Monday, April 30, 2007

Why Bother?

For the past few months I've been learning a lot more about how the other half lives, the other half in this case being all those library school graduates who can't seem to find jobs. That there are what seem to be reasonably intelligent people with pulses who can't find library jobs surprised me. I had a decent job well before library school graduation, as did all my friends from library school. The boring little world of librarianship was my oyster.

To be honest, I did know one person in library school who didn't get a job, but he was what we might charitably call a creepy freak (or perhaps a freaky creep, whichever is more charitable), the sort of person who would never make it through a professional interview because no one on the search committee would be able to face the prospect of sitting across from him in meetings for the next 30 years, and everyone would know it'd be 30 years, because he would never leave. Last I heard he was temping in his home state of [insert some southwestern state I can't remember].

Perhaps I've just been fortunate. It's true that I'm one of the most successful and respected librarians of my generation, but then I have an abundance of intelligence, education, good looks, and charm. Success and respect are my rightful due. But I realize now that not everyone has it as easy as I do, and, in the words of a former POTUS, I feel your pain. It is in recognition of the poor and beaten down that I now wear the black. (Before I wore the black because I look good in it and it goes with everything.)

But as I read the tales of LIS graduates taking months or years to find even their first professional library job, especially those graduates who are desperately searching for public library jobs, I have in all honesty to ask--why bother?

Sure I have a low stress, well paying library job at a decent university, where I spend my days leisurely reading books and blogs and reclining on my leather sofa, but those jobs are hard to come by. Plenty of academic libraries are awful places to work at. And from what I can tell from reading the blogs by public librarians, a lot of public libraries are enervating and mind-numbing places to work. So what's the attraction?

I got into librarianship because I didn't have anything better to do at the time. Clearly, a juicy tenure track professorship at a tolerable school wasn't coming my way, so why not get a cheap degree that would get me a job. That's what I thought. And compared to my friends who managed to struggle onto the tenure track after years of itinerant teaching, I make more money and have a lot more choice over where I work. Unlike them, I actually get to choose which part of the country I live in and what sort of school I work at. And I don't have to work as hard. The only drawback is that I don't get my summers off. It's a small price to pay.

But why do other people bother? What's the attraction? Especially for people who spend lots of money for library school, or who don't have wide choices of where to work. I read on one list someone speculating about whether she should spend $40K for a library degree from Pitt. My answer would have been a resounding NO. Why would anyone spend that kind of money on an MLS? I'm puzzled as to why anyone would spend more than a nominal sum to go to library school, or why anyone would go out of their way to get an MLS. Why bother?

It can't be because library jobs are plentiful and pay well. There do seem to be plenty of disagreeable and unattractive library jobs around, but they don't pay well and you have to live in dreadful places. It can't be the prestige associated with being a librarian. I know some librarians gush about how great it is to be a librarian, but they always sound like they're trying to persuade themselves that they aren't big losers.

Is it insanity? Are these people just crazy? They don't seem crazy, but one never knows. Based on some of my colleagues over the years, sanity was never a requirement for entering the profession. But surely that couldn't explain them all.

Is it that they want to revolutionize the world, one library card at a time? It's not going to happen. Some librarians and pseudo-librarians seem to think the purpose of librarianship is to give them an outlet for their politics, but those folks are just an irrelevant nuisance to the rest of us.

So it's not the money. It's not the prestige. It's not the working conditions. It's not insanity. So what is it that drives so many people? Why would people pay lots of money to get a ridiculously easy graduate degree, then work hard to get tedious, low paying jobs. Why bother? Is there nothing else that you can do? Or are these really the top reasons to become a librarian?

It's too late for me, but you can still save yourselves.


Anonymous said...

"creepy freak (or perhaps a freaky creep"

I would rather have fun articulating the difference--differentiate their traits, hold up actors or famous people as exemplars.

A creepy freak wears clean, well pressed clothes that are odd and not stylish, whereas a freaky creep looks like his wardrobe is a Salvation Army bin.

A creepy freak has neat hair, often self-styled using office scissors, while a freaky creep brushes his greasy hari with his pillow and keeps pushing strinds off his forehead all day.

Most Steve Buscemi chracters are freaky creeps. Most serial killers are creepy freaks.

Agree? Disagree? Additions?


AL said...

Given those criteria, I'd say he was a creepy freak. Pity he wanted to be a reference librarian. He might have fit right in with the IT department at my last job.

Anonymous said...

I went to library school only because I didn't want to sit around for ten years waiting for a professorship to open up. I was under the mistaken impression that librarians and archivists were in demand. Although I had to learn this lesson the hard way, library school was a waste of time.

