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Another Library Job that Sucks

One of the occasional features on the old AL that hasn’t appeared here is Library Jobs that Suck. It was never a regular feature in the old days, but I was usually willing to point asucky library job. The absence isn’t explained by the changing nature of the blog. I haven’t written about library jobs that suck because there just haven’t been any.

"Wait right there!" you might say. "I work in a library, and my job sucks!" And, probably, it does in some sense suck. Not everyone can have the high job satisfaction of the AL, just like not everyone can get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for writing this blog while sipping martinis and getting her feet massaged in her big corner office overlooking the park. Such outcomes are rare in librarianship, but that’s just the way it goes. If getting a great job was your goal, then you picked the wrong field.

So, sure, in one sense, many of your jobs do suck, but I reserve my Library Jobs that Suck category for very specific jobs. A Library Job that Sucks must be temporary, part-time, and require an MLS and library experience. These have always seemed to me the most shameful jobs, the ones where libraries were trying to exploit a bad job market to get better librarians than they morally deserve, where they demand professionals but don’t provide professional situations. Jobs like these make all of us worse off, because it shows that there are libraries that don’t take seriously any professional or personal commitment to librarians. The librarians become mere widgets to be exploited at will and disposed of easily. That’s hardly the sort of job that brings glory to the profession.

I haven’t noticed advertisements for Library Jobs that Suck in a long time. Perhaps, I thought, in the poor economy libraries are hiring only necessary positions, and they don’t want to commit in even the limited, shameful way they might have to with a temporary, part-time person. However, I just discovered a Library Job that Sucks, and I wanted to let you all know about it so you can apply if you wish.

Whittier College – Richard Nixon’s alma mater! – "invites qualified resumes and cover letters for two temporary, part-time Librarians." That’s quite an invitation, isn’t it? I’ve never seen a "qualified resume," but any qualified resumes out there should definitely accept this invitation.

By advertising a temporary, part-time job, a library says, "We don’t want to see you around very much, and we certainly don’t want you around here very long."

Notice this advertisement mentions nothing about compensation. Most library job ads don’t mention salaries, and I always assume that if the job ad doesn’t at least have a salary range attached, then the salary will be poor. But at least they often make the dubious claim that the compensation with be commensurate with experience and qualifications. What are we to assume about a job ad that makes no mention of compensation? Perhaps that there’s no compensation at all! Maybe the experienced and skilled librarians that they don’t want around very much or for very long get to eat the leftovers in the staff refrigerator at the end of the week.

And they certainly seem to want a lot considering they’re not willing to give very much. "Required: Master’s degree from an American Library Association accredited library school.  At least 2 years experience working in an Academic Library.  Availability to work weekdays, weeknights and weekends." So, an MLS, two years of experience in an "Academic Library" (love the capital letters!), and the availability to work any damned inconvenient time their real librarians just don’t feel like working. Nice.

They also want more, but don’t absolutely require it. How open-minded of them. "Desirable: Some supervisory experience specifically with student workers.  Experience with digitizing processes, software and hardware.  Experience working with a course management system.  Experience working with Innovative Interfaces MillenniumILS system." That’s quite a list of desiderata. Some of us librarians have a list as well. "Desirable: a workplace that takes me seriously as a professional and offers a commitment equal to the commitment it expects from me."

They want someone who can do a lot, too. Reference, instruction, collection development, "aid in preparing bibliographies" (how quaint!), supervising students, plus, if they could get the object of their desire, someone who knows about digitization and ILS . And they want all this from temporary, part-time experienced librarians. I wonder if they even feel bad advertising a job like that.

According to the ALA Code of Ethics, "We strive for excellence in the profession by…fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession," and the ALA has certainly done its best over the years to foster aspirations and stuff library schools to the gills, and the library schools aren’t well known for turning people away. The result of unnecessary recruitment are jobs like this one, though.

Ponder for a moment what a job ad like this says about the way we should treat professional librarians or even human beings, and then ask yourself if that’s the sort of profession we should be. This is also from the ALA Code of Ethics: "We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions." Can jobs like this possibly satisfy that goal?

