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Just How Stressful is Library Work?

There seems to be some small protest over my last post, where I said libraries have civic functions and can’t be run like businesses and aren’t the high tech, high stress environments of big corporations, or something like that. Whatever I said. Anyway, there was a voice of protest from "Stressed out public librarian": "public libraries are governed by taxpayers in cities with huge budget deficits. Their staff is being cut because libraries are lower on the totem pole than police and fire services. In the meantime those larger numbers of unemployed people coming to libraries are being served by smaller and smaller staffs. If you think that makes for a low-stress environment I invite you to work a day at my reference desk." I’ll decline the offer to work at your reference desk, but not because of the stress. Perhaps it’s all relative, but let’s be honest. How stressful is library work?

So staff is being cut because libraries are considered less important than police or fire services. That makes sense to me. If one had to choose between public safety and public Internet access, the choice is easy enough. Library work is still less stressful than, say, running into a burning building. I submit it’s also less stressful in many ways than the sort of highly paid, highly demanding "work" that Time was talking about. I’m sure there are librarians like this, but I’ve yet to run across any librarians who have to pull all-nighters a couple of times a week to meet project deadlines, or are required to be in three cities in six days delivering presentations and sales calls. Any work can be stressful, but library work in general is considerably easier than a lot of other professional employment. If library work had the same sorts of demands and challenges, we’d be paid more. If you’re terribly stressed, then you’re probably just doing it wrong.

Another commenter agreed with "Stressed out public librarian": "Staff size is getting cut to the bone, floor plans are being opened up i.e. no more reference desk, ‘easy’ self checkout replacingcirc desks, etc. The real kicker is that management has moved all tech services out into public areas so that we will be available to the public on an adhoc basis. Guess what the director’s top two complaints are: 1)You are not paying enough attention to the public and your response time is slow because you have your nose stuck in a book and 2)Your time in getting materials processed is dropping off. Both of these have to turn around. It would be nice to quit, but economically, that ain’t going to happen for a long, long time. You are right AL, there is no stress here, we just jet off to martini filled conferences comped by our employers three or four times a year."

I think this was supposed to show how removed the AL is from the daily drudgery of some librarians’ existence, but the whiff of resentment is strong. I’ve said before, please don’t hate me because I’m successful. If you wanted to work hard for a job where you get to travel around and have people buy you martinis, you could do it, too. But you’d rather whine. Yes, yes, it sounds like the director is an idiot. But again, is this the same sort of stress? So you go to work, put up with idiotic decisions, and go home. Sounds dull and annoying, certainly, but compared to a lot of work, including the sort of "work" Time considers worth discussing, this is pretty easy stuff.

As with the weather, librarians complain about work rather than doing anything about it. There could be many reasons for this inaction, but one of them is probably a lack of entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurs have to go hustle up work. It’s stressful because there is no dependable paycheck. If they want to be paid, they have to go make work happen, which often means working very long hours on short term projects where people demand results or you don’t get paid. If you’re so stressed, try going out and changing your life and making a living in  the considerably more cutthroat private sector. Oh, you don’t want to do that? I don’t blame you. Try dealing with billable hours or having your paycheck depend on meeting sales quotas or having to go out and actually find projects on a weekly basis. Some of my acquaintances would look at the complaint and laugh. "Oh, you have to catalog books and answer reference questions, and your boss is dumb? You poor baby!"

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go out into that cutthroat world, either, though it’s not because I don’t think I could handle it. I could handle it, and I have complete confidence I’d be successful. I prefer to work in libraries because I think libraries have a higher and better purpose than moving a widget nobody really needs or wants.

The work isn’t stressful; you’re just stressed. And whatever stress you have, apparently it’s less stressful to show up at the library and complain about idiots every day than to get up the gumption to change your work or your life. Don’t get stressed, get angry, and fight to make a better library or move on somewhere else. If everyone fought to make a better workplace, battled the corporate drone manques and the non-librarians trying to run the show, and made their libraries the models of civic institutions they should be, we’d all be better off.



  1. Face it, Libraries are government Social Services, similar to the Department of Economic Security, the guys in charge of Welfare.

    You’re providing a service to person A paid for by person B, managed by People C and governed by People D. And you think this isn’t stressful??

    I will agree some parts, though, are VERY relaxing. Catlaoging, for instance. What a nice day those days are!!!

  2. RantingIsEasy says:

    AL, good posts on May 25th and today.

    I’m hoping you have a bizzaro blog out there somewhere. It would be good to hear your voice in a forum where your passion for libraries as well as constructive criticisms could come through more clearly than in this one.

  3. Rania Sullivan says:

    Face It, H533P…”providing a service to person A paid for by person B…” isn’t more stressful than providing a service to person A which was paid for BY person A, while being managed by people C and governed by People D. Although I have dealt with rude patrons, most are pleasant and are understand that as budgets continue to be cut, librarians and staff members are doing more with less. In the private sector employees are also being expected to do more with less, but since the client is paying for the service they want it to be correct and they want it ON TIME.

    I did “get up the gumption to change” my career. I left a world of six or seven day work weeks, twelve hour days, and internal and external deadlines. I left a group of seven people, who, because of vacancies were doing the work of twelve people. I stopped using the letters CPA behind my name, got an MLIS, and I agree with the AL. “If you’re terribly stressed then you’re just doing it wrong”

  4. Dan Kleinman of says:

    AL, don’t forget the stress caused by having to knuckle under to ALA policy. For example, see Adamson v. Minneapolis Public Library ( ). The remainder of this comment is direct quotes from the case:

    52. MPL and Lawson were notified of the terrible impact the policy of unfettered Internet access was having on the staff and patrons as soon as the problems began to manifest themselves. As noted above, on April 10, 1997, Nancy Corcoran sent to Lawson a memo specifically raising concerns about the policy. Ms. Corcoran’s memo described in detail the conduct of the “regulars” set forth above. It described clearly what she saw to be the issue of workplace harassment. In her memo she set described her own emotional distress in dealing with conduct of these patrons, the concerns of staff that administration will not support them if the staff confront the hard-core pornography users, and requested that MPL become a leader in upholding “standards of public decency and protecting its employees from such harassment.”

    53. Lawson’s reply emphatically rejected any effort to remedy the situation. She specifically rejected the idea of public decency playing any role in Library policy, declaring “The public library’s foundation rests on support of the First Amendment, the free flow of information not on upholding standards of public decency…” She further flatly refused to adopt a policy that would comply with Minnesota law regarding criminally obscene material. She stated “I cannot agree, however, that a written policy outlawing obscene material in the library or the uses of screening software for the Internet is appropriate for the Library.” Lawson in formulating her policy position, choose to ignore the fact that the Minnesota legislature had already declared “obscene” material to be illegal.

    54. As noted above, in response Ms. Lawson and MPL decided upon a policy in which the library would provide unfiltered Internet access to patrons, children and adults, at all times. Staff were directed that they should not and could not interfere with any patron, child or adult, viewing any materials on the Internet. Staff was directed it was not a breach of library rules, and therefore not a reportable incident, for any patron to access any material, regardless of how objectionable or obscene the material would be to staffer other patrons.

    55. Security guards were specifically directed that they could not direct patrons not to view obscene or pornographic materials on the Internet-ready computers.

