Annoyed Librarian
Search ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarian…It could be Worse!

Last week the Wall Street Journal released a list of the 200 best and worst jobs for 2009, and Librarian made the list…in both categories! No, I’m kidding. There were no categories. It was a ranking, and Librarian ranked 46th. I didn’t think it would get so high.

The ranking was "based on five criteria — environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress," so I guess there’s some combination in there that makes Librarian better than Forklift Operator (67) and Optician (88). Actually, in those cases, it was probably the income, which is lower for opticians than for Librarians. Opticians don’t make much more money than Forklift Operators, which I didn’t know. In fact, I don’t think I know any opticians or forklift operators, but I don’t know a lot of people.

The pay was surprising on some. Librarians apparently make about the same as Hotel Managers (75), though managing a hotel seems like a lot more work to be than being a librarian. Teachers (116) are paid only slightly less than librarians, but obviously have worse jobs. I’m sure they have worse jobs than me, because spending all day in a room with irrational children would probably resemble being in a permanent management retreat.

Railroad Conductor (123) pays about the same as librarian as well, but I don’t know why it would be so poorly ranked. It’s probably more stressful. Where I Iive , if the train doesn’t run on time, there are a lot more irate people than if the library doesn’t run on time. And they probably don’t get to spend all day surfing the Internet reading blogs like librarians do.

I was surprised Highway Patrol Officers (175) make about the same as librarians, but not about the ranking. The pay doesn’t quite seem fair, since it’s virtually impossible for a librarian to get killed in the line of duty. Imagine the stress of wondering if every person walking up to the reference desk might shoot you. From what I read, the overtime and pension benefits are better, but still.

Dentists (97) make a lot more than librarians, but it seems clear to me why they’re ranked lower. I find it hard to imagine being happy in a job where I have to stick my fingers into some stranger’s mouth. Add in all the clown paintings around the office and it’s just too much. Surgeons rake in the dough, but I have a pretty good idea why they rank only 136. It’s sort of the opposite stress of highway patrolman, I’m sure. What if every time a cataloger messed up a call #, a patron died? I don’t know what makes catalogers so exacting, but it isn’t that.

In the top 30 are a number of occupations with which I’m very familiar – Biologist (4), Historian (5), Philosopher (11), Sociologist (21), Economist (26). No surprise there why they rank more highly than librarian. Though I was puzzled about Parole Officer (29) and  Medical Laboratory Technician (37). Could it really be that much better to be a parole officer? And how great could it be to be a Stenographer/Court Reporter (22)? And how could Bookkeeper (24) possibly be a better job than Astronomer (25), especially given the relative pay? Less night work, maybe.

It’s a truism that we envy those just above us in a hierarchy rather than those at the very top. The folks at the top are so distant we can never attain their greatness (unless, like the Annoyed Librarian, one actually is at the top, but obviously I’m an exception). Thus, we might think it’s hunky-dory to be a librarian at 46, but how much better it must be to be a Market Research Analyst (45)! This envy of those just above us must explain all the marketing language some librarians want to adopt. The difference is that market research analysts analyze market research, while librarians make posters and put announcements on their websites.

And if market research analyst is better, imagine the joys of being a Purchasing Agent (40)! What interesting work that must be, though it sounds an awful lot like Buyer (158). The title alone conjures up glorious images, though perhaps not as glorious as the next job, Insurance Underwriter (39)! Golly.

When you get low down the list, it’s pretty clear why being a librarian isn’t such a bad gig. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a Construction Worker (193) or a Roustabout (200). I would also hate to be a Stationary Engineer (176). All that not moving must get old after a while.

Lists like this let us put things in perspective and give us all something to be thankful for. Being a librarian can be boring sometimes, and for some very unremunerative , but think how much worse it could be. Maybe being a librarian isn’t as great as being a parole officer or an insurance underwriter, but it has to be better than being a Butcher (190) or a Garbage Collector (195).

As library schools go out recruiting and the ALA sings it’s sunny tunes about the glories of librarianship, they should make something like this the official slogan of the profession:

Librarian! It could be worse…you could be a Stevedore (185)!


  1. Been there - done that says:

    It’s true, working as a librarian has a lot of pluses, the only problem being that to work as a librarian one first has to FIND EMPLOYMENT! You will note the employment prospect for librarians is listed as poor. Having been through the front lines of the employment battlefield I can attest to that ranking to the hilt. Also, to live on a beginning librarians pay one has to be willing either to live with one’s parents for an extended period (those pay raises are agonizingly slow)or to have a spouse with a real job. I would question those salary figures (not the lower one, it’s reasonably accurate) especially for those headed to work in public libraries. I think I would be less generous with my rankings. Maybe a cautious 100 and with the proviso that you really should have a back-up profession in the wings.

