Monday, June 02, 2008

Don't Resent Me Because I'm Secure

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.

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was an incredibily sane, balanced post. I am a Gen X librarian as such, am between the boomers and the Gen Y's. I therefore get little respect from either group. I had times when I found both groups quite frustrating because I think in some ways I'm more radical than both of them (as well as generally a better critical thinker).I've also pissed off my administration numerous times. Fortunately, I have job security which is why I am still earning a paycheck. When things get bad at work, I just visualize my bank account, take a deep breath, and try to uphold my convictions.

Anonymous said...

I believe you have to consider "what type of "Special Libraries" are involved. These libraries range from the VERY highly technical who support the physicists, chemists and matheticiahs who are the guts of the enterprise, to the libraries that are the "PR" resources of a company that is manufacturing widgets or selling clothing.

Just as academic libraries comprise a spectrum of resource capabilities - - so do the special libraries.

Brent said...

The thought of having a tenure job scares me. Maybe that is a generational thing.

The NYTimes Freakonomics blog had something on eliminating tenure (which I agree with), which AL's post reminded me of:
http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/03/03/
lets-just-get-rid-of-tenure/

Kim said...

Not all new librarians are young. Despite being in my 40s, I'm a fairly new librarian, having graduated only a few years ago. I have a very good library job, and for me this is a second career. My approach to the job has been progressive, bringing all the skills learned in my previous profession to the new one. Also, I'd like to point out that many of us in our thirties and forties can do all the things that some of the twenty somethings seem to think belong exclusively to their age group. I suppose if the younger librarians say that the baby boomers should retire (ready or not) that people beyond 35 should never choose this as a second career.

It bothers me, though, to see the continued over recruitment by both ALA and the schools. I've seen it. Students are being misled to believe that there are plenty of library jobs, that baby boomers are retiring... It's politics and all about the money. One professor even told me (post graduation) that ALA keeps telling my former school to turn out more and more library graduates because there aren't enough new librarians.

I advise people to not go into this profession unless they have a strong passion to be a librarian because it is very hard to find a job, and the degree is costly.

merriwyn said...

I, for one, as a new librarian don't resent the job security of the existing librarians, although I do envy it. I support the job security of librarians as I hope one day to have such job security (fat chance though), and I believe that the job is important. I resent the current 'economic rationalist' approach to everything which fails to take adequate notice of the important role of libraries in the society because they don't make cash. I do think that some librarians are able to get away with doing a poor job because of job security, but i'd rather that than good librarians not being able to do a good job because they didn't have job security. I don't think job security is the main issue, I think the employment environment is. I think the lack of respect for the profession and the role of libraries is a much bigger issue than existing librarians not retiring.

Anonymous said...

I just had a look at http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/03/03/
and I couldn't disagree more. It just doesn't happen that way. In my experience a person who already had a permanent position who did a poor job was able to replace a person who had no permanency but did a good job, aided by the politicking of another person. I suppose this is partly because of the situation where existing permanency continues but new permanencies are not granted. However I have seen other situations where permanency exists but employers make it so unpleasant for people they don't like that they choose to leave and others who do a poor job unmolested. I don't think permanency or otherwise is the issue, I think it is all about industrial culture. I think that people don't get away with doing a poor job because they have permanency, or that people do a better job because they don't have permanency. I think that the internal politics and culture of a workplace and an industry have more impact on the ways people act in the workplace.

Anonymous said...

sorry, that should have been "others who do a poor job go unmolested"

Anonymous said...

Tenure -- the last gasp of the Peter Principle.

Anonymous said...

"(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."

This comment shows you are outdated.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

You might believe in some sort of librarian social darwinism, where only the fittest deserve to have a job at all.

Social Darwinism doesn't work and the phrase "survival of the fittest" was a metaphor applied to biology--not social science. It was Herbert Spencer in his Principles of Biology (1864) that applied this idea to economics. If some of the posters were really social Darwinists, then they would have to posit that only the top students at top programs obtain jobs. As we all know, it doesn't work that way.

How about this? Life sometimes isn't fair. Sometimes it takes a little longer to get what one wants.

