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Librarians and Their Stressful Jobs

Apparently, being a librarian is one of the least stressful jobs for 2013, which is kind of odd considering 2013 is only a week old. How can we really know that yet?

Specifically, it’s the 9th least stressful job for 2013, right there between Drill Press Operator and Hair Stylist. With that kind of specificity, we know we’re dealing with science!

The other way we can tell we’re dealing with scientific analysts and serious journalism is that they present the information in slideshows instead of just giving us the list. Impressive!

A kind reader sent me this link to an “article” about the least stressful jobs in which we find out that Librarian is #9. Here’s what we find out about librarians:

9. Librarian

Median Salary: $54,500

“You’re working in a comfortable environment. Your job is to help people use services as best as possible. Given that environment, stress levels are low,” Lee said. “What’s the most stressful thing a librarian faces? Teenagers with a paper due and you don’t have the books. It’s not really your stress,” Lee said.

Plus, there are mandatory “quiet” rules in libraries and you’re surrounded by books.

Books don’t talk back or criticize the job you’re doing!

Books don’t talk back? What sort of clown writes this stuff?

You can tell this is serious investigative journalism, because the slideshow is copied from another slideshow at someplace called Careercast. The “Lee” quoted above spends his time career casting, which one would think would make the list of least stressful jobs considering that you apparently just make stuff up. Here’s what we find out from the librarian entry on the “original” list:

A peaceful atmosphere and unlimited access to literature makes librarian a welcoming career option for the bookish. Librarians have many careers paths at schools, colleges and universities, city/county funded libraries and in corporate research.

A welcoming career option for the bookish! I suppose it’s more welcoming for the bookish than careers like grocery store clerk or boxer, but how many of us spend our workdays reading books? Do librarians really have more access to literature than the average library patron?

I’m also not sure the most stressful thing a librarian faces is a teenager with a paper due when you don’t have the books, but even that situation can be stressful for some of the mild-mannered wallflowers who become librarians. They feel the teenager’s pain, and if not the teenager might start being really mean. That’s pretty stressful!

Supposedly, Librarian has a stress rating of 10.58, which is such a specific number it must be totally real and scientific. One of the commenters wrote, “REALLY??? I thought the 10.58 stress level was out of 10!” Apparently, lots of librarians agree.

That’s the conclusion I reached after reading this blog post Kind Reader included in the email on 5 Reasons Being a Librarian is Stressful.

The general five reasons are job security (or the lack of it), depleting resources, being short staffed, dealing with people, and perceptions/lack of respect.

Those can all be stressors if you let them be, but are any of those unique to librarianship?

One librarian quoted provided this reason: “Students who blame ME for not having the books/articles they need and therefore ruining their academic career and life.” Yeah, that’s pretty stressful until you compare it to, say, being shot at for a living (Enlisted Military Personnel was at the top of the Most Stressful Job list).

There were some quotes of more stressful things. Here are a  couple of the worst:

Most librarians have a story about being called a ‘fucking bitch’ or being spat at because a book was overdue or missing.

I once had a student tell me she hoped I got raped, that was nice. Also many, many grown men shouting at me.

But do “most librarians” really have stories like that? I’ve never heard of a librarian being spat on or librarians having “many grown men” shouting at them. Are these typical cases, or the outliers?

I have experienced creepy men doing creepy things around me in libraries, but I’ve experienced the same kinds of things in stores or on the subway. That there are a lot of creepy men out there doesn’t mean that being a librarian is not a relatively stress-free job.

If you ignore the stupid descriptions of librarians and focus on the list title, things change. Calling Librarian one of the least stressful jobs doesn’t mean it’s not stressful. It’s just that there are a lot of jobs more stressful, like police officer, airline pilot, and firefighter, all on the most stressful list.

Despite the occasional librarian who apparently works in a hellhole of a library, would librarians in general have the nerve to compare their stress to that of police officers or firefighters?

People in those jobs routinely encounter potentially fatal situations. Some mean guy might yell at a librarian for having to pay a fine, but there’s little danger the mean guy will pull out a gun and shoot the librarian, as criminals sometimes do when they encounter the police.

Another stressed librarian gives as a reason that “sometimes, I’m the only librarian to answer questions and the line is often 3-5 pple long. Last time someone left the line.” 3-5 people in a line? And someone actually left it? OMG! Yeah, that’s almost as stressful as running into a burning building to try to save people.

Librarians really need some perspective on this. Librarians are never in gunfights with criminals, they never run into burning buildings in a professional capacity, they’re never trapped in the library when the library mine caves in, they never lose body parts in the library machinery, and they never have to worry about crashing their library into a mountainside.

All the complaining about stress says a lot more about the sort of people who become librarians than the sort of jobs librarians have.

