can be sure that I'll be contacting my senator, who I think is either a Republican or a Democrat, to let him or her know that the ALA is full of something or other and that this is one of the stupider pieces of legislation I've seen in a while.

The Act would allow for forgiveness of student loans for people who "become and remain librarians in low-income schools and public libraries." At least it acknowledges in a backhanded way that the shortage is not one of librarians, but of decent paying library jobs. The ALA is ecstatic about this, of course, because it seems to address a problem without considering the over-recruitment of library students and the total ineffectiveness of ALA when it comes to addressing questions of salary. It fits in with the ALA ideology that librarians just want to make the world a better place, not work at a mere career for filthy lucre.

As anyone familiar with economics can tell you, if the demand is really there, then it will create its own supply. The ALA gets this backwards, naturally, and thinks that if library schools generate a big supply of library school graduates, then the supply will create a demand. I guess if librarians were any good at economics, they wouldn't be librarians.

If the pay for librarians isn't enough to attract people to the jobs, then there really isn't significant enough demand. If communities really needed librarians, then they'd get together and pony up for some. The "low income area" argument is just a dodge. You don't see "low income" areas looking to the Federal government to subsidize their garbage services. They pay for what they value, and they don't value librarians.

So instead of trying to show the value of librarians, limiting the recruitment of library school students, and increasing the rigor of library education to weed out the dullards--all of which would help the job market for library students--librarianship can be treated as charity work, like the Peace Corps or Teach for America.

On a side note, I find it a little irritating that just school and public libraries are eligible. What, aren't there any academic libraries in "low paying areas" around the country? Do they not count? I guess the assumption is that academic librarians aren't engaged in charity work. It doesn't surprise me. When the ALA talks about librarians, they always mean public librarians; why should this act be any different?

The sad thing is that all this legislation is totally unnecessary. Now that the ALA Council has passed the salary resolution calling for a minimum $40K salary for librarians, the problem is bound to solve itself. Some people may believe in that silly system of supply and demand, but we know better. We know that when the ALA Council speaks, people listen.

So, potential public and school librarians, now is your chance to make the world a better place and engage in a little charity work. Build up a big student loan debt, then go to work for $20K a year in some poor area and have your debt erased! You'd probably be better off making more money and paying off your loans yourself, but then you wouldn't be doing your part to make the world a better place.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

RE-DONK-U-LOUS

Anonymous said...

Wow..that is about all I can say about that....

Anonymous said...

I thought this act was very interesting. As a librarian who has worked almost exclusively in low-income areas, my first reaction was "Wow,ALA is now supporting combat pay".

What I would really, really like to see is some of those ALA-APA administrators actually spend a year, now (not just reminisce about how they spent 6 months in the 'hood 20 years ago), in a low-income area. Throw in some library profs (especially the guy who is researching what video games are good library purchases).

This year may cause them all to rethink:
1. skills needed for librarians
2. Library school curriculums
3. Why Gen X and Gen Y librarians are dropping out of the profession.

Throwing a minimal amount of money at the situation is not going change it. People go into library school with some type of starry-eyed vision and then are stuck with the realities of the job. They get disillusioned and quit. Student loan forgiveness does NOT equal job satisfaction.

-conspiracy theorist

Anonymous said...

This piece of legislation is actually more fluff than many people may realize. The act provides for the relief of PERKINS loans...which is one of the lesser used federal aid programs. If the act had provided for the relief of Stafford loans, well, I might be able to get excited about it...maybe.

AL said...

I'd be excited if it forgave all federal student loans accrued for any degree whatsoever provided one became a librarian anywhere at all in the US. Now that's the sort of legislation I can approve of.

Dances With Books said...

As anoynymous says, combat pay indeed. I come from one of those (apparently to ALA non-existent) academic libraries in a low-income setting. Heck, I definitely qualify for hazard pay. It is irritating to see that the "professional" organization is pretty much public librarians first, school maybe, and academic if they ever remember. As for the special folks, I guess ALA figures them for a bunch of sellouts for going corporate, and we know how much certain segments of ALA hate anything corporate (the filthy lucre).

