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.