Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Calling All Librarians

Last week someone left a comment on my post about a recent silly speech of the current ALA president:

"I had Dr. Roy as a professor in library school. She was a good instructor but whenever anyone brought up the idea that librarians were underpaid, she became very emotional about librarianship being a calling and how you shouldn't go into it if you want a high salary."

I haven't tried to verify if Roy does this, because that would take actual research, and if I was going to do any of that I'd publish it under my own name and get another line on the vita. But even if she doesn't think of librarianship as a "calling" then certainly plenty of other librarians do, and I'll just generalize about them.

Thinking of librarianship as a calling certainly explains why so many librarians are willing to work for such low pay in such inhospitable conditions with such little respect. I always assumed that librarians working the really crappy jobs were doing it because they were lazy or stupid, or had no marketable skills, or had previously worked in an even more annoying profession, or were uncompetitive in some way they couldn't help (unable to move from the area, for example), or just not very good at their jobs. But now I know that it's possibly because they view librarianship as a calling, like being a priest or a rock musician. Those librarians are just living the dream, serving the public faithfully, saving the world one library card at a time.

This hypothesis explains a lot. It explains why so many librarians lack ambition and don't demand more money or better working conditions. It explains why they dance like monkeys to get people's attention and show how "relevant" they are. It explains why so many of us other librarians find them so ridiculous. Any hypothesis that can explain so many facts must have something behind it.

It's probably obvious by now that I don't view librarianship as a calling. If the call went out, I must not have been answering that week. I more or less view librarianship as a profession and a career, but mostly I view it as a job. It's a job I try to do well, and have been successful at, but it's definitely a job for hire. If I weren't decently paid, I wouldn't do it. And it's certainly not one of those things I'd do even if no one was willing to pay me. If tomorrow I ceased being a librarian because I could support myself just as easily doing something I really love to do, I'd leave librarianship behind and wouldn't miss it a bit. I wouldn't leave libraries behind, of course, because I love them, but I don't love being a librarian. The thing I like best about being a librarian is being in the library.

Am I so unusual for the profession? The AL has kind of a cult following of people who agree with me on some things, but I do get a lot of criticism for not being a cheerleader for librarianship. Some people are disturbed that I even dare to mention the dark side of the profession, even if they know it exists. I shouldn't criticize so much, especially pseudonymously. I shouldn't make fun of silly librarians who, after all, are just trying to show how great and relevant the library is. Is part of the reason because they see the profession as a calling, and thus as sacred somehow? They just love being librarians; it's their reason for being. Is this the case for most librarians?

And is there a difference from seeing librarianship as a calling and just being passionate about the work? I'm just curious. I also have no passion for the work. It's work I'm trained to do and try to do well. I'm good at it and I try to keep up with the field, but I could take it or leave it. I love to read. I love to write. I love to drink martinis. I don't love to librarian.

I have a friend, though, who is very passionate about the work and who can't understand my ambivalence. "AL," she'll say, "I just don't understand your ambivalence about librarianship," or words to that effect. I don't think she sees the profession as a "calling," though. She's too ambitious for that. She doesn't want to serve the world selflessly, but take over the library world and make sure it's run right. She wants to be the best, at the top of her profession. It seems to me that being passionate about librarianship is different from seeing it as a calling. The ambition and drive somehow make it different, but I'm not sure how.

I, on the other hand, don't have such ambitions. I'm not sure what it would mean to be at the top of my profession, but if it required any more effort than I expend now, it wouldn't be worth it. Rising in the profession has brought me as much grief as relief and possibly more. If I cared only about my career and how to further it, I certainly wouldn't write this blog. I'd have another blog, or more likely I'd be publishing more essays in peer-reviewed journals and speaking more at conferences, since that's what would bring me more professional respect where I work.

And so, I leave the questions but have no answers. Do a lot of librarians view librarianship as a calling? Is this detrimental to the rest of us because it makes them willing to work for such low pay in such bad conditions, thus driving down wages and standards? Are that many librarians even passionate about their work? It seems to me that most aren't, but maybe I mainly associate with jaded pragmatists like myself. And if some do seem passionate, is the passion for real, or only an act they put on so they'll benefit their career? Or are most librarians like me--doing a job that could be a lot worse for pay that could be a lot better?

108 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks fot this - I was feeling very...unpassionate and somehow guilty about it!

Walt said...

Yep: we are actually one vow from the cleric. While we accept poverty and obedience, we have rejected chastity...

amber said...

Hmm...food for thought. I'm definitely passionate about my job and love what I do, but I think of it not so much as having a calling to be a librarian, and more as serving my students well. Community college folks get a little worked up about "serving their students". But hey, it's a personal thing for me; I don't much feel the need to get on the rooftops about it and people who do make me nervous.

The Reactionary said...

As a librarian, and a sometimes member of your cult of followers, I have to agree with you. It's a job - a pretty good one in my case - but just a job. Perhaps it's a "calling" for some people. Some people feel very passionate about perfectly ordinary things.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this one: for me it is a job, albeit a good one and like you, one I try to do well and certainly, if I hated it, it would show in my day-to-day duties...but a calling?? Really now, we're not Mother Teresa here, we are not doctors, it is not life or death in spite of what ALA says (thank goodness I live north of the border where CLA is much less political). As for the statement attributed to that ALA prez, whoa, nelly, for the fees that ALA charges, it better not be a calling...

Anonymous said...

Is this detrimental to the rest of us because it makes them willing to work for such low pay in such bad conditions, thus driving down wages and standards?

Yes. As we all know this is a female dominated profession and many women (not all, of course) in this field are partnered with a higher income earner. It's too easy for these women to view this career as a calling when they don't have to worry about paying student loans, the mortgage, put off having children, etc. They can play careerist while their spouses really finance the upper-middle class lifestyle they are so privileged to have. They can comfortably question the lack of loyalty of those librarians, who out of necessity, had to job hop a few times to earn a better income. They simply do not have to worry about being underpaid because someone else is keeping them afloat. How convenient for them to view the career as a calling.

Anonymous said...

I think that it is a job. I like my job, and I give it my best during work hours but after that I hang it up and call it a day. It has been my expierence that that the less qualified you are, the more seriously you take yourself. In case of severe incompetence, it does become a calling. I know a public librarian who would rather give pat wrong answers to her patrons rather than look up the information. I work in a special library where results are far more important than a degree with the blessing of the ALA, so fortunately I can't take the same approach.

Mrschupa said...

I am one of those women with a husband who "finance[s] the upper-middle class lifestyle [I am] so privileged to have, and yes I work for low wages and don't really care. I love my job, love the patrons (well, except for the crack-pots), love just being in a library all day. Basically, books are my "calling" However, librarianship is not. Librarianship is an way to support my book habit by getting to read all the new releases without having to pay for them or wait my turn. If reading books before catologuing them were not one of the perks - it would just be a job.

The Hag said...

It's a job. It's always been a job. I don't have a career. I'm in this job because I've managed to convince my bosses to pay me well. Parts of the job are fun and satisfying, parts are not.

Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for you, because you do not do what you love.

You're wasting your life away because your are unfulfilled.

This blog is your epitaph, and you are the author.

The good news is it's not too late to do what you love, but only you can do it.

Go for it! You'll be glad you did.

Melvin said...

It's really just a job for me. I really like this job and I guess (unlike others, it seems) I have managed to garner a pretty decent salary over the course of several years. I try to do my job very well and I expect to be compensated for my efforts. I may not be a librarian forever-I certainly don't feel "called" to it. But I will remain in academia until I retire.

Anonymous said...

Passion? I feel another sex joke.....well, let's get serious.

Why did I get a library degree? As AL points out quite often, it was after trying other things. What got me interested in libraries was hanging out in the library during school as a quiet place to read, and in college in particular to get away from my perpetually drunk frat boy roommate.

When I started Library School I thought I'd finally found what I wanted to do--not a calling, but a profession I'd be with until I retired. I could learn computers without math, had good customer service skills, and liked helping people.

So why am I today not working in a library?

For starters the horrible job market. On top of that, I'm a guy trying to make headway in a female dominated profession, and no, being this type of minority doesn't help.

Then there's the first library I worked at. I really appreciated being hired as a librarian and yet called a clerk, with the same sort of duties. And yes, I was the only male and the only "clerk" librarian.

It was really thoughtful having things happen like my idiot supervisor tell me to install software I told her wouldn't work, and no surprise it didn't. But it came up on my performance evaluation as "refusing to install" the software correctly. Thank you so much!

And then when I worked in academia I had three women hired over me who didn't even have college degrees.

You could listen to the official story that I had poor social skills (which would explain why two of those women later had other employees file grievances against them), or maybe the real reason that I wasn't brown nosing to the right people, and in particular had run afoul of the witch who did everything she could to drive me off.

If the politics wasn't enough, it was the political correctness. Even here I keep quiet about some things from the potential backlash of in your face wannabes who don't want to tolerate any opposing idea.

