Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

A Little Tough Love

A few weeks ago, an unemployed librarian in the UK asked advice from the Guardian’s career “agony uncle” Jeremy. I wonder how many American librarian job seekers resemble this person.

Here’s the librarian’s query:

I’m a librarian and have not yet managed to get employment. I am a quiet, reliable person. I have a BA in film studies/librarianship and am a member of Cilip [Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, sort of like ALA for the UK]. I have done unpaid library workplace experience posts, voluntary work in a small museum and a half-day in an Oxfam shop. I am computer literate. I don’t drive. I am now in my late thirties. I live at home so salary is not of first importance. I apply for jobs but the longer I have been without employment the less likely it is that I will get an interview, let alone land a job. What else can I do?

One can only imagine the cover letter this person would write. Jeremy’s advice was to find something that distinguishes the person from other candidates and emphasize that. I suspect the person will have a hard time following that advice. The problem isn’t presentation, it’s substance.

Let’s read the query again, interpreting it for people who might be doing the hiring.

“I am a quiet, reliable person.” I’m shy, introverted, and don’t communicate well, but I show up and do whatever I’m asked, though I’ll probably never initiate anything myself.  And I like books.

“I have a BA in film studies/librarianship”. I did go to university, but I decided to study fluff instead of work hard. Obviously, I didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge, because they don’t offer degrees fluffier than English.

“and am a member of Cilip,” which just about anyone even remotely connected to libraries in the UK can join, but it shows I care.

“I have done unpaid library workplace experience posts,” so I work cheap, but maybe I’m paid what I’m worth.

“voluntary work in a small museum”. More work for no pay, but at least I’m cultured.

“and a half-day in an Oxfam shop”. Yet more work for no pay, but at least I’m charitable.

“I am computer literate.” Too vague. My granny is “computer literate,” but I wouldn’t want her helping me with my research.

“I don’t drive.” Do you have philosophical objections to driving, or are you just too uncoordinated? Either way, how is that relevant to library work?

“I am now in my late thirties.” That’s pretty old never to have held a real job. To an employer, that’s a red flag that something is wrong with you. Actually, to pretty much everyone that’s a sign something is wrong with you.

“I live at home.” By that, I assume you still live with your parents, and in your late thirties no less.

“so salary is not of first importance.” And they’ve also been supporting you for close to 40 years. Perhaps it’s their fault, and they need to cut the apron strings and let their little librarian fly free.

“I apply for jobs but the longer I have been without employment the less likely it is that I will get an interview, let alone land a job.” That is the most insightful thing you’ve said so far.

“What else can I do?”

Here, the possibilities are endless, but I’ll avoid any advice with ‘night, Mother implications. Regardless, I think this librarian needs a little tough love. My advice?

Your attitude, your degree, and your life so far say to any potential employer: “I’m a person who’s never worked very hard, or accomplished anything, or achieved any independence in 20 years of adulthood.” Look at that from the outside. Why would anyone hire you? Now go do something about it.

Get a job! And one that pays! And move out of your parents’ house. What kind of person lives off their parents for 40 years? Losers, mostly.  If you can volunteer at Oxfam shops  and museums you can clerk at Marks & Spencer.

I offer this tough love in somewhat the same way I discussed “elite” librarians. There are far too many people who seem to think that working their way through an easy degree should somehow guarantee them a job as a librarian, and that’s even if you take account of the propaganda campaign by ALA and American library schools to overpopulate the librarian pool.

In America, libraries are facing tougher times than ever, and we’re much more likely to see repeats of Buffalo & Erie County than of mass retirements and new positions opening up. But even during the relative salad days, there were still librarians like this whining rather than doing something. “I have a degree. Where is my job? Mom, cook me a meatloaf, please?”

Job seekers are facing the toughest times for a long time, and for them I have some basic advice: try to see yourselves as others, especially employers, see you. Would you hire you? Why? Because you have a library degree? Yeah, so do the other 80 candidates. And?

