Monday, November 26, 2007

Are Librarians Happy?

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving, gobbling too much turkey and pie and spending endless amounts of time with your tedious relatives. That's the sort of thing that makes this country great.

Now that I've dispensed with the pleasantries, we can get to this week's question, a question that always burns brightly in the librarian sky, a question that inevitably calls forth the profound intellectual speculation that librarians are known for: are you happy?

According to Time Magazine, you're not. They don't think you're necessarily unhappy, but you're definitely not happy. A kind reader brought to my attention the November 26th issue of Time and its report of happiness on the job. Finally, I tracked down a copy. This is the issue that tells us what the "average American" is like, that tries to answer for us the supposed "key question" of whether Giuliani's loyalties are misplaced, that gives us an in-depth interview with John Bolton consisting of questions sent in by readers even more annoying than he is, and that concludes with an essay by some woman in love with her gizmos. In other words, it's the same stupid crap that caused me to stop reading Time when I was in high school.

Nevertheless, when a magazine like Time mentions librarians, we should all take notice, if only for entertainment's sake. Somewhere near the center of the magazine is a chart of how happy people are with their jobs, from gas station attendants (least happy) to clergy (most happy). (I would tell you the exact page, but as usual with these popular magazines the editors think putting a number on every page would be a waste of time, because who would ever want to cite this garbage anyway.) On the chart of job happiness, librarians are right in the middle, and I do mean middle. The chart takes up two pages, and the L in librarians is lost in the fold. Unhappy people are in red, happy in blue (do I detect some political commentary here?), and the vast middle is in brown. When we talk about vast middles, we know we're talking about librarians, which may be why they're in the exact center, in between waiters/waitresses (slightly less happy) and mechanical engineers and electricians (slightly more happy).

But could this be? Could librarians be less happy than truck drivers, hairdressers, and dental assistants? Or less happy that some jobs comparable to librarian, such as preschool teachers, secretaries, and purchasing agents? And these folks are all still brown. Librarians on average are considerably less happy than reservation and ticket agents, butlers, and school administrators, though considerably more happy than such comparable jobs as welfare service aids, amusement park attendants, and maids.

The problem with this analysis is that it defies public verification. Try getting this impression from the greater bibliotek blogland, where the eternal pose of pant-wetting excitement is de rigueur among most bloggers, where they all have to put on a show for us demonstrating how passionate and concerned and thoughtful they all are. No, these people are obviously always ecstatic, so they must be at the high end of the scale. Of course there are those anonymous bibliotek bloggers who complain all the time. I suppose they must be on the low end of the scale. This doesn't leave much room in the middle, where the majority would seem to be.

Thus I wonder if this Time calculation is really true, that most of us, the average librarians, plod through our jobs, neither happy nor unhappy, bored automatons selecting books, checking out DVDs, and playing videogames. Maybe this Time Magazine is on to something for once.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

--not that this sheds some light but librarians are listed twice (once again further down on the list). I'm a Photographer and it looks like I should be suicidal.

Anonymous said...

where can I find the pdf? Proquest has the article but it is meaningless without the pictures. Use your librarian super powers!

Anonymous said...

I don't know. It depends on how you define happiness. The following things personally make me happy, but I'm not sure where my profession fits into it:

Fits of dis-ease (hypochondriatic, not actual), fireside marshmallow roasts, bleak, cold and interminable rainy days, seaside strolls on a sun-drenched beach, late night television at a Motel 6 watching infomercials, Jim Nabors sings Gospel, hard-pressed luck, inheritance, pills that the law frowns upon, vitamins, blah, a resounding - "yeah," a Todd Solondz film, a family vacation slide show, oblivion, illumination, Godspeed, You Black Emperor, The Brady Six, Schopenhauer, Norman Vincent Peale, Vodka, Mint Julip, Warden, Candy, and last but certainly not least - Nothingness.

Soren Faust

Anonymous said...

Two years ago I worked in a cubicle, on a floor with 100's of other people in cubicles. In fact, I worked in cubicles for the vast majority of 30 years as a software engineer.

Now I don't work in a cubicle, and Goddess willing, I never will again.

Am I happy? You betcha!

Kevin Musgrove said...