As for interviews, I've only had 5 after sending out nearly 90 resumes. Librarians, with few exceptions, will not interview me because my background is in archival work.

The interviews I've had weren't all that great, but I put alot of the blame on the interviewers themselves. In one case, I was interviewed for a job that I didn't apply for. In another, I didn't even know what job I was being interviewed for (turns out it was a contract job as a reference librarian). A more recent interview I had was for Manager of Library Services in a northern Canadian community. I was given less than 48 hours to prepare for an interview which lasted 20 minutes and was promised a follow-up two days later which never happened.

In spite of the propaganda from library school, I find that in many cases libraries do not want "agents of change", they want people to do as they're told and not make waves.

As I see it now, I would have been much better off teaching ESL as it only requires 4 to 6 weeks of training and costs almost as much as one term of library school.

tailgunner said...

20 minutes! I can one up you. My first interview lasted five minutes! The interview team knew I was "entry-level," but fired questions only an experienced librarian would be able to answer. I soon realized I was the "entry-level" token in their interview scheme. I actually did not apply for this position, but rather my resume was left in a general pool from another postion I did not get; I agreed to interview because I thought I was going to get "much neeeded" interview experience, but that was the biggest waste of 5 minutes I have ever experienced.

I probably applied for roughly 20 jobs over the course of two years (ones that I actually qualified for and the hiring party would accept entry-level candidates). I landed 4 interviews and finally got the nod last week, after waiting almost 2 years.

Annoyed Page said...

Some of the librarians who I work with told me that they are librarians primarily for the money (which helps pay their bills) and others said that they were working at the same division since they were hired pages like 20 years ago! They wanted to keep the stacks organized as much as possible. Now if thats not insanity then I don't know what is!

But sometimes I still feel like I should get a degree in MLS just because I have experiences working at a public library...

Anonymous said...

As I've said before, you need to know when to fold. If it's that impossible to find full-time library work, you need to apply other places.

Anonymous said...

Why? Well, realizing that not all libraries are like mine, this is why. Because I make as much as I did in my previous career, without the headache. And I get about a month off per year without having put in a bazillion years before earning that time off (at least at this library--I realize that not all of them are like this one). Time off is uber-important to me. And I can use my brain to create my own mind-numbing work instead of someone else dictating my mind-numbing work and breathing down my neck 7 hours a day. That's how it is at my library anyway.

contrarian said...

Is it possible for librarians to expand their horizons? Maybe we need to think outside the box (i.e., the traditional library). I'm not ready to admit that library school is a total waste of time and even money. Have you read: "Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals" by Kim Dority? I haven't read it, but the title interests me. Is there a way to "rethink" or reshape our career paths?

Anonymous said...

You all never knew it's an ALA Library School Certification requirement requirement to have at least 1 "creapy freak" per every graduating MLS class per school. Were there not at least one the program would fail accredation. It's even in the survey. "Do you feel that creapy freaks and/or freaky creaps where properly represented in your graduating class"

Anonymous said...

I've been a public librarian for nearly 18 years and find myself increasingly annoyed with the profession. My spouse just took a new job and we will be relocating. My options for gainful employment are paltry, unless, of course I want to work for 25K-30K per year.

Sad Librarian said...

Contrarian, you are completely right. If you aren't getting hired for library jobs, you need to think outside of the box. I just started applying for everything from news researcher to online content manager. Will the positions require me to move? Yes. Will I do it? Yes.

I refuse to be unhappy for the rest of my life working as a public librarian. At 24, I'm already feeling burned out. Working with the public is very, very difficult.

Brent said...

I decided to be a librarian after a student in my class and professor asked me on the last day of my undergrad class, "Are you going to be a librarian?" I was a student worker.

I said, "I don't know." Then about about a week after graduation, I decided to apply for graduate school--a school or city I never visited before. I really never put much thought into it. However, I did research cost and school rankings.

So you can chalk up one librarian choosing this career without putting much thought into it. I just went with the flow of it.

Anonymous said...

I became a librarian because I enjoyed problem solving. I saw myself as the bridge over the digital divide. For a number of years, this made me happy. However, then I had to deal with the psychos that I work with, some creepy freaks, some freaky creeps, some insane in other ways. It got to the point where I prefered the crazy patrons to the crazy staff.

But at its best, I got the same buzz on a busy day as I got in food service. I suspect that I am a nerdy adrenaline junkie.

If I had it to do over, I would have gotten a law degree.

-conspiracy theorist

Anonymous said...

