Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarianship: the Best Career

When I became a librarian, I didn’t know what I was getting in to. Certainly I knew I’d entered a profession with low enough standards that it was easy to shine brightly with little effort, and that outrageous success and a corner office were mine for the taking, but other than that I was clueless. For example, I never thought about the librarian stereotypes. Since I wasn’t one of those people obsessed since birth with becoming a librarian, I didn’t develop all the typical librarian habits, I suppose, and thus get annoyed both at the stereotypes and at the people who insist that we forget the stereotypes. Despite all the protest, they’re about as likely to go away as the stereotype of the "crazy cat lady." 

The latest reference to the librarian stereotype comes in a very annoying article in U.S. News and World Report. The article tells us that Librarian is one of the "Best Careers" of 2009. I’m glad they’re so optimistic for the future, because it hasn’t been one of the best careers of 2008 or any previous years. Maybe they know something about the profession we don’t. The introduction is nauseating:

"Forget about that image of librarians as a mousy bookworms. More and more of today’s librarians must be clever interrogators, helping the patron to reframe their question more usefully. Librarians then become high-tech information sleuths, helping patrons plumb the oceans of information available in books and digital records, often starting with a clever Google search but frequently going well beyond."

What can anyone say about this paragraph but, "yuck"? The mousy bookworm? If only. Clever interrogators? Makes it sound like we should go work for the CIA. High-tech information sleuths? Maybe we could all wear tee shirts saying "human search engine." And I don’t want to help anyone plumb an ocean of anything. It doesn’t get any better:

"Librarianship is an underrated career. Most librarians love helping patrons solve their problems and, in the process, learning new things. Librarians may also go on shopping sprees, deciding which books and online resources to buy. They may even get to put on performances, like children’s puppet shows, and run other programs, like book discussion groups for elders. On top of it all, librarians’ work environment is usually pleasant and the work hours reasonable, although you may have to work nights and/or weekends."

Shopping sprees! Yay! Put on performances! Whoopee! Maybe we could use the old barn, Spanky! All I’d need is a lobotomy and some sock puppets.

Is the work environment of a librarian usually pleasant? My work environment is, but what about the rest of you? Comfortable, ergonomically designed furniture? Roomy, well lit office? Affable, intelligent colleagues? Chip mixing your drinks and giving you massages? The absence of porn-surfing perverts, screaming teenagers, vagrants bathing in the restrooms, drunks passing out on the furniture? If so, then you have a pleasant workplace.

The "Day in the Life" set in a "small municipal library" may or may not be accurate. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in such a library. I only know it bears no relation to anything I’ve ever done as a librarian. The left out important parts of the daily life of a lot of librarians: attend committee meetings, pretend to care about the issues under discussion, form task forces and working groups, write reports no one will read, wonder what the hell you thought you were doing when you applied to library school.

Library school is the one thing missing from the overview, as one of the commenters noted. The article uses words like clever and persistent, and implies that the profession is well suited for smart, intellectually curious people. I don’t necessarily disagree. It just seems the honest thing to do to inform people – and we librarians like people to be informed – that smart, clever, intellectually curious people will find themselves frustrated in library school. Library school students typically aren’t exposed to any of the interesting intellectual work going on in library schools, because it has nothing to do with librarianship. Instead, they’re exposed to the dullest work going on in library schools, which also has nothing to do with librarianship. Perhaps that’s why some library school professors give up and just have their students play video games. The ALA-accredited MLS is just a burdensome barrier those of us who have made it use to make it harder for those of you who haven’t to enter the profession. There has to be some barrier, or we wouldn’t know where to begin when tossing out the job applications.

We can be glad the article hasn’t bought into the ALA "librarian shortage" myth, a myth long posited and much beloved by people too stupid to understand the idea of supply and demand. It even hints at the truth, which is that there is in fact a job shortage, especially for the entry level librarians who would be wooed into the profession by articles like this one: "The job market for special librarians . . . is good but is sluggish for public and school librarians. Nevertheless, persistent sleuthing—that key attribute of librarians—should enable good candidates to prevail."

This is the honest path I’ve long thought the ALA should follow: "If our propaganda about librarian shortages wooed you into library school, but then you can’t find a job, it’s because you’re not good enough. As the U.S. News says, good candidates should prevail. Are you not prevailing? That’s because you suck. What? Shouldn’t the MLS program have weeded you out? Of course, but it needed your $20,000. You’d have known that if you didn’t suck so much!" ALA, the truth shall set you free.