There are probably librarians who see nothing wrong with this at all. Those who think libraries should be run "like businesses" probably applaud job ads like this. When the only thing that matters is the bottom line, then it’s apparently okay to treat human beings like disposable objects. If actual humans are in the way of profit, so much the worse for the humans. We’re so used to this mindset in commercial society that we don’t even think about how sick and immoral it is. The businessy librarians might want libraries to go that direction and turn their librarians into dependent disposable wage slaves even more then they are now, but those librarians who care about the state of libraries, the state of the profession, and the state of the professionals who make up that profession will resist jobs like this whenever possible.

Library Jobs that Suck aren’t bad just for the poor saps who need them to survive. They’re bad for all of us.




  1. Not putting in what the job pays is a trick by the employer to weed out candidates.

    They know pretty much what their budget will allow for a position. If they don’t, then you probably don’t want to enter into that incompetently run operation.

    Ask too high or too low and they will drop you out of contention because you obviously don’t understand what it is you might be hired to do.

  2. Well, AL, those are all valid points and that job posting is crazy…all those qualifications and nights and weekends?…BUT lots of librarians want those jobs because they are professionals-they want to stay fresh and do challenging work, but they want or need to do it part time. As long as the hourly rate is reasonable, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to accept something like this-for the librarian or the profession. What other profession (nursing maybe?) allows you to be a professional and gives you the flexibility to do other things with your time?

  3. “What other profession (nursing maybe?) allows you to be a professional and gives you the flexibility to do other things with your time?”

    It seems a very generous interpretation to say this job would be great because it allows professionals to be flexible with their time. I’m a full time professional librarian, and my time is very flexible. Plus I get full time pay and benefits. Besides the pay, I wonder if these positions get any benefits at all.

  4. This discussion cause me some concern. Consider the following …
    1) If part time work is a good way to amass on the job experience, so is volunteering. Lots of libraries ask for volunteers. I know of some retired librarians that volunteer at local public / academic libraries. Is that keeping people looking for paying jobs out?
    2) How good does a bunch of part time temporary stints look on a resume? Librarians are notoriously picky about the candidates they select for interview. I have my doubts about librarians picking a person who has lots of part time temporary work over one who has a record of permanent, full time work, with increasing responsibility over time, etc.
    3) These temporary part time opportunities could end up becoming a rut for those who end up taking them because they have no other choice.
    4) If the pay is such that they are living hand to mouth, then professional memberships are out of the question, even if membership discounts are available. This is then another strike against them in the job market.

  5. “I’m a full time professional librarian, and my time is very flexible…”

    flexible enough to stay at home with your kids part time?

  6. anonymous says:

    The job aggregation site currently has 38,000+ listings for part time nurses, 11,369 for part time teachers, 16,215 for part time analysts (including, I see, a part time temp analyst for an IRB review board at $25/hr) and the list goes on. People looking for part time work know what they are getting into, and many professions require degrees or advanced certifications, even for part time workers. If it works for the library and it works for the worker, it doesn’t suck.

  7. public librarian says:

    There are a lot of jobs out there that suck outside the library world, such as those requiring advanced degrees for the ever hopeful college adjunct position. In public libraries the on-call job is a library job that really sucks because it’s not a real job, nor even suited to retirees who don’t want to be on call, whenever. Recently, in library jobs I’ve seen fewer of the jobs being advertised that most definitely suck. Mostly what I’m seeing in my section of the world are advertisements for lead positions that require years of experience. BTW — I like my job — it’s interesting and doesn’t suck. You have a good point, though. These types of jobs degrade the profession.

  8. Fancy Nancy says:

    I have been in a part-time reference position for six years and it has allowed me a great deal of flexibility in being able to spend time with my daughter and limiting the amount of day care she has gone to. Granted, my hours and schedule have been fixed these six years and I have health benefits. I get to stay current in my profession, work in a pleasant suburban library, while still focusing on the main priority of my life, my family. So this job would suck for anyone in need of something full-time and permanent, but may not suck for a parent who needs to earn a few extra bucks, get out of the house a bit, but still needs to be home for the family.