Seriously, when you start to feel stressed as a librarian and are tempted to whine about it, think about what it would take to run into a burning building or respond to a violent domestic disturbance and consider how good you really have it.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    There is no such thing as a library emergency. Unless the library happens to be on fire.

    Any librarian who lets a situation with a patron escalate to the point of abuse needs to work on their customer service and negotiation skills, as it’s probably either their attitude or the work policy (which one can often circumvent) that has exacerbated the situation and provoked the patron.

    After all, they’re just books and, as I often tell people, it’s really not worth getting upset about it. Nobody’s going to die from an overdue or misplaced book.

    • Pizza&Beer says:

      Way to blame the victim. It couldn’t possibly be the patron’s fault, it must be ours.

    • me says:

      Yeah so this is a total crock. Things can escalate without the library staff’s help. We had one of our Circulation staff ask a man if he could please lower his voice. The man’s first response was “Fuck Off, Bitch”.

    • Pama says:

      Actually, there are library emergencies. I was the Library Health and Safety staff and, in addition to the regular overdoses and insulin reactions, I had a woman die underneath me while executing my job. She had a cardiac arrest and I had to give her the breath of life. When the EMS guys arrived and took over, I had to shoo patrons away from her lifeless body as they continued to step over her to search books. Luckily after prolonged resuscitation attempts, she responded, and she survived.

    • Andrew says:

      Me: That would be an extremely rare situation. In my 15 years of working in libraries and supervising library staff, I have had countless incidents of asking patrons to adapt their behaviour, and I can honestly say that 99% of the time the response has not been remotely hostile. In the case of a hostile situation, staff have the right to ask the patron to leave, or call security, but it has never come to that.

    • Andrew says:

      Oh that’s right, some of you live in countries that don’t have adequate gun control or public health.

      I guess life in general in those countries would be stressful, regardless of where you worked!

    • Pizza&Beer says:

      Oh, you’re just trolling. Thanks for clearing that up.

    • Joneser says:

      So I guess Andrew doesn’t work in the USA. He must work in Canada.

  2. Sue says:

    Interesting read! How to troll librarians and make money in 5 easy steps. http://agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/how-to-troll-librarians-and-make-money-in-five-easy-steps/

  3. annoyedlibraryworker says:

    In my 15 years working in public libraries,there have been a few situations that I would describe as stressful. After all, this is a public space, and the public can be unpredictable. I’ve had to call the police because of violent altercations, people have crashed their cars into or through the building, gang related activity, burglaries, bomb threats, but these are thankfully rare occurrences. But yeah, hardly as stressful as say work as a pizza delivery guy.
    You can have all the customer service skills in the world, but some people are going to be belligerent and abusive regardless, you just have to try to remain calm and not take it personally. I think it may appear more stressful to folk who go into the job thinking that they will just be sitting at a desk answering intellectual reference questions. The reality of public service is that the public can be all over the map, and people panic when things don’t go exactly as they wanted them to.

  4. Julia says:

    Working as a 21st century librarian is a stressful job.Any person working in the customer service industry is going to be stressed. We have to answer to so many people and their personal agenda’s. List Serv’s and book vendors have reduced our stress by reviewing books and recommending them accurately for particular audiences. However, no other profession answers to children; parents; community member’s; teachers; boards and the like as we do. Most people are afraid of technology and look to use to solve their computer issues at home and at work.

    One needs to factor in that a librarian is spending other people’s money; we are accountable to a lot of people and their whims. I have been told to take To Kill a Mockingbird off the shelf because it has kill in the title. I have been told to not carry dvd’s of television series because libraries should not promote watching television. We have a stressful job because it is a large role with a demanding audience.

  5. radlibrarian@gleamingthecube says:

    There have been some tense moments in my career as a corporate librarian. I am billable on project work, am the corporate webmaster, and also meet with all sales people who visit the office. If we do not have a resource I usually need to receive it by messenger, or first am delivery. In the economic downturn, I also took over shipping and receiving, office delivery, building maintenance, interior construction coordination, and administrative assistant duties. I have definitely had instances where providing the correct technical information saved the firm over six figures. I know I am not the only one out there like this doing it all.

