Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Soulless, Arrogant Readers, I Thank You

A commenter last week caught my eye, mostly because I’m not sure what to make of the comments. Supposedly they are from the non-librarian mother of an underemployed LIS graduate, which is odd enough because you’d think the LIS graduate would be a more likely audience.

The tone of the comments is defensive and very hostile to librarians.  I’ve found all sorts of things to criticize about librarians over the years, but the puzzling thing is what she chooses to attack.

For example: “Our local librarian told me they hire the creme de la creme. Well her creme responded to my question about westlaw “How do you most efficiently search this database?” With “I can’t give you legal advise.” Oh really, sounds like the creme does not recognize a question a librarian should know.”

By “local librarian,” one would assume she means a public librarian. At least, without more context that’s what I would assume. I suppose it’s possible that the local public librarian knowingly told a flat out lie that the local public library only hires the “creme de la creme.”

We all know that’s a lie, because most libraries don’t. They can’t afford to. There are plenty of very sharp people working in public libraries, but I’ve never gotten the sense that most public libraries were exclusively or even mostly staffed by the best and the brightest. At least that’s not the sense I get listening to my very smart public librarian friends talk about their colleagues.

But let’s say for argument’s sake the librarian lied about that, and move on to the proof that a librarian in the local library isn’t so great: a lack of knowledge about the best way to search Westlaw.

That’s where I was thrown for a small loop. Who would assume that the average librarian would be familiar with searching Westlaw, especially the average public librarian? Are there any public libraries that even subscribe to Westlaw?

Other than general database searching tips, unless the “local librarian” was a law librarian, no one should expect familiarity with Westlaw, much less expertise.

Ask for the local public librarian’s advice on using Web of Science and you’d probably get the same answer. Ask about Ebsco products and it would be a different story. Even great librarians only know well the tools they use.

Another comment seemed decidedly wrong, at least on average. “Librarians refuse to mentor new grads. they refuse to tell the truth about the profession.” Now, if by “librarians” we mean the folks at library schools and the ALA who have been misleading the public for years about the librarian job market, then it’s true that librarians “refuse to tell the truth about the profession.”

However, most other librarians have been aware of the job shortage for years. They don’t tell people about it, because they don’t have an outlet. That’s one reason I’ve been writing about the problem for the last five years.

Do librarians really refuse to mentor new grads? The anecdotal evidence would suggest that such is not the case, and numerous librarians go on the record about the mentors they’ve had.

There’s another odd criticism, apparently based on almost no evidence: “Librarians are in general self centered arrogant individuals.” Does that really sound like the majority of librarians you’ve met?

Admittedly, I’m a self-centered, arrogant individual, but when you’re the most successful and respected librarian of your generation, millions of people dote on your every word, and your reality TV show “Keeping up with the Annoyed Librarian” is the top-rated show on television, the arrogance is understandable.

There are a few other arrogant librarians. I won’t name them, but sometimes you can spot them speaking at library conferences. But in general that criticism seems wrong.

And if librarians were so self-centered, they wouldn’t take relatively low-paying jobs in a service profession. A lot of librarians actually want to help people. They’re selfless to a fault, which explains why it’s so easy to exploit them.

Naturally enough, the commenter really didn’t like the report from the field implying some new grads don’t really do what it takes to get work.

This is bullying and elitism. There are bright motivated people who cannot find work. I think you all need to be ashamed and annoyed and think you are annoying. She is currently working as a paraprofessional. It is not funny. And you should all look in the mirror and ask yourselves what kind of people you are and what are you…your attitudes mirror your souls and your souls are empty.

One person’s bullying is another person’s mild satire, I guess. I’ll cop to elitism, since I’m part of the elite, but I’m not sure there was anything elitist about that particular post. If anything, it was “employedism,” especially in the comments, as in advice from employed librarians for new grads looking for work.

And of course there are bright, motivated people who can’t find work. I’ve been talking about that for years. On the other hand, since library school is so easy, there are a lot of dim-witted librarians looking for work, too. The bright and motivated ones will probably find decent jobs eventually, but it’s taking an increasingly long time.