And lastly, in general I've never worked with a group of "professionals" as inept as librarians. The profession is over taught and over rated. Take whatever skill you want to bring up--cataloging with Dublin Core, live "chat room" reference, blogs, they're all relatively simple and basic tasks.

Anything I accomplished in a library was something I did on my own, at the risk of pissing off some librarian who either didn't want me to make them look bad or wanted to bask in the spotlight.

The hardest thing in the library field wasn't the school, the patrons, the databases or sources or the "skills," it was negotiating the mine field of egos and attitudes.

Do I see librarianship as a calling? I guess you have to label it that, it's certainly not a good job, and for those of us without a wealthy spouse it's practically unlivable on the salaries offered.

Was it a job I enjoyed? At one time I thought I did.

Anonymous said...

Some people choose chastity, others have chastity thrust upon us. (Or not thrust upon us, as the case may be.) AL, you just summed up everything I have ever said or thought about the calling of librarianship better than I ever could have. That is why I now hate you.

Anonymous said...

It’s just a job, and on most levels a clerical one.

This nonsense about it being a calling stems from the type of people who enter the profession. Look around a librarian conference, observe your colleagues. Many are people who failed in some other field, often literary or artistic, who are socially inept and didn’t have much affirmation of their worth while growing up. There’s another thread here about whether you were popular when young, which I think is relevant to this subject.

In my observation, those who have little affirmation of themselves when young, often because they have little to offer, become passionate over irrelevant things when they become adults. A person of low skill, unable to succeed in any other profession, will latch onto librarianship and then scream about its relevance, how librarians crusade to keep information available to all. This sad confluence of forces give lost souls a chance to define, to them, an important identity.

They’re surrounded by colleagues who reinforce this notion, and have a ridiculous professional organization which constantly reminds us how important libraries are to a free society and who manufactures threats to this mission around every corner. A job which requires the skill of a filing clerk thus becomes a calling.

Many librarians remind me of the Onion’s Jean Teasdale. Read some of her articles, then imagine her with an MLS. Such outrage she would express when her children’s budget is cut ten percent and she has to cut back on the number of Captain Underpants books she can buy. The earth shattering, societal rending decisions she would have to make would yield articles and postings about the importance of libraries, and how important and selfless she is for running one, especially when assaulted on all sides by the malevolent information freedom haters of our society. She couldn’t possibly worry about salary level when she’s crusading for our very souls.

Poor Jean, finally a reason for her being, a passion for her being, which is of course as irrelevant as she is.

Nathan said...

I'm a Lutheran, so I view every kind of "job" (legitimate jobs that is...) as a calling - i.e. whether in the private sector or the pulbic sector, one ought to serve one's neighbor in love. So I'm not sure how the question applies to me. :)

You are definitely tapping into something though - i.e. the connection between religion, philosophy, and librarianship. I recommend reading the recent book "Sacred Stacks" - which might be a great jumping off point for discussion in this area.

Stacey said...

Despite receiving my MLIS about two years ago, I will be starting my first library job in a few weeks. The delay was due to several events in my personal life, but it gave me the unexpected benefit of being able to view the profession as a fly on the wall for a while.

What I've seen is a massive divide between the people who love their jobs, who give librarians a good name, who are social and smart versus those who have enclosed themselves in a self-important bubble with little to no life skill beyond the library. It's the latter who seem to overshadow the former -- and who seem to validate their stance with the "calling" idea.

I left an extremely lucrative career in public relations to become a librarian -- a choice I haven't regretted (yet) because I did so for life balance reasons. That said, whether I'm a vice president or a librarian, it's still a job, not un raison de etre. What gets me from my insider-out point of view is how all-consuming the label "librarian" can be to some people. There is a whiff of "doth protest too much" about it all that strikes me as very odd.

Stephen Denney said...

It seems there are some big stereotypes here. First of all, it is not inconsistent to regard librarianship as a "calling" while still lobbying for a decent salary. Secondly, working in a difficult library environment does not reflect badly on the worker; that would seem more like teaching in an inner city school, which I imagine would be difficult but rewarding in other ways. I would not describe my work, cataloging books, as a calling, but if others in the library world see their work that way then I would not belittle that.

Varzil said...

Library work is not a calling for me.

I run the computer department. I do not have a MLIS, but an undergraduate degree in Computer Science along with many years of practical hands on experience in working on and with computer systems.

I really really enjoy my work and am very passionate about it, but it is not a calling. I get decent pay, one of the best public retirement plans in the country, generous off time and job satisfaction, but it is still a job. I could do what I do and would, if the ancillary benefits were not there. I did it before when I worked for banks and I could do it again, although here the benefits are better and I have very few 18 hour days as at the bank.

Of course, I do have to put up with some of the snobbery that comes with being paid equal to or higher than librarians in my consortia because I don't have an MLIS, but I chalk that up to jealousy.

My calling is my family. My calling is my spirituality. My calling is my life. Not my job.

Anonymous said...

I’ve never had a calling nor have I ever had any real clear professional direction or goal. I have more or less drifted from one thing to another all my life and in a rather desultory manner. Being a librarian was something I did because I was neither talented, in any marketable sense, nor ambitious enough to pursue anything that demanded rigor and dedication, particularly in math and the sciences. I slid in and out of library school with a 4.0 GPA. I have been in the field for little over three years. I don’t hate the job, but am somewhat bored with it—in fact, supremely bored. I work in a busy urban public library and about the most exciting thing I contend with each day is the wide spectrum of patron requests and psychotic juggernauts floating about. I am currently in school once again working on an MBA degree in as wayward a manner as any street person on a balmy drunken summer’s night. Speaking of which, I’m getting sleepy now, I think I’ll retire for a bit and go “weed” down in the stacks.

Soren Faust

Anonymous said...

Librarianship was a job for me until 2001, when the demand for librarians dried up.

Since then it has been a calling, but not by choice.

In order to stay in the profession, I have had to job-hop, volunteer full-time at a library for over a year, move frequently, apply for thousands of positions, and live the life of a miser.

If you want to stay in librarianship these days, you HAVE to see it as a calling.

You were able to establish yourself in the field during a time when viewing librarianship as a job was possible. Now the "entry-fees" to this profession (volunteering, multi-year job hunts, decades of experience for entry-level jobs etc.) are unreasonably high.

To have a chance at making it we are forced to sacrifice all other aspects of our lives.

I'd bail in a heartbeat, but first I need to extract value from the investment I made in my ALA accredited MLS.

Anonymous said...

I like my job and I like the field of librarianship. I don't see it as a "calling." I feel fortunate to have a job that I (mostly) enjoy doing and that I am good at doing. I could be just as good in another profession using the same or related skills, but I ended up doing this, and it works for me. I never expected to get rich doing it, but I do not think I am underpaid.

People with the job title of "librarian" work in many different kinds of environments, doing many different kinds of work. Yes, some librarians perform work that is basically clerical. Others do not. I think every profession and job field has people that take it more seriously than others, or are more progressive than others, or that do better work than others. Librarians are no different.

I think perhaps part of the reason that many librarians feel noble about their work is because they work in a non-profit setting. The purpose of a public library or an academic institution is more about imparting knowledge than making one's self or one's company richer. I think most of the comments made could be applied to the non-profit sector in general, not just to libraries and librarians.

Emily Barney said...

Hm. I'd agree with Nathan, though I'm not a Lutheran. I don't like the word "calling" though I'm not opposed to the term "vocation" (a meaningless quibble). I've wanted to be a librarian since I was a kid and I've found ways to work in libraries wherever I could despite not having the MLS yet (it's in progress). I do believe it's meaningful work and I want to be good at it for more than just my own sake.

I'm a Christian and I really like the idea of all worthwhile work (whether for a salary or not) being in some sense a part of our spiritual selves. Dorothy L. Sayers wrote essays on the subject that I really like, similar to the Arts & Crafts socialism of Ruskin or Morris. I wouldn't want to judge someone who feels that a job is just a job is just a job, but maybe you can give a few of us enthusiasts the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe it's a partly because I'm a congenital optimist - I hope I'm still worth some practical good, but I am sincere in my affection for this work. I don't spew my "passion" all over my coworkers and I don't blog about it. I do want a decent wage and I don't intend to be mistreated, but I won't put my salary as the primary criteria for a good job, either.

Anonymous said...

Dear AL, you often convey my deep, dark inner thoughts with such articulate clarity. It is quite spooky. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm a middle school librarian. It's definately not about the money or the fame. I'm either passionate about my work or certifiably crazy(or both.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, some librarians perform work that is basically clerical. Others do not. I think every profession and job field has people that take it more seriously than others, or are more progressive than others, or that do better work than others. Librarians are no different.

The clerical nature of most library work has nothing to do with your perceived personal deficiencies of librarians. I would argue, however, that neither project management nor product implementation is exactly clerical. Perhaps instead of glorified clerks, we really are glorified implementers. I indict myself here--my job is all resource discovery and implementation. I certainly don't think this is anything to be ashamed of, but at the same time, I do not feel compelled to fatuously blather about technology or myself. I am content with what I do. I am not sure if I believe in callings. It is such a loaded term with religious connotations, and because I am an atheist, it kinda rings hollow.

