Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Encouraging Lean Librarians

The job market keeps getting better and better, unless you want to find a job that’s actually good. Wait, maybe that means things haven’t really changed. Regardless, I wanted to take a look at a couple of job postings sent on to me by kind readers, to get an idea of the wonderful opportunities out there.

In Connecticut we find an ad for a librarian with one of the best job titles I’ve ever seen: Extremely Part-time Substitute Library Worker. You can’t blame them for a lack of truth in advertising. They really lay it on the line. They want a librarian with an MLS and some experience willing to work whenever they might need help with no guarantee of any hours or employment. I have to say, this is at least more honest than those who claim to be building a "pool." And it’s probably a great opportunity for those fully employed librarians who have found that full employment as a librarian doesn’t always pay the bills. "A good sense of humor and familiarity with Triple I will go a long way in this position." I bet!

But there are full time jobs out there that not only want to employ librarians, but improve their health. Check out this one looking for a cataloger in Michigan. The librarian in this position gets to catalog, supervise other catalogers, and all the other exciting things that catalogers get to do. Considering what I hear about the state of cataloging jobs these days, it’s good to see a library actually thinks it’s worthwhile to hire someone to do original cataloging.

Not only does this library care about quaint things like original cataloging, but notice this among "Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities": "Supports and promotes ‘Lean’ practices and participates in the Library’s ‘Lean’ Culture." I can only applaud promoting lean practices and cultivating a lean culture in libraries, because, lets face it, librarians don’t tend to be "lean." They definitely tend, on average, to be, as we might say, portly. Maybe we should just say "pleasantly plump." That sounds better. Librarians are often pleasantly plump.

But pleasant plumpness isn’t always good for one’s health. Heart problems, knee problems, one could keep going with the problems that pleasant plumpness could cause. Thus, a "lean" library isn’t just trying to help patrons get books and videos and such, but it’s also performing an altruistic service for librarians by helping them to get lean.

A lean library culture would ask that librarians give up the ho-hos and hot pockets and eat unbuttered popcorn while walking on the treadmill. This is something we should celebrate!

Or maybe I’m misunderstanding this, and this library doesn’t really care whether their librarians are lean or morbidly obese. Is this some code? By "lean," do they really mean stripped of all padding, protection, leeway, dignity, you know, all those things that make library work tolerable. I guess that could be. Is this some sort of management fad? Management fads are candy for the weak-minded, but that doesn’t mean smart librarians couldn’t fall for them occasionally.

I prefer to think that "lean" means lean, though. It will preserve my faith in humanity and give me a cause worth fighting for. A "lean" library culture should mean a lean librarian culture. Anything else is just a way to let mindless management consultants make all our lives worse.




  1. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    The job markets for librarians is quite “lean” these days with jobs in every sector of the economy cut left and right. Maybe the library in question is looking for Cassius who had a “lean and hungry” look. I did have a supervisor once who was prejudiced against heavy people and did his best to fire them. I believe that prejudice is still fairly common.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale 2009

  2. The following is from the Lean Enterprise Institute:
    1. Specify value from the standpoint of the end customer by product family.
    2. Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product family, eliminating whenever possible those steps that do not create value.
    3. Make the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence so the product will flow smoothly toward the customer.
    4. As flow is introduced, let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.
    5. As value is specified, value streams are identified, wasted steps are removed, and flow and pull are introduced, begin the process again and continue it until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste.
    Apparently the cataloger here has to analyze all the steps in cataloging (e.g. searching for copy, authority control, proofreading, classification, subject analysis, and determine whether all these things are absolutely essential for customer (=library user) satisfaction. Perhaps also implied here is pressure from Administration to eliminate steps (or people, e.g. clerical staff who often do the searching for cataloging copy) in order to speed up the process and cut costs.

  3. Doug Henderson says:

    We have advertised some good full time positions and gotten some good applicants. However, come negotiation time many applicants drop out because of fear of busget cuts. Can’t blame them. I am very concerned that we hire someone, ask them to relocate only to find after they get here that budget cuts have either changed the situation or the position is cut.

