A Kind Reader emailed me asking my opinion on “the recent slew of librarians posting breakup posts–and generally leaving the profession. As seen on INALJ: http://inalj.com/?p=26270.”
On that site, I could find only one librarian actually leaving a breakup post. That one made the librarian social media rounds a few weeks ago. The reasons giving for leaving the profession are low pay and a “general frustration with library technology.”
Both of those seem like understandable reasons to me. There are plenty of other reasons to be annoyed by libraries, librarians, and librarianship, as I’ve faithfully documented over the years.
The other posts were more about the possibility of breaking up, but that doesn’t really matter. I know of numerous librarians over the last few years who have left libraries, sometimes for tech jobs elsewhere and sometimes for consulting or vendor jobs.
I’m assuming the vendor jobs pay better than their previous library jobs. Consulting is an iffy prospect, but the right person with the right skills can do alright, and it certainly gives you more freedom to control the kind of work you do.
The salary issue is tricky, though. The librarian breaking up complained of being paid 77% of what the Occupational Outlook Handbook says is the median pay for a web developer, a job that requires only a bachelor’s degree. That works out to be about $58,000 for a library job that requires a master’s degree.
That might sound like a lot of money to librarians living in small towns or rural areas, but in a lot of the most populous parts of the country that kind of pay isn’t going to get you much.
However, there’s another way to look at it. The people leaving libraries for other fields obviously have some skills related to those fields. A web developer is a web developer whether working in a library or for a web development firm.
The thing is, most librarians aren’t web developers, so a strict comparison isn’t necessarily relevant. A lot of them are reference librarians, for example. From what I can tell, there are lots of other fields that hire people as essentially reference librarians, but they don’t necessarily pay them more than libraries do.
That was the problem a few years ago when the ALA-APA gave talking points about raising library salaries and were using IT people as comparable positions. For a lot of public libraries, the most applicable comparison would probably be social worker, not web developer.
Is it worth replying to people who want to leave the profession? Should we be trying to coax them back in, or to stay in? Probably not.
For one, frustrated people are just going to remain frustrated. For public libraries especially, the low pay and tech problems aren’t going to go away. If someone can get out for greener pastures, good for them. They should be congratulated on their good fortune.
But, you might say, aren’t we losing a lot of talent? Eh, probably, but there’s more where that came from. Working for low pay is generally fine with young people, and there seem to be an overabundance of young idealists willing to give librarianship a shot.
If they all leave in ten years, they’ll be replaced by other young idealists, plus they’ll have ten years’ experience they can take elsewhere. That’s a win-win, at least for the libraries.
But what, you might ask, if the people leaving love libraries? Or even if they really love libraries?
That doesn’t seem to be what’s happening, though. People can really love the idea of libraries, the positive social function, even using libraries, but that’s a lot different than working in one.
However, if they really, really love libraries, they have the option of staying and finding a different library job. There are other library jobs out there, and people with good skills and lots of experience have a much better shot of getting those jobs.
If people want to leave the profession, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot. The fact, unfortunate or not, is that there’s a long line of people waiting to replace them.
In general, there are just a lot more people trying to get library jobs than get out of them. If there really were a librarian shortage, then it might matter in the big scheme of things, but there’s not.