My favorite bit was the assumption that public and school librarians are librarians, while the rest of us are "special." We are special, of course, and a superior breed, but amongst ourselves we don’t call librarians who work in colleges special librarians. They’re certainly saner and less interested in self-flagellation than their public librarian peers, but not necessarily "special." Besides, then those higher paid "special librarians" will want to know what’s so special about that git who sits at the college reference desk teaching someone how to search ProQuest for the ten-thousandth time. But then it says that special librarians, like those that work at colleges, have different job hours than public and university librarians. If the U.S. News can’t sort out librarian jobs properly, can we really trust them to give us career advice?

After all this buildup about how underrated and "best" librarianship is as a career, it’s a bit of a letdown when we get to the end: "Salary Data: Median (with eight years in the field): $47,400. 25th to 75th percentile (with eight or more years of experience): $42,800-$63,700." Unless you live in flyover country or down in Dixie, those salary figures aren’t going to do much more than make you chuckle. i guess it’s okay if we assume most librarians have husbands who support the family while the librarians just work for pocket money.

I suppose the pleasant working environment and the opportunity to use persistant sleuthing techniques make up for the salary. For me, just having a major national magazine call my career one of the best careers around makes up for everything. Pretty soon I’ll be converted to the dominant ideology and cleverly interrogate some children’s puppets as I discuss old people in my book group. Then I’ll have a martini, Tanq 10, 5:1, served straight up with a single olive. After one of those, I love being a librarian. Chip, get to work!



  1. Jenifer Grady says:

    For salary data, I believe what our colleagues have been supplying as their salaries through the ALA-APA Salary Survey: Librarian – Public and Academic. We ask directors and HR staff at public and academic libraries for the actual salaries of staff in 6 librarian positions, and ALA has done this for more than 20 years. If you’re looking for a job, you should search a number of salary sources, including ALA-APA’s, to find out what makes the most sense in your professional and geographical areas. JeNifer Grady, Director, ALA-APA.

  2. Jenifer Grady says:

    That last post was an imposter. I do not support the data provided by ALA-APA. It is invalid and irrelevant. Jenifer Grady.

  3. I have to say a big thanks to all of you who are honest about the so-called “librarian shortage” the many other obstacles with getting a professional librarian position. I am currently finishing a master’s degree and applied to MILS programs to begin this fall and after reading these comments and the 5/1/05 Library Science Journal about the lack of entry level jobs, I am convinced I should not pursue an MILS. At some point, one needs to ask themselves is this “financially worth it”? I can make more money now with the type and level of education than if I complete an MILS and still be just as happy with my professional life (if not more) with the employment opportunities I have available to me. Thank you again for saving me time, energy, and money. Best of luck to all of you who have the courage to be honest about the state of the librarian profession!

  4. Annoyed and not Silent says:

    RL, if I had to do it over again I wouldn’t. Look at other options and consider yourself lucky. You could have landed yourself in heavy student debt. This business is going to have to clean up its act, before things may get better. I’m not holding my breath. I got a degree back in the 70’s and there was all sorts of talk about “shortages” and “opportunity”, etc.. I never saw it. The story about “shortages”, and the field “openinging -up just around the corner”, have been there for at least 30 years. About a thirds of ALA accredited programs folded in the 80’s-90’s because there were no real entry level jobs. It’s been like a game of musical chairs in the interim. “recessions” have come and gone, 1990-92, 2001- , and now this. It could be the mother of them since the 30’s. I hope not, but…. Maybe after this the field will HAVE to look more seriously at what it is and where, if anywhere, it’s headed.

  5. There are straight guys working in libraries?

  6. There are straight guys working in libraries?

  7. I wouldn’t advise anyone to go into this profession at this point. I think we’ll be around for a little while, but we are definitely not expanding. Most jobs are not even replaced anymore. When I started at my library we had 15 professional staff. Now we have 10 and are considered fully staffed. If I had to do it all over, I’d have gone into a medical field or some other science. As it is my salary does not pay enough for me to go back to school so I’m trapped. Oh well.