Many librarians remind me of the Onion’s Jean Teasdale. Read some of her articles, then imagine her with an MLS.

Yeah, her and Herbert Kornfeld (morn 'ya until I join 'ya) from Midstate Office Supply!

Proletarian Librarian said...

Definitely a job. But man do I get a lot of pressure to ACT like it's my calling.

The fact is, I often have a difficult time understanding people who "live for their jobs". Usually it makes me rather sad for them because it seems as though they don't have very full lives. I have so many hobbies and interests that I can always think of about fifty things I'd rather be doing than going to work. I'm good at my job. Some would even say I'm great at my job. But it is, in the end, just a way to keep the bills paid that I find less aggravating than some other jobs I've had in the past.

Marianaria Sra. bibliotecaria said...

My attitude is that I'm the same person when I wake up in the morning regardless of my job title. Yes, let's work for higher wages; yes, let's stop having a cow whenever a librarian is portrayed as having a bun; and, please, yes, let's stop trying so hard to be hip/trendy/webby/whatever the hot thing to be is.

Marianaria Sra. bibliotecaria said...

I just read the October 10th post at http://dmorgen.blogspot.com ("What's that all about?") Click on the link in that post to Carl Dennis's poem "The God who Loves You" and notice, in particular the last couple of lines.

Adveturous Librarian said...

Oh I am so glad I'm the only one who wants to cease being a librarian the second I leave the library building. I am not my profession. I do what I do because I'm good at it and it provides me enough to pay my bills (usually). But I spend a lot of my free time figuring out a way to make a lot more money doing something much more fulfilling so I don't have to stay in libraries my whole life.

Anonymous said...

I spent 20 years in the military. That is a calling. I have an MLS. Being a librarian is not a calling and never will be.

Brent said...

I don't believe in free will. So I blame God that I am a librarian.

Anonymous said...

The AL followers are a cult. They are a cult that abjures the stupid do-gooders who dominate the field.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog early this morning, before anyone posted. I didn't post anything, because i didn't really know what to say.
I reread it again with the comments.
(not really surprised that so many of your respondents remain anonymous like me).

I really don't know how to respond, except that I agree that librarianship is "not a calling", and I treat my work life as a librarian as a job, not a career.

As a failed translator, the only way I could be around the literature I wanted to read and work on was as a librarian, since I couldn't live and work in the countries that I was interested in, I had no means to do so and I wasn't independently wealthy. Librarianship brought me closer to the books I wanted to read and study, although (after enduring the joke that is library school), I decided not to pursue another Masters degree. I am now stuck in a major urban public library, as a 'generalist'. The other librarians I see astound me continually surprise me with their lack of intellectual curiousity, their appalling absence of knowledge (even about answering the simplest reference queries) and the sad clueless, vacuous ways they go about their daily routines. Why or how they ever became librarians is not a question they'd want to answer: they just exist in some sort of daily vacuum of futility, waiting for retirement or pension. i am afraid that I am becoming one of them.

Yet, I do what I can to keep myself abreast of issues pertaining to librarianship, apply to jobs that I would never be considered for, (too much experience) and wait.

As a male librarian in a female dominated profession, in the past I would have been interested in a position as a systems librarian. Now that those positions seem completely outourced to non-librarians (i.e., geeks), it's not a feasible option.

The opportunities for work exist elsewhere if you are willing to relocate; if you're not, it's just too bad.

This idea of librarianship as a calling is totally fallacious, if you are not ambitious to assume an administrtive posiion or interested in serving as an administrator, or can't get work in a private or academic library, the profession is not a profession: it's more like a glorified clerical/filing clerk position...depending where your are or what library you work for, it's higher paid position at that.

To me it remains a job, and my interests remain elsewhere.

Nathan said...

varzil said:

"My calling is my family. My calling is my spirituality. My calling is my life. Not my job."

For clarification purposes (if anyone cares), when I said that I think all legitimate "jobs" are callings (so in my view even if someone does not think they are called by God to serve their neighbor in their work - whatever it is - they are, even if they don't know it - we are all his "masks in the world" :) ), I did not mean to mitigate the point made above by varzil. I think we all have many "callings" - "wear many hats" - and that we may be "called" to one thing or another at different times in our lives. The perceived importance of one's particular job, salary, competition level - don't matter in one sense, as all are significant in some way. Those who are good at what they do, however, and who have, as one person said, "a sincere affection for their work" (not mitigating "keeping up" with the changing times) - and are eager to learn more about how to do their work better - may be given more responsibility...

Emily Lloyd said...

http://shelfcheck.blogspot.com/2007/10/shelf-check-106.html

Anonymous said...

This is coming from someone who decided to become a librarian after reading an article in Cosmo back in the late 1980's - any others out there? I have been a librarian for 15 years now and I like being a librarian but, like so many others that commented, I have a much better social life and family life than professional life.

I am lucky in many respects, I get paid very well to work in this field. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't. My kids need to eat! My husband is a high school teacher and football coach - and I truly believe that his low-paying job is a "calling." Mine, not so much!

Everytime I attend the ALA conference, I always feel like I am missing something...I look around and think, are these people crazy or is it just me??

When I finally retire from this job, I do not plan on becoming a volunteer at the public library, I plan on spending my retirement enjoying the things and people that my job afforded me. Granted that is not for another 15 years or so!

AL said...

"Everytime I attend the ALA conference, I always feel like I am missing something...I look around and think, are these people crazy or is it just me??"

I get the same feeling.

Anonymous said...

AL, I love you more with every post. I've heard that bullshit about callings from teachers, social workers, etc., all of whom society claims to value. WTF? If you value your children, your education, or your mental well being, why not put the money there? I could buy the idea that being a librarian takes passion (though it doesn't), but that doesn't mean it should be low-paying. The gold-plated assholes who run the corporations that run the U.S. get hundreds of millions of dollars for providing us with books, movies, and "news" about Britney's snatch. If that's where we think the product of all our labor should go, we deserve the society we have.

Anonymous said...

As a male librarian in a female dominated profession, in the past I would have been interested in a position as a systems librarian. Now that those positions seem completely outourced to non-librarians (i.e., geeks), it's not a feasible option.

In some institutions, geeks are hired to manage the network, but a librarian is hired to manage the ILS and e-resources. There is a lot of flexibility in systems librarianship. There are plenty of opportunities at smaller private colleges and regional state colleges. Don't give up.

Everytime I attend the ALA conference or any library conference, I always feel like I am missing something...I look around and think, are these people crazy or is it just me?? [emphasis mine]

You mean you don't get sufficiently jacked about information freedom?

TJP said...

Were we reading each others minds ?
I posted a similar post yesterday.

TJPaladin Blog

* Librarianship is a career field

* Being the Circ Librarian at Rivercity PL is a job

It is a choice that I have made based on my Skills, interests, and most importantly my personality and temperament.

God has "called" each of us to work.

Work is edifying, and productive for the home, family, community, and soul.

Adam's first job was to be a Librarian. {Name the animals}

My point - our motivations for choosing a job are very mixed....
But certainly - a true "calling" (and/or) "vocation" is not specific like a particular job.
Jobs are "means" not "ends".

Callings are "ends"

Dances With Books said...

I certainly can live with some poverty (notice I say some. I am not doing it for free), am rebellious when I can, and absolutely reject chastity. Where does that place me?

On a bit serious note, I would fall in the passionate camp. I do like what I do. In my academic case, I like being in a campus and with students. And while I have some ambition to be better, I have no illusions about being at the top of my profession. That is because the "top" would be management. That would mean more work and more aggravation. Who wants that? Besides, pay at management may be peanuts when compared to management in some other field. Overall, I am good at what I do, the students tend to be happy, and I want to do it well. Is that so wrong?

And let's not even go into the ALA fees. I am sure the Prez can go on saying we don't do it for the money.

Anonymous said...

I've heard way more teachers talk about their callings, and how they'd do their jobs even if they didn't get paid, than I have librarians. And my thought was, geez, it's fine to think that. But if you say that out loud, you're never going to get paid well! So I largely agree.

On the other hand, I've also known a park ranger, a restorer of old houses, some free-lance writers, and loads of people working for the social services and non-profit organizations who've described their jobs as callings. So it seems like you're kind of hard on your own profession, who to me are just like people in all kinds of jobs.

TJP said...

Of course teachers and others can refer to their yearn to do a certain job as a "calling".

(Though I question that term if the person in question does not believe in a higher power that will actually "call" you to a certain task)

But, this hypothetical "calling" is to "teaching" or to "be a librarian"
It is not "to work in a low paid Public service job."

I can be a teacher or librarian in my own home - among my own friends - for a high power corporate giant company.

It is well and good to feel "a calling" - but an entirely different matter to accept any particular job for any other reason than "you like it" and/or "it puts food on the table".

We should always strive to do our best job - maybe even passionate about our profession as a whole.