Frankly, I am so sick of people complaining about the lack of jobs because I am beginning to wonder if the real issue is the lack of "cool" jobs in "cool" areas of the country. Why would I say this? Because twice I have seem small applicant pools for jobs that pay very well that are not located on either coast. I have to laugh when a uni near the beach gets over 100 applicants at a salary that will never adequately cover a mortgage and the state it is located in has some of the most atrocious health insurance benefits around.

The self-esteem trend in education has had deleterious affects on many millenials raised in this sort of thinking. Their work lives are going to be marked by a lot of frustration. I've seen this in action already. They've been told by their boomer parents that every idea they have is worth something, and consequently, the concept of self-censure is alien to them. They don't understand the proper boundaries between work and personal life.

As a mid-career librarian, I do have a lot of respect for more experienced librarians. Even though some of them are not technically savvy, they do have valuable insights about teaching, managing people, etc. There's a lot more to being a librarian than Web 2.0 crap.

Anonymous said...

As someone new to the field and struggling to find a good job, I don't resent tenured, secure librarians (really, your whole post is pretty much a straw man). I just hate their snotty attitude. Wanting a job does not make "entitled" or "selfish"--it is the goal of pretty much every adult.

I've sacrificed and moved to crappy parts of the country to work shitty jobs and get frustrated with comments like Anonymous at 9:54's "I am so sick of people complaining about the lack of jobs." If that is the kind of compassion you show your colleagues I can only imagine how you treat patrons.

There is a problem here--be it too many library schools and/or whatever else--but it would nice to get beyond the constant "call the waaaahbulance" and you-so-jealous posts and comments.

Yeah, go ahead and respond to this with some throwaway, snarky comment, but kind in mind that doesn't make a better librarian or person, just an a**hole. I'll keep my head down and keep trying, and if I get a chance outside the profession I'll take it--and leave behind this nastiness.

Anonymous said...

Job security does not exist in a public library. If you are lucky you get laid off. If you are unlucky you get to go through a 4 year "reorganization" and watch as all the good people leave because their new job descriptions suck so bad no one would want the job.

Minks said...

Evolve or become a victim of Evolution! Please? lol

The reason all these seasoned librarians are secure is because they are shielded from the Darwin principle that is present in the 'normal' workforce. I noticed AL very carefully worded the following...

"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."

She left of anything about age...

I would say the majority of librarians over 50 are pretty much technologically impaired and holding back the profession. They are making the rest of us look bad. They are lowering the demand for librarians by reducing the perception of librarian competence in the workforce. Of course there are some 50plussers that are fine.... if you are reading this blog and are over 50 you can obviously use the internet and know what a blog is. Pat yourself on the back,, most don't. And the sad part is. most don't even want to. Most are all secure in their ignorance and are quite content to sit idly by and coast on in to retirement.... in about a decade or two.

I am telling everyone here, the profession is in trouble, for these reasons. Everyone needs to compete with the youngsters and their skill set. Look at it this way... how is using your security to prevent better qualified people entering librarian-ship good for librarian-ship as a whole?

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Tenure, unions, collective agreements actually form the backbone of innovation when the persons in the job are progressive in their thinking. Without the security to take a chance and fail (which, contrary to most library school instructors, is what happens when you take a chance), few chances get taken.

I tried to get an e-mail reference service started when working as a paraprofessional at a state university in 1999. None of the professionals wanted to get behind it then -- no tenure, no bargaining agreement. I was married to a well-paid woman at the time, and so, had no fear, but neither would they, if they knew that the boat rocking associated with presenting a new reference service would cost them a chance at promotion, or even their job.

Now that I am a professional (, I am an "at will" employee who scrambles to create work and look innovative, and even still, I may lose my job tomorrow, due to budget constraints or even a wrinkled shirt. Sure, nobody is entitled to a job, but the level of insecurity in a world without tenure can be ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I've sacrificed and moved to crappy parts of the country to work shitty jobs and get frustrated with comments like Anonymous at 9:54's "I am so sick of people complaining about the lack of jobs." If that is the kind of compassion you show your colleagues I can only imagine how you treat patrons.