Exactly, throw some of those administrators and some of those LIS faculty who have not been in a library in 20 plus years in one of our low income areas and see how they do. By the way, force them to live on our salaries too while at it. I would invite them to my library, but then I would no longer remain pseudonymous. Oh well. I am sure others can send the invite. And not only the guy researching video game purchases. Send over a lot of the 2.0 so-called gurus while you are it.

And yes, if it was Staffords, I might get a bit excited. Perkins are pretty much a drop in the bucket, but then again, knowing that would require close reading, something it seems, for some reason, so called librarians who are now administrators or faculty can't seem to do very well. Then again, politicians are not know for their reading skills either. Sounds like a perfect match between ALA and them.

Zillah said...

If this covered more types of student loans, I think that it would be a good idea.

You mention "Teach for America" and I think the intent is analagous. Teachers are needed - but not always valued - and it is especially difficult to draw teachers into inner city and destitute rural areas. Voila, Teach for America. Voila, LIS student loan forgiveness.

Besides, this would give all of those LIS graduates without any practical experience a coal scuttle full of real-world library experience and lots of dinner party stories.

Anonymous said...

I applied for an academic library job that paid $22,000 a year (Hey, I had just finished library school and was desperate!) The university was in Louisiana. This was in 1998, btw. I ended up getting a different job that had a good starting salary.

Anonymous said...

Honestly all this complaining about the low paying library jobs. But isn't the pay proportionate to the amount of work you guys have to do? I mean, being a librarian is one of my most relaxing jobs I can think of. I bet you even have time to surf the internet and write long blogs while at work.

Anonymous said...

"You don't see "low income" areas looking to the Federal government to subsidize their garbage services. They pay for what they value, and they don't value librarians."

You don't value anything if your expectation is that a government entity provides for you. By definition, low income people pay for very little--they pay no federal taxes and minimal local taxes, so indeed those who supply the funds vote for police and other social services but libraries are cut, which is ironic and short sighted, but true. If librarians were mandated a big salary, all libraries in economically distressed areas would close.

AL said...

I'm just complaining to be charitable. I have an easy and low stress job and am very well paid, but I'm always concerned about the huddled librarian masses yearning to breathe free. It's because I'm such a nice person.

Brent said...

ALA doesn't affect my life. And I hope it stays that way.

I hope it stays an irrelevant organization that looks good on a resume, and that's all. ALA needs to stop this activism before they really screw up an entire profession.

I know some students think I have an awesome job because I see young, pretty ladies everyday. Why can't they just advertise that to people instead of this stupid loan thing?

Anonymous said...

perkins loans are supplied by the school, right? so the government is forgiving loans that would be repaid to the school. so does the school gets no money from their perkins grads, while the poor saps with stafford loans still have to wring out their loan payments from their poorly paid library jobs?

do the people who think there is a shortage of librarians realize that the job scence is very tight, and lots of qualified MLIS grads are working hard to even get ANY job in a library that's full time (or even any full time job anywhere)?

what's with all the part time positions anyway? do they think librarians are all working for giggles, and don't need insurance or anything?

cherie said...

yes, ala is so stupid. if there is a career shortage, why are people having trouble finding jobs? there aren't many jobs at all out there and i live in nyc!

anon7 said...

The fact that an activity is or is not subsidized by the government says nothing one way or the other about its value to the average American.

"And then there's the governmental subsidies of raw materials, says the NRDC report. "The virgin-based forest products, mining, and energy industries have all been -- and remain -- beneficiaries of both direct and indirect subsidies and tax breaks. Some examples of these tax breaks and subsidies include below-cost timber sales from federal lands, U.S. Forest Service research donated to industry, write-offs for timber management and reforestation costs, and below-cost mining leases based on an 1872 law. And these subsidies do not include the many exemptions from environmental laws that the virgin-resources industries enjoy, allowing them to externalize costly burdens to the environment. Collectively, these tax breaks and subsidies, which first began in 1891, have for decades averaged several billion dollars per year and have helped finance the development of a U.S. manufacturing sector that relies overwhelmingly on virgin materials to the detriment of recycling." Other recycling activists add that the huge cost of building roads into public forests for timber cutting, paid for by federal government agencies, is another big direct subsidy."

http://www.nexuspub.com/articles/1997/july97/recycle.htm

Alex Grigg said...