Yet, I seriously doubt anyone has actually heard "the Lord" call them to be a JuV Librarian at River City PL - at any cost for any salary, under any conditions - because thus is your destiny...

BTW - I have accepted

Moderate Obedience
Complete Chastity
(both before & within my marriage)
but not
--- Poverty

Anonymous said...

I find that many librarians are more passionate about being a "professional" than they are about the work they actually do as this gives them the status they would undoubtedly not be able to attain elsewhere. Having worked as a paraprofessional in a large academic library system for many years I was very reluctant to pursue my MLIS because I couldn't reconcile the attitudes and behavior displayed by the librarians I worked with as being at all professional, let alone mature or rational. I finally caved, not because I found my "calling" but because, like it or not, having that little piece of paper that says I, too, can call myself a professional is really the only way to get ahead in the library world; there are simply more opportunities for even a mediocre librarian than there are for the best paraprofessional.

I'm passionate about doing my job well and making sure I represent the institution for which I work in its most positive light. I'm passionate about doing things right the first time and doing things for the right reasons. And I'm very passionate about giving and getting respect where respect is due, as it is in virtually every case. But these are all personal attributes that are applied to the job I hold or the profession I pursue and not the result of any particular job or profession itself. I'm passionate about having a job that challenges me, that I enjoy doing and that pays reasonably well. At the moment, that job happens to be as a librarian; if any of that changes, so to will my chosen profession. More simply put, I chose this "profession", it didn't choose me.

Anonymous said...

Good post, AL. Your blog speaks to Librarians who are ambivalent about their profession. I was one of those people who didn't know what the hell to do after graduating from college. "The Graduate" was my favorite movie at the time. I chose librarianship---just because it seemed like an interesting career w/ a wide range of options. My job now is just a job--it's not a calling. In a way I envy those who are so passionate about librarianship--but at the same time, they can be a real pain in the ass. They take themselves so seriously. Librarianship should not be a field that requires a Masters degree. It doesn't have that complexity--as another field might have.

Anonymous said...

Librarianship was a job for me until 2001, when the demand for librarians dried up.

That mirrors my experience. I've had three great job hunts. The first was fresh out of school, where I found the best thing to do is NOT use those cut-n-paste resumes from the how to get a job book but write your own.

After the Library From Hell I went to a staff position and searched for about three years, averaging about 3-4 interviews for every 50 resumes. I gave up about 2001 as the places that called me were absolute nightmares to consider working at.

My most recent hunt was two years, which I gave up this summer. After over two hundred resumes I had 1 (one) phone call. I kept wondering what on earth I was doing wrong until I realized the demand was gone and every job had more and more people trying for it, with qualifications expected that almost no one can fit but a God candidate.

As a male librarian in a female dominated profession, in the past I would have been interested in a position as a systems librarian.

Me, too. In fact, a lot of the reason I caved in to pursue an MLS was the ability to do computers without having a math background as....no surprise...I can't do math. My idea was to either get a good systems job or enough experience I could work in other non-library jobs.

but a librarian is hired to manage the ILS and e-resources. There is a lot of flexibility in systems librarianship. There are plenty of opportunities at smaller private colleges and regional state colleges. Don't give up.

Going from maintaining hardware, internal databases, and real nuts-and-bolts work to haggling over licenses and scrambling for free access trials isn't quite the same thing.

I've given up on this because like everything else the requirements are often more than I could ever meet, unless I start lying on my resume. Heck, I can start now, did I mention I speak Navajo and can program in 34 languages?........

Anonymous said...

Going from maintaining hardware, internal databases, and real nuts-and-bolts work to haggling over licenses and scrambling for free access trials isn't quite the same thing.

Systems librarianship is techie lite--as a I call it. LIS newbies to think it is all about programming and network administration, but in many cases, that is not so. You need to be able to troubleshoot the ILS (know cataloging, acq., serials, circ., etc.), train staff, manage e-resources, serve on the reference desk, know MARC, and some basics of the easier programming languages such as Perl. On top of all this, you better have some social skills because people you will mostly serve as a bridge between your network staff and your ILS users. I have no idea what kind of BS library school is slinging about systems librarianship, but it isn't true. It's not glamorous at most institutions. Before I got into systems, I actually talked to a few systems librarians and worked closely with one for a few years. If you know computers, then go the IT route. I would think most diehard geeks would hate systems librarianship. Besides, you will earn way more money as a Unix administrator, for example.

Anonymous said...

Look around you at any library conference and you'll see a bunch of people who are palid, doughy and inert. Why is that?

TJP said...

Anonymous said:
"Librarianship should not be a field that requires a Masters degree. It doesn't have that complexity--as another field might have"

Well that's a whole other debate.

While I see my job as a job - I would defend the MLS Degree and Librarian Education as a way to combat parochialism and open Library professionals to the wide world of possibilities.

I've known many non-professional Librarians that did their job terrifically - but they were short sighted in not knowing the foundations, history , and other emerging trends in Library science.
-- They only did their library work to put food on the table.


The MLIS degree helps keep the "Big Picture". And ensures a certain amount of "transferable skills and knowledge between library jobs"
-- hopefully

Anonymous said...

Look around you at any library conference and you'll see a bunch of people who are palid, doughy and inert. Why is that?

I think this just reflects the adult population as a whole and slightly more librarians fit the bill. I have also noticed the few people I knew over ten years ago in LIS have put on quite a bit of weight since then. They have morphed into typical middle-aged librarians. Yikes!

I've known many non-professional Librarians that did their job terrifically
Same here, but they rarely see the big picture. Also, they do tend to struggle with other things (public service, etc.) outside their narrow range.

Anonymous said...

Several of my coworkers and colleagues (we are all degreed public librarians) have been living this discussion for months. It may have something to do with the fact that we are approaching 50 and are trying hard not to be the white, middle-aged librarians we really are (although we drink martinis, it's not in high-priced bars, and we draw the line at tattoos and piercings). I had to take 6 weeks off from my job last year because of a toxic supervisor (one who went to library school later in life and is now attempting to compensate for both her incompetence and her insecurities by making everyone miserable). It's been a struggle during the past year to realize that, bottom line, this IS a job. I'm now doing a lot of creative tasks which are perfect for my abilities; I enjoy my coworkers and most of the patrons; I am very much appreciated by colleagues, patrons, and my (new) supervisor, and life is much better. But I finally had to realize that, yes, this IS a job. Frankly, I'm a lot more effective without the "calling" baggage.

Anonymous said...

I work for health insurance.

9/10 of what I do as a librarian is brain-dead stuff. 1/10 is vaguely interesting. On a good day.

If it weren't for the intellectual challenge and satisfaction I get from self-employment on the side, I'd have to self-medicate to get myself to go to work.

Krista said...

"I feel sorry for you, because you do not do what you love"

I second what this person has said. Maybe I'm just a 1st year, naive library student (and yes, straight from undergrad - if that makes me dorky, loser-ish, then whatever, but at least I know what I want to do with my life), but I truly want to know, AL, WHY ARE YOU A LIBRARIAN????? (Also, I've only been reading your blog for a few months to date...)

Just "loving" the library is not a good enough reason, or at least I don't see how that makes you any different from an average, frequent patron.

I'm quickly learning that ALA is not always right, so I dont' want to be accused of not being "up on the mattter". I'm also learning - through studying the history of the profession - that our wages do SUCK compared to other fields (maybe you should consider law librarianship - I've heard they make the bucks). And I agree with you, that we should lobby for better wages and more equity in the world of "professionalism" in general...since ALA isn't helping!

However, I don't think its fair for you to say that to have a "calling" or "to be ambitious" or polar opposites or somehow unrelated. While I wouldn't use those words (to have a calling - simply, the have to much of a religious connotation for me), I would say that I have a strong sense of pride, AMBITION, and sense of social justice, and those are among the main reasons behind my wanting to go into the field.

Again, I will ask, and I hope you don't brush it off or use me as a reason to "snark" at someone/something...but...

WHY ARE YOU A LIBRARIAN...REALLY?!?!?

AL said...

"Do what you love!" "Why aren't you doing what you love?!"

Oh, you sweet, silly, naive people. You seem to believe in that "do what you love and the money will follow" stuff. There's only one problem with that. It's bollocks.

I hate to break it to you, sweetie, but some people have bills to pay. These people who have bills to pay need jobs. Sometimes the jobs people want--e.g., tenured professor at decent school in a tolerable part of the country--aren't available because of a glutted job market. So sometimes these people take semi-related jobs that pay the bills but allow a lot more choice about location and working conditions.

Having gone straight from college to library school, it seems possible that you've never competed in a job market. It's also possible that with your young age and limited education your horizons are narrow.

Pride, ambition, and social justice? This is why you think you want to become a librarian? If you ever finish library school and actually get a job, perhaps you'll realize how naive this sounds.

I'm a librarian because getting an MLS and finding decent library jobs were both very easy. Unlike my original career choice, the competition was slack. And I make more money and have more control over my working conditions and geographic location than almost all the people I know who stayed on the academic job market and are now professors of some sort.

