This having a holiday during the week when ALA begins is a terrible idea. I hope for next year either MLK Day can be moved to a different Monday or ALA can come a week later. Either one is fine by me.
To celebrate MLK Day, I always travel down to Dixie to participate in the march in Birmingham recreating the historic events of 1963. We interlopers link arms in solidarity and walk the streets chanting provocative slogans and feeling good about ourselves. The natives blast us with fire hoses and turn police dogs on us. Thus, there is a little something for everyone. A fun time was had by all, but I’m glad Chip was there as my bodyguard. He blocked the jet from the fire hose with an unconscious German Shepherd while several of us escaped the pandemonium.
And of course we have another historic celebration tomorrow, but I don’t get off work for that one. Barack Hussein Obama is being sworn in as the 44th POTUS on Lincoln’s Bible. I think Lincoln would be very proud of him. My only wonder is whether Obama will now decide to grow a beard. I don’t think he should, but he’d look great in a stovepipe hat.
Because of all the joy in Mudville today, I’m not going to complain about anything. In fact, I’m going to try to help someone. This someone is a library school student who emailed me, and we all know library school students need more help than any of us. Here’s the content of the email:
"Dear Annoyed Librarian,
While I am a typical liberal arts major lacking in both talent and ambition, I still want to avoid being one of those sad losers who can’t find a chair when the music stops playing. I want to be like you and have a cushy job that involves struggling to stay awake during endless meetings and sipping martinis.
To that end, I was wondering if you could invite your many readers to share experiences and tips about how they got their cushy jobs despite the lack of any librarian shortage. My desire is to imitate them and get a cushy job for myself. I am interested in becoming an academic librarian because I love meetings.
Thanks for considering my request,
Grasping Library Student"
It’s so hard to say these days whether readers are sincere. After all, the AL has many detractors who wish nothing more than her complete destruction and the elimination of dissent from the library literature. However, let’s assume this student is being sincere. Having been a liberal arts major myself, and currently working at an undisclosed university library somewhere in the United States, I can offer some advice.
First of all, get a PhD. Academic libraries love librarians with PhDs. There’s something about spending five or more years of your life becoming an expert in Etruscan vases or British diplomatic history or some such fascinating topic that excites the heck out of search committees. I watched one such committee literally wet itself in unison at the thought of getting a bibliographer with a PhD, and that PhD was in English of all things, which has to be the most overrepresented field of study among academic librarians. Pretty much any degree will do, though I think people will have their best luck with a PhD in history. Historians use libraries and archives a lot more than English professors, for example. Classics or comparative literature might be good as well. Definitely don’t get a PhD in library science. That might help you get a job as a library science professor, but it’s worth bugger all for a librarian job.
Second, learn a lot of languages. The more the better, which is why Classics or comp lit work well. Academic librarians love applicants with lots of languages. You probably won’t even have to use them, which is why if you’re really desparate, you might consider just listing a few on your vita. (And it’s "vita," not resume. That’s for public librarians.)
Third, be really smart. Anyone who thinks this one is a given for librarians has never attended library school, or has, but isn’t very smart. You don’t have to be smart to finish library school or plod along as a librarian somewhere, but it definitely gives you a competitive edge. To test yourself, look around in your library school classes. Can you spot the brainiac? If not, it might be you. If it isn’t you, then it’s not at all clear you deserve a job anyway. This is a serious profession, people, not a jobs program for boneheads.
Fourth, be charismatic. This will really set you apart from a lot of librarians, especially academic ones. Don’t get me wrong. I like academic librarians. There’s something homey and comforting about heavy women in frumpy clothes and middle aged men with pot bellies and crumbs in their beards. You want to see a group of people who have thrown off the shackles of convention, go see some academic librarians. However, they’re not a particularly charismatic bunch, especially the catalogers. They tend to be the people who sat in the corner during their school years quietly reading a book and wondering why they always got picked last for sports teams.
Fifth, get a degree in something outside the humanities. This one you probably can’t do, but it’s worth considering. MBA, perhaps? Something that gives you some quantitative skills? Anything where you work with numbers would be good to show that you can do something besides read Beat poetry and talk about foreign films.
Sixth (and this is the one you really can’t do), be born at a different time. Things were just easier back in the day. The competition was less fierce, the pace was less hectic, and everyone had fewer tattoos. In general, I think those are all good things.
So there’s some advice for our wayward library school student, who I hope succeeds in this crazy ambition. In case of eventual success, I have one final bit of advice. Find something enjoyable to do at meetings that doesn’t look too inappropriate but that will keep your attention from wandering to anyone actually speaking. You won’t regret it. Oh, and if you follow this advice and get a job, the martinis are on you, baby.
Any more suggestions?