Just because I am very frustrated that I see small applicant pools for well-paying jobs that do not require years of experience that are not located in a "cool" locale does not mean I treat patrons like garbage. Look, many people in my former state association turned up their noses when I told them where I was relocating to (even though, it is constantly rated highly in Best Places).

If you had worked a series of crappy jobs in flyover country and still can't get anything decent, then you do have my sympathy and you are certainly not the type of job seeker I am criticizing.

Jaded said...

"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."

That to me is the problem: libraries as nonprofits. Libraries should more in tune with the market. There'd be far more effective librarians out there if they knew that their job hinged on performance. Competition would weed out dead beats (young and old) and bring in librarians willing to work and to work hard, because they know they can be fired and replaced. Think pay for performance, not pay because you've been here 30 years and published an article or two in journals no one reads.

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

amen brother faust, amen.

If those reading this think that a library being run like a business will solve all of the personnel issues, they should take even more medication. Nepotism, favoritism, and other sordid management practices don't go away outside of a library - in fact, they are probably more prevalent. At least the places I've worked were - give me the peaceful library any day.

Dances With Books said...

"(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.)"

That is probably one of the best lines in the whole post. And yet, those 2.0 folks keep on coming. Anyhow, I am somewhat secure. As I am often reminded, as a state peon, I serve "at the pleasure of" the big presidential kahuna. However, from the looks of it, he is easily pleased, and I am pretty secure (short of a scandal or major incompetence, and even then I could wiggle. And please, no puns on the "serving at the pleasure." You have no idea how often we hear it).

Anyhow, you do make a good point on the humaneness of the profession. It may not be perfect (by a long shot), but I at least can get to see my family every so often, enjoy my "adult beverage" now and then (hey, I even tried a martini or two recently), and the pace is mostly reasonable. If them whippersnappers don't like it, there is always the corporate sector.

Indeed, don't resent me because I am (somewhat young) and secure.

Dances With Books said...

P.S. like a couple other commenters, I am Gen-X as well, often caught between the two.

Anonymous said...

Competition for librarians? By all means, let's bring on the market and lessen job security for librarian so they can be just like adjunct instructors!

Instead of working at one institution and have health benefits, a semi-decent salary, and job stability, let's have all librarians work part-time and two or more institutions (with no benefits) so none of them have time to spend with their families (or have a social life) and quality of life goes completely down the tubes. That's the way to go!

Hey wait - maybe that would be a REALLY BAD idea. Have you ever worked as an adjunct instructor? Let's just say that teaching full-time as an adjunct isn't that fun regardless of how much one likes teaching. What if we translated that to libraries? Hmmm...

Admittedly, there are some not-so-competent librarians standing in the way of creative librarianship, but making misery and exploitation a major part of every librarian's job description (like it is now with adjuncts) won't do anything for the profession in terms of retaining the really qualified individuals (both old and young).

Come on. The market fails in any number of situations because of its inability to accommodate non-economic values. Libraries are nonprofits and they need to remain that way because they fulfill educational and even entertainment needs of society that are not easily crammed into a balance sheet.

Perhaps some librarians need to do a better job, but that is no reason to subject the entire profession to exploitative market forces where the bottom line reigns and quality of life of employees is an afterthought (if it shows up at all).

While job performance is important, quality of life issues also need to be included in the discussion. Throwing them out would be detrimental to the profession.

Anonymous said...

Competition would weed out dead beats (young and old) and bring in librarians willing to work and to work hard, because they know they can be fired and replaced.

Oh really? So, are you saying there are no "dead beats" in the corporate world? Everyone who works in a corporate environment is on task every minute of the day?

I don't understand this idea that the MBA is the holy grail of management success. Our dear president has one of those, and last time I checked, he's not managing things very well. Just like library science, there are a glut of MBA programs. There are even "executive MBA programs" that are essentially open-enrollment for those working in a corporate environment. Please. Things are anti-intellectual enough as it is. It takes a lot more to managing people than another silly vocational degree.