  4. Bill Withers fan says:

    Lean on me, when you’re not strong
    And I’ll be your friend
    I’ll help you carry on
    For it won’t be long
    ‘Til I’m gonna need
    Somebody to lean on

  5. Dances With Books says:

    I suspected it was something along the lines of what DLJ described above: yet another corporate bunch of mumbo jumbo that translates into look at every single way to cut anything that can be cut (extra bonus if you find a way to cut yourself out of the job while you are at it).

    And yes, I have seen the situation Doug describes: getting good candidates who drop off due to the fear they will get axed shortly after arriving.

  6. doomsayer says:

    Cataloging is dying. Another casualty of the Internet. After all, there is no standardization of personal or corporate names there, no standard subject headings, no classification system. So why can’t surfers just bring all their Web search skills to the Library catalog and do the same thing? Then we can dispense with all this time consuming, money wasting stuff. We can just sit a clerical person down to key in all the info off the title page and be done with it. Or maybe the catalog can just be a collection of links to Amazon.
    Please, somebody, tell me I’m full of prunes.

  7. Confused Librarian says:

    Do you have a MLS? First “Band” books week and now you think “Lean” practices means skinny? You must be kidding! At least look it up before posting.

  8. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    How clueless does someone have to be to be a librarian.

  9. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Alright for those of you who havent seen American Libraries this month there is a report on distance education focused on the MLIS. Its done by Kenneth Hartman out of Drexel so we can lend some authority to it. The scary part was the MLIS enrollment numbers. There are 21,400 students enrolled in MLIS programs and 7,300 are expected to graduate. With a 3% increase in this number through 2011. I receive via email a listing of about 40 library jobs every day. This means a 182 to 1 ratio. If we are going to talk about Lean library schools need to cut back!

  10. “This means a 182 to 1 ratio.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you receive a list of 40 library jobs every day, that’s 14,600 library jobs each year, which would be a 2:1 ratio of jobs outnumbering graduates…

  11. If you’re willing to move for a job, you’ll find one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people complaining about not finding work only to see them mention that they won’t move a few lines later. Well what do you expect! Of course you’re not going to find work! And that goes for a lot of careers, not just libraries.

  12. If you’re willing to move for a job, you’ll find one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people complaining about not finding work only to see them mention that they won’t move a few lines later. Well what do you expect! Of course you’re not going to find work! And that goes for a lot of careers, not just libraries.

  13. Confused Librarian please …

  14. I think many libraries these days are not running “lean” but running “starved.”

  15. I think some of us need to realize that the AL employs a great deal of sarcasm in her humor. I’m sure she is not as stupid as some would think. This is totally off subject, but I think the library is still offering a valuable service to the community. Whenever I happen to look at the shelving cart I notice an alarming amount of 613.96’s. It’s good to know that with everything else going on in the world people still need sex instruction manuals from the local library.

  16. Techserving You says:

    Please, obviously the AL knows what ‘lean’ means in this context (as well as that Banned Books Week is not Band Books Week) and is just trying to be humorous… let’s face it, most librarians are lean in the sense in which AL is using the word. As for that American Libraries article about distance education… I almost sent it to the AL. I would really like to see a blog entry about that article. The article was absolutely ridiculous.

  17. Techserving You says:

    I meant to say most librarians are NOT lean in the sense in which AL is using the word!

  18. Is “Confused Librarian” putting us on?

  19. Library student says:

    I am a distance education student and we were talking about this blog in class the other day, so I decided to check it out. It was incorrectly referred to as “angry librarian” (can’t imagine why) and the topic of finding jobs after graduation was being discussed. In CT, where I live, there is a shortage of school media specialists. There are many openings, and many impending retirements. Post Modern failed to calculate the number of librarians leaving the profession due to retirement and other factors. I get the feeling AL (and others) thinks a distance ed degree is somehow inferior to one earned in residence. At SCSU the online classes are more difficult (according to department heads) specifically to counter act such bias.

