A few weeks ago, an unemployed librarian in the UK asked advice from the Guardian’s career “agony uncle” Jeremy. I wonder how many American librarian job seekers resemble this person.
Here’s the librarian’s query:
I’m a librarian and have not yet managed to get employment. I am a quiet, reliable person. I have a BA in film studies/librarianship and am a member of Cilip [Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, sort of like ALA for the UK]. I have done unpaid library workplace experience posts, voluntary work in a small museum and a half-day in an Oxfam shop. I am computer literate. I don’t drive. I am now in my late thirties. I live at home so salary is not of first importance. I apply for jobs but the longer I have been without employment the less likely it is that I will get an interview, let alone land a job. What else can I do?
One can only imagine the cover letter this person would write. Jeremy’s advice was to find something that distinguishes the person from other candidates and emphasize that. I suspect the person will have a hard time following that advice. The problem isn’t presentation, it’s substance.
Let’s read the query again, interpreting it for people who might be doing the hiring.
“I am a quiet, reliable person.” I’m shy, introverted, and don’t communicate well, but I show up and do whatever I’m asked, though I’ll probably never initiate anything myself. And I like books.
“I have a BA in film studies/librarianship”. I did go to university, but I decided to study fluff instead of work hard. Obviously, I didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge, because they don’t offer degrees fluffier than English.
“and am a member of Cilip,” which just about anyone even remotely connected to libraries in the UK can join, but it shows I care.
“I have done unpaid library workplace experience posts,” so I work cheap, but maybe I’m paid what I’m worth.
“voluntary work in a small museum”. More work for no pay, but at least I’m cultured.
“and a half-day in an Oxfam shop”. Yet more work for no pay, but at least I’m charitable.
“I am computer literate.” Too vague. My granny is “computer literate,” but I wouldn’t want her helping me with my research.
“I don’t drive.” Do you have philosophical objections to driving, or are you just too uncoordinated? Either way, how is that relevant to library work?
“I am now in my late thirties.” That’s pretty old never to have held a real job. To an employer, that’s a red flag that something is wrong with you. Actually, to pretty much everyone that’s a sign something is wrong with you.
“I live at home.” By that, I assume you still live with your parents, and in your late thirties no less.
“so salary is not of first importance.” And they’ve also been supporting you for close to 40 years. Perhaps it’s their fault, and they need to cut the apron strings and let their little librarian fly free.
“I apply for jobs but the longer I have been without employment the less likely it is that I will get an interview, let alone land a job.” That is the most insightful thing you’ve said so far.
“What else can I do?”
Here, the possibilities are endless, but I’ll avoid any advice with ‘night, Mother implications. Regardless, I think this librarian needs a little tough love. My advice?
Your attitude, your degree, and your life so far say to any potential employer: “I’m a person who’s never worked very hard, or accomplished anything, or achieved any independence in 20 years of adulthood.” Look at that from the outside. Why would anyone hire you? Now go do something about it.
Get a job! And one that pays! And move out of your parents’ house. What kind of person lives off their parents for 40 years? Losers, mostly. If you can volunteer at Oxfam shops and museums you can clerk at Marks & Spencer.
I offer this tough love in somewhat the same way I discussed “elite” librarians. There are far too many people who seem to think that working their way through an easy degree should somehow guarantee them a job as a librarian, and that’s even if you take account of the propaganda campaign by ALA and American library schools to overpopulate the librarian pool.
In America, libraries are facing tougher times than ever, and we’re much more likely to see repeats of Buffalo & Erie County than of mass retirements and new positions opening up. But even during the relative salad days, there were still librarians like this whining rather than doing something. “I have a degree. Where is my job? Mom, cook me a meatloaf, please?”
Job seekers are facing the toughest times for a long time, and for them I have some basic advice: try to see yourselves as others, especially employers, see you. Would you hire you? Why? Because you have a library degree? Yeah, so do the other 80 candidates. And?
Even if it might have been at some point, librarianship isn’t a profession for quiet bookworms who still live with their parents into their late thirties. It’s not a works program for introverts. Jobs are hard to find and getting harder, and the more competitive they are the more you need to do besides getting a library degree.
Get more experience. Make actual accomplishments. Lose a few pounds. Dress better. Write better. Speak better. To get the library job you want these days, it’s not enough to have a degree. You actually have to be impressive, and that’s not easy for most people.
The question is, given the relative status and pay of librarians, if all that hard work is worth it.