  6. URBAN Public Librarian says:

    I have had stressful events at the library. These are all events that actually happened in the library, and for some of them I did feel real fear and considered finding another job.
    1)An angry patron yelled at me, when I began to respond explaining the policy, she threatened to ‘knock my head off if I said one more word’ I hit the panic button and when the police arrived they arrested her because there was a warrant out for her arrest anyway.
    2)A different angry patron yelled obscenities at me and turns out it was a man dressed as a woman who had threatened to ‘beat my a**’
    3)Bomb threat, a suspicious package was left in parking lot up against my truck. The library was put on lockdown and the bomb squad came out. (It was not a bomb but it took an hour to find that out.)
    4)Domestic disturbance where a husband, wife and lover argued in the lobby for awhile and then the husband pulled a gun and fired shots into the air on the porch of the library just outside our main doors.
    5)A man walked into the reference area broke another man’s nose and then walked out quickly. The man whose nose was broken pulled out a knife and he dripped blood all over the library.
    6)Several people have passed out in the library, in the rest rooms on the desks… we always hope they are just drunk or high and not actually dead.

    There have been other incidents… we get people drunk, high or just plain crazy all of the time. We have had to deal with people urinating, defecating and vomiting on the property. People also take off their clothes either to bathe or because they are mentally ill.

    Never a dull moment here. It does get stressful at times.

  7. Morse says:

    It seems like the only person who actually said library work wasn’t stressful was that dubious careercast guy. My job can be stressful, but I prefer it to having to go into burning buildings for a living.

  8. Livlife says:

    Since when is it a bad thing that a job is considered less stressful. I fully understand and support that not everyone understands or respects what it is that we librarians do, but let’s be honest. This is not a stressful job. And, frankly, that is a good thing.

    Sometimes it seems like people are so bent on making librarianship universally understood and accepted that they will belabor the smallest of points even if they actually hurt our cause.

    Let it go. The article was absurd, but the underlying point is valid, librarianship is not a stressful job. There are stressful parts and moments, but every job has those. As a profession, it can often feel like we just need to get over ourselves.

  9. catalogic says:

    Check out the sarcastic Twitter hashtag #librarianstress. AL wasn’t the only one who thought this was silly.

  10. I don’t know if I am “most” librarians, but as far as physical threats from patrons (more than a few involving contacting the police), yes. This has happened to me. I don’t know if it’s the plight of the urban librarian, but I’m not even talking about “dangerous” neighborhoods I’ve worked in. My coworkers and I could tell you some stories.
    Also, the threat of mass layoffs every six or so months? It would make any librarian sick to their stomach.
    Agreed, the original CNBC article was idiotic. But if anyone wants to make some dumb comment about how I talk to books all day (who *does* that?), then I am going to bite back.

  11. Ian says:

    I think the most annoying thing about this story is the fact that some people don’t seem to grasp the most obvious. Stress is subjective. Just because you don’t feel that your job is stressful, it doesn’t mean that the same would apply for everyone else. Some doctors find their jobs stressful, some don’t. Some firemen find their jobs stressful, some don’t. We are all individuals and we react to situations differently.

    You wouldn’t go up to a person suffering from depression and say “pull yourself together you wuss.” And neither should you tell someone that their stress is simply down to the fact they are delicate wallflowers. You simply cannot say that “this job is not stressful” as a universal fact…*you* do not find the job stressful, which is very different.

    To claim that “my job isn’t stressful, ergo your stress is not valid” is the most absurd thing I have probably ever heard. I felt very disappointed that supposedly educated professionals simply cannot see that what they were saying was entirely illogical and embarrassing. These people did more damage to the profession than any single person who tried to express their stresses or dared to challenge the aforementioned article.

  12. Also, while that articles like that CNBC article are absolute troll-bait, remember that Annoyed Librarian is our absolute internet librarian troll. Our very own Ann Coulter. That’s why we all click here, right? Daily dose of “OMG NO SHE DIDN’T!”

  13. Alex Kyrios says:

    Good post. I’ll reflect on it as I go continue to slave away in the library mine. I’m already behind on my monthly quota of nonfiction ore.

  14. Amanda says:

    One of the reasons I chose this profession is because I knew it would be pretty low key… and that fact that it’s not overly stressful isn’t something to be ashamed about. As librarians we are always trying to prove our worth that we want to defend our image from articles like this… but whatever, if it’s true it’s true.

  15. Lauren says:

    Just because one person’s job in a library isn’t stressful, doesn’t mean another person’s isn’t. We all work in different libraries, some of us work in libraries where random guns are found in the children’s room, or junkies pass out in the bathroom, and some of us work in bucolic paradise libraries where nothing bad ever happens. The bucolic library people don’t get to tell the gun in the children’s room people that their jobs are not stressful. (Both are examples of actual occurrences in libraries near mine)

    • @Lauren, You’re so right; different personalities in different settings will perceive “stress” differently. I’d bet that some cops and/or firefighters are less stressed than many a librarian. Dangerous work that is supported by the institution and environment that it’s carried out in may be less stressful than public service educational work that is not respected or supported, which, unfortunately, seems to often be the case with librarians as demonstrated by commenters on this blog and elsewhere.