  20. Techserving You says:

    Library student… one problem, which has led to many disillusioned librarians, is that the claim about this impending shortage of librarians has been going on for YEARS and YEARS. I remember when I was an undergrad student working in a library in the mid-nineties, I was told I should get my MLIS because the profession was ‘graying’ and there would be so many openings. This simply hasn’t happened. Librarians tend not to retire at the usual age… they can literally stay 20 or more years beyond that (seriously.) And, when they do retire, the positions are often just not filled. Sure, there are jobs out there, and I have managed to get a series of excellent jobs. (Well, excellent as far as library jobs go.) And I am sure there are specific shortages in certain geographic regions or specialties. But that American Libraries article said that there are something like 21,000+ students in fully- or blended-online MLIS programs this year. That’s a PROBLEM. That’s on top of the regular MLIS students. How many library jobs do people think there are??? These programs, and articles like the American Libraries article are really doing a disservice to students by continuing to promote this idea that the students will stand a chance of getting a good job upon graduation. As for whether the distance ed classes are easy or not… who knows. Quite frankly ALL MLIS classes are easy. Some are more interesting than others, and some require a lot more work than others do, but I’ve never met any intelligent person with an undergraduate degree from an elite school who thinks the MLIS program is difficult. So, to me, the one good thing about the program is the face-to-face interaction with fellow students and professors, and (at least in my case) the opportunity to interact with graduate students from many other departments at the university.

  21. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Sorry I was for the weekend. I think my numbers take care of the issue of the small number of librarians leaving by the number of jobs. Where else did the jobs come from? But for the sake of argument lets make it 50 job postings a day. Thats a 146 to one. lets make it a 100 thats 73 to one. 200 is 37 to 1. Do you really think in this economy there are 200 library jobs open a day? These numbers are also only talking about the number of grads fighting for a job, What about the laid offed or the other annoyed librarians looking for something less annoying? Like Techservice says its not the media of education…I am going for a second masters through online. Its the quality of LIS period. Most of us know the weakness of the programs. Academically they are not challenging just more work. They do not even prepare you for Public or School librarianship. If they did why do so many states require further certification? And yes before you say if you dont like it get out, thats what the second masters for. Either to get out or find me a librarian job that is less annoying.

  22. library student says:

    I understand that there is not the immense shortage that was (repeatedly) reported several years ago, and I get that as the economy weakens libraries are getting budgets slashed. I just wanted to point out that there are some jobs available, and even shortages in certain areas (like CT.)I didn’t mean to interrupt your complaining, I was merely stating a fact. I’m sure you are not interested in my opinion, but we spend a lot of time in my classes (which, granted are not difficult) discussing the inevitable changes that are happening in the profession. Just last week my Prof. asked how we will deal with techno-phobic, older staff members who view changes in the library as the end of western civilization as they know it!

  23. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Librarian Student, I am not complaining about you but like the AL and others here we are worried about the degree mill being created by the ALA and the schools it supports. With these vast numbers the field can not support all of us. Pay and job satisfaction is suffering. In CT the shortage is in School librarians by the sound of it. Well a lot of us do not want to be school librarians. Also places are handing out tons of pink slips to school librarians do you think CT can absorb those numbers and get you and your fellow graduates a job? There is a problem and its not being addressed by the ALA.

  24. Techserving You says:

    I think the reason there might be a shortage of school librarians in CT (if there really is one) is that most states want both an MLIS AND teaching certification to be a school librarian in a public school. A teacher is not enough, and a librarian is not enough, and teaching certification from a different state is usually not enough (except in cases of reciprocal agreements.) So movement can be difficult… otherwise, I think the huge number of out of work librarians would more than cover the shortage. I just think that people need to be realistic about the number of jobs out there, AND about the competition that may be out there – librarians with lots of experience, better overall education, etc..