Someone underemployed might not be funny, but someone looking for work who has sent out only 15 applications over several months is at least mildly amusing in their naivete.

The line about our attitudes mirroring our souls and our souls being empty made me laugh out loud, and I always appreciate comments like that. If our souls were empty and the comments mirrored them, then wouldn’t the comment section have been empty? Or is that only the kind of thing someone with an empty soul would ask?

Anyway, it’s food for thought for all you empty-souled, self-centered, arrogant librarians out there. Remember, if someone graduates from library school and can’t find a job, it’s your fault.

As I write this I’m dreaming of turkey and cranberry sauce and lazy naps at the ancestral manse. Tomorrow is a day of thanks, but I’ll skip ahead and thank you all right now for reading. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    I agree that a person with a Masters degree working as a paraprofessional is a terrible situation. I felt the same way when I was “paying my dues” in an underpaid part time position with no benefits, and that was after “paying dues” with a few unpaid or underpaid internships and volunteer gigs.

    Telling it like it is, however, isn’t soulless. It’s reality. The job market for librarians isn’t great right now and it doesn’t show any signs of improving. Anyone who is thinking of taking on student loan debt to go to graduate school needs to go in with both eyes open and realize that they are going to have to hustle and network like mad to get a job, and even with hustling there’s the very real possibility that they’ll be underemployed for a few years before they get that all important “experience” required to get a job that, at best, provides a living wage.

    The two mentors who convinced me to go into the profession (And on that point I would agree that most librarians are willing to bend over backwards to help others in the profession. Now that I have a good job I’m doing everything I can to help promising MLS students I know.) told me that no one ever got rich being a librarian.

    I was fine with that. I’m not in it for the money. But judging by the number of people I read or hear from who are expecting six figure salaries working at major universities straight out of library school it feels like there’s still a lare contingent of people out there suffering from irrational expectations. Is it nasty or soulless to try and warn them that reality is going to hit them upside the head a few months after graduation when those student loans come due? I don’t think so.

    That’s why right after I tell them how much I love my job I point anyone who expresses an interest in library school to the “Come to Library School! Just Don’t Expect a Job!” comment thread. It’s a healthy dose of reality and it helps people come to terms with whether or not they’re dedicated to wandering in the employment wilderness for a few years before they land a real library job. If only more people did the same before applying for library school.

  2. Reader response to Joyce’s angry comment was telling. There were many replies. Most put aside her attacks and replied with great empathy and good advice.

  3. J says:

    Sorry but this sort of thing really drives me crazy. You don’t like your para job? Try working a year or three in the corporate world! You’ll have a keystroke monitor on your computer and will get warnings every 15 minutes if you don’t type enough. You’ll get exactly 30 minutes to finish a task and if you don’t you have to stay after work (with no pay) to finish it. Shall I go on? I see this complaining all the time in the Library/Museum/Non-Profit world … I have a MLIS and no experience so why shouldn’t I be hired at the Ransom Center … whine, whine. No one will hire me without experience? Yeah, what did you think when that job ad said “2 years experience”? It was optional?

    It is not just libraries that have this issue (I’m at a museum now), and I try to tell younger students this as often as I can … a master’s degree is nearly always only a check-mark on your CV and nothing more. It is a minimum qualification. You have to have it, but once you do, it is meaningless. You have to volunteer, temp, part-time, intern, and yes dear commenters, work a para position to get experience. And trust me, MLS school is easy enough for you to volunteer/intern/work more than full-time while you are in school.

    Last comment (with emphasis): The ONLY REASON I got my current job out of the 250+ people who applied was that I volunteered AND interned there for 2+ years. It wasn’t my 2 master’s degrees nor was it my good looks.

  4. It can also safely be said that the para-professional librarian probably wasn’t shining the woman on. In my public library experience, supervisors were very emphatic and specific about how librarians and staff members would be held legally culpable if they gave legal advice. I’ll bet this woman wanted more information than how to search the database, and the para-professional was unable, by the constraints of her job, to give out that sort of information.