Alex Grigg said...

"Celebrate the security. It might not be good for you, but it's good for libraries."

Really? It sounds like it might be good for anyone already tenured, but not so much for those seeking jobs and for the libraries themselves. Not that I begrudge anyone the cushy tenured positions, mind you. I'd love to get my hands on one someday, but the security and humanity of these library positions is one of the things that causes the glut of unemployed librarians.

Too bad the obvious solution is to make all librarians work like dogs until nobody wants to be one anymore. That way everyone wins! Um, well . . .

Dances With Books said...

I can attest to the issue about being an adjunct, since I did adjunct work before being a librarian. Not fun at all trying to make those ends meet. You think some librarians have a crappy time? Go try to make a living teaching courses at two or more different campuses to make a semblance of a salary (and no benefits by the way).

Amen as well Faust. Indeed, libraries have a very unique mission, which is associated with the education of the populace (whether the 2.0freaks like hearing that or not). Anyhow, I think Anon. @ 9:54 did have a good point:

"As a mid-career librarian, I do have a lot of respect for more experienced librarians. Even though some of them are not technically savvy, they do have valuable insights about teaching, managing people, etc. There's a lot more to being a librarian than Web 2.0 crap."

That is exactly how I see it. The older (and I use that term selectively) folks may not be the 2.0 mavericks, but they do know things like how to manage people, projects, budgets, and diplomacy. It can take a good amount of charm, diplomacy, tact, and interpersonal skill to get some cranky old lady to make a donation to your library (I am saying it because we just went through that. My director may not be perfect, but has great skills in that regard). It's more than 2.0 skills to be a good librarian. And that is part of why I like being in the middle, learn from both sides.

Just a thought. Sorry this got long.

Jaded said...

"It takes a lot more to managing people than another silly vocational degree."

I'd give the reigns of a library to a person with that silly vocational degree that to someone with a so-called advanced degree. Your average PhD has no concept how to manage people or institutions.

Anonymous said...

I'd give the reigns of a library to a person with that silly vocational degree that to someone with a so-called advanced degree. Your average PhD has no concept how to manage people or institutions.

Yeah, all academics are incompetent beyond the tower of academe. I guess it has never occurred to you that some people were led into doctoral programs during the grad school boom that have gifts and abilities outside academe, but that is besides the point.

I would simply argue that the ability to manage people is innate--no amount of advanced degrees is going to improve that ability much. In essence, the reigns belong to someone with people skills AND an understanding of the principles of library science.

And yes, I do know someone who just has an MBA and manages a public library. That place is a revolving door and they constantly publish pathetic ads in American Libraries in efforts to recruit.

Winston said...

It's not about the security; it is about the slow degradation of our profession. I work at a large public "at will" library who touts itself as progressive and advocates to its employees to get an MLS degree and improve the noble profession. They then turn around and hire a non-MLS for a professional cataloging position and a HIGH SCHOOL student for a paraprofessional cataloger position. (Both of these positions specifically required a higher degree in the job posting.) They have hired a non-MLS for training, a youth services’ supervisor, an adult services’ manager, and a special populations’ supervisor, etc. etc. Around here it is about who you know. If they like you, no MLS required, if they don't even an MLS won't help you.

What does this say about our profession? It tells our community and our professional community that librarianship it’s a VOCATION not a PROFESSION. What we need is for those tenured librarians to stand up and demand that their profession be taken seriously. We need these secure librarians to advocate that the MLS degree IS necessary. We need them to help us youngin's preserve this profession before it turns into a joke. We need you to ensure that those of us who are getting our degrees and trying to advance this profession are not pushed aside.

Chuck Knoblauch said...

Are gamers breaking the law?

http://www.gamepolitics.com/2008/06/02/do-library-amp-church-game-nights-violate-eula

Chuck Knoblauch said...

http://tinyurl.com/5noamg

Brent said...

OMG, Chuck Knoblauch, you were my hero for a couple years growing up playing baseball. Seriously. Are you a librarian now?

I want to clarify that tenure scares me because I wouldn't want to work at a place that long. It seems like giving up and depriving yourself of new experiences in life.