I'm ambivalent about this field because I see a bunch of odd people going on about it being a calling or being about "social justice" or being a difficult and crucially important field that will change the world, when for me it's an incredibly easy and decent paying job that I could do in my sleep and still outperform most of my colleagues. I just can't get that enthusiastic about something that's so easy to do and so intellectually unchallenging.

Anonymous said...

Job or career? What you think you have may differ from what others think. I have a job. There is no progression possible in my institution. I will be moving interstate (again) to get a career. But, when I descibe to other librarians my job/workplace, they seem to think I have a career.
It is all about your own expectations, experience and baggage. What I consider a stagnant organisation with lots of 'busy' work, no intellectual challenge, useless managers but with generous pay, others see an oasis.

Leo Klein said...

I always assumed that librarians working the really crappy jobs were doing it because they were lazy or stupid, or had no marketable skills, or had previously worked in an even more annoying profession, or were uncompetitive in some way they couldn't help (unable to move from the area, for example), or just not very good at their jobs.

For me, it was either librarianship or serious quality time in a penal institution.

I didn't even bat an eye.

Bunny Watson said...

For me, it was either librarianship or serious quality time in a penal institution.

I didn't even bat an eye.


So how was prison? ;)

Anonymous said...

Pride, ambition, and social justice? This is why you think you want to become a librarian? If you ever finish library school and actually get a job, perhaps you'll realize how naive this sounds.

I'll just add that if you are really interested in social justice, then you should have considered law school, graduate work in public health, etc. Once you land your first job, you will quickly realize the social justice component is largely a myth perpetuated by ALA.

I also think it is not such a great idea to jump into librarianship straight out of undergraduate studies. I have a dear friend who did this and she is no longer a librarian--she's in higher ed. administration. I don't mean to condescending because I was once in your shoes, except I was in a different graduate program.

As far as doing what you love, well, that sort of isn't an option for me. I do not have the financial resources to go back to school to study epidemiology. I would love to get a masters in public health and help our country tackle the obesity epidemic. I don't hate being a librarian, but it's just too late to change. And if I can somehow meld public health issues with librarianship, I probably would, but no one else seems to be interested in this sort of thing.

french panic said...

Wow. I didn't know so many people actually took to heart and BELIEVE Oprah's proclamation of "Do what you love!"

I was going to ramble on about how naive and silly such an attitude is, but AL did it nicely, all by herself.

I am amazed at how some people think that their minds are never going to change. You might love what you are doing right now, but what makes you think you are gonna be lovin it in 5, 10 years?

This also reminds me of how so many people think that doctors are doctors "to save lives." Or "to really help people." ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Sometimes, they just want to make money.

TJP said...

"Do what you love" - "get a job"

Of course, there is often room for both.

We all have to balance them out.

My job as a librarian matches my interests and temperament.

I tell everyone who asks what I do:

"I'm a librarian. It's good work. It's a low stress environment. I like the stimulation and and it pays decently well. I live within my means."

Many folks have told me I could work at bigger better jobs - But I don't want that kind of job. The stress, sacrifices, and aggravation are not worth the money to me.

I'd rather have the 24 days vacation, 7 holidays, 9-5 Mon-Sat workday, low stress, Temperature controlled office job. Where I utilize most of my talents well.

Than an extra $20-$30k.

That's a personal choice. But, I would not kid myself into thinking that it is "my true calling".

That's a self-delusional excuse for why I accept a lower salary over a high pressure job.

Krista said...

To all those who want to question my experience, I have worked in libraries since I was in high school. I worked my way up form a page and shelver, to a reference assistant, and now a Graduate Assistant for the main acadmic library on campus. This past summer, I also completed a position as a summer outreach programmer for a public library children's department. So, to say that I've "never competed" in a job market is a sore assumption.

Secondly, maybe "social justice" is a little strong, but I plan on working with Young Adults who truly need guidance in developing a sense of purpose in their life and the larger world. Considering where I grew up and worked in the past, being in this position definately forces you to fight against racism, classicism, sexism, and any other "ism" you want to throw my way.

End the in - say what you will...at least I have purpose to my life.

Anonymous said...

Yes. As we all know this is a female dominated profession and many women (not all, of course) in this field are partnered with a higher income earner. It's too easy for these women to view this career as a calling when they don't have to worry about paying student loans, the mortgage, put off having children, etc.

This is a dangerous, outmoded perception that must be wiped from the minds of hiring managers who will use it as an excuse to offer librarians less pay. It may have been this way in 70's but it ain't now. Most librarians I know are single, perhaps divorced (as is common in modern society), and struggling to make ends meet.

Anonymous said...

End the in - say what you will...at least I have purpose to my life.

How dare you make that assumption that none of us have purpose in our lives! Yeah, I'll give you another "ism" to ponder; how about narcissism?

To all those who want to question my experience, I have worked in libraries since I was in high school.

That experience is not the same as working post-collegiately in a salaried, professional environment.

I plan on working with Young Adults who truly need guidance in developing a sense of purpose in their life and the larger world.

Get a degree in clinical psych. Libarianship is not the proper avenue for such undertakings.

AL said...

"at least I have purpose to my life"

What I find curious is your implication that the lives of those who don't work at jobs they love don't have purpose. That's the flaw in the idea of librarianship as a "calling"--that one's life purpose is defined by one's job.

I still say it seems to me that you're very young and still seem to believe that the choices you think you have now will all still be available in the future, when the hard fact is that usually as people grow older and have more responsibilities and obligations their choices diminish.

Most people frustrated with their jobs or their life can't just start over and do something new, or "do what they love." Plenty of librarians might actually hate their jobs (I wouldn't count myself in that group), but they have children and families depending on them, they have debt and mortgages and bills to pay, and they may or may not have a spouse or partner to help with these things. Their choices are circumscribed, and they no longer have the option of running home to mom and dad for a fresh start.

I still think it's very naive of someone fresh out of college to criticize what she sees as the purposelessness of the lives of people who are independent, on their own, supporting themselves and maybe their families and perhaps have been for 5, 10, 15 years, but who are ambivalent about their jobs and are too entangled by the responsibilities of adulthood to start over. As an adult who has been a librarian for a long time and who has been on my own even longer, I can only say you don't know what you're talking about because you have insufficient experience as an adult.

Finish school, get a job, and come back to the conversation in 10 years. If you still have the same attitude, I'll give it the respect it will then deserve.

Krista said...

Again, why must you stereotype people???

No, I have NEVER run to my mother or father for anything - BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE ANY-THING!!!

This is WHY I went to college, this is why I'm in grad school, and this why I plan on starting my career - one that I know I will love because I have since I first set my foot in it - so that I can do better and help them out.

I'm so, so, SOOOO sorry that you or anyone else in your position seems to think that simply because of finances or societal pressure that you "don't have a choice". You always have a choice - that's what makes us human - CHOICE! Also, it's called being brave...

To top it all of, bills...hA! Don't even get me going on that topic...I have oodles of bills from school, and that does not even count my living expenses which I pay out of pocket and still can't make ends meet.

If I've learned nothing else it is that I'm even more fired up now about my choice to puruse this career, if nothing more than to show all of you "librarians" what a TRUE librarian is all about...

Thanks so much for perpetuating the "crotchety, rude" librarian stereotype that my peers and I are trying so hard to get rid of. May I never be as cynical and hurtful towards others as you have been of me or anyone who shares my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Folks, why are you trying to reason with the young library student? Why? When will you learn you can't tell most young students anything? Many of us were similar when we were in early 20s with our "I know it all" attitude so don't bother. Please don't forget, these kids think 30 is oh-so-old, so just ignore her. She doesn't even realize that posting a comment is a give-and-take conversation.

Anyone who thinks it's brave to walk away from your debts (financial, personal, emotional) because you're unhappy obviously has it down.

AL--any new posts to take us into the weekend?

Anonymous said...

when for me it's an incredibly easy and decent paying job that I could do in my sleep and still outperform most of my colleagues

I do sometimes wonder AL if you let your ego get the better of you, or if your colleagues would agree with that assessment.

However, looking back now on my last library job from a couple of years later, the challenge in it all wasn't really the work, but accommodating the aggravatingly incompetent Jean Teasdales and struggling with an ever shrinking budget.

Revenue based accounting is possibly one of the worst things to come down the pike, but I'm wandering.

Librarianship seemed challenging when I was trying it because I wanted to do a good job and be accepted, but was being judged by people who were borderline idiots and wanted to keep their little piece of turf "safe". Under those conditions, any job can be a "challenge."

I'm so, so, SOOOO sorry that you or anyone else in your position seems to think that simply because of finances or societal pressure that you "don't have a choice".

You're showing how young you are, it's when you've tried to pursue your dreams and had them dashed that you gain the perspective of age. Life isn't always fair, nor does doing a good job get you something in return.

If I've learned nothing else it is that I'm even more fired up now about my choice to puruse this career, if nothing more than to show all of you "librarians" what a TRUE librarian is all about..

Go ahead, and check back in, say, five years. I can't tell you how many people just starting out in their careers are convinced they'll change the world, and how few actually do.

