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?