Well, I became a librarian because, after 10 years working as a cataloging clerk, I got tired of hearing: "You need the MLS". After working as a librarian for the last 10 years, I can honestly say that I a) have no future, b) do not have any recognition from anyone no matter how well I do my job; c) working with the public is definitely difficult and d) if I had to do it all over again, I would have gone for anything else besides an MLS or e) become a library administrator.

AL, I do not understand why your last two posts are relevant to anyone, (at least to anyone in school or considering this wretched profession), but I can care less about debating you on finer points or enlightening you about library work (either corporate, public, academic, private) or anything else. I think you deserve to live your life with your rose (or martini?) colored glasses on, and keep blogging away with your insipid observations.

Perhaps someone will actually read them on your blog and be bothered enough to debate you on your naivete, lack of work experience, generalisations and call you on it.

As Dylan said "It ain't me, babe".

Anonymous said...

Over thirty years serving the public in UK public libraries and I loved nearly every minute I was on the enquiry or reference desk Running my own branch library in my youth was an experience to be relished.

Sure the public can exasperate but for many we were the last port of call where somebody would actually listen and sometimes we helped. Other times there were always the opportunities to moan about them in the staffroom.

If you just don't get the pleasure of enquiry work then you shouldn't be in the job. One reason we have so many rubbish middle and senior managers in libraries is that they took the route into management after being unable to cut it on the desk. Irony is that they are all on salaries way above those of people facing the public but then if you don't appreciate irony don't be a librarian.

Snarky Librarian said...

I think people become librarians for the same reasons they choose any other job. I have colleagues who believe that they will change the world, and others who just want to get paid. I know people who said "mom, I want to be a librarian!" when they were four (okay, that was me), and others who just fell into the job.

Personally, I became a librarian for a very simple reason: I love libraries. Always have, always will. I love their weird mixture of people (both staff and customers.

I love working with the public. I don't think libraries are bastions of intellectual freedom or will save the world, as the ALA propaganda machine tells us, but I do know that I personally have changed people's lives. I work with teens, and I have the opportunity to mentor them and help them grow.

Beth said...

Agree with snarky Librarian. Although I'm one of those who kind of "fell into" the profession, but I was also a library user. I do like the people aspects though--and I am lucky to get some sincere thank yous about once a week from a students and/or faculty. Definitely better than my previous career (shudder . . .).

Alexandra said...

Like Snarky, I have always loved libraries. I was that kid in 5th grade who wouldn't get picked for any kind of sports team, but was the first picked when we played games in our school library. I always won. The reason I never went into the trade when I was younger was because I knew there was no money in it and other people convinced me I would be bored. Shouldn't have listened. Now I'm nearer to 50 than 40 and finding a job with my brand new MLS is difficult. However, I ascribe that to my crappy resume and will rectify that with the next job application.

So perhaps those who "fall into it," if they don't already have a job in a library, should reconsider. Otherwise, we bother because it's what we want to do.

janitorx said...

Why bother? It's gonna hurt me
It's gonna kill when you desert me
This happened to me twice before
Won't happen to me anymore


Sorry, I couldn't resist, AL.

Seriously, it took me about 9 years of dead end library jobs to finally get what I wanted. It might be an interesting idea to establish a WIKI so everyone can post their stories. There is a dark side to this field and I do think we need to draw some attention to it.

AL said...

Regardless of the snipey comment about my naiveté and insipid observations, I do wonder about this topic. Except for some of the blogs that are trying to proselytize for techie or "customer service" ideologies, it's rare to read excited about being a librarian. And even the faddish, proselytizing blogs complain that people just don't "get it." Whereas most blogs reporting from the front lines of libraries are very negative in a lot of ways. Combine that with all the people who end up spending or borrowing a lot of money to get a degree that often qualifies one for low-paying drudgework, one does have to wonder why people do it when there are other jobs around.

Anonymous said...

I am currently working as a paraprofessional at a public library, and have been considering grad school. Had been. Your blog and numerous other ones I've found paint a rather brutal picture. Here's one from a year ago (which means there's been another crop of liberry school grads since it was written)

Interesting that it's an "anarchist" librarian blog, which given your political leanings, AL, you probably aren't used to agreeing with. It's also so bitter it makes you look positively chipper by comparison!