AL said...

"If I've learned nothing else it is that I'm even more fired up now about my choice to puruse this career, if nothing more than to show all of you "librarians" what a TRUE librarian is all about"

This is probably the funniest thing I've read all week. It's so arrogant it makes the AL look like a shrinking violet, and so absurd one can't possibly respond to it. Anon@1:13 is right. What can one say to a child who has absolutely no idea what she's talking about. It's only as we get older that we realize how much we don't know and how complicated the world really is.

"I do sometimes wonder AL if you let your ego get the better of you, or if your colleagues would agree with that assessment."

Yes, that was a joke and a bit over the top. I have some fantastic colleagues, but then again I have some that seem to have slept through the last 20 years.

"AL--any new posts to take us into the weekend?"

Ah, I wish. I've been pretty busy this week with meetings and administrative work and stuff like that and my evenings (when I generally write the posts) have been full this week as well. I can't sacrifice all of my social life for my readers, as much as I love them. It's a pity I can't just quit my job and write this blog full time and, you know, "do something I love" and give a "purpose to my life."

mdoneil said...

Deluded fools.

It is a job, it is not a calling or world changing vocation. You help old people use eBay and tell people to stop touching themselves. When I was a public librarian I was delighted if I had 2 questions that required my skills a month.

As to the people that say they are well paid, either you are one of the few who really is paid well, or you have low standards. If you are not making at least $50K in a small or mid sided market with good benefits (insurance is not more that $50 a month) then you are not by any strech of the imagination well paid. If you are in NYC and nto making 100K you are simply poor.

Get out and use your skills somewhere else. If you can't get out then you really don't have marketable skills.

I am passionate about making a decent living, the luddited can learn the interwebs on their own.

Anonymous said...

To all those who want to question my experience, I have worked in libraries since I was in high school. I worked my way up form a page and shelver, to a reference assistant, and now a Graduate Assistant for the main acadmic library on campus. This past summer, I also completed a position as a summer outreach programmer for a public library children's department. So, to say that I've "never competed" in a job market is a sore assumption.

LOL @ believing this is real world work experience!

Anonymous said...

To top it all of, bills...hA! Don't even get me going on that topic...I have oodles of bills from school, and that does not even count my living expenses which I pay out of pocket and still can't make ends meet.

I hate to say this but you are starting out severely in the hole. I've been there once myself and there is no way in hell I'd go back to that again. You know, it ain't much fun when you can barely make ends meet and have a life-threatening condition that ate up a nice chunk of your income during the past year. And believe me, this had nothing to do with my lifestyle--I am otherwise really healthy and fit.

This is WHY I went to college, this is why I'm in grad school, and this why I plan on starting my career - one that I know I will love because I have since I first set my foot in it - so that I can do better and help them out.

College is no longer guarantee for a comfortable middle-class life. You can thank university marketing departments for their heavy recruitment efforts to this type of education to anyone with a pulse. You know, a lot of these kids don't want your help, and those who do, will expect you to be in loco parentis. You will burnout by the time you are thirty. I am really sorry but no librarian is qualified to provide counseling and assistance for troubled, disadvantaged youth. Your presumptuousness is an insult to case workers, PhD's in psychology, health care professionals, and certified teachers.

Thanks so much for perpetuating the "crotchety, rude" librarian stereotype that my peers and I are trying so hard to get rid of.

You can't be serious? Most librarians are overly nice to their patrons. Yeah, there are a few arrogant ones, but spend some time in academe as a grad student and they will seem like the kindest people on the planet. You have no perspective. You and your peers are spending far too much time trying to be hip. Guess what? The patrons don't care. The young adults don't care either--unless you can act like their mommy because their biological one is too busy "stuntin'" or "pimpin'".

faithless minion said...

Gary North (who some will find credible, and others, not):
"I define "calling" as follows: the most important thing that you can do in which you would be most difficult to replace. I define "occupation" as the way you put bread on the table. Sometimes these can be the same, but not very often. The most important thing is your calling. Your occupation should support your calling."

So, AL, I will stand with nathan, and emily barney, and ultimately even krista on this one. I think the "selfless service" aspect is wrong, however - and that may be one of the things that burns people out to the point of treating librarianship as just another job. The calling is part of who you are, and is abandoned at your peril. Yes, one needs a vey high opinion of oneself to believe that "you would be most difficult to replace". That's why I expect, to be true to this calling, to try to get better at it, by choosing carefully those peers and betters to emulate. I admire Thomas Mann over at LC, for instance (but I don't particularly care if it's "just a job" to him). I think the best exemplars of the profession saw their work as a calling, too, although I haven't studied their biographies to verify that.

Great thread of discussion - thanks again!

Anonymous said...

It's very simple, really. If you run around saying it's a calling that you'd do for the love of it, canny employers realize that "love+peanuts" is a big improvement over "love." This becomes a toxic mix with the obsession with degrees (which is understandable, since they know they're not going to get more money, so if they require more degrees then surely, people will take it more seriously, right?), as the degree becomes more and more expensive.

I admit, I fell into it, and having health insurance and a whole bag of peanuts instead of half a bag while temping uninsured made it seem worthwhile, but I've learned the hard way that this was a stupid choice. Of course, so was a liberal arts bachelors degree, though at least I *enjoyed* that. I like library work. It's an easy, reasonably pleasant job (administrative insanity aside), which I can leave at work when I come home to write, which is a big part of the point. But a calling? I feel a calling to defend and support libraries, but I sometimes think that would be much better served as a trustee or even a local politician than it is as a librarian, as librarians have ZERO power to make consequential decisions.

Anonymous said...

so if they require more degrees then surely, people will take it more seriously, right?), as the degree becomes more and more expensive.

If education hadn't become so expensive I would have long ago gone back for another degree. However, if I could get a second master's degree in something employable I doubt I would continue in libraries. As it is I seriously wonder if I will be paying my student loans into retirement.

instead of half a bag while temping uninsured made it seem worthwhile

In the remote wilderness I call home temping is out of the question, and I think volunteering at this point would be worthless. I did know one librarian who drove something like 80 miles for a one day a week position, which just barely covered her gas money.

this was a stupid choice. Of course, so was a liberal arts bachelors degree, though at least I *enjoyed* that.

Oh God, how I wish I could turn back the clock. If I could have done I would have been an engineer, or a chemist, or a biologist. As it is the only use for a liberal arts degree today are for the jobs that take any four year degree.

These jobs also usually involve wearing a name tag and making sure the workers ask if you want fries with that.

I liked my liberal arts degree, at least I felt I was learning something; unfortunately my library employment experience was more like something out of a Ben Stiller comedy.

I enjoyed helping people and making their day, and I have the uncanny ability to find all sorts of crap on databases and the Internet most people would never even see. But to work in another politically correct snake pit library again....panic attack coming on...breathe easy....

Privateer6 said...

Calling, profession, job,... whatever. If it pays the bills, it's a job. You can have passion for it, or you can be clock watcher. But librarianship is a JOB.

I am passionate about the job. I lucked out in that I got a job within 3 months of graduation, the pay is good, and my boss and coworkers are excellent. Since I am the only librarian on duty, I do it all. The clerical aspects of the job, i.e. cataloging, circulation, etc, are rather dull and boring. But when a physician, nurse, patient, or family member send in a request for a lit search, especially for some obscure disease or condition, I really get into it and love the challenge of finding that person's request.

Krysta,
No offense but I would seriously listen to what some of the folks have said, and keep it in the back of your mind. Follow your dreams, but do be prepared to face reality. Not all dreams come true, and some dreams turn into nightmares.

Anonymous said...

Do what you love and the money will follow? Tried that, ended up in customer service jobs for ten years. When I decided it was time to go back to school and study something I didn't love in exchange for yummy, yummy lucre I got suckered in by the "librarian shortage" and "intellectually stimulating profession" propaganda.

It seems I am a perpetual mark.

Now I spend my eight hours in an intellectually stultifying, interpersonally toxic book-hole. The highlight of my day is showing another grad student how to get a copy of the article he found cited in a Google search.

How any of the Jean Teasdales could find such work a calling is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

I work for health insurance.

9/10 of what I do as a librarian is brain-dead stuff. 1/10 is vaguely interesting. On a good day.


What makes you think that other career's are any different? I know lots of people outside of librarianship who say the exact same thing. I know lots of people outside of librarianship who job search for months/years and are only averaging 1-2 interviews for every 50 resumes sent out.

What surprises isn't the debate over whether or not librarianship is a calling but that so many of you seem to think the difficulties we face are unique to librarianship.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you sweet, silly, naive people. You seem to believe in that "do what you love and the money will follow" stuff. There's only one problem with that. It's bollocks.

This may be true for you, but not for all of us. Perhaps it's that some of us have had different experiences in life, but it is possible to do what you love. You just have to want it badly enough and be willing to work for it.

Life is work. Very few people are fortunate enough to stumble upon the perfect job that is challenging, yet not too hard, and pays a decent living wage.

Anonymous said...

