Somebody left a comment on the Boomers post about the lack of job security in special libraries. Here's the end of the quote:
"They are downsized because a know-nothing consultant thinks they can save money but making all the staff part-time (librarians are all doing this for pin money, of course, and that single mother doesn't really need to support her child on a fulltime job) and firing the head librarian. Probably because she was a boomer and made too much money (HA! have you seen librarian's salaries).
Just saw it happen to a colleague a few weeks ago. Why oh why didn't I stay safely in the academic world where librarians can have a blog and go safely home to a martini or two. Sigh."
All I can say about the last remark is that yes, it's nice. I'm home sipping a delightful martini at this very moment and writing this blog. Life is good.
I'd noted in the Boomers post that a lot of librarians have good job security, and thus it was difficult to get rid of them. Most academic librarians, especially in state universities, have this sort of security, whether through tenure or collective bargaining or both. And I speak from experience when I say tenure is nice. It might be that academic librarians don't make what their counterparts in the corporate world make, but their job security and often their pace of work life is much more humane.
What should we think of this? I expect there are a couple of groups that dislike this job security--those who can't get their library dream job and those non-entrenched twopointopians who think the entrenched librarians are old fuddy-duddy-luddites who are hindering the brave new world we're all about to enter if we just embrace Twitter and Facebook as the ultimate mediums of public service. In other words, the job security is resented by those who don't have that job security.
There's something to be said in defense of this petty resentment. Certainly many tenured, entrenched librarians aren't very enthusiastic for radical changes to the way they or their libraries do business. They've done things a certain way for decades, and they see no good reasons why they should take seriously the twenty-five year-old librarian who claims to have all the solutions to a bunch of problems identified as problems solely by the twenty-five year-old librarians. These are the librarians who scoff when the youngsters come in and tell them they know better. The problem with these librarians is that sometimes the younger or newer librarians do know better, or at least they have refreshing perspectives that might be worth understanding.
Of course, there are also some tenured librarians who are complete layabouts, who are just putting in their time until their pension, taking up spaces those without tenured jobs think will be available for them if the tenured librarians ever retire or just did quietly in their offices. When they do retire or did off, though, they probably won't be replaced solely with other librarians, if they're replaced at all. In the domain of librarianship, just as in some forms of industry, technology makes some of these librarians redundant, and when they retire their positions will be retired with them.
But this is also the case with secure librarians who do make useful contributions to their library, and I'd argue that this group is the majority. Still, times change, budgets contract, technology renders some jobs either unnecessary or unrealistic as full-time librarian jobs. If we acted by the merciless hand of the market, most of these librarians, worthy or not, would probably be fired to cut costs somehow. Fire them and take away their pensions and the institution saves a lot of money over a 30-or-so year period.
For all I know, some of you may resent this job security rather than envy it. You might believe in some sort of librarian social darwinism, where only the fittest deserve to have a job at all. If those boomers would just retire, you say! If these old fogies with their out-dated ways would just make way for me! If you are such a resenter, it's hard for me to take you seriously, because I doubt you'd feel the same way if the positions were reversed. If you were thirty years older and in a secure, tenured librarian job, would you quit just because someone resented you? I doubt it.
The resentment is petty and perhaps dangerous, because it's that job security that makes the jobs more humane. Librarianship isn't a field that can easily withstand the market, because its values are not those of the market. Profit is not the motive. In academic libraries the motive is to aid scholarship and to help students learn, in public libraries to provide access to information ideally to help ensure an educated citizenry. These are noble goals and public goods, but noble goals and public goods aren't easy to justify when profit is your only concern. (Making sure the teens have fun gaming isn't a noble goal or public good, though, so the librarians advocating this probably can be let go without any negative social consequences.)
By resenting the tenured, unionized, or secure librarians, you're resenting the very things that make librarianship a humane, if sometimes impecunious, profession. You're resenting the ability of librarians to criticize ideas they think stupid and changes they think inane, because the strongest criticism can only come with strong job security. Perhaps those ideas they criticize or resist are your cherished theories of how libraries should adapt to the future based upon your three years as a librarian.
Perhaps the inability to just fire the librarians means jobs are harder to find. But if the librarians could just be fired willy-nilly, are these jobs you'd really want to have for the long haul? Oh, I know, some of you un- or underemployed librarians may think you're hot stuff, and some of you undoubtedly are. But are you so sure you'll always be cutting-edge? Are you sure there won't come a time when you've been a librarian twenty or thirty years and are just burned out, but don't have any other options? Or that you've lost your edge, though maybe you're still competent? When that time comes, and believe me it will, what will you think then of the panting, twenty-something librarians who resent your age and your position?
Celebrate the security. It might not be good for you, but it's good for libraries.