    56. Despite the intentional policy of the library to allow the display of obscene and pornographic images on its computer terminals to adults and children, Plaintiffs and other staff members repeatedly notified their department heads of the hostile and offensive environment being created by Defendant’s policies. Specifically:

    a. On January 4,1999, Plaintiff Mary Kay Harris notified Mary Lawson via memo on the obscene and offensive material she was encountering near the InfoLine office, specifically describing an image she encountered on a public terminal showing a young boy performing oral sex on a grown man. Lawson responded by e-mail on January 8, 1999 reiterating the library’s policy to “continue to support unfettered access to information” and to protect the “right of privacy…”

    b. On March 2,1999, Lawson issued a memo to Library supervises acknowledging the concerns about sexual harassment occurring as a result of patron viewing of obscene materials but refusing to change the policy for fear of being charged with “censorship.” In her memo, Lawson issued staff guidelines on dealing with complaints by other patrons being exposed to the obscene material, none of which involved any efforts to limit the exposure to obscene material that was by then rampant within the library.

    c. On March 10, 1999 at a meeting of the MPL Board of Trustees at which a presentation was made concerning the policy of unfettered access to the Internet, Plaintiff Mary Kay Harris addressed the Board committee expressing her concerns over the amount of obscene materials in the library, its impact on staff and other patrons and the failure of the library’s policy to address the situation.

    d. On March 23, 1999, the problem of “quicksand technology” trapping terminals in obscene web-sites had become so pervasive that Sharon Berkhan e-mailed all MPL e-mail users about techniques to deal with the problem

    e. On April 16,1999 Wendy Adamson and Mary Kay Harris addressed a meeting of the Board of Trustees and expressed their concern and distress over the impact of the obscene material pervading the library as a result of the library’s policy of unfettered Internet access.

    f. On April 28,1999 Department Head Betsy Williams, responding to complaints by her staff, wrote a memo to Lawson, Feye-Stukas and Cooper expressing concern about the impact of the Internet policy on her staff and the “growing problem” that existed. Upon information and belief, no response was ever given to her memo.

    g. On July 3, 1999 Wendy Adamson e-mailed her supervisor Betsy Williams threatening to file a charge of sexual harassment about her continued exposure to obscene images on the computers in the terminals in the History reference desk area. While the terminals were subsequently repositioned, no change was considered in the policy of unfettered access.

    h. Plaintiff Anita Bealer and other members of the Art/ Music/Video Department out of frustration with the lack of response to their concerns began documenting the obscene materials they found on the library terminalis by delivering copies of them to their Department Head, Walter Gegner. In 1999, on April 27, May 1, 15, 25, June 8, July 16, 18, 19, September 14, October 16, 18, December 21, 22, 27and 29 and in 2000, on Jan 6, 8, 11, 20 and March 2 and 7 Gegner was given copies of obscene materials printed off MPL terminals and printers and asked to take whatever action he could. No formal response was ever given to Bealer or the other employees.

    i. Plaintiff Virginia Pear notified her Department Manager Tom Smisek on a regular basis beginning in 1998 on September 2, 9, November 18, Decemberl6 and 30, and in 1999 in February, on May 3, July 28 and 29 of incidents involving behaviors related to or images of obscene materials in the Technology/Science/Government Documents department. Pear specifically informed Smisek that she considered her working conditions to be hostile and offensive and a matter of sexual harassment. She eventually gave up informing Smisek because of the lack of response to her complaints.

    j. On June 3,1999, Plaintiff Cynthia Smith brought to her assistant department head Bill Johnston, a printout found on an MPL printer showing a young girl being sodomized by a grown man. (Attached hereto as Exhibit A). Plaintiff Smith found this to be tremend

  5. Mr. Kat says:

    Rania, I agree with you Yeah, my name ended up being the Captura In the first post —oooops. And I forgot part. The service provider is You, person E! Talk about Beauracray at work!!!

    I really felt very little stress when I was in the library, but then I never had to interact directly with patrons.

  6. I am sorry that we don’t have the gumption to be all that we can be like the AL.

    I don’t know why there are comments allowed on here, we should all shut up and listen to the wisdom from on high.

    ooops, I forgot that the AL depends on comments to come up with prompts for the essays presented here.


  7. Dr. Pepper says:

    library work hard? seriously? Maybe if you put up with drunkards and rowdy teens – but even then that is a policy away…

  8. I love being a librarian precisely because it isn’t stressful. Most days when I get home from work, I still have a lot of energy and can pursue my other interests. I know I could make more money in a more stressful field, but I (and I would venture to guess most of my colleagues) enjoy having a job that is low stress and on some days is quite fulfilling. I’m a public librarian and while we are short staffed, its nothing compared to my time working in retail. Give me the reference desk any day over selling overpriced televisions.

  9. Obviously, you haven’t worked in a legal library.

    Information is needed YESTERDAY and if you cannot do that you are fired.

  10. decent-looking straight guy says:

    I work in an academic library of a large public research university that also has to do increasinly more work with fewer people. Sometimes we get rushed, and projects are challenging, and we think we are stressed, but AL has a point that it’s all relative. Before I went to library school I got a doctorate in a humanities field. Graduate work in that was stressful because my own life and future were on the line. Then again, the “stress” of that was all relative. Much earlier in life I did a hitch in the Army, and not only jumped out of airplanes, but rigged parachutes for other people (and me too) to jump with…if I have a claim to stress, it would be there. Overall, AL is right. Library work is pretty low-stress. I enjoy the challenge of a tough research project in my subject field, and problem-solving with our ILS and its quirks. While that might seem “stressful” at times, overall I have to admit it’s not like the stress of work in other fields. Plus, I kind of like a little stress just so I can know I’m being challenged!

  11. Stressed out public librarian says:

    Yes, I get up everyday to dream up ways to show how removed you are from the daily drudgery of some librarians’ existence.

    Thank you for posting this and confirming that notion. I can now die a happy man.

  12. I think the real issue here is how stressed are librarians relative to other occupations. One aspect of this which has not been addressed is that librarians often choose the occupation because they are looking for a non-stressful environment and/or they do not handle stress well.

    I agree that in the scale of things librarianship is a low-stress job, but that doesn’t mean librarians are not stressed out to the max. I look around in the library and see many people who seem to be teetering on the brink.

    And one more aspect of this discussion: as Henry Kissinger so famously said (perhaps apocryphally), the reason that academic politics are so ruthless is that the stakes are so low.

  13. some person says:

    Well, academic librarians can be some of the most insecure and petty people out there….more so than public librarians, on average, at least in my experience.

  14. Techserving You says:

    There are elements of technical services work – particularly acquisitions, which can be very time-consuming and (rare, I know) have deadlines that actually mean something (mostly because money and outside parties are involved.) In my wide experience in libraries, though, this is the only sort of librarian work (outside, of course, management) that is truly stressful in itself, and it’s usually only stressful at certain times of the year.