The non-commital middle ground's achieved by professional smugness balancing out the awfulnesses of unavoidable reality.

Joy Kennedy said...

Ok, Ok all you naysayers, here's the key question--if you won or inherited enough money to live on at your same (barely above poverty) scale would you continue working as a librarian or would you stop working. I'm for stopping being a librarian. I might work part-time as something else since librarians are so badly paid.

My only problem is imagining that the life of ticket agent is better--I've flown lately so I know! I know some of us have crappy jobs but that defies my imagination.

The.Effing.Librarian said...

Right in the middle? That's the same finger I use when someone asks how I like being a librarian.

The.Effing.Librarian said...

http://www.time.com/time/2007/america_numbers/job.html

Anonymous said...

Oh, I see the problem. Time can't add. Librarians are listed twice so as a group, librarians are super-happy, just below priests and housekeepers/butlers and just above firefighters! 57.59% say they're very happy; of course, Time's nifty little chart could be wrong, as journalists aren't a very happy bunch.

Anonymous said...

The longer I’ve been a librarian, the more I’ve come to appreciate the classic martini.

I’m a former cruise ship musician and used to order martinis onboard ship. I would be given these lethal concoctions, almost pure vodka or pure gin served in what looked like a gallon sized martini glass, and find myself under the table after only one or two. Each night I’d finish our performance and try them again, and each night I would be plastered more quickly than I wanted to be. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I wasn’t working in a library then. In short, I loved the ship board martinis, but didn’t feel I could guzzle them the way I should have been able to. I couldn’t really savor that gradual inebriation that comes over the course of four five or six drinks. Or seven.

Well. since becoming a librarian, I’ve learned the correct proportions of gin and vermouth, thus creating the perfect cocktail. Now I can drink all night long and get buzzed enough to forget I’m a librarian, yet never get so bagged I can’t see straight, though that final stage of drunkenness is still available to me. Plus, the correctly mixed martini tastes great too!

The ideal method to staunch any feelings of despair over being a librarian in a miserable public library with no end in sight.

former animal lab chemist said...

"...if you won or inherited enough money to live on at your same (barely above poverty) scale would you continue working as a librarian or would you stop working."...

Not to sound too earnest, but Yes, I would continue to be a librarian even if I no longer needed to work.
All of you who really think being a librarian is crappy have never really had a bad job.

Anonymous said...

Oh please.

My dad was an HVAC engineer and he hated his job. He hated his Dibert-esque bosses, his clueless clients, and the fact that his favorite (competent) co-workers always got downsized while the incompetent ones were promoted to management. I see very little difference between his complaints and the average complaints I read from librarians, except for the fact that he got paid more.

Personally, I like my job...and that's because I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't work in a job where I was miserable, having learned from watching my dad. And seriously, those of you who really are miserable in your work and aren't just whining to make your GenX quota of 10 complaints a day (and I say that as a GenX-er myself) - get out! Find another job, no matter what it is. My dad died at 55 and you can't tell me that his work stress and misery didn't contribute to that. It's not worth it, believe me.

And...you know, I have to wonder: are there truck driver blogs or secretary blogs that are dithering over this article? It's just like the spinster vs. hipster nonsense - if even our sarcastic curmudgeon bloggers feel the need to jump every time a library job is mentioned in a publication then we truly are the most naval gazing of professions.

Brent said...

This reminds me of "Idiocracy." Luke Wilson's character is a librarian and is considered to be average in every way.

Does this chart include personal life, too? Or just their career?

former medical receptionist said...

Hmmm...worse jobs? How about shoveling sewage in the back of rich people's homes? I'm sick and tired of people thinking that their occupation alone is going to make them happy. Any occupation is filled with its ups and downs. I think there are truly miserable working conditions, and I think there are truly miserable people with fairly decent working conditions. Look within, people.

Anonymous said...

I am not happy.

I want to DIE.

Anonymous said...

That Time article is about as relevant as asking how many librarians wanted to be ballerinas or firemen when we grew up (maybe some still do...)

At work, I constantly feel like a Father confessor myself, but that's because I work with a bunch of Mother Superiors.

Anonymous said...

There is something seriously flawed in this survey. Attorneys are near the top of the happiness scale! Several studies point to the contrary.