Even if it might have been at some point, librarianship isn’t a profession for quiet bookworms who still live with their parents into their late thirties. It’s not a works program for introverts. Jobs are hard to find and getting harder, and the more competitive they are the more you need to do besides getting a library degree.

Get more experience. Make actual accomplishments. Lose a few pounds. Dress better. Write better. Speak better. To get the library job you want these days, it’s not enough to have a degree. You actually have to be impressive, and that’s not easy for most people.

The question is, given the relative status and pay of librarians, if all that hard work is worth it.



  1. Bruce Campbell says:

    I’m your biggest fan right now, AL.

    Yes. There are way too many people who think librarianship is a “works program for introverts.” These types have never developed the basic self confidence that employees in lower paid jobs all over the country had to acquire. Libraries are still too often asylums for the clinically depressed and morbidly shy.

    Can’t these people work in toll booths?

  2. Agreed. I am amazed by how many librarians I meet that really require some solid time in an institute or in a self-help program. There’s no backbone in most of them and when you show a little willpower, they look at you with these doe eyes that seem to say “please don’t make changes”.

  3. The AL hit this one out of the park. We all remember these types while we were in library school and wondered what would become of them.

    I had a professor who once referred to them as “the walking wounded.” That just about sums them up perfectly.

  4. Nailed it. On one hand, this trend makes it a bit easier for the talented, confident and moderately well-dressed professional to rise without having to put up with quite as much political nonsense as one does in the business world. On the other hand, the widespread acceptance of Geek Social Fallacies (google it) within Library culture ultimately poses a risk to our reputation and long-term survival as a field.

  5. nerdylibrarian says:

    There is much truth in this. It does not do librarianship any good to allow the image of librarians as passive, unambitious, and introverted to the point of social ineptitude to stand.

    It keeps skilled people out of the field.

  6. Reminder: here in the good ol’ USA it’s illegal to make employment decisions based upon disability. That may include introverts (who may suffer from a anxiety disorder or have a developmental disorder, like Asperger’s Syndrome, that makes them predisposed to introversion) as well as “the clinically depressed” (Major Depression Disorder) and “morbidly shy” (Social Anxiety Disorder or some phobias).

    I don’t understand why everyone’s always condemning introverts. I don’t understand why there’s so much emphasis on things like being friendly or sociable. I think it’s far more important to be *competent* or *knowledgeable* or *skilled*.

    “Can’t these people work in toll booths?”

    No – and “these people” shouldn’t have to work in toll booths if that isn’t their goal. This isn’t the nineteenth or even twentieth century. We don’t shunt people into jobs based solely upon their disabilities.

  7. First, not all disabilities are protected for every job, and there are times when it is in fact legal to make employment decisions based upon disabilities. The blind can do many things, but they can’t drive taxis. Paraplegics can do many jobs, but they won’t be hired to work on high rise construction crews. It depends upon whether the job in itself absolutely requires skills or abilities the candidate in question just doesn’t have.

    Let’s take extreme introversion or an anxiety disorder, though. If the disorder is severe enough that a person can’t communicate with other people at a reasonably high level, then there are plenty of library jobs for which they are not competent or skilled. If someone can’t stand up in front of a group of people and teach, then they aren’t competent to be an instruction librarian, no matter how many degrees they have.

    Also, contrary to what the utterly unemployable might believe, libraries aren’t NOT hiring them because of their issues, libraries are merely hiring other people who are able to sell themselves and their abilities most effectively to search committees in writing and in person. Thus, it’s rarely a case of, “let’s not hire this guy because he didn’t speak during the interview” (on the off chance of an interview at all). It’s usually, “let’s hire this person because she’s good and got the relevant experience and communicates it well.”