Although the ALA is pushing this bill as a solution to the "librarian shortage," they obviously don't really mean it. It really just makes for good sound bytes about librarianism which is why we find it so hard to break away from the shortage verbage. People, and I mean non-librarian people, understand and are alarmed by "librarian shortage." People don't give a rat's ass about "under-educated librarians who can't find adequate jobs." Therefore, politicians will also not give a crap about passing bills in regards to library education, even if we could agree on what those bills should mandate.

The real purpose of the bill is to help poor librarians in crappy areas get a break. Probably there are a few librarians with Perkins loans who will gain some benefit from the bill. Good for them! But that's all the bill was ever trying to do. Let's not try and turn this into an attempt to legislate fair salaries, AL, or fix imaginary shortages, ALA. I think you're both misrepresenting the purpose of the bill.

Oh, I also have a hard time believing that the lowest income college library can compete in wretchedness with low income public and school libraries so I don't think the focus is really misplaced. Sure, you're still getting paid poorly, but you're probably not dealing as often with the homeless defecating in the stacks or your students pulling knives on each other . . . but maybe my imagination doesn't reflect reality.

Skipbear said...

Humm,
Sounds to me like this idea came out Laura Bush at an afternoon tea day with a few ALA friends from her school library days. Sounds wonderful if you know nothing bout libraries and librarians. Really wondering how many graduates would even be able to take advantage of it vs. those who do. Maybe 2 a year?
ALA has effected a lot of change over the years but forget it effecting saleries. Each year when that issue of LJ comes with that big adverage salery I still say huh?

Anonymous said...

I worked at a pretty well known academic library in Philadelphia and every semester we would routinely suffer from idiotic frat pranks where human feces was found in the stacks. Just because it is an academic institution don't assume we don't get our fair share of disgusting behavior. And we were also open to the public until 11:00pm, so there were definitely homeless hanging out.

Alex Grigg said...

I know Anonymous, I'm not saying there's never poo in college libraries, but I'm guessing the crappiness doesn't happen "as often."

To see if my guess is correct please take my Library Poo Survey:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=162133749186

WDL said...

G-d, so many anonymous people. Astounding.

I did take out loans for my Masters Degree. It would be nice to work them off. I did work in a ghetto library for a while, but, now I work in a library that is in the middle of no where. The pay is OK - but I didn't become a librarian to get rich.

Did any of you become librarians to get rich?

I didn't think so. I wouldn't do it if I didn't get paid - I'm not a martyr. But seriously.

I would hope aspiring librarians could do better research than THAT!

How sad.

Anonymous said...

The people who live in crappy neighborhoods do have to chose between librarians and garbage collectors. And they do chose garbage collectors.

But this act is saying that even though these areas can't afford them, there are services that the national community wants the people in poor neighborhoods to have due to our national values.

Americans want to give everybody the opportunity to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. By providing everyone with libraries (access to knowledge) and education (public schools), we provide opportunity, as a nation, to our citizens. It's part of our national values.

That said, the ALA is full of crap for continuing to talk about a national shortage of librarians. Adding language about shortages to a bill such as this has further hurt their credibility.

Lilly said...

I love your blog. L-O-V-E it.

I'm just sayin.

Anonymous said...

This program sounded intriguing, until the catch was explained (and you knew there had to be a catch, right?)

If I could do an MLS for free, I'd seriously consider it, even with the whopping pay cut I'd be forced to take afterward. But I'm sure as hell not doing it for the $900/credit I'd be forced to pay!