  25. NotMariantheLibrarian says:

    Library Student – don’t believe everything your professors feed you. Very few in my in-residence program had actually worked in a real library any length of time. They teach “theory” and that’s not particularly useful in the real library world. I learned more from excellent mentors than I learned in library school.

    And, just so you’ll know, I have yet to meet a techno-phobic older greying librarian. Students yes, the general public yes, librarians no. If you want to stay employed, you have to embrace change and that means technology. I can’t speak for public librarians, but all the academic librarians I know and those I work with aren’t technophobes. The arithemetic mean of our ages in my library? 49, with most of us being over 50 and learning new technologies whenever they come our way. Which is often.

  26. Not a librarian anymore says:

    Library Student–check out the LJ article published this summer in which the library personnel surveyed admitted that a) the growth in jobs is in paraprofessional positions, b)they are deprofessionalizing positions, and c)MLS holders don’t have the real life, practical skills they are looking for, so increasingly they hire people who don’t have a library background.

  27. While I don’t share as bleak of a view as some of the commentators here, I’d like to address the comments made by the library student who is a distance student. The idea that older librarians are technophobes is based upon what? These older librarians were often at the forefront of getting new technologies into their libraries to start with. My great aunt, a public librarian, was one of them. She set up the computer network for her library system when desktops were a brand new product. And the baby boomers, please remember, were responsible for creating a number of these technologies that you now use.

    Then there’s this “graying of the profession” idea. Even if the impending wave of retirements that have been talked about for years were to take place, it isn’t going to be soon enough for students currently enrolled in a library degree program. As one commentator noted, the “graying of the profession” and need for new blood idea has been around for a very long time.

    At one time students had to live in the place where they would get their degree. That meant fewer library graduates. Today, a number of these online schools are not being upfront about the job market because for them the MLS online programs are cash cows. You could blame the students for not checking thoroughly and taking on all that debt, but the schools do bear at least some responsibility. This doesn’t just happen with library degrees, as Midge noted in the Library School post. For these online schools, cash cows are cash cows.

    There is a student blog section on this website. I take it that not one of those students, all who graduated a year or more ago, found jobs. If they had, they likely would have shared their good news. Two of them were unable to move and the third, who knows. They graduated in December 2007 and in 2008. Not the best time, but at least 2007 wasn’t quite the worst either.

    I’m speaking as a younger librarian who graduated a few years ago and who did find a job, as did my friends. We did not go to a all online school, though some of our classes were online. We gained considerable experience while we were in school, and we could move. So at least it was possible to find a job a few years ago.

    But please Library School Student don’t buy into this idea that older equals technophobic.

  28. Librarianless says:

    Oh Library Student, you are a student. Ha Ha! Just wait until you are a librarian, or at least an unemployed librarian. I have been looking for a job for almost two years and I am willing to move. The majority of out of state jobs applied for only interviewed local candidates because every single city has 100’s of unemployed librarians. There are so few jobs compared to MLS holders, it is ridiculous. Not only that, recent grads are competing with all of the very experienced MLS holders who have been made redundant. It seems you are buying the BS. Maybe you should do a little more research (I hope this online school is at least teaching you how to type words into catalogs and call it research). It is very grim and that is not a complaint, that is a fact!

  29. Librarianless says:

    And btw, I have yet to meet any technophobe librarians, yet the technology skills needed by librarians are basic. Seriously, although they keep telling you about technology and marketing it as a tech degree, it simply isn’t. If you can use the internet in a functional capacity, you are good to go.

  30. Sonny Hill says:

    Portly … and hirsute: can’t forget the beards. Librarymen love them some beards.

  31. A friend of mine once said, “The MLS is the biggest scam in academia. It’s the only masters degree that actually guarantees you a lesser income when you change careers.”

    I am surprised people are going into MLIS programs, unless the schools are telling people where they will actually find non-traditional jobs…

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