    Other roles can be stressful, but for the most part the stress comes from how the employees are treated – by patrons and by managers. Reference work, for instance, can be stress-inducing because reference librarians sometimes deal with a lot of demanding patrons who want all the work done for them and are rude and ungrateful. Overall, though, I think the majority of stress in library work is not at all from the work itself, but rather from having to deal with incompetent and sometimes downright mean managers. I have noticed a trend… in general, good managers go into business (although of course not all managers in business are good.) Bad managers who would never make it in the cut-throat business world become managers in libraries. Some of them never even wanted to be in that role, and so are very reluctant managers, with no clue or inclination to manage. Many are also the typical passive-aggressive librarian-types who would be eaten alive in the business world but manage to wield some sort of power in libraries and use it to make the employees miserable. Of course not ALL library managers are like that, but a huge number are. The stress comes from having to deal with these idiots and often feeling powerless. A big problem, though, is that this sort of situation is so prevalent in libraries that you can’t always do something about it. I have left two jobs where the situation was like that…and here I am in yet another situation like that, although I work for a very prestigious institution and all signs pointed towards it being a great set-up. I can’t just keep being a job-hopper. Sooner or later I may leave the field altogether.

  15. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    Well, it really depends where you work, who you work for & with, and the sanity of your customers..doesn’t it?

    My work is more stressful now because of who I work with, the games that are played, and “movedas” made behind my back…which I have to undo whenever I come back from a day where I don’t work with the “power hungry controller”.

    It sure wasn’t like that before…..for the past 8 years everyone has gotten along and respected each other and everyone else’s work. In fact, we worked as a team and helped each other out all the time..except for 1.5 years when I worked with the angry passive aggressive porn watching psych case, who was finally dismissed.

    Each job has it’s own level of stress….I’m sure being yelled at because your account has been sent to collection for refusing to return late materials or refusing to pay $50 in late fees, also isn’t stressful…nor is being screamed at local homeless unstable people who live in the library or threatened by the local gang members, who happen to Tag the stacks & the bathroom on a daily basis.

    AL…you know I usually agree with you, but you really need to get out into the real world more often….those martinis have you a bit desensitized.

  16. Techserving You says:

    I want to clarify that I am not suggesting that acquisitions work is THAT stressful… it just actually has deadlines, etc., so the world itself (not just how I am treated) is somewhat more stressful that other types of library work. And if you work somewhere where faculty and patrons are involved in selection, there is an added element of stress (demand and deadlines.) I HAVE worked in the corporate world, and I know what real stress is.

    I do think that we have to remember there are always exceptions – people on here (including me) usually come from just one perspective – academic libraries, or public libraries, without giving much thought to what happens to people in an area in which they don’t work. And we do always forget corporate libraries – as we were just reminded. That’s a whole different ballgame and generally consider that to be the ‘corporate world’ even if the role is ‘librarian.’

  17. Techserving You says:

    I wish this had an edit function. I meant the work itself, not the world itself. Also, I had not read all the earlier comments. I totally agree with the comment about libraries being filled with people who are trying to escape stress and don’t deal well with stress. Therefore, small amounts of stress seem like mountains of stress to some librarians. I also agree it has almost everything to do with WHO you work with. I have worked in a couple of wonderful libraries, with competent, confident, outgoing, NORMAL and nice (but not push-over) people. Alas, that was as a paraprofessional, so I had to move on if I wanted to move up.

  18. Fat and Grumpy says:

    I’ve done about everything you can do in a library except run one, and, on the whole, library work is stress-free. Oh, every now and then, the angry or psychiatrically challenged patron presents a human interaction issue, but seldom does any one bleed on me, and I’ve never had to deal with a death. Much different than my experiences as a clerk in hospital where I regularly dealt with life, death, infinity, and the whole gamut of human anxiety. No, if you know what you’re doing, library work is not stressful. Keeping a public library job is right now, but so is keeping any other local government job.

  19. Techserving You says:

    Well as others have mentioned, it’s all relative. Work can be stressful without having anything to do with life and death situations. It’s a different kind of stress. I just think, as I tried to point out, that libraries are filled with PEOPLE (employees) who do things that often lead to stressful situations… ‘stress’ as in frustration. If you have a boss who is so inconsistent that you wonder if she has a twin and they alternate days on the job and do not update each other on what was said and what decisions were made, that leads to frustration. If you have a boss who shuts you down when you make the tiniest request and yells at you to find another job every time you ask for time off for an appt (once a year, maybe) that is stressful. It’s just a very different kind of stress… and it’s not unique to library work, but these behaviors seem to be more prevalent in libraries than in the corporate world. There seems to be a higher concentration of the type of person I described in a previous post.

  20. AlwaysWanted2B says:

    I have felt stress in library jobs, mostly from bad library directors. I had found two choices work, one is to find a way to ignore it, and two – move on. One my my greatest pleasures in one job was quitting and basically telling my boss I would rather be unemployed than to work for her. AL is right, if you think it is bad and stressful quit and do something else.

  21. Techserving You says:

    AlwaysWanted2B – yeah, those are the two options, but as I pointed out (from my own experience) the second option – leaving – isn’t always possible or practical. I guess my main point is that this sort of situation (bad bosses, passive-aggressive coworkers, etc.) seems to be unusually common in libraries, probably partially because of the types of people often drawn to library work, and partially because there are so few consequences, compared to in a for-profit company. And you usually can’t tell what a place is like until you are actually working there. I’ve left – and done just what you described (with great satisfaction) – only to move to another place that was equally-bad, though in a slightly different way. You can’t just keep leaving jobs. Even if the job market is great, you end up looking like a job-hopper and end up unemployable. So you just have to find a way to deal with the stress (your other option.) But that doesn’t mean the stress doesn’t exist. My contention, then, is that it’s stressful, but that’s because of how we’re treated, and other policies which lead to frustration. It’s not usually stressful meaning difficult, or having serious consequences.

  22. ’round here it’s not the work … it’s the administration.

  23. I Like Books says:

    I moved to a new position at my work and, to get straight to the punchline, it’s easier and less stressful than the job I had before. But some of the other people in the same position don’t want to hear that– everyone wants to think they have a hard job. It’s just hard in different ways. But no, it’s easier and less stressful in an absolute sense. I’ve been in both positions– trust me on this. I can work a twelve hour shift and wonder where the time went. It’s possibly the least stressful job I’ve ever had– certainly less stressful than retail work. And I wonder how many library workers really think their job is more stressful than the cashier’s, who probably gets paid less?

    And I wonder how many library workers who’ve had other types of jobs will say that working at the library is the most stressful job they’ve ever had?

  24. Techserving You says:

    Well first of all, I Like Books, you’re talking about your particular situation. But (and I don’t know if your comment is in response to me or not) I wouldn’t say that library work is ‘as stressful’ as, I don’t know, think of some stressful job… investment banking… but just ‘in a different way.’ I just meant that there CAN be stress in library jobs, even if it’s not as much as in other jobs. It’s just that the stress that IS there is often of a different sort – frustration over human interactions, etc. – rather than stress because the work has serious consequences. Library work is certainly not the most stressful work, nor is it the least stressful work. And of course it all depends on the particulars of the situation.

  25. I’ve worked in retail, food service, a law office, and in libraries. Library work is *easily* the least stressful of the four. Everyone needs to get over themselves.

  26. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    I think you can break down stress into two categories. Stressed caused by others and stressed caused by the work. In library world stress is most likely from the first and is something you are going to have to deal with no matter where you go. This is where most of my stress comes from but I an learning to ignore people. It is also most likely to be worse outside of libraries. If your stressed for the second reason then AL is right your doing it wrong. At this point do a system analysis and find out what you are doing wrong and fix it.