  2. ThoughtfulLibrarian says:

    Finding work as a librarian hasn’t been easy, but in all of my job searches I’ve never seen a want ad for a Philosopher –I’m sure there are no physical demands or stress, but c’mon, how many full time philosophers are there out there?

  3. Un-registered User says:

    Way to phone in the column, AL.

    Maybe you could take a riting course or sumtin.

  4. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    Ayup….sure could be worse.

  5. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    You forgot to mention the parents attached to those irrational children. If the kids are irrational, the parents are insane. Heck, they’re insane when their kids are at a university. Who knew there were so many exceptional offspring in this world??

    Librarianship, all in all, is a pretty good gig. I don’t plan on leaving it anytime soon.

  6. Dr. Brooks says:

    Can I apply for a job as a Historian? How many openings have you seen for a Philosopher? Please send me an application, I’ve got some qualifications…..philosophically speaking of course, in a historical vein of thought….btw, did you notice that Will Manley this month is insulting people who post comments to blogs? I wonder which blog he is talking about? Oh, and what is his job title? Is it on the list? Didn’t he RETIRE a few years back? I suppose he has a free membership to ALA too…..

  7. Techserving You says:

    Starting librarian salaries are not always that terrible. I made about $33,000 as a paraprofessional 5 years ago before going and getting my degree. I assume that the pay listed here is the average for all professional librarian positions including in tiny towns that pay public librarians $20,000, rather than the WSJ considering paraprofessionals to be “starting librarians”. Did my para experience get me a bump up from the usual entry-level pay when I got a professional position? No (though it did actually get me a JOB.) But in the northeast a typical starting salary for an academic librarian is at least mid-high $40Ks. Not great, but enough one does not need to live with parents. I find the pay listed here a little embarrassing… I don’t want people thinking I made $33,000.

    I find that this list leaves out whole categories of work. This list reads more like a list in a quiz one might take to find out their ideal occupation, rather than a list of a real-world range of occupations. It seems like a list of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” careers. (But what is a roustabout?) It may be that other business-related positions do not have consistent-enough descriptions to include them in this survey, or perhaps the stress is too high for them to be included here. But, the list does not include occupations I know to be high-paying, challenging, in good environments, etc..

    Also… yeah, philosopher? Historian? Did this survey take into account the education needed? Or the education needed in comparison with the pay and available jobs?

  8. anon librarian says:


    I met Will Manley once at an ALA conference. He was a real douche bag.

  9. librarEwoman says:

    You actually can get a job as a philosopher or historian, if you are willing to pay the money and go through the several years worth of effort to get a PhD in philosophy or history. And of course, you would end up teaching philosophy or history to college students, but you’d still be a “philosopher” or a “historian.”

  10. Dr. Brooks says:

    Not true. A Professor can teach history or philosophy. A Philosopher is not a job description and never has been. Schopenhauer would not be amused…..As for historians, anyone can take that title, and they do….

  11. ElderLibrarian says:

    Dr. Brooks and others:
    A person who teaches history may or may not be a historian. A historian writes history. Sometimes one hears of a town historian- but that person has to write a historical account.

  12. Bottom line here is know what you’re getting into before you decide to become a librarian. Finding professional employment is going to be difficult at best. The result of over recruiting by schools of information studies and the ALA myth of the ‘librarian shortage’ is you’re going to have a lot of competition for that one opening.

    The pay in public libraries is abysmal and you ‘don’t get no respect’. My favorite line when I was working reference in a public library came from an elderly woman who didn’t like my answer to her question. Her response: “That can’t be right, send over one of the other clerks!”

    Academic and Federal libraries tend to pay better. The big plus with Federal employment is no nights or weekends. Federal also has decent job security although what’s been happening lately is as librarians leave for one reason or another (usually retirement) the tendency is not to replace them.

    By the way ‘techserving’ with my degree in history I can tell you a ‘roustabout’ used to be a guy who put up tents and swept up after horses and elephants.

  13. I'm curious Orange says:

    Can’t one call themselves a doctor with the MD degree even if they’ve never practiced medicine? If so – why would that not hold for philosopher?

  14. LIS degrees are a joke says:

    Would be nice to be a librarian if THERE WERE ANY JOBS!

  15. male librarian says:

    @LIS degrees are a joke commented:

    Not to be sexist (I am a male librarian) but library jobs basically amount to “womens work.” Library jobs don’t pay as well as jobs that men traditionally do. They don’t have the same benefits (if any) as jobs traditionally done by men, and they are the first jobs cut when money is short. But, the MLS/MLIS degree is easy to get so lots of us go that route.

