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Do Librarians have BS Jobs?

What would the world of librarians look like in a world without work? Wait, I’m not even sure that question even makes sense. If we were in a “post work” world like the one described in this article, would there be librarians at all?

Or would there be librarians who worked 10-15 hours a week because that was all the work that they needed to do to make everything run?

Or are we already at that point, and the rest of the hours we put in are just for show?

In that case, maybe librarian jobs are BS jobs, as described in this article I somehow missed until the Guardian linked to it.

The author, an anarchist anthropologist, wonders why there are so many jobs that are mostly useless, employing so many people who hate their jobs? Why don’t we have less work now that we have so much productive technology? It’s not working out the way it’s supposed to if capitalism makes sense.

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones. These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

As I’m reading the article, whether one has a BS job boils down to two questions:

  1. Do you really need 35-40 hours to do the actual work you need to do, or would 10-15 hours suffice (and thus you have many hours of meaningless busywork)?
  2. Do you hate your job because it’s filled with meaningless busywork?

Librarians jobs always vary, but there are plenty of librarian jobs that don’t really require 40 hours a week to do. Many libraries have taken advantage of that fact by reducing once full-time professional positions to part-time positions, with the accompanying reduction in pay, benefits, flexibility, and job security.

That might make it seem like librarian jobs often are BS jobs. However, if there are multiple part-time jobs, and assuming those part-time jobs are generally busy with actual work, that implies that there is plenty of work to be done, and could be done with fewer full-time librarians.

Thus, the drive to part-time work among librarians might not be motivated by a desire to reduce their BS busy work, but simply by the desire to save money at the expense of labor, in which case libraries are pretty much like every corporation in America.

The second question is related to the first. Do you hate your job because it’s meaningless busywork?

If you’re scheduled for 40 hours a week but really have about 10-15 hours per week of actual work, could you still love your job?

Some people might claim that would be their perfect job, but there are only so many hours a day one can surf the internet without being allowed to watch Netflix that people can handle.

Meaningless activities undertaken just to kill time might be enjoyable in the short run in one’s personal life, but to have a job that consists of little more than killing time is dispiriting.

But you could hate your job for lots of other reasons. Supposedly, librarians experience a lot of burnout, perhaps because they’re supposed to “do more with less” as they adapt to the “new normal” and whatever other corporate nonsense jargon has made its way into libraries.

Maybe I just hang out with lazy librarians, but I’ve rarely met a librarian who spends 40 hours a week applying themselves to their actual library work.

They shop online, they check Facebook, they go have some coffee, they sit at a reference desk doing nothing productive, they chat in the hallway, they attend endless rounds of endless meetings where nothing gets done. It’s not like most of them have billable hours.

That’s one of the good things about being a librarian. The pace of life is a lot less hectic than a lot of jobs, including a lot of BS jobs that are really busy producing nothing worthwhile.

Except for the tedious meetings, the jobs aren’t BS jobs at all, just jobs paced for the lives of people who have lives outside of work, and people don’t hate them.

Indeed, one of the complaints I’ve read many times over the years isn’t that librarians hate their jobs, but that librarians hate it that they can’t get full-time jobs. They’re stuck in part-time work.

Maybe it’s because librarians do have a purpose, even if it’s sometimes boring work like sitting in meetings.

So amidst all the bad news there’s at least some good news: most librarians don’t have BS jobs. Sometimes it’s the little things in life that matter.

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Comments

  1. anonymous coward says:

    Imagine the guardian linking to a source that seems completely ignorant of economics.

  2. sciencereader says:

    “Why don’t we have less work now that we have so much productive technology?”
    This question reminds me of an essay titled “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” written by the famous economist John Maynard Keynes in 1930, published in the magazine The Nation and Athenæum (in two parts in vol 48, issues 2 and 3, October 11 and 18, pp. 36-37 and 96-98) and later reprinted in a book of collected essays by Keynes, Essays in Persuasion (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932). His chief prediction was that there would be much more leisure time, with perhaps working 15 hours per week begin normal. He also predicted that “All kinds of social customs and economic practices, affecting the distribution of wealth and of economic rewards and penalties, which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard.”