I'm ambivalent about this field because I see a bunch of odd people going on about it being a calling or being about "social justice" or being a difficult and crucially important field that will change the world

I agree with this. It's not about social justice. But I enjoy it - not b/c I'm changing the world, but b/c I like cataloging. You're right: it's just a job. But it's a heckuva alot better than the other jobs I had that paid more.

Anonymous said...

Oh God, how I wish I could turn back the clock. If I could have done I would have been an engineer, or a chemist, or a biologist

WHY? Seriously - why? Are you intrigued by the work? Truly interested in math or science? Or do you just wish you had it done it b/c they make more money?

Because engineers take months/years to find new jobs, too. Really. This isn't unique to librarianship. They work long hours and don't get compensated for it. They travel to "exotic" places where they are away from their families for several weeks, working M-Sa, 12 hours/day.

There is no "perfect" job out there where you're paid $100K/year, challenged and only have to work 8 hours/day M-F. It's called work b/c it's hard work.

Now, I will reveal that I'm not a public librarian. I have no idea how people can work those jobs - they sound horrible. I also don't believe the BS the ALA propagates either.

However, I know a lot of engineers, and they spend all their time fantasizing about quitting their jobs and doing something else, too.

If you're really that unhappy - quit. Go back to school. Become an engineer.

Yeah, yeah, I know: obligations, debt, bills. But you know what? We all have it. And you're going to have it whether you go back to school to do something else or you stay miserable as a librarian.

I just can't understand why anyone would reamain in a profession when they are so unhappy. You only get one life - why are you limiting yourself to unhappiness? In 30 years, when you look back on this time, are you going to wish you did something else?

Anonymous said...

WHY? Seriously - why? Are you intrigued by the work? Truly interested in math or science? Or do you just wish you had it done it b/c they make more money?

I didn't become an engineer in the first place because of my deficits in math. But better job opportunities and a challenge other than placating egos would have been nice.

Because engineers take months/years to find new jobs, too. Really. This isn't unique to librarianship.

That's funny, I worked at a university that specialized in engineering, and the job market for engineers is much more viable and healthy than for librarians.

There is no "perfect" job out there where you're paid $100K/year, challenged and only have to work 8 hour's/day M-F. It's called work b/c it's hard work.

I must call you for every choice I make, you sound like you have a lot of inexperience. What I really wanted was to be able to find a job that paid me enough to live and not work with a bunch of Jean Teasdales. And don't lecture about hard work...

Now, I will reveal that I'm not a public librarian. I have no idea how people can work those jobs -

Really, why? Too difficult for you?

However, I know a lot of engineers, and they spend all their time fantasizing about quitting their jobs and doing something else, too.

So do I, but I guess the ones I know are real people.

I just can't understand why anyone would reamain in a profession when they are so unhappy.

I quit being a librarian some time ago. I just vent today.

Anonymous said...

Y'know when I'm getting down about things, my job, for instance, and think to myself, "I just can't take it any longer." I go to that ole stereo set of mine and play, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," by Poison and remember that I am not alone in this miasma of professional vapor lock. Poison had it rough on the road and likewise librarians sometimes have to come down from that reference high, oh how lonely it gets sometimes, but like Bonjovi was quipped, he was "wanted dead or alive." You can dig, I'm sure.

But keep your chin up, even aging librarians can find some new kind of spark, a professional make over, like Brett of Poison did with his dating series, Rock Of Love on VH1.

Keep the faith brothers and sisters, you too may find yourself reborn. Remember, Moby said, "we are all made of stars."

Over.

Soren Faust

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

Pat, AKA Feldspar -
Have any of you read "Apostles of Culture" (Dee Garrison)? Who wants to be an apostle?...and as far as culture goes, after 20 years being a reference librarian I believe public libraries tend to trivialize learning and knowledge. I became a librarian to help myself, not other people (as far as the "calling" topic goes). I've seen far too much inappropriate, misguided meddling in other people's affairs by way of "helping" them to last the rest of my career.
It is also far too easy for public libraries to get pushed by default into the role of second-line social service agency caring for the homeless, the poor, the illiterate and the insane. Public libraries also make perfect political footballs and reputation-makers. They get used as vehicles to capture headlines for the ambitious and then forgotten with no harm done when the election is over.
It has been a good run, however, and the job continues to be fun and usually interesting. The major problem with PL's I see is that if they are not run properly they easily loose sight of who their current patrons are and instead become museums.
Libraries are really about people and the ideas in their brains, not books. Forget that and you become just an antiquarian trapped in the dusty room of your own memories.

Anonymous said...

wow. I agree with the poster about those saying they wished they'd gone back and done, say for instance, engineering. The type of people complaining here about how sucky librarianship is will enter a completely different field and eventually start complaining again. Oh for the first few years they may say "this is SO Much better" but believe me...if they are complaining about the type of work you have to do as a librarian they need a wake up call. Engineers put in a heck of lot more time and engery into their jobs than librarians.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the depression rate last year for people in education and libraries was twice that for people in architecture and engineering jobs:

http://oas.samhsa.gov/2k7/
depression/occupation.htm

I think the difference may because in architecture and engineering, employees are encouraged to use their critical thinking skills. It has been my experience that critical thinking is discouraged in the library field. People get discouraged, bored, and then depressed.

Roy should be encouraging everyone in library jobs to use their brains and creativity,and encouraging directors to support their employees, regardless of their age or physical appearance,not trying to lay on the guilt.

Anonymous said...

I work with engineers and scientist every day. We can't find enough of them and we pay damn well. Out of school with a bachelors, the starting salary is over $60K/year. For the most part, they are happy, challenged, and enjoy the travel. Individuals vary. They understand that long hours come with the pay. Experienced engineers in my field are making between $1K and $2K per day.

It’s a job, not a calling for them. We’ve been discussing the issue (they read this blog for the martinis comments) and for two of them, the calling is working for their church, others say their calling is spending time with their families. Another is working on brewing the perfect beer – we don’t know if she is serious or not since she is an engineer but it tastes darn good and she says that is her calling.

They all agree that librarians are not called except to dinner.

It’s never too late to go back to school.

AL said...

I'm going to have to throw in more martini comments for the engineers, I guess. Earlier I had a great one with Tanqueray No. 10 and just a dash of Noilly Prat. No olive though, since I haven't made a market run all week. And then I foolishly checked my email before going out and just had to comment.

Stephen Denney said...

On the other hand, the apostle Paul said whatever we do we should do as unto the Lord, which would indicate to most commentators that we should treat all lawful occupations as if they were a calling. I am not one to preach since I am pretty lackadasical about much of my work, but on the other hand some of my co-workers are much more focused and dedicated to their work. This discusssion has helped me reflect on my attitude about my work, so I appreciate you raising it, AL, even if I disagree with your fundamental premise.

Anonymous said...

A recent posting to Connecticut's library technology listserv (CONNTECH):

__________________
From: owner-conntech@libraryofconnecticut.org
[mailto:owner-conntech@libraryofconnecticut.org] On Behalf Of Bob Farwell
Sent: Monday, September 17, 2007 9:49 AM
To: conntech@lists.libct.org
Subject: [CONNTECH] Job Applicants

Good morning,

One of our recent job listings elicited two inquiries from overseas candidates. Both are foreign nationals, one residing in the Middle East, and the second in Southeast Asia. This is a position which requires an MLS and a specific level of experience, and both candidates meet these requirements and are fluent in English. Setting aside for the moment the

issues of immigration and hiring outside the country when a pool of applicants exists domestically, have any of you received similar inquiries, and how were they handled. Your comments would be most welcome.

Thank you,

Bob Farwell, Otis Library

_______________________

Not enough jobs over there either? Not enough domestic applicants?

How much is the Otis Library paying to attract from the other side of the planet?

"Smarter Than You" said...

I love this blog. The hate! The nastiness! The impressive range of dissatisfaction warms the cockles of my heart. I'm glad I have a corporate gig where my job is information, not nerdy librarianship among pallid fat people. Come on over to the monied side and end the stupid idea you are doing good...go for the moola, baby.

mdoneil said...

As to the depression and librarians/teachers vs. engineers/architects I think it is becuase engineers and architects make 4 times as much as librarians.

When I was a public librarian I was a lot crabbier than I am now. I guess making 3x what I did before cheered me right up.


As to the Otis Library salaries they have a children's librarian position advertized at 38-40K. 40 K in Norwich, yeah I'll go for that, but I can't work until after noon as I have to work at 5 AM at McDonalds to make ends meet.

I'm not getting out of bed for 38K.

Anonymous said...

Just call it what it is: book and database waitressing. Unfortunately, we don't get tips.

Have a happy day!

pat said...