    • Hi WL – Joyce’s description of being told “I can’t give you legal advise” in response to a question about how to search Westlaw rang true for me. She experienced a form of negative closure and it’s a common enough occurence in libraries that the 1998 paper by Ross & Dewdney is a staple of library education even today.

      If Joyce asked the question in a library that subscribes to the Westlaw dB, it was reasonable for her to expect to receive help. Even if her question was inarticulate, isn’t it part of a librarian’s training to guide the inquiry to make it more fruitful?

      My hunch is that on reason negative closure is so common is because we’ve outgrown our existing library system. We’ve got networks of loosely connected general resources trying to provide service in an increasingly complex and specialized world. It’s a tough proposition and the risk of failure grows daily.

      Even poorly funded libraries add electronic resources (dBs, applications, utilities) all the time — each with different interfaces, search schema, dynamic content … how can library staff be expected to keep up? Libraries would probably answer “increase budgets”, though I think that would compound the problem because the funds would most likely be used to purchase more electronic resources.

      I think we need a better system to match patrons with library resources that have a good chance of meeting their needs — and provide more support to library staff so that when they do encounter an inquiry they cannot readily handle, expert help is close at hand.

    • TheLibraryGuy says:

      No, the librarian can’t give legal advice, because if he/she did, and the patron did something stupid, the library could be sued. That’s standard policy, not only in libraries, but in most places. It’s the same reason why I couldn’t give medical advice when I worked at a nurse’s call center.

    • LG – you may have misunderstood the thread. No one has suggested library staff give legal advice. As you say, it would be unwise to do so (and, I think, rather silly of a patron to expect it).

      We’re talking about library staff helping a patron find information in a database that contains legal information. It’s okay for library staff to provide this type of assistance, right?

    • TheLibraryGuy says:

      First off, I don’t believe that that was how the reference transaction went. I’ve handled hundreds of customer complaints, and it sounds a lot like the patron wanted more than just help in “efficiently searching the database.” I think there were a few steps left out of this story.
      I’d like to hear the librarian’s side. I think it’d be a much different story.

    • Gotcha – The Writer Librarian had the same impression.

  5. Librarian and Former Attorney says:

    If she thinks her daughter is underemployed, look at me. I have a JD, practiced law for five years, got my MLS, and now make less than $40k as a Youth Services Coordinator. But you know what? I’m thankful! I got a position most fresh-out-of school librarians would not get and great experience in administration (which will pay off eventually) Plus, I don’t have to practice law anymore! Our library does subscribe to Westlaw, though I doubt any staff know what to do with it but myself.

  6. A.M. Call says:

    What flabbergasted me was how frankly she felt that her daughter just deserved a job, like it ought to come with the degree like a toy in a Happy Meal. I wonder what Joyce herself does for a living.

  7. Kim says:

    I enjoyed this. Very much like the old AL, minus Skip. Thanks. To all you souless librarians out there, have a great weekend!

  8. Becky says:

    Oh, please. Entitled much? There’s nothing terrible about working as a paraprofessional for a few years to get experience. Jobs are hard to come by, and not just for librarians. I know lawyers working as paralegals, and teachers working as classroom aides because of tight local markets and layoffs.

    I’m a library paraprofessional with an MLIS in a system that only uses degreed librarians in the branches as managers and youth specialists. I do reference, train and supervise staff, participate on system-wide teams, and in general make good use of my degree doing many of the same tasks as a ‘real’ librarian. And eventually, I’ll use the experience I’m gaining to step into a professional position when one comes available.

    The possession of a degree entitles you to nothing more than the opportunity to apply for jobs, it doesn’t guarantee anything.

  9. Techserving You says:

    I really have to disagree that any person with a masters degree working as a paraprofessional is in a terrible situation. First, quite frankly, some paraprofessionals make more (even to start) than somee full-fledged librarians make. Others who have been working for years as paraprofessionals and then get masters degrees don’t even bother to look for professional work, because they will have to take pay cuts!

