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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarian for a Day

If you want a heartwarming story about a library sort of making a girl’s dream come true, read this article about a library in Cincinnati making a 14-year-old girl a “librarian for a day.”

She “got a gray library shirt and an official employee ID. She alphabetized books, learned the computer system and got to explore behind staff-only doors.” And thus she learned just how boring it can be to be a librarian.

She finds working in the library calming, and says “You don’t have to worry about anything,” and “You don’t have to worry about failing.”

That’s probably not the kind of thing she would want to put on a library school application someday, but still, it’s nice.

Despite the constant grumblings, there are probably a lot of librarians who find their work calming. They just don’t say that on social media because they know it would make all the harried librarian jealous and resentful.

I could help but compare that article to this one. Partly it’s because the page formatting looks identical, even though they’re from two different cities and states. But mostly it’s the contrast between them.

The Westwood Branch Library in Cincinnati hosts a “librarian for a day.” The Westland, MI public library is firing five of their reference librarians and replacing some of them with part-time library assistants to save money.

The five positions eliminated from the budget came from the reference department, she said, which had eight librarians. That was compared to youth services, which had three librarians and three part-time library associates.

Large departments of reference librarians should learn to fear zero-based budgeting, it seems.

Partly why this is “news” is that firing so many librarians at once is hardly the norm, but it is becoming more normal to hire part-cime assistants in the place of degreed librarians.

A Kind Reader emailed me recently after studying the effect of degreed librarians on outputs from public libraries and finding there was no correlation. We might believe the MLS has some particular value, but it’s not always easy to prove it.

Given the way librarians themselves sometimes talk it can’t really be surprising. All the activities librarians tout these days to stay “relevant” are things that don’t require any advanced degree to perform.

You don’t need a library degree to help people use computers, for example. Libraries provide all sorts of services related to that, and the only thing they need is people who know how to use computers.

It’s not like library schools teach special classes on helping people fill out online job applications or running makerspaces, although maybe they’ll start so they can stay “relevant” as well.

There are still plenty of jobs that require actual librarians, but not as many as there used to be.

The question these two articles suggest is whether it’s ethical any longer to encourage people to become public librarians. Libraries are getting by okay with fewer degreed librarians and more library assistants. There are stories galore online of public librarians being under- or unemployed for years after getting their degree.

It hasn’t been practical to encourage people for years, but we might have reached the point where it’s not ethical either. Encouraging young people who want to be librarians is possibly setting them up for inevitable failure in the future through no fault of their own.

By the time that girl in Ohio is ready for library school, eight years at least and maybe more, the bad jobs situation will probably be more advanced. Library assistant might be the only new job left in libraries. That day she was librarian for a day might be the only day she’ll ever get to be a librarian, even if she gets an MLS.

If anyone asked my advice about going to library school these days, maybe especially to become a school or public librarian, I’d probably have to say don’t do it except under special circumstances. I’m not sure I’d want any other answer on my conscience.

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Comments

  1. As someone who works at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, this article made me feel very weird. I don’t think the two issues are at all related. Westland fired these librarians as a union-busting tactic and is a notorious laughing stock for their ineffectual Director. PLCH’s Westwood Branch has a degreed librarian serving as dedicated Teen Librarian, not a 36 hour “part-time” associate. Westwood is also a very busy urban branch and this child must have worked during a serious downtime (on purpose). PLCH has been creating positions for degreed librarians as well as full-time positions for parapros that include benefits. While there are many part-time positions at PLCH that only require a high school degree, these workers are offered some benefits and are often filled by young adults in college. These positions also do not include collection development, programming, and other tasks traditionally done by degreed librarians. PLCH definitely did this article as a PR move. I’m not saying PLCH is without its flaws but as someone who knows one of the Westland librarians well and has heard about the problems at Westland dating back to 2012, I feel confident saying these two issues are not related. I also agree that the trend to replace full time degreed librarians with part time degreed librarians (which is what happened in Westland d) is a very real thing and that this trend may make what’s going on at Westland look like business as usual. Comparing the article about Cincinnati to Westland does a disservice to the librarians who lost their jobs. Finally, I also discourage people from going to library school unless they already work at a library and need the degree for a promotion.

    • Anne Sharp says:

      The fact that the only public commentary from the library profession that I’ve seen so far on the Westland affair has been this blog post and your comment does not bode well for our profession. Ten or twenty years ago the ALA. the MLA. the PLA, and the Library of Michigan would have made such a ruckus that the Westland Five would have ended up on the cover of Time–at the very least, the cover of Library Journal. Now what do we have here? A couple of asides about how stupid it is for talented young people to waste their time going to library school. And this on the LIBRARY JOURNAL website, mind you. SHAME on you.

    • I don’t have a degree in Library Sciences, and I doubt I ever will. I’ve been at my library for three years now, and I’ve learned so much more than I would have in a classroom. I wouldn’t mind taking a class or two, but to be honest…I don’t need it. I’d only need it if I wanted to be the associate or head librarian here. And I don’t want to be.

  2. Anne Sharp says:

    Following your logic, why should library managers and administrators have library degrees? A bachelor’s in business administration or IT might be far more useful.

    • Follow up on Westland: Director Shelia Collins has been put on an immediate 32 day administrative leave. The Interim Director the Library Board chose for this Class VI library is Sherri West, an administrative assistant. Ms. West does not hold a bachelor’s degree and has no management experience. Ms West was chosen over the two professional librarians left in the reference department, both of whom have management experience.

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