Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

A Librarian By Any Other Name Wouldn’t Smell as Sweet

I’m writing this from the ancestral manse, where I plan to spend the next few days eating turkey, relaxing, having cocktails by the fireplace, eating leftover turkey, relaxing some more, and generally not doing anything.

When it comes to the pace of life, I’m glad I’m a librarian and not, for example, an emergency room physician. I did think about med school once, but realized that if I couldn’t dissect a frog without getting queasy dealing with bloody people was definitely out. And the good thing about being a librarian is, if you make a mistake, nobody dies. Heck, most of the time nobody even notices.

As a librarian, it’s also nice to feel wanted. Believe it or not, there are times when people actually want a librarian, and not some pale substitute, like a library worker who looks up your library record and makes fun of your reading choices during break time.

For example, perhaps you’ve seen this editorial from Tulsa, making the case that their library should be run by a librarian (!). The Tulsa World editors have a small but no doubt vigorous bee in their bonnet because the Tulsa City-County Library System is searching for a new chief executive officer. That title sounds too business- and unlibrary-like for them.

"There’s a name for the chief executive officer of a library — head librarian."

According to the Tulsa World, anyway. I was under the impression that the CEO of a library was typically a "director," but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, they want a librarian rather than a "CEO" because the two titles reflect different values.

"The the top person might be the chief, and might be an executive, but the public needs to know the person running the libraries as a librarian. It reflects the traditional elements of what the institution is about."

It’s true the connotations of the two titles differ considerably. The salary for the proposed CEO is $130-150,000. That’s not too bad for librarian pay, especially for Oklahoma, but that’s not the sort of salary we associate with "CEO."

According to this website (the authority of which I haven’t bothered to verify, so gripe all you like), the median salary for a CEO in Tulsa is over a half million dollars. The tenth percentile makes $325,000. Another reason not to call the library director a CEO is because the person might feel embarrassed at the salary gap when attending the secret CEO meetings where they conspire against the public.

Also, we should be honest, with the median CEO making over $500,000, how competitive is the library system really going to be for the most able people? Not only is the pay relatively low, but the job also requires an MLS, which is pretty much a guarantee that the person doesn’t know much about making money.

Maybe that’s what the Tulsa World was getting at when they said the title of librarian "reflects the traditional elements of what the institution is about." One traditional element of libraries is that they don’t pay very well, and in a lot of public libraries around the country the librarians are expected to work for low pay because it’s their vocation. They want to do good, not do well.

Calling library directors CEOs will just put silly ideas into their heads. They might decide that they need to make ten times the salary of the average librarian. That’s not going to happen by raising the CEO salary, so it might have to happen by lowering the librarian salaries to $15,000/ year. That might seem far fetched, but considering the sort of shenanigans CEOs in the financial industry have been pulling the last few years, I don’t rule anything out.

I’m just glad they don’t want to change the name to something like Chief Information Specialist or Dominant Cybrarian.And Head Guybrarian was probably never even considered, even if they hire a man.

I agree with the Tulsa World. The head of the library shouldn’t be called a CEO. That title would only align them with money-grubbing and money-earning people who would cut off your left arm if they thought it would bring a significant return on investment. The librarian would never do that. She has a vocation to improve the world one library card at a time and would sacrifice her left arm is she thought it would make storytime more successful.

Librarians don’t know much about making or managing money, but they actually have the public good at heart. It’s not a bad stereotype to have.

I hope everyone has a pleasant, turkey-stuffed Thanksgiving.



  1. Anonypotamus says:

    I agree. It doesn’t make much sense to have a “chief” executive officer without other executive officers.

    Without the need to maintain a grow market share, the language of the business world seems silly.

    Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Library CEO pop up at one of those stupid unconferences with a grand sense of self worth that’s largely unwarranted.

  2. Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian says:

    I’m trying to think up good executive titles for all my colleagues now…Vice President of Developmental Transition (YA librarian), President of Patronage & Security (Circ head)…

  3. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I’d rather go for a Goddess of … title. Unlike CEOs they work for a pittance.

  4. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    How’s about EMPRESS?

    Yeah, that’s the ticket!

  5. another f-ing librarian says:

    hm. you seem less annoyed than usual, al. i think i may have to try the ‘cocktails by the fire’-thing myself.

  6. post postmodern Librarian says:

    I ll go with Minister of Information

  7. Im-starting-to-hate-librarians says:

    Every time I read or hear a librarian making yet another “jokey” remark that we should call ourselves Cyber-goddeses or Info-empresses, my freakin’ skin crawls.

    It’s totally creepy and sick how quickly the most passive aggressive professionin the world tries to claim divinity. What’s with THAT?!?

    Please leave the Goddess-worship crap at home, ladies.

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