Anonymous said...

Dances with Books - You wrote the post that I wish I had written. I completely agree with you.

Anonymous 9:03

Anonymous said...

Too long. Boring. Make it short and snappy. I'm not sure what is going on of late. It's almost like AL has turned it over to some graduate assistants for the summer.

Crumbly said...

Librarianship is like diving. Nobody paid a hard-hat diver to dive, it was the work they did on the bottom that earnt their money.

So why should Librarians expect credit and pay for piddling around online when it should be the work they do there that counts?

How many of these arrogant 2.0 Library workers actually use databases to extract the information their customers need? In fact how many of them could use a business database effectively?

Us aged ones have grown up with database development and have played a significant part in that progress.

We have continually updated our skills in using useful online resources, we have fought for budgets to purchase access and we have created a market for a library to provide them.

I will take nothing from someone whose claim to 2.0 skills is the manufacture of the web equivalent of those boring sententious in-house library magazines that used to be cutting edge and pleased deputy library directors and their aunts only or the disorganised and unread community noticeboards that share with a lot of 2.0 efforts the fact that a lot of the content is out of date, illiterate and dull.

Anonymous said...

I work at a large public "at will" library who touts itself as progressive and advocates to its employees to get an MLS degree and improve the noble profession. They then turn around and hire a non-MLS for a professional cataloging position and a HIGH SCHOOL student for a paraprofessional cataloger position.

This is not an anomaly! I know of a mid-sized public library where a high school graduate manages technical services and couldn't even train his/her staff to automate the check-in of print periodicals. I believe the library had to shell out some $ to send people for training. The ALA needs to stop burying their collective heads in the sand with regards to this issue!

Us aged ones have grown up with database development and have played a significant part in that progress.

Absolutely! I've seen this quite a bit with ILS enhancements.

crumbly said...

"Absolutely! I've seen this quite a bit with ILS enhancements."

But where is the wonder kit that all these Library Science researchers should have been producing?

Why could I not walk into the library shop and buy, for example, a Library Expert System of the shelf? What were they being paid for?

Anonymous said...

I'm with Anonymous #1 and Dances with Books. Technically I'm a boomer, but I never felt as if I fit in - now I find I'm a "jones generation". The 20-somethings whining about 57-year olds not retiring - well, it was not pretty in the mid-80s when there were all sorts of 47-, even 37-somethings hired in the boom years and now clogging up the works. I've watched the golden retirement packages, the extra pension checks when the economy was booming in the 90s and know I won't be getting those. I'm realistic as to how long I will need to work. OK I know this is all about me but - I enjoy the enthusiasm and energy and skills of the young (or not so young) whippersnappers; I was once one, and it was hard enough to get entrenched librarians to use the damn microfiche catalog. With age and experience comes SOME wisdom, and I think it's been appreciated. I am both more frustrated and more enthusiastic about my environment, and each day I try to balance that and hope that the enthusiasm comes out on top (most of the time it does). If I stop learning, shoot me (I won't want to live anyway).

Oh BTW - I have both an MSLS and an MBA. I try to take the best of both. I hope that doesn't mean I'm doubly screwed.

Anonymous said...

So much I agree with, so much I disagree with.

I’ll just preface my remarks with a few points. I believe that doing new things can be really important. I also believe keeping good old programs going well is important. I have innovated a few programs where I work, and in some ways am a dreaded 2.0pian. I believe in considering ideas on individual merits so I think there are things in libraries worth maintaining as they are and things worth changing and new things worth introducing. The world is not a black and white place where you are on one side or the other. I am a new librarian and have worked with good and poor librarians and paraprofessionals.