  16. Ian says:

    Um, any chance of posting my earlier comment or, if not, letting me know why it didn’t pass moderation? Thanks.

  17. Meghan says:

    So, we can’t say librarianship is stressful because other jobs exist that are more dangerous and/or stressful? I haven’t seen a single post or tweet saying, “My job is more stressful than a hostage negotiator!” Librarians, this is a wake-up call that we need to get better at outreach and advocating and take a break from turning on each other. It’s not a Stress Competition, it’s a distress call from a profession that is losing the public relations game. The public fundamentally does not understand what we do or, more frightening to me, does not see the value.

  18. Robin says:

    I used to be an insurance claims adjuster–that job was really stressful for me, especially when compared to my current career as a public librarian. However, I worked with other adjusters who did not feel stressed by their job. Every person is different, as is every work environment. Each of us internalize things in different ways, making some people feel more stress in situations than others. My job has its stressful moments, but luckily, those are few and far between.

  19. Sarah says:

    It’s pretty stressful not to be paid a living wage. I’d say librarianship might not be all that stressful on average, but having earned your MLIS in the last 4 years is extremely stressful, since chances are you’re unemployed or working part time and trying to make ends meet.

  20. roymacIII says:

    And, really, if the standard for “stressful job” is “rushes into burning building or routinely risks being shot at” then 99% of all jobs should make the “least stressful job” list, yes?

    The fact is, for most librarians, it’s a public service job, and public service jobs tend to involve stress. I wouldn’t put my job anywhere near the “most stressful job” list, but I wouldn’t have called it one of the least, either.

  21. Michelle S. says:

    Why is this even a discussion? Never did Screwy Decimal’s blog post compare public librarianship to being a firefighter or a marine and she never claimed that being a librarian was significantly MORE stressful than every other occupation. The point was to call bullshit on CareerCast’s assessment on the lack of stress that goes into being a librarian. I think it’s fantastic that you’ve never been called a bitch and that no patron has ever wished rape upon you – fantastic! But, if you have to pick a side to be on, I’d pick the side of the librarian who is regularly going to Washington to advocate for the funding that pays the salaries of the people who share your profession. I can’t completely describe why, but after reading your article, I’m feeling the same type of confusion I felt when my gay friends voted for Romney.

  22. Nann says:

    Sites like CareerCast are proof positive that there’s a need to teach information literacy and critical thinking.

  23. Jo says:

    About the ‘library machinery’-anyone who has worked in preservation understands that even the most meticulous staff people let a blade slip every once in a while. I’ve never seen anyone lose a finger yet, but preservation labs tend to be full of machine-related occupational hazards, more so than, say, a typical reference librarian would see. It would take someone either very malicious or very dumb, but it is not unimaginable to see the damage that could be done by messing with an automated box cutter, paper guillotine, deep freezer, or iron press, not to mention things like plexiglass benders, adhesives and other chemicals that are routinely stored there.

  24. PT says:

    Dear Urban Librarian,

    I commiserate: sounds just like my old job in a NJ library (will not name).

  25. Joneser says:

    Here’s a sixth reason: even if you have a job, it could be part-time, with or without health insurance. So much for making a living.

  26. somewhatstressedoutlibrarianguy says:

    I’ve been in the library/archives profession for over 8 years now. I have, for the most part, found it enjoyable. I left my old position, in a direly underfunded state preservation agency, for a high profile role in public services at a semi-urban public library. I left because I have a family, and this public library has awesome funding and is a real jewel in the region. The salary and stability were really good (benefits not so much, but should be improving).

    I’m not sure what is more stressful, though–raising very small children and having a baby when your job could be on the chopping block for three straight years, or managing people and patrons in a public library. The archive I came from was bucolic only in the sense that there never, EVER were any incidents there. But the director was a Caligula type character–with Mr. Asbergers as his henchman. Couple that with constant threat of job loss–I’d take my public lib. any day, despite the teeming masses of demanding, frequently rude, and often mentally ill patrons.

    However, previous to my career in academia/libraries, I worked as a landscaper, forester, bike mechanic, you name it. Those jobs were decidedly unstressful and bucolic in those carefree Clinton days.

    Because of the economy and the dire funding of libraries and the arts in general, I’d give our profession a 6 out of 10 in terms of stress level.

  27. JC says:

    “All the complaining about stress says a lot more about the sort of people who become librarians than the sort of jobs librarians have.”

    Bingo.

  28. N-gella says:

    Saying that a job occasionally has complications or conflicts is not the same as it being very stressful. Saying that it does makes us all look ridiculous.

  29. Just Some Details says:

    If you work with the PUBLIC, in any capacity, your job is stressful. Add to that dealing with a public that involves drunks, vagrants and mentally people off their meds, triple that stress. ‘Nuff said.