Good morning,
Didn't somebody once say that the engineering profession was invented to keep otherwise smart people occupied and out of trouble?...and who cares about them anyway. At one time librarians had to have facility in at least one foreign language - now instead we have to know about computers: not on the same level but still a "language." Comparing librarianship to engineering is not right, is all I'm saying. Doctor? Lawyer (probably the aptest comparison)?...but a "calling," like a clergy-person? - never!
And depression - who brought that up? We're depressed at our library not because we dislike the job but because the organization itself is run like a house of ill repute! (A metaphor taken from my days in the US Army). Depression has causes that can be addressed. Libraries have a purpose in that they are the only arm of municipal government where if you ask a question it will be taken seriously (can't say for how long!) and at least listened to. And people never hang around city hall or their local firehouse all day - but they do at our library!

Anonymous said...

The type of people complaining here about how sucky librarianship is will enter a completely different field and eventually start complaining again.

That depends on whether you're a Jean Teasdale or you really thought you were entering a profession. I've changed careers already, and I wouldn't go back to libraries at all.

Engineers put in a heck of lot more time and engery into their jobs than librarians.

You mean they actually face a challenge? Can make a difference? Can feel like they've accomplished something?

Too many comments about this seem to be reflecting on how much "harder" and "more work" another profession like engineering is. So? If you want to stay in the safe library bubble, going to meetings and trying to avoid nodding off at the Reference Desk, then you made the right choice.

Hellibrarian said...

I guess I would have to say I do have a "calling" to a certain extent to work in the conditions I do--an urban school district. I felt that calling the other day when my particularly difficult kindergarten class began voluntarily and sweetly singing a song I had taught them while working on a project--listening to them was enough to make me momentarily forget that I have over 1,000 kids, no aid and tiny budget.

But then again, I wouldn't do this job if I were not paid halfway decently and if I didn't have the benefits. But I do notice that many of the people entering school librarianship now were stay at home mothers for a while and can afford to be picky about where they work.

DearReader said...

I wouldn't call myself a Jean Teasdale; like her, I've had jobs in the mall, and it was completely different for me. But even when I had those lame jobs, I was always reading children's and teen books (along with adult books, natch). I fell into children's librarianship more or less by accident, but it's exactly what I want to do. I don't use the word "calling", but I often think of Robert Frost, from "Two Tramps in Mud Time": "but yield who will to their separation/my object in living is to unite/my avocation and my vocation/as my two eyes make one in sight."
Then again, I imagine I'd feel differently about this if I werem't a children's librarian. I work Reference as well, and increasingly I feel that anyone could answer 90% of my questions, but I don't feel that way about children's librarianship.

Kevin Musgrove said...

I'm ambivalent on this one, AL.

I'm not a librarian and I think the concept of "librarianship being a calling" is risible. Having said that, I think that the public library service is An Important Thing and is world-changing, albeit in a small, nuts-and-bolts sort of way. I believe in the idea of the public library's being the poor man's university and a gateway to the world (even if that last only means teaching old dears how to email their grandchildren in New Zealand and getting small children excited about monster trucks).

I also believe that too many public librarians are more concerned with elevating themselves into some place of holy veneration than providing a service to the public. As well as providing a lousy service they do their profession no favours by insisting on sackcloth-and-ashes pay rates.

Librarianship should be a skilled craft. A librarian's work should be a job for a craftsman.

Anonymous said...

I work with engineers and scientist every day. We can't find enough of them and we pay damn well.

Then please tell me where in the country this is! Because where I live we are flooded with them and they are all getting laid off and their jobs sent overseas.

Anonymous said...

That's funny, I worked at a university that specialized in engineering, and the job market for engineers is much more viable and healthy than for librarians.

Mmm-hmmm... some people said that about librarianship in the 90s. I also think that it depends where you live and what type of engineering you're talking about.

I must call you for every choice I make, you sound like you have a lot of inexperience. What I really wanted was to be able to find a job that paid me enough to live and not work with a bunch of Jean Teasdales. And don't lecture about hard work...

Yes, the sarcasm and insulting me really helps me take you seriously. In fact, after reading that, I can no longer consider your posts serious debate but just mindless ranting.

I'm sorry you are so unhappy in your life. I'm sorry you believe that no one understands how hard it is, that no one else has such a miserable existence and that anyone who offers you advice must be "inexperienced."

It saddens me to read posts from people who believe they are very competent (and I'm sure they are) but are not applying themselves to their fullest potential, despite the fact that they would like to.

Then why don't you? Why do you sit around and complain on a blog about how unhappy you are? Why don't you do anything about it?

And believe me, it is NOT experience speaking when I tell you that sitting around, waiting for some supervisor to notice you're bored, is not going to happen.

If you're bored, YOU have to do something about it. No one is going to give you challenging work unless you say something. Don't like the work and lousy pay? Quit. Do something else. Don't waste more of your precious life on something so depressing.

Unless you're doing it for the attention? Do you like that you're bored and underpaid and want me to feel sympathy for you?

As for me, I already said:

Now, I will reveal that I'm not a public librarian. I have no idea how people can work those jobs -

To which a snarky wit replied:

Really, why? Too difficult for you?

Uh no - I have a degree in engineering. PL work would NOT be too difficult for me (and I can understand math!).

I was referring to those who hate the work envirnoment yet continue to remain in it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I work with engineers and scientist every day. We can't find enough of them and we pay damn well.

Then please tell me where in the country this is! Because where I live we are flooded with them and they are all getting laid off and their jobs sent overseas.

6:52 PM


Phoenix, Austin, Denver, Tucson, Atlanta, Colorado Springs, any of the mining companies are looking for geo types and civil engineers, Dallas /Ft. Worth area, San Antonio, Lots of areas in VA, and the federal and western state governments are looking. If you have any background in just about any engineering field and are willing to live overseas in a hot spot, lots of civilian companies are hiring for Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost any engineering degree could qualify you as an environmental engineer and there are lots of jobs for those.

The jobs are there, but you will have to be willing to move.

I’ve seen advertisements for civil, traffic, aeronautical, geological, mining, environmental, computer, chemical, and metallurgical engineers.

If you have the basic math and science background that all engineers have, the jobs are available. It might not be in your degreed field, but think outside the box.

Serious comment here –if you aren’t willing to relocate, you will be stuck like so many librarians are with a dead-end or no job. If you haven’t tried already, I suggest you ask your local reference librarian for help in finding the job postings for the various on-line local papers. Monster and other Internet postings are not the only places companies post listings.

Anonymous said...

Me? I'm in it for the tote bags!

Anonymous said...

and I thought I was the only one in it for the bags..

or baggage as the case may be.

Anonymous said...

Three years ago I left a well-paid, upward mobile job in technology because I thought work ought to mean more than creating product and making money. Who needs a liveable wage, comprehensive health insurance, free transit passes, generous vacation time, or quarterly bonuses when you could have none of that n return for the privilege of showing a library patron to Print Page?

AL said...

Just another librarian livin' the dream.

Melissa said...

Definitely not a calling, as my calling is in a field that I haven't found a steady job in.
But, certainly a type of passion. Although I wouldn't say first flush of young love, spring-type passion. More the, we've now been together 6 or 10 years, fall-before-the-frost kind of passion. I mean, I don't get my paycheck and feel like I'm working for Satan.
I do, however, get vaguely mushy about what libraries do for society (think Alexandria). But I recognize that, while I may work for the institution, I'm definitely on the outside with my nose smooshed up against the glass. However, I think most librarians are out there with me; it's the true innovators that are inside keeping the scrolls.

Anonymous said...

I was a software engineer for over 30 years before quitting to go to library school. I've been working in public libraries doing tech support for the past two years while going to school, and have few illusions left. It's a job, and the way I know that is that I leave it behind when I walk out the door at the stroke of 5. I often think that my time and money might have been better spent getting up to speed on web development languages, but that will come in time. For now, I'm not in a cubicle farm and I'm not working for a company that makes weapons. I work one Sunday a month at the Reference Desk of another public library, and the thrill of a successful hunt keeps me pumped for days, as does having all the computer equipment running smoothly. The older I get, the less it takes to make me happy.

Anonymous said...

I propose a solution to all of your woes! Well all but the money ones. Ready?... Put up a climbing wall at every library conference. Get those pallid librarians some exercise. Give the wanna-be hipsters something to brag about and pics to post on their Myspace pages. Provide some challenges to those who lack it in our daily jobs. Build self-esteem for those who didn’t have it growing up. Put our bosses on the hardest route and provide stress-relieving entertainment for the staff as they flail. Heck, those dreaming of a career change to engineering can use this opportunity to explore the load limits of the climbing equipment. And if you are one of the many depressed among us, there is nothing like successfully making it to the top of the route to cheer you up, and if you happen to fall, screaming ‘FxxK!’ at the top of your lungs while the rope catches you is fantastically stress relieving. And to make it more fun, we’ll put those highly desired tote bags at the top of the climb as your reward for topping out.

Pay for my trip to your conference and I will belay climbers all day.

Yeah, so I am a librarian not out of any calling, but because I can do it well and it provides me sufficient time off and money to spend the rest of my life ‘doing what I really love’ and it isn’t being inside. Life is full of compromises and I’ll compromise 35 hours a week indoors at something less than rewarding for the opportunity to leave my work at the library and enjoy the hell out of the rest of my life.

And I am serious about that belaying offer.