1. Taking a ‘security breeds laziness and insecurity breeds productivity’ approach doesn’t work anywhere, in my opinion (and the opinion of a management guru I know, so don’t even get started).
2. How do you intend to measure the productivity of librarians in a consistent, comparable, realistic way which captures the intangible nature of what it is we want them to do? I have seen people ‘ticking the boxes’ without achieving anything useful before, what will make libraries any different?
3. How many times do I have to say it - it isn’t OLD vs YOUNG it is SMART vs DUMB. It is quite possible that you can be 20 and intelligent and willing to work hard, or you can be 20 and an idiot. If you are an idiot at 20, chances are you’ll be an idiot at 60. If you encounter a lazy-ass librarian at 55, chances are they were also a lazy-ass at 20 (unless years of attempting to prove their worth to people and being told they were pointless crushed their spirit). I actually believe that the point of the librarianship degree to some extent is to attempt to weed out the stupid and the lazy (which works to varying degrees depending on the rigour of the course).


Security is important otherwise people spend all the time they would be using actually DOING their jobs in PROVING how good they are at their jobs.
I have seen this problem in schools where teachers attempting to gain advancement focus on self-promotion rather than outcomes for students. I have seen a teacher using all of their class time on self-promotion instead of actually doing their job. If in order to gain advancement (or as in some of the opinions stated, keep your job) you have to prove yourself against a set of criteria, your focus is on proving you have met those criteria. The problem is that we are very bad at measuring what teachers and librarians do, and measuring it well would be an enormously costly exercise - and therefore self-defeating. We are not talking about making a tangible product, where if you make more things this year than last year you have increased productivity, or a business where if you make more money this year than last year you have improved. Teachers and librarians don’t start out with the same raw materials each year. The things librarians are doing are about helping individuals and communities. You can try having a checklist that looks at borrowings, or reference questions, or numbers through the door, or ‘new’ programs, but at the end of the day these are all things that can be demonstrated without necessarily doing a good job, or indeed a ‘better’ job than someone else. I work in a city where job security isn’t too high and I haven’t noticed all positions being filled with perfect people doing a perfect job (or even good people doing a good job). Lack of security just means people aren’t concentrating on doing a good job, they are too busy worrying about Proving they are doing a good job (or quietly getting an ulcer).

P.S. I have met plenty of idiots with an MBA (although not everyone with an MBA is an idiot). Like any degree, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll do a good job (or not be an idiot). I am constantly surprised by the number of idiots who make it through university, and so far it’s the best method I know of trying to weed them out (short of taking all the warning labels off things).

Anonymous said...

I have seen this problem in schools where teachers attempting to gain advancement focus on self-promotion rather than outcomes for students. I have seen a teacher using all of their class time on self-promotion instead of actually doing their job.

Some of the best librarians I know aren't in the business of self-promotion. I do wonder if this whole notion of "act as if" is a generational thing because this seems to be a bit more common in millennials.

Opposed to typos said...

It seems like sometime in the recent past, a college degree ceased being that and became simply advanced training for a specific job. Is that because of the perceived high cost?

To the new MLS grads: Do you try for alternate fields at all? If so, which ones, and have you had any success? If not, why not?

I'm Kat! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I'm Kat! said...

So Much Good stuff and a very good Blog!!

I can't read it all now but this struck out and I have to correct it:

"If some of the posters were really social Darwinists, then they would have to posit that only the top students at top programs obtain jobs. As we all know, it doesn't work that way.

How about this? Life sometimes isn't fair. "

There is in this argument a missing piece of information and that is what darwinism is in itself: Survival of the Fittest.

You equate all the top students as being the Top Survivalists, but take a second look: they are the most fit IN THAT ENVIRONMENT, but that does not mean they are THE most fit!

Darwinism also takes into account the little factor called "Luck." Some have it, some don't; some lose it, some gain it. And it always seems to make NO sense why some are lucky and some are not.

Like today I had two ice cream sandwiches come out of the machine instead of one. I would like to say my ship finally came in, but this has been a bit of the miracle of my life story so far, and while I know it won't hold up forever, Luck has been a HUGE part of my life.

So review that social Darwinism arguement - the people who are the most fit WILL survive in higher quantities, but you have to be careful how you define "most fit" and look closely at the environment behind that person.

Bill Gates is hardly the most fit Human on Earth, yet he is quite "successful." Was he more "fit" then the top librarians in library school when he was in college? NO! He dropped out of college, afterall!!!