    But this, of course, is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the new grad who thinks he or she deserves a professional position, and shouldn’t have to work as a paraprofessional. Well, as I said in a post on the thread which had the commenter in question, a new MLIS grad without much or any actual library experience doesn’t know anywhere near as much about library work as almost any seasoned paraprofessional does. He or she doesn’t even know as much about library work as most people who only been working as a paraprofessional for a few years do. (Although, admittedly, my conception of “paraprofessional” is the person working at a top university library system, and I suppose those jobs are different from a paraprofessional at a small public library.) This points out the big problem, which most of us acknowledge – the MLIS isn’t REALLY necessary to be an effective librarian. It’s not necessary to be an effective cataloger, to do collection development, reference, or anything else. You can learn all that stuff on the job, and I did learn much of that on the job before finally going and getting my MLIS.

    Now, the MLIS does have a couple benefits, if you’re in the right program. I did take some classes which covered specific skills I had not picked up on the job. For instance, I took a web design course. I took a course on electronic records systems (content management systems.) Of course, these were not masters-level courses, and I could have taken the same class (at least the web design course) at a community college somewhere. But beyond these specific vocational courses, I was also “indoctrinated into the tribe.” That might be the main value of the MLIS… especially when you’re in a full-time program, and a longer one (two years) like I was, you do sort of internalize certain values, and feel a certain kinship with your classmates and later, fellow librarians. (And I say this as someone who is just about as cynical and jaded as the AL is.)

    But I digress. I don’t feel sorry for someone who, as many of my classmates did, feels like they DESERVE a professional job just because they got an easy masters degree, or worse, feels superior to people with more library experience who do not have the masters degree. I actually think libraries might be better places for everyone if new MLIS grads with no experience always started out in paraprofessional roles. (For some new MLIS grads, their desired professional position will be their first real job anywhere!) And, I really don’t feel sorry for someone who didn’t do his or her homework about the job market.

    The simple fact is that most people who really know what’s what with this field, who do their homework, and who work as paraprofessionals before going to library school, WILL find jobs. There are also new MLIS grads without much experience who find jobs. I don’t think that those people are people who have mothers posting ridiculous defensive comments on library blogs. I hope to God my library never hires the daughter.

    Oh, regarding the Westlaw claim – I agree with the AL’s take, but I also wonder whether the person making the comment (assuming the incident was reported accurately) was even a librarian.

  10. Techserving You says:

    Oh, regarding the web design certification the daughter is doing or has done… Jean Costello had it right. I’ll also add that there are different sorts of “web design.” For instance, the web design course I took in library school involved all original coding. But, it was at once TOO sophisticated for what most librarians will ever end up doing, and not sophisticated enough to get an actual web designer job. Very few librarians do any sort of web design. But most of those who do work on their websites use various web editors… programs designed for people who know little or nothing about web design, who have not done original coding. Those people who are involved in more sophisticated web design are NOT librarians, and they need more than just a class covering XHTML and CSS. They need more than a certificate which will rapidly become obsolete.

    In my opinion, and based on my own experience (as a 2007 MLIS grad) the BEST thing someone contemplating library school can do is get a paraprofessional position at a good university. Better yet, work a couple different paraprofessional positions before entering library school. I have gotten three different “great on paper” jobs since graduating. (They’re great on paper, meaning impressive-sounding, actually interesting and challenging, with good pay and benefits, but with elements which have made me move on from the first two… major restructuring which cut the librarians out of all of the decision-making, etc..) I quit one job with nothing lined up, in this economy, without worrying about finding a new job. Serious paraprofessional experience will hold one in good stead, more than a masters degree will.