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

I became a librarian after seeing a 10 year old girl accidently check out porn at the library.
It does happen and it annoyed me. I first worked as a circulation desk sub in a public library, then at a public school as a media specialist before "they" decided both a MLS AND a teaching creditial was needed to read stories to kids and to order children's books.
I went to the library school closest to my house, the other was five minutes farther up the road (TWU AND UNT, both in Denton Texas)
I got hired as a professional librarian while I was still a student. I attended a Special Libraries Association mixer at a Mexican restaurant across the street from my apartment in Houston. I showed up to the event with my resume and a PC created business card that was printed with "Jill ----, almost MLS" and my email and phone number.
The margaritas at the restaurant were great!
I got called the next day. A week after graduation I was working doing a retrospective conversion for a chemical library, and after that I worked two years as a law librarian, then I flew around the Southwest training lawyers how to use a legal research database.
Now I am working in an accademic library.
My focus in library school was Juvenile literature.
And yes, do get the cheapest MLS degree possible.
And yes, cubed, libraries DO NOT like original thinkers. Unless you work in Special Libraries.
And yes, you gotta just love hanging around libraries and love meeting all kinds of people.
Heck, I go visit libraries when I am on vacation!

Anonymous said...

I’m a neophyte taking a foundations course at an MLS school to see if librarianship is something I want to pursue (I have other work experience but it’s relatively dead-ended).
Much of what I’ve read and heard so far has been a tad discouraging, but I think it is something that would suit me (I’ve also taken career tests which indicate librarianship as a strong match for my interests).
This blog has been very informative, and I appreciate its existence. So thanks muchly!

My question to the AL and the rest of you is:
Does an MLS from a lesser school have a negative impact on job prospects, particularly on a national scale? I’m talking about a subtropical ALA-accredited school that cranks out 100+ graduates every year from a mostly online program (guess which?). From what I understand, the market is oversaturated in this area, but (mercifully) I do not plan on being here for more than a few years, and am already something of a transnational-hopper. Would a less respectable school hurt my prospects in the long run, say if I want to apply for librarian jobs down the road in other parts of the country? I guess I am trying to get a sense if there is some degree of geographical nepotism going on in the library field…


AL said...

In my experience it doesn't matter much, as long as the school is ALA-accredited. A few high profile schools--Michigan, Illinois, Chapel Hill, Rutgers, etc.--might get just slightly more respect, but outside of the most prominent schools, I can't see that it matters much. After you've been working, what people will want to know is what you've accomplished, not what you did in library school.

Karl Miller said...

As to why bother...when I moved from a position teaching in a University to a position as a Librarian in a University I had a great sense of purpose. I believed that building a substantive collection would promote research and, in a sense, direct research. What you add to a collection enables research, so I added heavily in those areas I believed in. I also thought that my knowledge of the literature of my chosen discipline would facilitate reference.

Looking back at these last 25 years I realize that I was very naive. While I am proud of the collections I assembled, I am saddened at what has happened to them. The new library administration has dismissed the significance of them and they seem to find their measure of success in providing creature comforts, coffee bars and lounge chairs. But it isn't just the library administration that has disappointed me, it is also the fluff that passes for research in the arts, music in particular, which is my expertise.

As I read about the profession, it is not a profession anymore, and perhaps, it never was. Without subject expertise, it seems to be little more than inventory acquisition and control. In 25 years years I have seen it become even less proactive in anticipating user needs. It has been outrageously negligent in making use of the technology.

I believe that libraries will continue to become even more marginalized in our society. While we might have library buildings, less of that space will be devoted to the fundamental relationship between patron and information. I believe we will see more coffee bars, free movie theaters, lectures, etc.

What ultimately concerns me is that we, as librarians, have abdicated to google/yahoo, et al, our responsibility to provide information free to society. There is nothing that states that those corporations will continue to provide "free" access.

When one is involved in the day to day world of a library job, it is difficult to see trends, but I believe librarians have a responsibility to do so and to not only respond to the public, but to work to anticipate needs. Further, simply giving the public what they "want" is not the answer. If you are in pain a doctor can give you a pain killer, but unless the doctor takes care of the problem, you could die. Unless there are major changes in the thinking of libraries, our society has the potential to face some fundamental problems concerning the right to access information.

On one hand, I see it as a great challenge, and a reason to "bother," but yet I believe that the "profession" is so ingrained with its myopic thinking that it will eventually atrophy, for it will not allow for any substantive change. They don't call it "bibliographic control" for nothing.


sekmet said...

I partially agree, i have finished school two years ago, I've send at least 40 applications and I got called in only 2 interviews. While we were studying, we were told that there are plenty of positions in various libraries and that we would get a job soon. Personally, i love our profession, although I've worked only for 6 months in a program of our public library and couldn't continue cause of luck of funds.
So, I will keep trying getting a job, in a profession that I have studied and not working just to make money to survive, like i do now

Cynthia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.