Anonymous said...

Some of the best librarians I know aren't in the business of self-promotion. I do wonder if this whole notion of "act as if" is a generational thing because this seems to be a bit more common in millennials.

Exactly. The best librarians aren't in the business of self-promotion because they actually focus on doing a good job. This is very much the ethos where I work. People focus on doing a good job and don't really worry about self-promotion, partly because they already have as much job security as they can expect in our current employment environment, but mostly because that is the kind of people they are.
I'm not so sure about the I do wonder if this whole notion of "act as if" is a generational thing because this seems to be a bit more common in millennials.. I don't think this is a generational thing, I think it is probably a personality or subculture thing. As an old ex psych grad I can tell you that the whole 'generation gap' is a myth. People (most of the time) have the same values as their parents (except parents think their kids are more radical than they really are and kids think their parents are more conservative than they really are). This is such a replicable effect that people always do this experiment with 1st yr psych classes for their report.
I think that in an environment with rapidly increasing insecurity in jobs people are just demonstrating their existing tendencies. It makes a certain kind of sense to focus on proving your worth if that is what your job depends on year to year. The difference shows up in how people respond to that. Some people say 'stuff it, i'll do the job the best I can, and if that means rotting in the lowest paid position, that's life' while others say 'in order to keep my job/get better pay i need to prove these things' but not everyone views that proof in the same way. Some will no doubt do a good job, but others won't, and will still demonstrate that they have done a good job. I've seen this before, it isn't just some kind of paranoia. In fact, the situations i've seen suggest that people doing a good job and getting recognised for it are the exception rather than the rule.That is the cruel fallacy of the 'performance based pay'/'survival of the fittest' approach. It just doesn't happen like the theory in real life.

I'm Kat! said...

Sometimes the best survival means you are the person who is the quietest, the most average, and the most like everybody else.

Once you become the guy who is doing a whole lot of work, and always doing stuff in a place where "no one ever works," you risk being fired or sabatoged because you ARE the Nail Standing Up, the Girl in the Red Dress, the Slow and Dumb Gazelle.

You have to define what "FIT" is Before you declare "Survival of the Fittest" doesn't often hold true.

Fitting in is, after all, a survival mechanism.

On another note, if you get a Yuppie boss/administration who is one of these standout nails turned Hammers, you might have to not jsut do your Great job and Self Promotion but BOTH in order to keep the job or to get a new position while everybody in the department is being reclassified [read: declassified from full time to part time]

Anonymous said...

"You have to define what "FIT" is Before you declare "Survival of the Fittest" doesn't often hold true."

Exactly the point. The suggestion that "if you were just 'great' enough your job would be secure in an environment without security, thus resulting in a better library world" is ridiculous, because it assumes that there is a consistent and positive requirement across situations. If every library and hiring system only rewarded people for doing a 'good' job (so subjective!) then this *might* result in this ideal, but it doesn't happen that way, and as far as I can fathom has never happened that way in any industry. Maybe a few workplaces can get it right, and good luck to them, but that doesn't mean that it applies elsewhere. Job security and good/lucky hiring work in some places too.

Regards doing both the Great job and Self Promotion in order to keep the job or to get a new position while everybody in the department is being reclassified [read: declassified from full time to part time] - I just don't see how this can be good for libraries, as the previous posters advocating job insecurity suggest. The suggestion that lack of job security will result in better libraries is false.

I'm Kat! said...


Regards doing both the Great job and Self Promotion in order to keep the job or to get a new position while everybody in the department is being reclassified [read: declassified from full time to part time] - I just don't see how this can be good for libraries, as the previous posters advocating job insecurity suggest. The suggestion that lack of job security will result in better libraries is false.



It actually has very little to do with how good this can be for libraries and a lot to do with how much good this can be for library BUDGETS!

Public Sector Employment is being cut right now in ways you would not believe, and it keeps getting more squeezes. The Parks half to lay off roughly 1/2 of ALL their operational full time staff in the next couple of years - and once those people are eliminated, those positions will be GONE!

The government will then fill them with short term temps, Interns, other "Desperate for experience anyway they can get it" sorts and Volunteers.