    That said, I can’t stand job postings that don’t list a salary! As if it weren’t relevant!

  9. NotMariantheLibrarian says:

    We call our part-time people who work nights and weekends for low pay and no benefits “adjuncts.” Unfortunately, hiring adjuncts instead of full-time tenure track faculty is a the norm at many universities.

    Sucky library jobs – I had one for three months at a public library. I had no fixed location, no fixed hours. I worked in whatever city branch needed me or worked in a department at the main library. It sucked big time and I hated it. I was thrilled when I left that job.

  10. Sucky or not it is a job and more than likely we need it. That is what annoys me the most!

  11. It might be nice if someone is looking for part-time work…but most young people I know are not going to Library school with the intention of getting part-time non-benefit positions. We accept them because we have to..what are the options otherwise. I FINALLY found a full-time position (thank goodness I am tech savy)but the pay is less than I made working at a steel factory when I was 18 with no degree at all. Needless to say, I am re-evaluating my decision to continue in this field altogether.

  12. I’d like to know if anyone in library school, contemplating it, or recently graduated bothered checking salaries and benefits for library jobs? When I started in the field 30 years ago I knew I would never get rich but I knew I would enjoy the work. Folks – do some research first and quit your complaining!

  13. “These have always seemed to me the most shameful jobs, the ones where libraries were trying to exploit a bad job market to get better librarians than they morally deserve, where they demand professionals but don’t provide professional situations. Jobs like these make all of us worse off, because it shows that there are libraries that don’t take seriously any professional or personal commitment to librarians. The librarians become mere widgets to be exploited at will and disposed of easily.”

    Once you understand that your employer only wants to exploit you, and that you only want to exploit your employer, you’ll be much happier.

    Don’t look to a job for anything more than a paycheck.

  14. I’m a ready to graduate LS student and this ad is indeed frustrating for me. But what else can I do when people are desperate to get a job?

  15. The worst part is, I’d kill for that job, but can’t get it because, as a recent grad, I have no professional experience. These crappy jobs are supposed to be going to unexperienced people, but I see many postings like this one that offer the crappy position with no perks, but still require experience.

  16. I’m a librarian and I thought I was the only librarian that got hour long foot massages at work (and other types of massages). I also have a corner office overlooking at a park, but I don’t have martinis at work :(

  17. I Like Books says:

    Regarding evenings and weekends, that’s pretty much all I’ve ever worked. And now I punch in at 2 am. So I guess I’m not shocked about that. I actually think it’s kind of nice to be free sometimes during normal business hours.

    But don’t think librarians have the market cornered on low-paid temporary jobs. Consider someone with a PhD in one of the hard sciences. It’s normal for them to accept a post-doc position. This is a low-paid, one or two year position created as a training position. They accept someone with who needs to be taught how to do the job, and give them a low salary.

    But there are such a surplus of people with science PhDs that, in practice, the required skills and experience can be quite astonishing. And, especially in biology and medicine, the new scientist can go from one post-doc to another, from one end of the country to the other, year after year for a decade, a nomad of science, always hoping to finally get that permanent job.

    And I never get tired of reading things like “We have to reverse the decline in students taking science and engineering majors!”

  18. ALA Refugee says:

    I used to work for the ALA at their HQ in Chicago and I was treated as a disposable temporary worker, though I wasn’t told that at my hiring years earlier. All those lofty ALA ideals didn’t apply to me apparently.

  19. LIS degrees are a joke says:

    All the more proof that this profession is a joke.

  20. Need Professional Organization says:

    The profession is a joke because we let it be.

    We all run to ALA which is a management organization. Just look at what the L stands for.

    Face it, we are in what is considered a service job: like a maid, or a cook, or a soda jerk. Get me what I want, do it now and shut up.

    To new MLS grads, here is a phrase that you will need: Do you want fries with that?

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