  8. the.effing.librarian says:

    ouch. tough love is right. I went to library school with some of these people. in fact, I toned down my normal behavior to fit in and not frighten everyone. and even then, I was probably still the badassingest future librarian there.
    and I remember wondering how all these quiet people would survive in the world of work. with the backstabbers and glory hoggers.
    didn’t the faculty know that they didn’t have what it would take to get that job? why did they encourage them when they clearly were not ready? 3 months at Walmart during Christmas would have been a better use of their time to strengthen that backbone.
    I’m one of those people who hates to hear that the job candidate “loves books.” I count that as 0 on the score sheet. I’d rather hear that she “Loves Capoeira,” “loves to breed bears,” or “loves knives.”
    but as badass as I am, I’m also getting old, so I worry that one of these unemployed librarians will just strangle me during my afternoon nap. so for my sake, AL, please stop telling them to toughen up; I want to live to see Justin Bieber graduate from high school.

  9. Seriously, what’s the what on the introvert-bashing? (And hello, it’s not a disability; it’s a personality type. It just means you don’t get particularly energized by being around people, and in fact, it’s a little draining. It isn’t a synonym for “shy.” It may not be the best personality type for public service work, and I agree that a lot of us who liked books better than people maybe jumped into the field without thinking, but it doesn’t mean we can’t adjust.)

    One thing that stands out about all that unpaid work–in his field, no less–is that this is a person who has decided his work has no particular worth. No wonder employers are inclined to agree.

  10. Braggy McBraggerson says:

    Bravo, AL.

    Just because you’ve read the latest James Patterson novel and consider yourself “well organized” does not mean you will make a fantastic librarian. I’m currently pursuing my MLS and a majority of my professors have been pushing the fact that librarianship as a fluid field is in great need of movers and shakers. Although I don’t find there to be anything wrong with being introverted, if you can’t communicate to your interviewer why you’re kick ass and would be essential to that libraries mission, why even bother? If you’re seemingly embarrassed and unsure of your own capabilities, why should anyone else think you have any significant worth to offer the field of librarianship? Rather, brag on yourself a bit, it might do you a world of good.

  11. It’s because too many people who work in libraries are, actually, introverted that so little is done to rectify some of the basic problems found in many libraries.

    Instead, librarians pat themselves on their backs and say stuff like (Information Scotland News, Feb 2010) “As librarians we are in the communication business; we pride ourselves on being the necessary intermediaries between our customers and the information they seek.” (Chris Pinder, CILIPS President).

    Well, many of the library websites I’ve been looking at are making a very poor job of acting as intermediaries. In many cases they make the process of finding information far too complicated.

    See and and for examples.

    The best bit of advice the agony uncle could have given the person in question would be to look for work elsewhere. Libraries don’t need more introverts.

  12. I don’t disagree with anything said, but the part of this person’s description that stood out to me was the not driving. That says to me this person is only looking for a job in a very limited geographic area. That alone will kill a job search. It’s like library school students who graduate and then think they’re going to land a job at the University’s library. Because the University library can just absorb all those eager new librarians with no experience and no clue. That’s not how it works. You’ve got to be willing to relocate – especially in today’s job market – if you want to work.

  13. The final sentence is what caught my attention. Nihilistic or savvy? I would like to think it’s a good dose of old fashioned pessimism, however it’s a statement that resonates strongly with me.

  14. Bruce Campbell says:

    Spekkio – You sure are one pathologizing type. Hey, if I feel bad can I find something in the DSM IV and then cry discrimination if I’m not hired?

    If an interview applicant is depressed, socially awkward, can’t maintain eye contact, etc., those are the applicant’s personal problems.

    The depressed, socially-awkward, and aspergian can work on their “disability” (your word, not mine) through mock-interviews, therapy, etc.

    We’ve become such a sad society that no longer values personal accountability. It’s never our fault if something doesn’t go our way.