  8. I have been looking for any public library job in the North Dallas area (I can’t move) for over a year. I can’t even get an interview for any jobs (even as a library assistant) let alone as a librarian. I would work at any library position p/t or f/t. I have an M.L.S. from an accredited institution, some experience, customer service skills, am very personable, flexible and I am in the youth services area (which was supposed to be a “high” demand area.) I know the economy is a big factor, but my 3 interviews stated I did not have enough experience. How can I get experience if I can’t get hired at anything!?!?! Volunteering is not an option, because the library’s are not interested. They want teens or have all the people they need. I have just wasted thousands of dollars and increased my student loans, all for NOTHING. I really wish I had know 4 years ago I wouldn’t get a job, I would have never ever gone back to school, even though I have wanted to be a librarian since I graduated college 15 years ago. So, why am I posting? I would like the ALA to acknowledge this problem, and let people know that the jobs are not there – enter school at your own risk. At least know what you are up against. So, of course I think the whole library opportunities are not there and I am FRUSTRATED!!!

  9. PN, I am sorry to hear that, but it doesn’t surprise me. My system hasn’t hired new people in over a year. None of the retirees are getting replaced. Maybe if you signed on as a sub you could get your foot in the door?

  10. PN,

    Texas is a really hard place to find a library job, let alone a librarian position. There are 3 library science schools and one that has students in every city and state so it is like have 10 library science schools here. There are so few new jobs and more firings and layoffs than ever.

    Many jobs are now part-time and if you can even get one of these measly positions that pay nothing, the library schools consider it a success. What a joke! Hiring practices are extremely biased and discriminatory. I have noticed a trend of people hiring their friends over other candidates. I have also noticed more males getting the good jobs, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is good to diversify, but it means some females have a lesser chance of getting work. I have heard comments such as “she is too young” and “we should really hire a guy” and “we need someone of color”. My library recently interviewed a young woman, late 20’s maybe. She was very polished, attractive and professional. I thought hiring her would be great and would add a professional and youthful spin to our department. But the other 50 something librarians (I am one too, but see the value of youth) wanted to go with a more traditional looking older librarian. It is a sad state of affairs when people are biased against age and attractive appearance. What other profession actually wants dumpy, frumpy people???? It is funny and sad at the same time. I think that in order to better market libraries, hiring managers should consider hiring people who are marketable, dress professionally and are outgoing. Maybe I am alone in my thoughts, but I think we actually need to change the appearance of librarianship rather than just talking about it.

    I am thankful I even have a job and feel sorry for all of the recent grads and current students!!!!!

  11. PN:

    You are right. I am sorry I went to library school. You have to kiss a lot of @$$ to get jobs, and take ridiculous amounts of classes and degrees after your MLS just to get an interview because you have “extra qualifications”. What a waste! I would not recommend this for anyone. Should have gone to truck driving school.

  12. TheIlliterateLibrarian says:

    @No Name –I hear ya. The pay increase of entering the library profession has not made up for the cost of uprooting my family because there weren’t any local jobs, the student loan debt, or that very stressful first two years when I went from a university staff position I hated with good benefits to a part time librarian job with no benefits and a 60 mile a day commute. Things have settled down a bit, but I’m still in danger of being back in the poorhouse within the next couple years when my temp position ends. We’re certainly not valued, and I sometimes find myself wondering what in the world it is I do, and for whom. I want to go to all current library students and tell them to flee the burning ship, sometimes. I often wish I’d have gone into a slightly more respected profession and often think of how I probably would have done something like law, if I’d have had the money and devoted time. I guess I’m not alone in feeling like I was a little gullable when looking into this profession. The occational intensely rewarding moment doesn’t may warm the heart but it doesn’t exactly pay the student loans.

  13. As A Complete Badass... says:

    My career has rocked – won three national job searches and did not no anyone that influnced my hiring – crushed over 100 applicants at one time for my TPL job. I do great things for the public and justify the enormous investment they made; I suffer little stress from work.

    I have a 793 FICO, over $50,000 in the back with almost no debt; my kid has 200 GET units, we snet her to Montessori school too. There is almost no one in human history who did not wish for my financial problems.

    Never maid more than $27 an hour, still pay $144 a month in student debt. I have an M Libr form the GSLIS, University of Washington.

    A fabulous life and career choice. And good with my finances. Living the dream. I love “going to work.”

    Only a librarian would complain about such an existence – useful, satisfying, financially rewarding. Bunch of chumps, learn to lose. No matter what, most of you crave to be a victim.

    The public deserves much better than the ALA and the clowns at LJ.

  14. never even had to learn to touch type or spell. Go Huskies, we just signed my new center. Fell the pain, Ducks and Cougars.

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