The government will save the costs of providing Benefits, retirement contributions and medicare/fica taxes, NOT TO MENTION the money they will save from that Full time Position Salary.

Obviously these things will be bad for library Scholarship, but in terms of Patron service, you have to ask yourself...."Do you really need a MLS to..." and add in the activities that public libraries are focusing on nowadays.

There has to be a middle ground, but right now it seems the job choice is either "Director/president/CEO/Manager" which you will NEVERR have the necessary experience to even dream of applying, and McDonalds or Panda Express [ the latter LOVES advertising how they are a "Career" opportunity and Not jsut another job].

I just had a preservation class - there are library jobs to be had out there, but you have to think beyond the common library box - or even leave the field altogether.

techie boomer said...

In my academic library, the administration decided several years ago that anyone over 50 was by definition "over the hill" technologically, and that it was better to hire a bunch of young, new librarians with the latest skills "right off the shelf" than bother finding out whether any of us were tech savvy and eager to learn more. Furthermore, if you haden't been willing to move into administrative posts, surely that meant you were deadwood by definition, right? In fact, they just generalized from their own characteristics. So we were pushed out of every committee and it was made clear we were just being tolerated.

In fact, several of us had stayed in our "ordinary" reference and bibliographer positions rather than move into administration precisely because we could see how quickly administrators lost touch with the technology, and we saw that part of the job as the most challenging and interesting. (Not that we jumped on every technie tool for the sake of it - but how could you have an opinion about it without trying it? We were curious and adventurous and ready to experiment- but also ready to think critically about their use.)

The result? A bunch of marginalized, demoralized, cynical boomer librarians counting the days to retirement instead of what could have been a particularly engaged, motivated staff. Yes, some boomers who were never the adventurous type have been left behind by the technology, but that is more of a result of personality than age.

(BTW, the "newbies" are discovering the administration that didn't have the communication skills to talk to their agemates, can't communicate with them, either.)

Anonymous said...

And very few of any of us, no matter what our age, have this security you talk about. Look at what happend at Marathon County and other libraries. Old and new out the door. The real question is will librarians still be around in the next century or will they be deemed unnecessary in the technological age as some administrators think. Security in any job in any sector will become a thing of the past, ancient history.

Anonymous said...

I am a dinosaur. I got my M.L.S. in 1966. I read through all of the comments and thought they all had good points. I was in a special library position for 33 years. When I retired, I found I could not live on my retirement. I was lucky/unlucky enough to find a permanent half time position in a public library. I had culture shock. My post is rambling because I am writing as I think about all the posts I just read. One thing I have noticed is that the younger (anyone below the age of 50) generation do not have a work ethic. I grew up thinking that libraries were all about books. Yes, I am showing my age. When I became a special librarian, I learned that libraries were about information. I went with the flow and learned computers. As I am a book person, I really do not want a space on My Space. I do not want to download music. I have learned to take advantage of the younger librarians that I work with. I am not embarrassed to ask for help with the computer. In the younger generation's honor I have to say that most of them are happy to help me. I will say that for all of our computer skills that none of us are well paid.

Anonymous said...

Insecurity breeds paranoia, low morale and backstabbing as everybody becomes more interested in saving their own backsides (jobs) than supporting their coworkers.

Insecurity breeds malicious gossip, as staff becomes more willing to pass and believe any rumor that may help them save their own backside.

But the saddest post I think I read here was the person who retired and couldn't live on her retirement income. This boomer started an IRA when they were were a new service, so I'm not just stuck with pension and SS. Still, I may be in the same position, come retirement time.

dwillin said...

With the recent meltdown of the U.S. economy, we should all be concerned with our financial security, no matter the job position held, or even how many years it has been held. We are all pretty much in the same boat right now: can see dry land, just hope to get there before the ship completely sinks.

If your job truly is secure, then thank the powers that be. If not, do everything in your power now to get something more secure, or atleast find a way to supplement what you have.

123 said...

It is very interesting for me to read this blog. Thank author for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.
Alex
Cell blocker