  15. Ambivalent about the “advice” given by both Mr AL and the Guardian career advisor. Two points though.

    1. Remember that wasn’t his CV or resume that is being critiqued. Thankfully, as indeed that won’t help with even getting an interview. I would hope that his actual CV is a lot more positive, has stuff on it advantageous to the job, and above all relevant. It would have been more useful to have had that analysed (by a professional), rather than a character profile.

    2. He can’t drive … so? Sounds sensible to me. As well as being irrelevant, remember it’s the UK, not the US. Massive difference; here on this tiny rock we have many more public transport options than in the US, and a sizable proportion of the population use it to commute. Cities and towns are also much more compact. Heck, people commute from as far away as York, or Bristol, to London.

    It’s not perfect; if you lived somewhere rural in the UK you’d have to relocate / rent, or get a car. Though another reason against getting a car, especially if you’re in a low-paid library job, is the utter insane expense of it in Britain. Americans often have no idea. At the current exchange rate, 1 US gallon of UK average price unleaded petrol would cost you $6.83 (amusing to think of what would happen if it was that expensive in the US).

    And there’s other expenses; here’s a BBC news story today on the cost of UK car insurance (x figures by roughly 1.5 to get US cost) for new young drivers:

    Drive a car in Britain?! That’s only for the rich, well-paid or desperate…

  16. I can’t believe this guy thinks he has what it takes to succeed in the sex and drug-fueled world of glamour that is his local library. Loser!

  17. Actually, I think it is the extroverts who need to find a new field. Libraries are custom-made for the introverted, and many excel in this environment– especially in the area of research. So to you extroverts who are discouraging introverts from seeking employment in libraries, please first take a look at your own shortcomings and seriously consider another line of work yourselves. Thank you.

  18. Sasquatch says:

    Communications gets labeled as a “joke major,” even more harshly than does English, but frankly I could have used a few more people with basic communications skills in my MLS program. It’s not even about being “loud” or being an extrovert, it’s about knowing the basics of how to present yourself so you don’t come across as pathetic. And at least I actually learned something practical in my college communications/public speaking class.

    There was a big emphasis on giving presentations in most of the classes in my MLS program, and the dean and professors stressed how important public speaking skills were. I got the impression that too many graduates of the program couldn’t stand in front of a room of people to speak without their knees shaking. I have no problem with that, so I was frustrated that I was paying overpriced tuition dollars to hear lackluster presentations from my classmates. If the school was really worried about it, they could have required an interview to be accepted, rather than only grades and GRE scores. Or my classmates could have joined Toastmasters, rather than me being charged outrageous amounts to sit through their powerpoints with lolcat photos.

    Of course, another reason that half of the assignments were oral presentations was probably that more presentations in class = less time the professors spent actually having to teach.

  19. Mr. Campbell, I’m honestly rather offended. I’m merely sticking up for those of us that have more challenges than you do (assuming that you have no mental illnesses or developmental disorders).

    Yes, Asperger’s can be a disability. And therapy is no cure.

    Sometimes it’s not an issue of personal accountability. People can’t be responsible for every single thing. There are things in this world (chance, genetics) that are simply out of one’s control, and to assume responsibility for those things is the way to true madness.

  20. ‘wassup’ who doesn’t identify himself/herself (maybe he/she is a bit too introverted for that ‘radical’ sort of thing :-) ) says “Libraries are custom-made for the introverted…”

    Strewth – I’m glad I’ve retired.

  21. needs a 'nym says:

    Libraries are custom-made for the introverted

    No, wassup, libraries are custom-made for people who need information. Librarians are only there to connect those people to the information they need. This connection often involves direct, personal interaction, which at the very least puts introverts at a disadvantage.

    Too many librarians seem to forget that libraries exist solely for the benefit of their patrons, and that the librarians are just there to keep things running.