  27. I have gray hairs and I'm under 30 says:

    I don’t think the work is stressful as much as the people I work with – staff and the public. I can get used to the public wanting things NOW, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to some of my coworkers who should only be librarians in mental hospitals. At my previous library I used to lock myself in the bathroom about once a week and cry. Now I just fantisize about hitting my supervisor with heavy books.

  28. Anonypotamus says:

    So basically I’ve noticed that we’ve got two camps here.. One camp doesn’t think libraries are a terribly stressful place to work, and the second camp mistakes frustration with stress. If you find library work stressful, you’d find any job stressful, which points to the problem being yourself. It’s entirely understandable to call a library “frustrating” because they often are. But notice that “frustration” is made up of different letters than “stress.” It is, one might say, a separate word.

  29. It’s interesting that if I don’t find work particularly stressful it’s because I’m “removed” and “desensitized,” rather than just extremely good at stress management. Sure, sitting in my corner office at LJ with Chip massaging my feet is about as stress free as it gets, but occasionally I have to go out and do some actual library work. Even under severe conditions, stress is a relative reaction. Compared to lots of jobs, the conditions of library work just aren’t that severe. Bad managers, mean patrons, backstabbing coworkers – I’ve encountered them all. The question isn’t so much your situation as your reaction to it. For example, some people get very emotionally involved in office politics, and thus are more stressed than those who don’t. Perhaps one of the commenters is right. Librarians choose the field because they think it’ll be easy, and instead find that there are jerks and morons trying to make things hard, just like in the rest of life.

  30. Librarian says:

    I’m quite certain from my own experience and that of other librarians I know, that much of the “stress” of working in libraries comes from trying to work with librarians. Broadly speaking, I’ve never, ever met a more dysfunctional group of people in any other area of my life. I believe this is due to 2 parts leftist politics, and 1 part gender.

  31. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    We get some real corkers in academia but I’ve found being older is a plus. Call it the Evil Eye, The Look, whatever – I’ve got it now and most students straighten up and fly right when it’s applied to them. Some people have a bad aura and it’s noticeable immediately. In that case: Gosh!! gotta go potty!

    Compared to my years in the corporate environment there isn’t a lot of stress here. Annoying people yes: one manager and an idiot he hired. I can say after 25+ years in the library business that libraries are managed/run/driven into the ground by some of the stupidest, meanest, nastiest people on this earth. They don’t cause “frustration” – they cause heart attack inducing stress.

  32. Dan Kleinman of says:

    “Seattle’s library employees just want to help people find books they love, but along the way, put up with being assaulted, threatened and spit upon.” “Library Conduct Violations Reach All-Time High,”, by Chris Halsne, KIRO 7 Eyewitness News, 27 May 2009.

    Sounds stressful to me.

    Where is the ALA on this? Is it attempting to assist those librarians?

  33. Seeing as how most librarians are passive women, the job isn’t stressful because they don’t want to cross the boss and make waves.

  34. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille says:

    I agree, library work is not stressful. Working against the stupidity inherent in the system is stressful – because there is so much of it, and you can’t understand why other people don’t see it. As for making more money, I know I could easily do so if I chose. I rebuild, repair computers for friends on the side. If I put my mind to it, that could be a lucrative side-business. The question is, do I really want to get phone calls in the middle of the morning telling me to come fix another problem? The reason I am a librarian is because I feel good about what I do, I am very good at it, I get recognition and it sure beats the stress of a dog-eat-dog world.

    If that’s reality, they can keep it. I’m happy in my little fantasy land.

  35. What about library school–is that stressful?

  36. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    Fat and Grumpy commented: “and I’ve never had to deal with a death.”

    Oh lucky you, I have had a staff member laid down in the staff room to rest just before closing and a customer stopped in to look at the art work, just before his cardiologists appointment (needless to say he didn’t make it).

    Dealing with the deaths in and of themselves were not stressful, it was dealing with the families and being grilled by Administration.

  37. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    NotMarianTheLibrarian commented:
    “I can say after 25+ years in the library business that libraries are managed/run/driven into the ground by some of the stupidest, meanest, nastiest people on this earth. They don’t cause “frustration” – they cause heart attack inducing stress.”

    wow, do you work with me?

  38. Lie-scare-ian says:

    “Seeing as how most librarians are passive women, the job isn’t stressful because they don’t want to cross the boss and make waves.”

    Yeah, until those women make it to a management position, then camp out there and stay years and years after they are eligible for retirement, making everybody below them miserable. And, even as managers they don’t want to make waves, so incompetent employees never get fired or even called on the carpet. That would require effort on the part of management.

    But (and no librarians believe me when I tell them this) it is just as bad in the private sector. I am constantly amazed anything ever gets done in the world. In the library world, you get all the same stupidity as the private sector, but at least there aren’t any consequences for your actions and you can usually coast through stress-free. It’s not the work, it’s the bosses and co-workers that are stressful.

    In the private sector, it’s the bosses, co-workers, and the work, too.

  39. An On A Moose says:

    I expect it’s the sort of thing the AL herself would concede as an exception to her perception, but working as a law librarian in a private firm is extremely stressful and still pays poorly. Anyone who disputes that hasn’t worked in a private law library. Anyone disputing that assertion should find a white crayon and colour a zebra.

  40. Techserving You says:

    Anonypotamus – have you ever heard of synonyms? Apparently not if you think ‘different words’ always have different meanings. There are many kinds of stress… physical stress, mental stress, etc.. Mental stress can be caused by/be a lot of different things. Extreme frustration is, in itself, a sort of stress, if we’re talking about feelings of powerlessness and dealing with coworkers/supervisors who are so inconsistent in their behavior/decisions made, etc. that you think that may be insane. I am not, and have not, in any of my comments here, been complaining or claiming to have a situation that is so much worse than people in other fields. I’m simply saying that there IS a kind of stress that often goes hand-in-hand with working in libraries. And I have worked in enough libraries to know that the behaviors that lead to this sort of stress/frustration exist in many, many libraries. I truly think that the type of people typically drawn to the work are what make this type of stress even more prevalent in libraries than in many other more functional work places. Dysfunction leads to stress. You know what… I think it may be the non-stressful often EXTREMELY BORING and repetitive nature of even professional librarian work which LEADS to the other sort of stress that I have described. Yes! I have hit upon a thesis. Actually, I seem to recall a BBC article being circulated – gleefully – when I was in library school. It claimed that librarians were MORE stressed than police and firemen. The people who kept forwarding the article didn’t seem to have bothered to read it… they wanted to point out that librarian work must be more IMPORTANT and DIFFICULT than other work. But the article pointed out that the stress comes from high repetition and lack of fulfillment. I’ll see if I can find it.

  41. Techserving You says:

    I can’t post a link but please google librarians stressed bbc, and it’s the first result. (Editor added link:

  42. dork commented:

    “What about library school–is that stressful?”

    Uh, no, “dork” … at least not until you get to the part where you start applying for some of those many promised jobs that turn out not to be there!

  43. I Like Books says:

    Techserving You– I wasn’t commenting to you in particular, just about general stress in the workplace. The moral of my vague and diffuse story is that I know from personal experience that some people will say a job is hard or stressful that I know isn’t. I have no theory about it, but it isn’t all relative or just different.