  11. Joyce says:

    I want to thank you for commenting on my comments. Since I, as a nonprofessional, can search Westlaw (somewhat) and I know they offer training in it to librarians at least where I live, and since a librarian is suppose to be intelligent, I thought that they would recognize that “how do you search this data base effectively”, was not a request for legal advice but how to use a search engine. And yes it was actually a librarian who said what she did as she was behind the REFERENCE DESK and at our library they only put the so called PROFESSIONALS behind the desk. As to being concerned about employment, why shouldn’t someone be? I went out there searching as to why a bright, motivated individual who has been involved since high school cannot find employment as a professional as yet and I have discovered that many have given up.Remember annoyed said that unemployment among librarians is higher than high school drop outs. Employment of librarians in my state alone has only grown by 3%. Since there is more than one library program in my state that means lost of unemployment for new grads. As for my loved one, she knows not that I posted, and I will keep it so. As to some of the other comments, she has had paraprofessional jobs before attending library school. And how long do you work part time as a paraprofessional before you are “entitled” to get a job? How long do you expect someone to suffer in your profession? As to criticizing someone for going for more training, have you read some of the ads for librarians lately??? The tech expectations are high… I will leave you all in your smugness. Perhaps reality will hit all of you over the head when all libraries close per annoys prediction in other blog comments.

    • Kim says:

      Actually AL was discussing the library degree as an undergrad. It’s also not just libraries that are having a terrible time; just try talking to law graduates, journalists and new graduates in a variety of other fields.

      As for the rest of your comment — Wow. I’m not going to respond to these further attacks, but I do want to point out that quite a number of us gave good advice and supportive comments to you, ignoring the personal attacks. Some of us are young, fairly recent grads ourselves. And this is how you respond. Good thing your daughter doesn’t know.

    • Peopleater says:

      “And how long do you work part time as a paraprofessional before you are “entitled” to get a job? How long do you expect someone to suffer in your profession? As to criticizing someone for going for more training, have you read some of the ads for librarians lately?”

      People could answer these questions, but let me do you one better – you are barking up the wrong tree.

      The question you should really be asking is “was it as difficult for all of you to get a job?” Certainly, some of us (especially the older ones) probably came into librarianship during better times. The younger ones who got their MLS in the past 10 to 12 years (like me) had a hard time. I sent out close to 70 applications before anyone contacted me. Some libraries, especially the larger systems, didn’t contact me for many months – up to a year.

      The only thing I can tell you is that it is good your daughter has a job working as a paraprofessional. I will warn you that this is her job interview – at least it would be in my library. We have several MLS graduates working for my system and we monitor them carefully. If a person doesn’t seem like they would become a good librarian, then they will likely get blown over for someone who can.

      Finally, this isn’t just about us – the hiring situation exists in all industries and venues. Just having the requisite experience or degree is no golden ticket, with the exception of nursing, perhaps. Add to that the fact that very few retirement age employees are retiring due to investment fears and insurance problems and you can see what the picture looks like.

      No one wants to see your daughter suffer. There just isn’t that much we can do about it. My library system hasn’t seen a raise or cost of living adjustment for four years now. We have people retiring and their positions being absorbed by the system to make up for budget gaps. With state aid going the way it is, it is quite possible we may start actively laying off workers next year.

      Want to help? Solve the housing crisis and bring up the tax rolls. More than likely that would help your daughter get a job as compared to complaining on some random internet forum.

    • Andria says:

      I agree with Kim’s comment, most of the advice you received was helpful, or at least commiserating. You seem to regard every comment that’s not “send your daughter to work at my library!” hostile.

      It’s tough out there for everyone, and no one is “entitled” to a job. If this is what she really wants to do, she’ll stick it out, but if someone once told her that it would be easy, then that’s the person you should be angry with.

  12. I plead the 5th says:

    Please do not feed the trolls. It only encourages them.

  13. Bill says:

    The Annoyed Librarian is in my Reader and I always enjoy looking at the last statements. I have good credentials and a good education and I totally support the need for public libraries, school libraries (kindergarten on up), academic libraries, institutional and corporate libraries and any other kind.

    I would probably read Annoyed more often if the writer wasn’t quite so self-effacing and humble.

  14. Kim says:

    Andria,

    I feel sorry for the daughter, and know I probably wouldn’t hire the daughter if I susppected she came attached with this Mother. Fortunately for the daughter, most librarians don’t read this blog and therefore won’t know about a recent grad as descibed here. The bigger picture, though, is that what is going on in the library world is a reflection of what’s going on in nearly every profession.

  15. Rima says:

    “Mentor” is a noun, not a verb. The proper infinitive verb form is “to ment” – I ment, he/she/it ments, you ment, they ment, we ment, all God’s children ment.