  22. Well done, AL. Reminds me of the introductions we all would have to do in library school courses, often answering the question of why we were there. “I like books” (reading, not books themselves necessarily), “it seemed like a good idea” (or what-have-you), and “English major” were the top three phrases one would hear. Too many people were going to become librarians and archivists without really know why they wanted to become librarians and archivists. And without having a clue of what they’d be doing in the field, it typically was a huge shock that they’d have to be advocates for their profession in every way, which means talking to people. And being professionally active, that surprised people too. It’s people’s misconceptions about the field that lead them to it I suppose. I feel like there should be a PSA or an after-school special about the profession with some dramatic music and grainy stills.

    There’s an expectation in general in higher education that degree equals job. And in our field even if you are all the things employers are looking for, it’s still tough to get a job right away.

  23. There are jobs in libraries for the depressed, the introvert and the sociopath. It’s called cataloging. Or, Technical Services.

  24. i’m an introvert and current LS/IS/whathaveyou student but i’m also a realist. if you can’t talk when it’s important (interviews, with patrons, with peers), that’s a problem. as someone who has volunteered/worked/interned profusely over the past year and gone out of my way to advance my future career, it’s insulting to think that someone with a degree and without drive would be considered for the same position as me. i’m out there because i find helping others and learning to be personally rewarding. not because i like books and think sitting behind a desk staring at a computer screen will keep people from talking to me.

    it’s depressing to see the number of students/professors/librarians who do not CARE about the field and their users. can we get them to retire?

  25. Whoa. Nothing is wrong with living with your parents, especially if you are job hunting. Good for he/she that they’re not out there getting into tons of debt while working a mediocre paying job. Sure, it sounds like the person has some issues they need to work through, but come on, the harshness is absolutely unnecessary.

    “Get more experience. Make actual accomplishments.: Lose a few pounds. Dress better. Write better. Speak better. To get the library job you want these days, it’s not enough to have a degree. You actually have to be impressive, and that’s not easy for most people.”

    To that I say to the poster, anger displacement much? Seriously, I have a feeling the poster is dealing with some issues of inadequacy and probably some weight issues, too.

  26. Well put, “needs a ‘nym”

  27. Not to be nitpicky but I really think that as librarians and potential librarians we should all be able to look up the meaning of a word. Introverted does not equal shy or socially awkward; they just find social situations to be more work than fun. I don’t really see how this precludes you from working with the public as long as you are willing to exert yourself. I’m an introvert, I’ve worked customer service since I was 16 (food service, clothing stores, waitress), I took Theatre and Speech in college, and am now a children’s librarian and was previously a reference librarian and a circulation clerk. I think my tendency to think through responses to patrons rather than blurt out whatever pops into my head is a strength and not a weakness. And the fact that I don’t try to be buddy buddy with teens and children works to my favor as someone who needs to act as an authority figure.

    That said anyone entering the library field needs to be willing to exert themselves and work hard. The librarian that AL is criticizing comes off as the type of person who has never reached out of her comfort zone to make something of herself, aka lazy which is a trait exhibited by both introverts and extroverts.

  28. The problem being expressed in the comments isn’t about introversion necessarily, or even shyness; it’s about being passive and a doormat, and those things do NOT go hand-in-hand. There are outspoken people who could chat all day but could be too afraid of confrontation or change to do anything useful with their work, or there could be introverts who manage to be careful, close listeners and put the other person first, which seems important in a public service field. I’m not sure why all this anger and resentment and really downright hatred is being outsourced onto shy people or introverts when the problem lies with people who are being too passive, or timid, or insecure … these are different qualities.

  29. To me, the library field attracts individuals who think they can conceal their cheerless lives within the forlorn stacks of a library, safely hidden and alone shelving books all day. Even today, shy and introverted individuals come to me and say, “I’m going to library school to be a librarian just like you because I love being in a library and I love books…”….it just makes me sick….With all the politics and low pay, who would waste their time…become a nurse, UK Librarian, for at least you’ll find a job and make money!

  30. ChunkyLibrarian says:

    Drop a few pounds? but then, based on your previous descriptions, I wouldn’t fit in! ha!

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