    Of course, stress in any position, libraries included, can be caused by the people you work with. Especially if they’re managers. But part of that is also the person. I don’t fret about things that I have no control over. And I think I must get along with people better than some.

    Another workplace experience is a coordinator at an air shipper that we do business with. I’ve seen one person after another come back from the airport furious with the guy, but I never thought he was so bad. He’s not very talkative, they are; that might have something to do with it. But some people seem to take things more personally.

  44. Library school stressful? That’s one of the easiest graduate degrees on the planet. If you find library school stressful, then you shouldn’t become a librarian. Maybe you should become a kept person.

  45. So should I get an MLIS for shitz and giggles? I wanna impress this librarian I have the hots for!

  46. Just the Library Keeper says:

    And stress makes one stronger or broken, figure it out. I work in a prison library without any officers or other staff, forty-four potential problems or 44 excellent questing patrons.

  47. Here’s the thing about work: It’s stressful. If it wasn’t stressful, it would be called “play.” In the 14 years since I graduated college, this is the one thing I wish someone had told me back then. Working for a living sucks. There’s always office politics, never enough staff or money to do whatever needs to be done, stupid management, annoying coworkers, and customers of whatever sort that always have unreasonable demands.

    Having a job is stressful. Wanna know what’s more stressful? NOT having a job or a paycheck or health insurance. There are lots of people out there without any of those at the moment, no matter what field they work in. I’ve found that I have to put on my big girl panties and deal with this fact because unless I win the lottery, I’ll be working for the next 35 years. I’m glad that AL called out the original commenter, because the comments to this post have been enlightening. I hope I don’t have to work with any of you who want to go to war over who is more stressed them whom!

  48. freakylib says:

    This reminds me of a listserv topic I saw a while back, where librarians were crying because they were underpaid, compared to police officers. The argument was that because librarians have to have an MLS, they should be paid more than police officers, who may not even have finished college. The problem with this argument is that rarely do librarians get shot at (and I’m sure it’s happened, but rarely), rarely do they have to run into the burning building to help get people out, rarely do they have to try to arrest someone who has taken some mind-altering drug, etc., etc., etc. Police officers are paid for what they may have to do – they might have to take someone’s life. They may have to give their own to save someone else. It happens a lot. No one asks a librarian to lay down their life for someone else. How many librarians have been killed in the line of duty? I’ll bet it’s a pretty low number.

    Now, I know, every librarian has some story of some stressful event that happened, or some stressful patron, or some stressful boss. So what? Every job has some kind of stress – otherwise they wouldn’t have to pay us to do it. I came to librarianship late in my career, and to echo someone else’s comment: I have worked call centers, fast food, retail, and movie theaters. Libraries are by far the least stressful of any job I have had or have heard of. I challenge every librarian crying over how stressful their job is, to go do anything else for a week. I guarantee, they’ll be very glad they can return to their low-stress library job.

    And library school stressful? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

  49. Mr. Kat says:

    You know, this fits a couple other librarian themes…

    Librarians want to be regarded as professionals in the same way doctors and lawyers are regarded.

    There are some librarians who went to library school and found it HARD.

    And now we also have that group who are librarins and they are stressed out and frustrated!!

    And if we look at the general stereotype of who a librarian is, we see an image of a sweet, soft spoken, quiet, shy, nice, introvertive little person. In short, the meek.

    Anyone could qualify to do our job if they so chose to do so – the program is that easy. And If you can get one, this really is one of the EASIEST JOBS TO DO IN THE UNIVERSE! Which is why everybody is trying to get a job in a library!

    Does it make sense, then, why so many potentially legitimate complaints from librarians are blown off by the rest of the professional universe?

  50. Beenboth says:

    I’ve had a couple horrible bosses, 1 at a bookstore and 1 at a library. When I became a boss I tried not to repeat their mistakes. However, I found that a boss can be made just as miserable by undermining, backstabbing employees as an employee can be made by their boss. A couple other comments: (1) if you’ve had trouble with several bosses then maybe the problem isn’t them. (2) Plenty of employees find it easy to armchair quarterback but when they become managers they find that it looks a lot different from the other side of the fence. Suddenly, you have to consider the big picture and not just your tiny little area.

  51. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I don’t know Auntie Nanuuq – maybe we do work together. What makes it bearable here is an office with a door. And I keep it locked (too many students today lack boundaries). If I were out in the library proper all day every day, I’d lose my mind.

  52. hot for librarian says:

    I’ve been contemplating on getting an MLIS, but I think I will forgo this idea for a number of reasons. Many here have said that library school is a joke and find it useless. One of my theories why libraries require a master’s degree is that librarians are entrusted by the “lay” public for accurate and reliable information and having an MS degree gives people confidence in the librarians’ duty in helping them. I mean who is gonna trust someone with a BA/BS or even no degree? I think the MLIS is just to give the public confidence in librarians.

  53. the.effing.librarian says:

    the stress is why I quit the web.. if only I could go back to the stress-free days of being a Librarian I, or II, or even III, and have all that free time to blog and tweet and play Wii games… instead of saving the free world from itself.

  54. Dr. Pepper says:

    @hot for librarian – As a user of libraries for many years before I started working in one, I never knew, nor I cared, that librarians had a master’s degree. The MLIS was made to get money from people and force others to go get it or they won’t get a job :-) Most library patrons (public and academic) don’t care about the academic credentials of people helping them. be they AA, BA, MA, PhD level – it’s all the same to them.

  55. AlwaysWanted2B says:

    TechServing you, you can always hope the walk into an out of order elevator shaft – ala L.A. Law

  56. Michelle says:

    As a corporate refuge who went back to school and got my MLIS and work in a public library, being a librarian isn’t stressful. I worked in a very busy environment at my corporate job — the workload was very heavy, the office politics were insufferable and the management was overbearing and useless.

    Have I experienced some of that at the library? Sure. Every job has those coworkers who are useless and irritating. But the workload isn’t even close to what I had in corporate. And honestly, I’m never super busy. I get a little busy but it’s always really manageable. I have yet to experience good management in any job I’ve had, so I just know to do my best and get what I can from them.

    It’s better than having someone breathing down your neck about deadlines and micromanaging everything that you do because they want to make sure they get a good bonus this year.

    I think all things in perspective. I think some aspects of librarianship can be stressful but overall, it’s not so much.

  57. “But the workload isn’t even close to what I had in corporate. And honestly, I’m never super busy.”

    I would like to know what public library you work at so that people can be cut from your budget or some other solution so you can stop gold bricking it on the taxpayers dime.

    Now quit reading this and get back to work.

  58. Michelle says:


    In case you don’t know it, I’m reading something on the Library Journal page. Professional development (if you don’t know what that means, I can send you some information on it).

    By the way, people have already been cut from our budget, as is the case with many libraries. I may not be super busy but I make myself valuable to my managers (lesson learned from working corporate) by taking on and completing projects. Again, I’m not super busy. That doesn’t mean that I have nothing to do. I’m just not pulling 60-hour work weeks like I was in corporate.