Anonymous said...

As for anonymity WDL, I am not a big blogger and I feel uncomfortable identifying myself while I am doing all this ranting. Especially since my getting a job could hinge on my fpotential employers looking up all my online activity where I identify myself. Sure, I could make up a fake name, but why?

I agree: librarians don't get their degrees to get rich, but is i so ridicuolous to want a decent job? It's one thing to love what you do, but why are we chided when we asked to be compensated fairly for our work?


Also, you sure don't get (affordable) benefits with a part time job.

I had a library consultant (who I'm sure was very well paid) tell me that part time jobs work well for libraries because they are staffed by women who have husbands to take care of them. This guy seriously thought this was the case!

However, back to the point, I would very happily work off my student loan if this were an option, It looks like it is being sold as one, but wouldn't actually work for most people. Sounds like a big snow job PR thing.

Rant over :)

AL said...

"Sure, I could make up a fake name, but why?"

The main reason to make up a fake name is so that future commenters can refer to you by that name, rather than "Anon @ 8:11." Then we would know if you're the same as "Anon @12:57," or if you were some other Anon.

I don't need to post anonymously, because Annoyed Librarian is indeed my real name. It says so right on my birth certificate.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, in my personal experience, none of the low-income areas where I worked was faced with a choice of no sanitation or no library. I think that may apply to small-town rather than urban low-income areas.Perhaps they could restructure the bill to accomodate these differences.

I use a pseudonym because I want to keep my job as long as possible. I need to eat, pay rent, etc. That charming exchange on "Blatant Berry" taught ME the danger of using my real name in a blog post.

-conspiracy theorist

Brent said...

I don't need to post anonymously, because Annoyed Librarian is indeed my real name. It says so right on my birth certificate.

You are the chosen one.

Biff Bookmark said...

Oh Annoying One:

Biff's words of wisdom: when you finally chose to unmask yourself I encourage you to make an event out of it. I sense brilliant pay-per-view numbers, and a very large audience tuning in. However, after many insightful posts if you reveal yourself to not be an academic librarian, but rather Nancy Pearl...dare I say this will be a terrific shocker to the library world. Until then, the library world awaits...

AL said...

But wouldn't it be clever of me to pose as an academic librarian and really be the director of a small public library.

Biff Bookmark said...

Better yet, you could be the President of ALA! That would be terrific entertainment for a day (at least)...

Anonymous said...

I was in the middle of writing my very last paper in library school tonight when I stumbled upon this exchange. Color me f'in depressed.

Mr. Anonymous

Anonymous said...

As someone considering an MLIS, I have to ask if the job shortage is just in the "popular" areas (NYC, Seattle, etc...), or throughout the U.S. as a whole?

I got mine! Now What? said...

What we all should be doing is going after the ALA. It is the ALA that is spreading this lie to the highest areas of our society. Recent graduates should join and protest the ALA's response to the situation.

Anyone interested? We need to nip this it the butt, before even more poor dupes get suckered into this hype and lay down 30 or 40 thousand to get a degree that has the same value as toilet paper.

Melanie said...

Just wanted to point out that it's pretty difficult to ring up large amounts of Perkins loans; most are Stafford. This program isn't going to do the profession much good.

Phoenix Sun said...

A lot of you sound so bitter. I just received my MLS here in NYC. It's a good thing I went into records management because I knew going in the graduate program that the librarian pay is just too low, especially public librarianship and I live in NYC. From reading the embittered comments I see I made the right decision.

Urban Library Chick said...

I think several of these comments are really off the mark. We've had reference librarian positions open for months without getting even a single applicant holding an MLS. I work in an urban area with many library systems surrounding ours and a couple of close LIS degree programs, too. People are just not interested in working in our area. I could only wish for LIS grads "working hard to even get ANY job in a library" (anon). The shortage is real, but not everywhere. Look a little farther if you really want a job, they are available. And BTW, I am still paying on my Perkins loan from undergrad, so this legislation would be a big help for me.