I think place of employment has a lot to do with a librarian's happiness.

Anonymous said...

I worked for many years selling databases to college and university libraries. Now that I'm working in a "traditional" role (reference), believe me, this job is a piece of cake. I don't lie awake at night wondering how I'm going to attain my goals against impossible odds. Though the job is not the most exciting one I've had in my career, I'm happy with it.

Bunny Watson said...

Anon @ 2:52: that sounds miserable, and is why I wouldn't dream of making a switch to working for a vendor, no matter what the pay.

I like my job, quite a bit actually. I do suspect it has something to do with where I work: there's a nice, flat administrative structure and we're slightly understaffed which means I can take on all sorts of challenges I wouldn't be able to in a large library. This does wonders for preventing boredom, the main cause of unhappiness in my life.

On Tu Luong said...

I agree that past experience is the necessary ingredient to liking your cushy library job. I was a janitor, parking lot attendant, film researcher making approximately the same as a parking lot attendant, salesman of industrial chemicals, box-office manager and moving company mule. I also was a free-lance writer until I realized that the blogging world was twenty-five years away. I graduated from library school at the same time Proposition 13 passed in California which had the same effect on librarian jobs as the A-bombs had on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After a couple of years in a special library making bus boy wages I got hired miraculously by a public library and the ensuing years have been relatively like a walk in the park, albeit a rather stinky park. Stress here is like worrying about what dish to bring to the Christmas pot-luck. I believe in the words of Albert Schwietzer "Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory."

Brent said...

The AL blog is written in the motif of Debbie Downer. If only AL's posts were in audio and there was a sad horn after each downer comment, things would be great in the world.

"Feline aids is the number one killer of domestic cats."

Anonymous said...

"if you won or inherited enough money to live on at your same (barely above poverty) scale would you continue working as a librarian or would you stop working."

Yes, Yes I would. Actually, I already do. I love the place and the people and yes, most especailly, I LOVE cataloging and putting stickers on thing! And as fo teh shelving, I just let the other volunteers deal with all of that! Seriously, this is more fun then kindergarten!

It is not the world that amkes you unhappy. Happiness in an Internally state, and once realized, there is no joy you will not find getting around the rest of your life.

The amenities of a librabry job, including AC/Heat, low stress workloads, and other such stuff means you really have your self to blame if you are not happy. Stop watching TV or goofing of during work,a nd start putting your mind to work on other projects while you sit at the reference desk!! When you get enough money together, take a week of vacation and go try out whatever grand scheme you came up with jsut sitting there, or just shelving books, or just staring blankly at your supervisor int eh mandatory staff meeting. But do remember to come back in a week and resume your regular job, because likely, your grand scheme will fail, or your grand adventure WILL have to come to an end, and the library is still here for you!!


Mercenary Kat!

herself said...

Keep in mind...this is only a sampling of those librarians who were able to take the time to answer a questionnaire. If they're really overworked and unhappy, or really busy and happy (note the fine line between "overworked" and "busy"), perhaps they are not part of the equation.

Patricia said...

This whole recurring theme about librarians and library jobs all lumped together is pointless. Everyone is different, and every job is different. Some of the duties and tasks are the same, but much of what makes a job pleasant or unpleasant is the environment, the coworkers, the organizational culture, the library users, the amount of control one has over one's day, the rate of pay in relation to the cost of living in that area, etc. -- all variable factors. I could do the same "job" in YOUR library and absolutely hate it, whereas in my particular situation I enjoy it.

Kristen said...

I'm quite happy. Being a librarian doesn't take all the credit for that, however.

Anonymous said...

Time magazine, where do they find these people they allegedly survey? No one asked me so here's my opinion Time magazine: When I'm busy and engaged with my work I'm happy at work. Right now I am both because I'm willing to take on assignments that interest me when everyone else says "It's not my job" so yes I'm happy being a librarian. Although hard times are still with me in the form of certain staff members who I will not name here for reasons of professional courtesy. I like the Schweitzer quote, happiness does have a lot to do with the effect of the passage of time on memories. On some blog somewhere (or was it in an article in Fast Company? I would footnote correctly if I could, sorry)somebody wrote that one of the keys to a happy worklife is being able to give 100% to your current job while keeping an eye out for more interesting opportunities. That is another tool I use to keep myself "happy" at work, denial.