    • anonymous coward says:

      excepting, of course, the organic nature of macroeconomics. Someone will continue to work the margins, push the envelop, squeeze out productivity or “disruptive” service models. This will keep people pushing, working longer hours to chase continuous, and continuously elusive, competitive advantage and meeting the needs and wants of the customers. Often times this will lead to creation of goods or services the consumer didn’t even know they wanted or needed until they see it.

      To this end, they will employ people for their time and energy at (probably) similar hours for the foreseeable future- just shifted the target of their output. However, on the lower scale of the skills market, most things that can be automated, will likely be automated. These people will shift from being makers to being maintainers or, potentially, a concierge type position. Fewer of these people will be needed, but only in places/instances where people are willing to pay a premium for the human element. So, these people must adapt or be left behind, further placing the financial burden for their survival on a smaller and smaller number of “workers.” Far from a utopia free from labor required for survival, this will likely lead to increased resentment on both sides and further and further class division.

      This will not be by design, but to claim a workable solution is hubris.

  3. mud fence says:

    Case in point: raise minimum wage to $15/hr and McDonald’s comes up with automated ordering. Bye, bye counter staff. They’ll of course need someone to maintain the automated device — both hardware and software — but it’s likely not going to be the high school student or the adult who for whatever reason find them worrking for McDonalds. McDonalds will simply pay an annual service maintenance fee to a different company to maintain thier system. Automated order takers don’t call in sick, need a lunch hour, get pay raises or benefits.

  4. unemployed librarian says:

    Most library jobs are BS jobs. What I have discovered is that librarians value comfort above all else. Above excellence; above dedication; above growth; above truth. Most went into libraries because they wanted something easy, predictable, and safe. For most, there isn’t that drive to take risks, to sweat, struggle, or hunger to find a better way or to imagine a new possibilities. I’ve been patronizing this branch public library near where I live for five years, and the male librarian who sits at the reference desk usually has a glum look on his face, doesn’t make eye contact with anyone he helps, mumbles an answer when you ask him a question, etc. Doesn’t his supervisor notice? If public interaction is his primary role, why hasn’t his supervisor make him improve (make eye contact, speak up, smile more, show some energy, i.e. communicate better)? How did he get hired in the first place? You’re willing to hire someone who doesn’t make good eye contact, firm handshake, mumbles, seems reclusive for a public services role? Answer: yes. This is why most librarian jobs are BS jobs.

  5. Wow! Where are you working? In my HE librarian experience it’s more like 40+ solid hours a week and it’s only going to get more jam packed with the job losses universities across the UK are seeing.
    I’m rather perplexed at the way this article portrays the profession, it doesn’t sit with my experiences at all.

  6. Bob Holley says:

    All right. I have a question. Is reading this column to keep up with the professional literature part of a BS job or not?

  7. Ten hours a week split between shelving and the reference desk would be my dream job. Shame all the actual work in public libraries is relegated to the low-wage pages. I think that’s why programming is such a big deal, it gives librarians something to do with that expensive graduate degree.

    And those ten hours would still be more work than I used to put in as a QA engineer. I spent maybe two hours a week testing software and the rest of the time reading stuff on Project Gutenberg. I was also working just as much as the developers, so don’t let anyone tell you there’s some innate striving or innovation going on in the private sector.

  8. As I see a lot of places, the big area to be in right now as a librarian is the tech side. I think those librarians do have a lot to do-electronic resource management, maintaining the LIS and library website and how those two interact with each other, etc. It’s the other types of librarians who are having to try and adapt to the changes technology has brought to librarianship. Also, it’s like anywhere else and workloads can depend on place and culture of the organization. I’ve been looking around this website for a while. It discusses what a future without work as we know it today would look like. http://thedayafterlabor.com/

    • “I think those librarians do have a lot to do-electronic resource management, maintaining the LIS and library website and how those two interact with each other, etc.”

      As on of “those librarians” I can unequivocally say that they have no more to do than any other librarian. We’ve become very good at making ourselves seem busy, though.

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