  16. male librarian says:

    It could be worse.

    It could be raining.

  17. Techserving You says:

    male librarian – you’re right about the pay… (and I actually read an interesting book about the pay gap between men and women that addresses why traditionally male occupations pay more… and it makes sense….) But the benefits? What do you mean by that? I get tons of time off, great healthcare, pension plan (all contributions by my employer… I supplement only if I feel like it) life insurance, virtually unlimited sick time, etc.. And at the institution where I work, there were layoffs, but no one in the library was touched. Don’t confuse public librarianship with all librarian jobs.

  18. coldbrains says:

    Crap. I left my job as a market researcher 1.5 years ago to start library school. 6 months to graduation, maybe I should see if my old job will have me back?

  19. Pete Puma says:

    Used to be an academic ref librarian, and hated it. Am now in corporate america as a database analyst, and not happy with that either. Getting out into the real world isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, or maybe I’m just hard to please. Regardless I am looking forward to being a librarian again someday.

    Sigh. Thatnks for the therapeutic column

  20. Pete Puma says:

    Used to be an academic ref librarian, and hated it. Am now in corporate america as a database analyst, and not happy with that either. Getting out into the real world isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, or maybe I’m just hard to please. Regardless I am looking forward to being a librarian again someday.

    Sigh. Thanks for the therapeutic column

  21. Thanks male librarian.

    I use that line and get stared at.

    But it is always raining on my grave digging library job.

  22. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I agree with Techserving You. My pay in academica isn’t as good as it was when I was a corporate librarian but I get a month plus of vacation every year, holidays, sick leave, and I don’t have any of the stress that plagued the corporate work environment. I have some long and very busy days now and again but mostly this is a great way and place to earn one’s living

  23. “anon librarian commented:


    I met Will Manley once at an ALA conference. He was a real douche bag.”


  24. male librarian says:

    Techserving You – When I started my job as library assistant (I’ve had an MSL since 1992) benefits were slim: no healthcare coverage, I can only work 32 hours a week or the city will furlough me at the end of the year, my sick pay/vacation pay does accrue quickly, but if there is a holiday scheduled on a day I work I can either use my sick time or not get paid for it.

    The two full-time reference librarians sit back in the office all day and rarely come out to staff the reference desk. They have full benefits.

    I have lots of busy work to do, even though I’m out on the reference desk 90% of the time I work and get constantly interrupted.

    I deeply regret becoming a librarian. The pay sucks, I have to deal with idiots all day, people who are so lazy or stupid they can’t or won’t find things for themselves.

    The main problem with public librarianship is that it is basically unsupervised day care. And it is paid as such.

    I’m deeply conflicted though, because the economy sucks, they keep telling me I’m lucky to have a job.

    But in reality this is what the Rebpubs/Neocons want: a scared populace too afraid to buck the system and grateful to have a job. A frightened populace is a compliant populace.

  25. Male librarian,
    The corporatists love compliant workers. They then take our money and invest it in Ponzi schemes and make more money, while we hold the bag. The two party system is a front for the corporatists and predatory capitalism.(No wonder unemployment is so high.) There is no democracy in the (as Gore Vidal says) United States of Amnesia.

  26. male librarian says:

    As a “liberal” I don’t want to believe that “my” party is out to do me in (even though they are; I’m not paranoid, everyone really is out out to get me.)

    The best analogy I’ve heard likens the Republicans and Democrats as two sides of the same coin, or much like the New York Crime Families; on the one hand you have the Lucceses and on the other you have the Gambinos.

    The two political parties pretty much accomplish the same thing using different methods, i.e., screwing the common man and woman.

  27. LIS degrees are a joke says:


    Put down your bong and get out of the 60s.

    I do not like corporation either, but I also admit and realize that they are necessary evils. When a business is successful, they create jobs because why? They are making money because they are growing! Duh! Small businesses do not change things, and for you to think that owners of small businesses are not greedy, step all over people and competitors to make money, and never treat their employees like crap you are badly mistaken. I can tell you voted for Obama, a Kenyan who stole the election from the American people.

  28. Techserving You says:

    male librarian – I guess I’m a little confused by your post and whether you’re a library assistant with a masters degree or a librarian. In any case, like I said, don’t confuse public librarianship with academic librarianship. I have always had VERY good benefits in academia, even when I was a paraprofessional.