  59. copykitty says:

    Oh the stressed librarian! I often wonder when I hear the complaints how a person can be so weak. I work in a public library that has had a hiring freeze for over a year you think that would make us “stressed” well considering we were way over staffed it’s done nothing for us. My boss just said to me this morning “Well there’s no work for you to do…” in the private sector (where i spent years working) that means lay-off here at the Welfare Office (that’s what some of us call it)it means tax-payers paying my salary to read blogs and post comments. Awesome!!!

  60. “I’m just not pulling 60-hour work weeks like I was in corporate.”

    Perhaps you should be so that the taxpayers can get some of their money’s worth. If it is so much easier than the corporate world, maybe you could do 80 hours.

    The days of the goldbrick are over.

  61. Michelle says:

    Sorry but as another poster said, I have a life outside of my job and am not interested in making my job my life. I don’t know where you work, but the librarians where I am aren’t allowed to work overtime. If I worked more than my 40 hours, it would be for no extra money.

    I worked overtime at corporate and made more money than I do now, but I was also very stressed and overworked.

    I am not one of the librarians that does nothing and acts like they’re soooo busy. I tell it like it is. I do my work. I take on projects, and do my best on them. No, I am not stressed at my job. However, that doesn’t mean I have no work. I do, but I learned very good project management skills while working corporate and they work really well at the library. I can do my job with minimal stress.

  62. Hard work is not stressful... says:

    Librarianship is just not very stressful; it comes with knowing how to do the job. Anyone with average intelligence can be a librarian. Good pay, benefits, nice people, air-conditioning, union protection. The envy of most of humans throughout history. I wouldn’t trade with anyone….

  63. Mithrandir says:

    If Mr Kat or anyone else thinks that “anyone” can do a competent job as a reference librarian, well then, you’re wrong. I’m not saying the job is terribly difficult or very stressful, but it does take a certain type of person to do a good job at the reference desk. I know many very intelligent and hard working people who frankly would suck at being a reference librarian.

    Big difference between doing a job and doing it well.

  64. Library school was stressful because it was so boring and tedious. AL, being a kept person is very tempting!I don’t believe that library work attracts any more psychos than any other line of work. People are nuts, period.

  65. Dr. Pepper says:

    I get stressed by the boredom of library school just by listening to people talk about it. :)~

  66. Techserving You says:

    I just wanted to say one other thing. I never suggested that library work is even close to the most stressful job, nor is it usually the least stressful job. But what people here keep forgetting is that THEIR own experience – even if they have worked in many libraries, as I have – cannot be used to make a general statement about all library work. You can say, as I just did, that the ‘typical’ library job is not terribly stressful, but also not totally stress-free. But people – some library jobs, I am sure, ARE actually stressful. Every situation is very different. It depends on your role, and your level. I actually AM super-busy at times, and it’s not due to poor time management or project management skills… I used to work in project management. It is simply because at my particular library, my tasks include what, at all other libraries in which I have worked, have fallen to a full-time librarian, a paraprofessional, and a student. My tasks run from the most menial to more complex budgeting and negotiation. As I have said, in my particular case, most of the stress comes from the people around me – it is by far the most dysfunctional workplace I have ever been in – my boss is 15 years beyond retirement age – and I have worked in some very dysfunctional places. The work itself is not usually stressful, per se, but I AM very busy. I’m as busy as I was when I worked in a corporate position. The difference is that my work has fewer consequences, although it has more than many librarian positions do. So the work itself is less stressful.

    By the way, we do not have a union, it’s at-will employment, and I am an exempt employee. (So no union protection and no overtime.)

  67. Thank you! I often hear complaining about how hard work our job is at a small public library, when it really isn’t that bad. Every once in a while, I want to roll in a projector and turn on images of the refugee crisis in Darfur, etc. I look at it this way–librarians thrive on order, that’s why they chose their profession. And they’re perpetually ticked because the world isn’t orderly and people who they are *forced* to work with aren’t neat, and orderly…ah well…I love my job.

  68. TwoQatz says:

    Hey 7nrpk – we’re paid peanuts and believe me, they get more than their money’s worth. Why the f**k would I work 60 hours a week for $40,000? get a grip.

  69. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I’m with you Mithrandir. We have an idiot or two here and they cannot handle the reference desk. Their incompetence is one reason I keep my office door shut and locked – I got tired of students bursting in and begging for assistance when they couldn’t get it from the boob at the ref desk. Who will be here forever because some places reward incompetence.

  70. Mr. Kat says:

    Where does REFERENCE WORK have anything to actually do with Library workplace stress, by the way? You hold this up as if the entire library foundation rests on that refernece desk and as if that reference desk is the throne of the library. And yet the vast majority of the people who use your facilities never once use that desk to do their work – they may ask for directions to the bathroom, or assistance with the computers, or refunds for the misprints off the printer, but none of these problems have anything to do with real Reference work.

    Workplace stress, in my mind, only exists when you personally decide to invest more of yourself into the place then you morally should [go beyond your paid hours], or when you decide to make changes and/or you resist changes being made, or when the situation is bad but nothing is being done to fix it. These issues are problems becasue the results could wind up killing someone. Libraries rarely fit this description.

    The most stressful positions in libraries are in HR and in finance. Those people actually have a big deal going on. If you’re a librarian on the floor though, and you’re not taking on other people’s projects, including patrons, [you’re supposed to help them learn how to USE the Information resource system, not DO the work FOR them! – and yet that seems to be the mantra of the refence desk] you will find library work to be a breeze. it also helps if you keep up on your office technology, because I suppose if you are given an easy project by your job description but you don’t have the skills to do it, it becomes a hard project. That can be stressful becasue a job undone is grounds for termination.

    Techserving, you are right that small colleciton of anecdotes cannot constitute a picture of the field as a whole. However, if you put enough anecdotes together to where the population size becomes large enough, the consistencies that run throughout these stories contains at least some truth for the situaiton as a stereotype and that stereotype becomes the image of that entity in the general public.

    And as a stereotype, library work is not stressful. Is this stereostype true? The library is not a stressful workplace unless you’re dealing with a public library and you can’t throw out the bums and the pedophiles, or you have to do it each and every day because no one else will. Otherwise, Library work is not stressful. You are not going to die showing up to work, and none of your patrons are going to die form your work either. If the patrons die because you threw them out, it’s not the library’s fault the bum didn’t listen and learn those early lessons about life management. if the patrons die form their wierd illness, they shouldn’t have gone to the library, they should have gone to a doctor. If the patrons die from the results of their self represented court case that they based entirely off personal library research, they shouldn’t have gone to the library – they should have gone to a lawyer. If the student fails a class, because the essay they wrote turns out to be plagarism of a work the librarian found for them based upon a research request, again, it is not the fault of the library. even if the librarian gives them bad advice on how to cite the piece, it is still the responsibility of the student to know and read the University policies on Plagarizm and what it constitutes as it is included in EVERY SINGLE COURSE SYLLABUS I have ever seen!

    the librarians are not going to be barred from doing library work for failures in research assistance unless they crossed the line that says Lirbarians cannot provide legal counsel, medical advice, or do the work for the student. Librarians are not going to be killed in random reference desk stops, or putting out reference desk fires, or nailed by a ten ton beam, or run over by a bus, or squiched like a peanut under 500 ton haul truck. if you;re lucky, you might get Swine Flu and wind up in the hospital for a couple days befor ehtey tell you to stop hyperventallating becasue you’re not going to die…although you might when you see the doctor bill your library health insurance doesn’t cover.

    Library school was not stressful either – it was tiring. It was boring and tedious, but I suppose if you try to do everything in the ten minutes before class and expect to get top marks, then yes, you will be stressed out. Your Choice.

    You have no union protection and you aren’t paid overtime. So work your 40 hours and go home. If your boss doesn’t understand that, get a new boss; strictly speaking, one who pays overtime.

  71. Ms. Kitty says:

    Mr. Kat I am so glad I don’t work with you. Apart from being verbose you simply cannot comprehend that other libraries may be quite different from yours. If students are paying $20,000 a semester, believe me, they stop at the reference desk and it isn’t to ask for a tissue. At Big State U, reference desk duty was pretty damn boring. No one asked for assistance because they were accustomed to being treated as part of a vast herd.

    Finally, ever worked in a corporate setting? There was real stress there – the work was fast-paced and one was expected to find quality information fast. Strategic and operational planning conferenced provided unbelievable amounts of work. Providing bad information to the CEO and his executive management group was not an option. Stress does exist in LibraryLand.

  72. Techserving You says:

    I’m wondering why so many people keep defining ‘stressful’ work as work with life or death consequences, and if your library work does not have life or death consequences, then by definition, it cannot be stressful. You’re right, Mr. Kat, the stereotype is that library work is not stressful. My point all along has been that it is incorrect to say that if you think library work is stressful, you must be doing it wrong. I’m sure that holds true for many people. But there ARE stressful positions in libraries. You pointed out finance… I work in that area, and it can be stressful, because it actually MATTERS and has deadlines, with legal obligations to outside parties. I am paid peanuts but literally don’t have enough time to do all of my tasks (and no, I am not just a slow idiot) in my normal work hours, so I have to work overtime to get it done. So, at certain times of the year, I have stress. It is true that this is right around the time when my other coworkers are the least busy because the students have gone home, there’s no deadline for cataloging, etc.. I’m not trying to claim that this is extreme stress, or that my job is so important. (Most Americans equate stress with importance of the job.) I was reading an interesting book about why men make more money than women do. It was trying to debunk claims of discrimination (and actually did so quite well.) There were many nuances to the argument, but one basic claim was that men tend to work in more dangerous or risky positions. Risky here can mean having real consequences – such as legal work. It compared two jobs – corporate lawyer and librarian. Of course the job description for ‘librarian’ was very stereotypical and ignored large aspects of library work. But one thing it pointed out was that a librarian can ‘check out’ at the end of the day. And even in my position, that is almost always true. I rarely bring work home with me, and try not to think about it when I am at home. I am free to pursue other interests. That is far less true in many other occupations, particularly ‘professional’ occupations. So yeah, on the whole, the work itself is pretty stress-free. But one should allow for the fact that there are SOME library positions that are stressful – I mean, the work itself causes stress – rather than saying that anyone who thinks there library job is stressful must be deluded or an idiot.

  73. Techserving You says:

    Oh yeah, my point about having to work overtime was that I am paid peanuts, but am exempt, so I do not get any extra money to do the work, but it has to get done (obligations to outside parties, as I said) and cannot always get done in regular work hours.


    What a bunch of whiners.

  75. Not always a librarian says:

    Before getting my MSLS in my early forties, I worked at several other jobs while raising my children–retail, cab driver, short order cook, factory worker, Grade 2 teacher, nursing assistant in a nursing home. I have noticed that the biggest whiners and complainers at libraries are the ones who have never had “real” jobs, with terrible deadlines, dealing with the public every second of the work day, the stress of dealing with severely ill and dying patients, working in filthy factories with unreasonable quotas and management, etc.

    I have worked in an academic library–a very intelligent and amazingly petty bunch of knitpickers and complainers–and public libraries–ditto–and am repeatedly surprised by the things librarians talk about, as nauseum, as if those things were of any importance whatsoever.

    Most of these librarians are truly and totally ignorant of how the rest of the world lives and what constitutes true stress and problems at work.

    And if you had time to read these responses while at work, that should tell you something about the pressure, time constrains and overmanagement that is lacking in your job, in contrast to what some people put up with every minute, for decades, in theirs!

  76. Techserving You says:

    Some librarians do not have typical 9-5 Monday-Friday schedules. I, for one, am not writing from work right now. And I HAVE had “real” jobs – receptionist during tax season, cleaner, dishwasher, cashier, among others. I just find it amazing that no one here can even admit that there might be stress in some library jobs. I’m not sure what the motivation behind trying to debunk that idea is. (By the way, I have no idea if the above comment is directed at me… but FYI I don’t whine and complain at work. I do mu job and do it well. I just take issue here with claims that no library job could possibly be stressful.)

  77. Techserving You says:

    Oh yeah, plus I worked in an understaffed corporate office (professional position)with major deadlines, as I have previously mentioned.

    I WILL say, I agree with the idea that the biggest whiners tend to be the ones who have never had real jobs. These also tend to be the people active in the union who want to think they’re working in a concentration camp when they instead have cushy jobs and IM all day.

  78. Mr. Kat says:

    Sure the library job can be stressful – but it is no where near as stressful as a REAL job. That’s what we’re trying to say, I think. Those who are most stressed are very realistically those who have never worked in the real world as well – I fully agree with you there!

  79. Ya know what’s stressful sometimes? Being asked a difficult reference question at the desk while a coworker or a superior is there and you don’t want to sound stupid. :P

  80. Mr. Kat says:

    And regardless of what hours you do have, 40 hours is a workweek and anything over that is overtime. Now every sinlge place I have worked in thus far was very adament that if I was there, I was a paid employee on their clock. this goes two ways; for starters, no goofing off on my part, and for enders, tehy’re paying me for that time. In each case where I was employed, they only had a specific set predefined allotment of hours within I could work. I could not work less than X and I could not work more than X’. Int he case of the former, they were better off getting another body to fill the space; in the case of the latter, if I was there working on uncompensated time, I was being Dishonest!

    First, I was cheating myself by giving them time that was my own. Second, I was cheating them because my uncompensated time altered their work productivity statistics, giving them an unfair picture of what they could do withint he project. And further, working for free is even ILLEGAL by State codes, so by me working longer I was further putting them in trouble. So long story short, they taught me and taught me well; the only time that I am at work is between the hours that they assign me, and that’s IT! After that time, I GO HOME!

    This is unfortuantely not the case in jobs closer to the humanities and particularly the social science [educaiotn, for example] where we do these jobs out of our love for humanity. In these jobs the only way to get everythign accomplished that is required is to throw in a 60 day work week every week and hope the three months off make up for it. But hey, take those words as a warning when you hear them: “This career field is more of a CALLING”… I learned that here. ;D

  81. Techserving You says:

    Exempt employees are paid a salary, and that is how much they get, regardless of how many hours they work. Legally, the employer cannot pay them overtime for hours worked over 40 hours in a week. But, there are other things that go along with the exempt designation which are to the employee’s benefit. For instance, if an employee misses less than 8 hours in a day… even if they’re only there for an hour, pay cannot be docked. (Well, PAY wouldn’t be docked, but a vacation or sick day would have to be taken if the employee were gone for the whole day.) When you are an exempt employee, as most professional librarians are, you are expected to work as long as you need to to get your work done. The issue of the ‘exempt’ status kind of bothers me, though. It was apparently originally designed for people in managerial roles, who had higher salaries, anyway. Now it’s applied to all sorts of white-collar jobs that do not pay well… I think the bottom pay-level for an ‘exempt’ employee (this is a federal standard) is $23,000-something. At my previous job, where I was also exempt, and people often talked about how much money they made, it became very apparent that I was paid tens of thousands of dollars less per year than many hourly employees who could work overtime (and the difference in pay was even greater if you calculated how much I was really getting paid, per hour, when I worked unpaid ‘overtime,’ as I almost always did. Yet all the hourly employees assumed that the exempt (professional) staff were making tons of money and therefore didn’t ‘deserve’ to be paid overtime. I think the exempt status is really misapplied in a lot of cases.