Anonymous said...

Some days are good. Most are of the plodding variety. Some are just those days when being caught between the clueless and the nasty make it torture.

It's sure-God better than working for a dry cleaner at less than minimum wage was. But happy? That's a big stretch.

Pragmatist said...

I think Dennis Leary said it better than I ever could

Happiness comes in small doses folks. It's a cigarette butt, or a chocolate chip cookie or a five second orgasm. You come, you smoke the butt you eat the cookie you go to sleep wake up and go back to ... work the next morning, THAT'S IT! End of ... list!

edited for content family blog and all

Cheers

Anonymous said...

I'm so sick of hearing from annoyed or effing librarians. They're not clever and they don't speak for most of us. Someone suggested I check out their sites. I have. They suck. They need to quit their jobs and let someone interesting and engaged have them.

AL said...

Umm, you do realize that you're not "hearing" anything, and that you actually have to visit the AL to read? You know that, don't you? Oh, wait. Did someone start reading from the AL at a loud volume in your ear? That must be it. Otherwise, of course, you sound like an idiot.

Oh, and thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

On the matter of your anonymity, be afraid...be very afraid.

Google gives up IP of anonymous blogger

http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/07/11/27/2235251.shtml

Without a warrant!

librarianfoo said...

Well, depends on my mood of the day, I might be happy or feel crappy.

Michele Connolly said...

I'm not a librarian but I write about happiness.

The hierarchy of happy vocations diagrammed in TIME (see my post* for the link) implies that having a particular job makes happiness more or less likely. But there are happy and unhappy people in every occupation - knowing the happiness rank of the average person with your job isn’t all that enlightening.

It's more about what you can do to be happier - including your choice of job.

* http://www.happinessstrategies.com/blog/2007/11/28/happiness-life-strategy-how-to-find-your-passion-2/

Anonymous said...

By the way, yes I did have a nice Thanksigiving with my in-laws. Go figure!

Anonymous said...

I used to be a Registered Nurse. I used to be in the Army and then in the Air Force. I wore combat boots to work and nursed mothers and babies in Battle Dress Uniform. I held the life of those precious little ones in my hands.

The stress got to be too much.

After a bit of unemployment, I found myself working in a library and loved it so much I went to get my MLS. Now I work as a Children's Librarian, and let me tell you, this is play!

I'm sorry for the Reference Librarians of the world, but I get to color, cut things out, make bulletin boards, read stories to kids with rapt faces, and create the kind of programs that suit me.

Yes, I'm happy with what I do. No one's life is in my hands. If you've never thought of it that way, give it a try.

Anonymous said...

Mediocre pay, mediocre skill, mediocre education, mediocre clientele. Makes sense that we get mediocre satisfaction out of our career choices. I believe the article was bang-on!

When I read it, I was surprised ‘librarian’ was even listed TBH. Our value to society in today’s world is also……*get ready for it*… mediocre. Good news is a small percentage of our local populaces (is that even a word?) use libraries regularly. The bad news is a majority do not.

That minority must have family members that work for Time.

Rae said...

"Thus I wonder if this Time calculation is really true, that most of us, the average librarians, plod through our jobs, neither happy nor unhappy, bored automatons selecting books, checking out DVDs, and playing videogames."

That's pretty depressing. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of happiness; this goes out to all the school librarians out there…are you really happy with your career? I am considering becoming an elementary school librarian (or at least was before I found this blog) Please don't be offended but are the majority of school librarians Debbie Downers? I am looking for frank and honest answers because I don't want to get into a field full of curmudgeons and regret my decisions down the road. Also, are librarians paid less then say…30 grand /year in your experience? I ready all sorts or pay ranges online and it’s sort of deceptive. Right now I make approx. $32-40 depending on my OT for the year so I'm curious if it would be worth it financially to me or if I should just stay miserable at my current job. Thanks--

MJ said...

Which way does the causality flow? Does the nature of the work drop people's otherwise up-beat spirits, or are unhappy people drawn to the profession in the first place because they feel it is a friendly and supportive environment offering them the chance to grow?