Thursday, June 08, 2006

Dear Annoyed Librarian #5: PhDs in the Library

Dear Annoyed Librarian,

I have a PhD in English, but haven't been able to find a decent teaching job for several years. However, I heard that librarians are hard to come by, so I thought maybe I could get a job in a library. After all, I spent a lot of time in libraries when I was in grad school. And I have a PhD, so that means I'm obviously smarter than all those librarians who don't. I realize being a librarian isn't quite as prestigious as being a real professor, but maybe I could get one of those "subject specialist" jobs I heard about, where at least I wouldn't have to interact much with the students. I'm not sure what "reference" is, but I've bought a lot of books. I also used the MLA Bibliography on the computer a few times. What do you think I should do?


Dr. Possible Librarian


Dear Dr. Possible,

You sound like the sort of stellar "go-getter" we need in libraries these days, so by all means I think you should apply for all those "subject specialist" jobs you keep hearing about, and don't worry that you know absolutely nothing about librarianship. It's very simple stuff. If you can teach 10 courses of freshman comp. a year--which you've probably been doing to support yourself--then you can be a librarian. In fact, that's the major requirement for being a librarian, so be sure to mention it prominently in your cover letter.

Also mention that you've bought a lot of books. Most academic libraries these days just purchase whatever recommends based on their profile, so that's pretty easy, too. And I'm sure your doctoral work on whatever tiny subject you covered in your dissertation gave you ample experience with the international book trade and all of the traditional resources on literary scholarship. Heck, you probably know Wing and Wellesley and the YWES by heart. (If you don't know what those are, don't worry. Neither does anyone else!) The only thing that separates you from real librarians is the acronyms, so be sure to study up on them: OCLC, RLG, BI, MARC, NKVD, etc. Look 'em up!

And be sure to hold out for a great job your first time out, because after all, you've got a PhD! That's serious stuff. Don't take that job at a branch campus of Western Dungheap State University, even on the off chance it's offered. That's the sort of place you might have had to teach at, but you can expect better things as a librarian. Accept nothing less than a branch campus of the University of Dungheap itself!

In fact, I think you've made a very wise choice, and I think you'll be a very hot commodity indeed. Right now, you're just some academic loser who finished a PhD and then hung out on the margins of academic respectability for a few years teaching low-level courses for pocket change, some guy who has no marketable skills other than grading essays and selling plasma. People probably look upon you as some pathetic clod who just couldn't cut it as an English professor but was too stupid to realize what a loser he was. But that's not how we librarians would view you. No, in the field of librarianship, you'd be a god!

We need more like you!


The Annoyed Librarian


Anonymous said...

Having HAD this conversation with a disgruntled PhD, I applaud your ability to put it into words *grin*

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I am quite put off by failed academics for whom librairianship is clearly a second choice career.

Since there seem to be a lot of those around, I have to be careful where I say that.

Now, a few ex-academics end up being good librarians. You know the ones who are not, though. They are the ones that say "librarianship is a way to stay in academia." Don't insult me.

Anonymous said...

Seems to be librarians are academics in their own right, anyway. It isn't suprising PhDs see this as scholarly alternative to teaching full-time - especially if they're willing to get the MLS to go with the PhD.

Anonymous said...

I heard a librarian once saying that librarians are a self-centered bunch of whiners.

While I can see the irony in the original posting, I can not help but wonder if librarians actually might fear a large number of failed academics-disgraced PhDs-second choice careerists are just going to spill over one day and make everyone's life miserable? Stop worrying, that won't happen, too much ego on both sides.

However, just go to any library school and most likely very few students would tell you that librarianship was their first ever choice career.

At the end of the day I think there's more librarians with MLIS going after a second master or PhD than failed PhDs going after library jobs, and hopefully I am not mistaken.