  82. Techserving You says:

    By the way, I was pointing out that not all librarians have the usual 9-5 work schedule in reponse to the poster who suggested that if people have the time to read this blog, their jobs must not be stressful… I meant to indicate that not everyone posting in the middle of the day is posting from work.

  83. AnotherWhinyLibrarian? says:

    Just a couple of comments: I have been a librarian for 20+ years, in public, legal, and now academic libraries. I have also had what some folks on here like to call “real” jobs in corporate, and even those student flipping burgers brain death jobs. I’ve also worked as a teacher.
    In my experience and opinion, working in a library is certainly usually less stressful than jobs such as firefighter etc., where physical stress/life or death isn’t the question. Does that make it stress free? As some others have said, depends entirely on where you work and who you work with. Working as a librarian does not have to be inherently more OR less stressful than any other type of service work.

    My current job can be very stressful, when the demands that re placed on my time exceed the available time to accomplish them. Sometimes that happens. My job can also be stress-free when I have extra time. Sometimes that happens.

    I’ve worked with toxic directors and/or co-workers – life was stressful. I’ve worked with great people – life wasn’t. For me, as someone else said, it’s more about frustration than anything – the nature of public service is that people can be demanding, rude, impolite. That isn’t limited to libraries.

    My job can be mentally exhausting when I am trying to develop new curricula, prepare for area meetings, schedule the reference desk and instruction, and write an accreditation report all at the same time AND then also assist multipe students on the same day with complex research questions. Can any idiot do that? Maybe not.

    Other times my job can be completely boring (and frustrating) when I am sitting at Reference and all I do is approx. every 3.5 minutes tell someone where to find the bathroom, point to the stapler, show them where to buy a print card etc. “This takes a Master’s Degree?” I ask myself. So I would agree that I find the profession more frustrating than stressful, but mostly I find it more mixed up, and not sure what it actually is, than anything else.

    Of most interest to me, though, are the number of people who have posted on here who resort to finger pointing or making insulting remarks and make assume that their experiences (positive or negative) have to be every one else’s truth. The sheer amount of bashing that’s going on just makes me sad.

    I was hoping to find more coherent discussion, with perhaps even some statistically significant research, of stress levels of people who work as librarians. I thank those of you who have also tried to contribute to the same. And by the way, no, I am not posting this from work.

  84. another anonymous says:

    I’m late to the conversation here, but I don’t think I’ve missed much. It just seems to be a game of “my stress is bigger than your stress” versus “it’s not a hard job, wimp – suck it up.”

    What isn’t being taken into account are factors which cause stress. It would seem intuitive that higher-up, management-type jobs are more stressful than the front-line “easy” jobs. Or that risking one’s life, or having someone’s life in one’s hands are the factors which determine stress. Yet, studies have repeatedly shown that control over one’s self in a job, being appreciated, and flexibility in work-life balance are actually the biggest factors. These studies suggest that a factory shift-worker on an assembly line has more stress than a CEO of a major company. Why? Because despite the greater amount of responsibility and increased difficulty of the CEO’s job, that person has more control over decision-making, their daily actions, their time, etc. So, the question should not be “is being a librarian HARD?” but “how much control or flexibility does a librarian/library staff member have?”

    I would argue that by those standards, library work falls pretty much in the middle of the spectrum of stressful jobs. Certainly not the highest, because we do have some degree of autonomy in our jobs and usually we derive a bit of personal satisfaction from what we do. However, there is also not a lot of flexibility in hours. It’s hard to take time off whenever you feel like it; it has to revolve around the desk schedule (and programs and tours, in the case of children’s librarians). In my previous 10-year career I was a private sector administrator. I had more work to do than I do now in the library. By the logic used in these comments, that should make it a harder job and more stressful, right? It wasn’t. That’s because, even when I had a deadline to meet, I was able to determine how I used my time. I had access to my own computer. I could focus on one task and get it done, with minimal disruptions. In the library, there are constant disruptions, I share a computer with another person, I have desk shifts and programs which break up my day, and so even though there is less work, I am less efficient. I was really good at time management and being efficient as an administrator. I am now realizing that it was because the work environment (and my boss) supported that.

    The other factor to consider is that libraries *are* female dominated professions. As gross and crass as it is to say, it means that many library workers are dealing with other stress factors in their lives, like raising children or taking care of aging parents (or both at the same time). Of course, this is true in every profession. And it is also true that it is harder to establish a work-life balance when your job is not flexible. At the administrative job, if I had to make a doctor or dentist appointment during the day, it was easy to come and go and make up the time later. In the library world, I have to schedule appointments for my weekdays off, or mornings when I’m not working, which means that I have far less flexibility in getting appointments quickly. I also am caring for a sick elderly parent. Whereas I used to come home and watch TV while I worked out on a step machine and then got to bed in good time (healthy stress management techniques), I now go from work to my parents’ home and take care of them and get to my home only to fall asleep and do it all again the next day. Does that personal stress affect my work life? Sure it does. If I were still in my private-sector job, I’d be able to take some personal time. In my library world, I can’t.
    The point of this rambling? The factors which determine how stressful a job is or isn’t are not the ones being discussed here – it’s not how hard a job is, or even how much you’re paid. The factors are how easy it is to maintain a work-life balance, how much control you have over yourself and your time, whether you are supported by your work environment and your bosses, and how much satisfaction you derive from your job.

    Sometimes it really IS the easy, crappy jobs that are the most stressful.

    Links to relevant studies: and (and I know you can all find many others).

  85. Techserving You says:

    Thank you to the last two posters here. The BBC article I mentioned is in line with what the poster above me just wrote – it considers librarians to have the MOST stressful career (of those studied) precisely because of the monotony, lack of fulfillment (and I think it mentions lack of control.) I have tried and tried to point out that ‘stress’ can mean many things and that it makes no sense to say ‘library work can’t be stressful because you’re not dealing with matters of life and death.’ I’ve also not claimed that it IS always that stressful. But sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, and I think anotherwhinylibrarian put it well when he/she said it doesn’t have to be inherently more or less stressful than other careers. It all depends on the circumstances.

  86. Refdeskwriter says:

    My public library is a wonderful place to work. Yes, some days it’s hard to stay pleasant and helpful while dealing with multiple demands. But I left once for a year in the private sector and came back willing to get down on my knees for my old job back. Now when the administration makes stupid decisions, and the computer users gripe cause their games won’t load, and everybody wants the same bestseller right NOW…I just remember that one year of really stressful work and count my many blessings.

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