  29. male librarian says:


    I have an MLS, but my official title is “Assistant Librarian.” I work in a small public library. There are only two full-time Librarians on staff here. Just about everybody else who works at my library is part-time, except the head of the children’s library and the head of circ. The city has a hiring freeze in effect due to the economy. I know I’m lucky to have a job, but that is the way the city wants it. People who are in a bad situation and feel lucky to have a job don’t rock the boat and don’t make waves.

    Full-time librarian jobs requiring an MLS have seem to have dried up in the area that I live. The few that have opened up are the variety of: 1. part time, 2. no benefits, 3. lots of experience required, 4. low pay.

    Believe me, I would kill to work in an academic library. But the librarians in academic libraries around here have a death grip on their jobs, as they should.

  30. male librarian says:

    @LIS degrees are a joke:

    Your comments concerning corporations are spoken like a true lapdog of the Republican/Conservatives/Corporations. Like all lapdogs you hope that faithfully serving your corporate masters will some day allow you to be one of them. I’ve got news for you: you never will be one of them. The greatest trick the Republican/Conservatives/Corporations have played was convincing the middle class that what is good for rich Republican/Conservatives/Corporations is good for the middle class. In reality they don’t want a middle class, they want rich people like them and the poor working class. They want a compliant working poor class because somebody has to do the work to keep them rich.

    And regarding your comment about Obama, when Bush was president, it was considered treason to criticize the president during times of war. So, are you a traitor? Or is it only treason depending on who the president is?

  31. LIS degrees are a joke says:

    male librarian:

    Do you know how to read? Obviously not becuase I said I DID NOT LIKE CORPORATIONS BUT SAID THEY WERE JUST A NECESSARY EVIL! Also, I am not a Republican–I am a conservative independant, so quit being a sheep and mindlessly sticking to a party system. I am not a Bush suuporter, either. Though I do commend him for not cowtowing to his enemies because he at least knew you could not sit down and talk things over. As the old saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. I am no traitor. I just know that you and many others were duped into voting for a fraud–mmmm mmmm mmmm Barack Hussain Obama.

  32. I wish there was a way to warn new library school students of the shortages. I’m afraid to, personally. It’s bad for those of us working in the field, it’s bad the new folks who are unemployed, it’s just bad for the economy to have more unemployed people, now in more debt for the sake of this degree. I know the schools are basically businesses trying to make a buck but it’s just not right…especially recruiting and then screwing over starry eyed hipsters who like to read and want to work in non-profits.

  33. That the shortages are BS, rather. I just wish there were a way to warn people. If I picked another career, I’d look long and hard at the employment outlooks this time.

    But I was 21, no practical experience, liked books and there were shortages!

  34. Don’t go to library school because you love books or want a job or think it will be easy or some other reason. You go to get your Master’s mostly to become a damn good expert in the field of library science. Instead asking the questions you answer them. I love being a librarian, but hate to read. Figure that one out. Go get your MLS because you are interested in the actual professionalism of the degree. You become a librarian because you are interested in knowledge, not books. Libraries are no longer just about books. You can learn on the job, but that makes you a nice role player on the team. Don’t you want to be the starting point guard with the ball in your hands when the game’s on the line. That is why you go to library school. The real world gives you opinions, library school gives you research, logic, reasoning, ideas. As for the profession in general, I don’t know if you noticed or not, but a lot of professions don’t have too many jobs right now. Quit picking on librarianship. Finally, I would like to say that the librarian is not doing the work of a woman. I am male and I am challenged all of the time. I don’t know but I get paid pretty decent money to do something I love when many are out of work. The benefits are wonderful too. Maybe I am just lucky. Hey, I will count my blessings however I get ’em. Someone once said to me, Sorry, when I told them I was a librarian. I said, why, I am not sorry about the challenges, the nice health insurance I get, the steady paycheck, and always being the smartest person in the room. Have you ever realized that you always are the first to know at the library. These are only my thoughts and in the words of Dennis Miller, I could be wrong.

  35. DU-RF, I don’t know if other professions have associations that basically lie about how much job availability there is in a field. Probably they do, and if so it’s just as reprehensible as the crap the ALA has said and all the PR to lure naive people into the profession. They just should have known better and acted better. It’s extra bad that they spread lies because they of all people should be committed to dispensing actual, accurate information.

    Nothing against anything you said, I just hate ALA’s PR machine a lot.

  36. Legal Beagle says:

    Law schools are worse than library schools.

    Everyone thinks that if their son or daughter goes to law school, their ticket is punched.

    Sure, if you want to be a low level paralegal somewhere making less than an entry level librarian.

    You want a good job coming out of law school, your daddy better be a partner at a firm or you better have some really good political connections.

    If not, you will be eating mac-n-chez once a day.

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE