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Inside Annoyed Librarian

A Library Job that Sucks in the Evergreen State

Readers of the old AL might remember the occasional “library jobs that suck” posts. I haven’t done much of that since moving to LJ, which was two years ago this month, by the way. Partly, it’s because I changed the blog up some, and partly it’s because I was seeing fewer “library jobs that suck.” That’s all changing, and they’re coming back.

Now, wait a minute! some of you might be saying. I’m a librarian, and my job sucks! True. I’m sure your job does suck.

But for those of you who never knew or don’t remember, true Annoyed Librarian Library Jobs that Suck had to meet specific requirements. They had to be either part-time or nonexistent (think applicant “pools”) which would limit their pay and benefits, and they had to require an MLS and professional experience. Many library jobs suck, but the ones that want professional librarians with experience for exploitative work with low pay and no benefits suck the most.

Well, I finally found one for you, so all you unemployed librarians can apply for it. This Librarian Substitute position is the suckiest job I’ve seen in a long time. They even advertise it at the ALA jobsite, because I’m sure it has national appeal.

Let’s take a look at it. First, the pay. “$23.61 – $32.45, No Guaranteed Hours.” The upper limit would be approaching a livable wage for professional work, if it were full time employment. But this isn’t even guaranteed employment. It’s part-time and potentially no time.

This position may substitute up to 19 hours per week and no more than 69 hours per month at the Clinton, Coupeville, Freeland, Langley, and Oak Harbor community libraries to cover regular staff absences and may require mornings, afternoons, evenings, and weekends. Willingness to work widely varying hours (sometimes on short notice) at any of the locations listed is essential. To ensure maximum flexibility, an individual in this position may not hold another Sno-Isle position concurrently.

Last post, I urged job seekers to see themselves as others saw them. Now I’m encouraging libraries to do the same. What does this description tell us? First, there’s no way the librarian is going to have a decent life. Even if the substitute got 19 hours a week every week, those hours are going to be spread out over several libraries and every potential time slot on every day. That means more commuting and a more erratic life. That that maximum number of hours is likely the benefits cap, so the substitute will have a harried life with no health benefits.

The library also expects the substitute to be free every day and every night. It wants “maximum flexibility.” What this tells me is that whoever is unfortunate to have to take this job is guaranteed no hours and no respect as well. It might as well add this: “Sno-Isle will have absolutely no concern or respect for the person in this position or their quality of life. We just want a cog for the machine.”

And what will this person be expected to do?

  • Provide and assist customers with general reader’s advisory, reference services, and usage of library facilities and services
  • Explain and demonstrate procedures and methods for bibliographic and reference searches
  • Maintain and develop reference materials and sources
  • Plan and present children’s programming

So just about everything, which means nothing is going to be done very well. The “librarian substitute” will be giving storytime to toddlers one day at one library and answering adult reference questions two days later at another library, if the substitute even has any hours.

The requirements aren’t minimal, either.

Requires competent knowledge of library materials; Library District policies and procedures; integrated library computer system; materials selection process; reader’s advisory; bibliographic search techniques, and reference tools.

Requires the ability to use a bar code reader, computer equipment, Internet and standard office equipment; speak, understand and write English clearly and concisely; conduct reference interviews; work cooperatively and maintain favorable relations with the public and co-workers.

Requires a Master’s degree in Library Information Science from an ALA-accredited college or university, plus two years experience as a professional level librarian and have or be able to obtain a Washington State Librarian certificate.

Requires the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the library with little in return.

Okay, I made that last one up, but it fits in well enough. Basically, this library system wants someone to have mastered everything about every public service librarian’s job at every library and also be willing to work for peanuts under exploitative conditions. They really should be ashamed of themselves.

That this job requires an MLS and professional experience is laughable, when it’s very clear that this position is to be the lowest of the low, the least respected and most expendable position in the library. The library certainly isn’t going to treat this person as a professional, and yet they expect to hire one. They claim to want a professional librarian, but their pay and working conditions are more suitable for a bored housewife who needs a little pin money.

This job should go unfilled, because no professional librarians should lower themselves to even apply for it. On the other hand, there’s this unemployed librarian in the UK looking for some library work. It seems like the perfect match.



  1. BungalowBelle says:

    I speak from experience – I did sub work at one time…it does suck and that is NOT a word I use in my everyday vocabulary. Yes, this library district should be ashamed.

  2. Holy cow. As a current MLS student, that sure isn’t what I’m going to school for. I wonder what they’re possibly spinning as the benefits of being their lucky selection for hire. I mean, besides that hourly rate that s/he probably won’t be earning very quickly.

  3. In your previous column you write, “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,” but now you think this job is not good enough for a degree holder? On-call librarianship is a reality and not a new one–and so is the proffered salary. You slam anyone who expects a good job, and you slam anyone who would settle for this job!

  4. The terms of the job do suck, but the pay is high compared to what I’ve been seeing. Supervisory positions requiring 5 yrs experience for $16. It’s full time, but still…

  5. horriblejob says:

    the don’t just want a MLS degree holder, they want 2 years professional experience

  6. Having lived in the Sno-Isle library district I saw this job posting and had a slightly different reaction to it. This part of the country – Whidbey Island in Washington State – is gorgeous and attracts lots and lots of retirees, especially ex-Navy, as there is a large NAS on the island. While this job would suck for someone looking to build a career, it might be the perfect job for the spouse of a retired Navy person living on the island. Additionally, this part of the state (at least when I lived there) offered very few full-time with benefits jobs. Most people cobbled together one or two part time jobs that would allow them to stay on the island. I think when talking about jobs that suck, you need to take into account the context of the job.

  7. I Like Books says:

    Sucky must be relative. That sounds like working retail, except they sure didn’t pay me $23.61. All the hassle and a third of the pay to start earlier than the library opens on the morning after staying later than the library closes.

    And where I work now, people “on-call” literally have to be able to show up a half hour after they’re called. And there’s no way to know. Fellow employees have had to walk out of the middle of a movie because they were called in. And they weren’t getting half of $23.61.

    If you think that job is sucky, you have things better than you know. Better than a whole bunch of people out there. That job isn’t sucky. It’s just part time.

  8. Librarian Pools says:

    This is only a little bit worse than the “Temporary Librarian Pools” they have for entry positions in academic libraries. I was a member of one of these “pools” for over two years…and took my name off the list when I was offered a permanent position somewhere else…

  9. Anassaria says:

    The difference with retail is though, you don’t have to spend years and thousands of dollars to get an advanced degree to be able to work it.

  10. CattyCataloger says:

    I did this kind of work. Some days I drove through 3 different counties (many of our counties are the size of some NE states). I guess I’m strange but I enjoyed it. I got to meet alot of folks I would normally only see occassionally.

    Sure there are down sides to it but over all I enjoyed it. I liked driving. My next job’s going to be a tour bus driver.

  11. newlymintedandlooking says:

    I applied for that job today!! And over an hour commute to those branches. And that’s the best we can hope for in WA with all the cuts done/still to come. Our libraries at all levels (school,public, academic) are suffering and the cuts haven’t ended. Someone let me know when the actual recession (not the textbook one) has ended.

  12. evergreener says:

    Hmph, with 2 years experience, progressive responsibility, and a very self-managed job, I still only make $21.95 right now (yes, with the degree, too).

    I would agree with you that it should be more, but it does indicate that Sno-Isle’s position is not as grotesque as you’ve made it out to be.

  13. lifelonglibrarylove says:

    I’m another between-jobs credentialed librarian with 4 years’ experience who lives in range of Sno-Isle. I corroborate the other testimony here that the pay-rate for this sub position is not bad for our region. While I agree that this is not a job anyone could live on, it could be just right for a retiree or someone (preferably with a well-insured spouse/domestic partner) who has major obligations, such as special-needs children or aging parents or their own health issues, that make full-time work less tenable.

    Sno-Isle is one of our stronger districts in the area, with a reputation for a positive work environment. They recently passed a levy measure, and have some very impressive programs and services for the diverse communities they serve. They care about staff relations and support, and even conduct an internal “communications audit” twice a year. I would love to work for Sno-Isle and have interviewed with them for two positions in the last 6 months, but didn’t have enough experience to clinch either job in this tough market.

    For a truly crappy library job, see the testimony at and follow the right-hand navigation link for “Library ‘Tough Love'” (go to the bottom for the first post, and read the comments for the whole story). A friend referred me to this blog discussion, and I was shocked. A well-paying job with good hours and benefits may still be seriously crappy if the environment is that negative.

    Just sayin’, there’s crappy and there’s crappy. ;)

  14. Library guy says:

    The knowledge requirements are next to nothing, and this is better pay than a lot of people with far more expertise and experience get.

    In any case, they’re not looking for a full time person. The only reason this job exists at all is that existing staff don’t want to have to back each other up. This is a pretty cushy setup for existing staff, but by part time standards, it’s pretty good. If you don’t believe that, you need to get out a bit more.

  15. Are you serious? Those hours are insulting but I presume this person would have another job and just pickup these shifts as gravy.

    However I do not see these $40k/year jobs anywhere! I am and experienced and driven librarian working full time at a public library and would give a pinky finger to make $22/h. My last job at a college paid $14/hr for reference and info literacy lectures. Seriously, 1/3 of my pay goes to my education loans. But anyway I keep hearing starting pay is 40K but my last three offers have been more like 28-32,000/yr. I even had a supervisor tell me “An extra $500 a month really isn’t that much money” in an exit interview. Easy for you to say!

    But the point I originally wanted to make was when you scoff at a salary that would be a dream for me, you alienate me as a reader.

  16. Rolling Eyes Librarian says:

    I couldn’t agree more about this predicament and just because there are people who are happy to have work, it doesn’t mean that the employer methods are any more reputable. She is absolutely correct in her estimation,
    “That this job requires an MLS and professional experience is laughable, when it’s very clear that this position is to be the lowest of the low, the least respected and most expendable position in the library. The library certainly isn’t going to treat this person as a professional, and yet they expect to hire one. They claim to want a professional librarian, but their pay and working conditions are more suitable for a bored housewife who needs a little pin money.” Even when a decent salary is offered, many times the expectation is that the pay be linked to the “willingness to do anything and everything” attitude with no distinction between themselves and first-line employees who have no adequate foundation. This is one of those times when truth is necessary. Just because we are vulnerable to a lack of respect and feel belittled and insulted by truth(because we are belittled), not by Annoyed though, it doesn’t mean that Annoyed should zip it up when the argument is for our own dignity. Yes, there are some hidden perks in these situations…if the staff really treats one equitably, if the situation is made relaxing and less demanding to compensate for no possibility of long-term employment. But what does that really offer someone who is motivated? And where is the respect when one is motivated? And shouldn’t we be motivated or is this the unspoken trade-off? It is very insensitive any time and more so in this market to present a job description yet ask all for nothing. Even a little sensitive marketing to that small percentage to whom this work appeals would help. Being anything accept general in this blog is difficult so the more important message has been addressed. It seems that many of the people who are seeking this kind of work should want more respect. If this is a situation that equally meets everyone’s needs, then it is also fair that they would be afforded the same respect and pay percentile of someone full-time. I am not saying this situation is true of all libraries but it true of many. Instead of pointing to the exceptions, we should be acknowledging and supporting the norm. This is indeed where we all get lost many times!

  17. Anan E. Moose says:

    These posts are nothing new in the temp world. They’re virtually formalized on-call positions. I’ve been around the piecemealing block more than I’d care to admit, but these jobs were instant passes for me. Temp-like inconsistencies in scheduling with part-time job commitments…who are trying to kid with this crap?

  18. Wow, that job really does suck. See, at my library, when someone is absent for some reason or another, other librarians pitch in and help – taking that person’s ref desk hours, figuring out who does whatever tasks that person can’t do while they’re gone, etc. We don’t hire someone to be at our beck and call. If a library is so understaffed that it is unable to function whenever people are out sick, then it needs to either accept that it should close when these situations happen, or it needs to somehow pony up the cash to hire another person full-time person. If it doesn’t want to choose either option, maybe that’s a sign that the community doesn’t really want a library – sad, but it’s better than expecting someone to take a job like this one.

  19. Techserving You says:

    Toooooo funny. I am FB “friends” with a librarian in Washington State who is always posting either ridiculous rah-rah librarian links, or else anti-librarian links (and complaining about how horrible they are.) HE posted this job listing, thinking he was doing some public service to his librarian friends, or something. He was very positive about it.

  20. Not actually $40k says:

    Keep in mind this is a city/government job…$40k gross is not take-home pay. I used to work for $40k a year at a public library but only saw about half of that… So the person who takes this job may not even see the full $26 or so an hour…

  21. I am posting this here as I don’t see another topic to put this under, but since one of the overall topics here is employment and librarians, I received the oddest email from a listserv group, claiming that there were unadvertised positions and that by calling, you can access these listings — part of the email is below:

    “The ALA office of Recruitment Statistics is increasingly aware of unadvertised positions that need to be filled as soon as possible. Denise M. Davies, former head of ALA’s Recruitment Statistics, has joined forces with the Sacramento Library to compile a list of unadvertised library jobs across the country and in your community. These are jobs that need to be filled so quickly that the libraries simply don’t have time to advertise and the ALA can’t post them fast enough.

    Unemployed and underemployed librarians are asked to call 1(800) 209-4627 or 1(916) 264-2770 and ask for Deputy Director Denise Davies. New opportunities are opening up daily, so call frequently until you are successfully placed.

    Phone calls only, please. No calls after the project ends on December 31st, 2020.”

    includes a web link to a study:

    I have not tried the number, but I’m curious to see if it’s for real. Somehow I suspect this is a hoax but if anyone wants to access these numbers and try, hey, it might be worth it(?)

    And apparently, you don’t have to be in a hurry as the service will be there until December 31st, 2020(!)

  22. Resisting the Coverup says:

    The awful thing about the above comment, and the email above sent to listservs, is that you can never REALLY be sure it’s a hoax. ALA is that out of touch.

  23. Rebecca S says:

    Yes the job isn’t ideal, and I can’t imagine why they are requiring an MLS. The library I work at uses subs to cover when we are short staffed but we train our subs in each department they are on call in and don’t require a degree. Our sub pool consists of a lot of the same people who are in the school district substitute teacher pool.

    But if you are a librarian who is out of work and wants to keep your foot in the door this job is at least better than volunteering (which a lot of unemployed librarians do).

  24. >>>The awful thing about the above comment, and the email above sent to listservs, is that you can never REALLY be sure it’s a hoax. ALA is that out of touch.<<wicked grin<

  25. messed up in above comment — ALA must be out of touch if they are really doing this —

    The 916 number is a general number from Sacramento PL.
    Denise Davis left ALA to take over as deputy director of Sac PL — would someone in this position really be fielding multiple employment calls? They should send this around to all the library schools >wicked grin<

  26. WNY, this so called “job” can’t be gravy on the side. Note they want you to work whenever so you must have no other employment so you can fill in at a moment’s notice, whenever someone gets sick. This could be fine for a young graduate, trying to get experience while living in or near a big system. I know someone who started that way years ago and eventually became head of an entire public library system. Now this job truly classifies up there with the sucky non-jobs. They want experience; they want the degree; the person has to be able to do anything at any time (meaning doing nothing well), and of course have no life. How many retirees want that?

    A few of you commented about this beautiful area in Washington, and the fact that people want to live there so badly that they will do anything with little expectation of realizing a decent return. I have an underemployed friend who lives in that part of Washington and confirms what you say. Shesays it’s across the board, not just in libraries and not just in bad times. A great deal for employers.

    The post about library jobs going unfilled sounds along the line of the world coming to an end in 2012.

  27. I’d go for that job, as bad as it might seem. In the 9+ grueling years at OCLC (all waaay post-MLS), I never saw a wage range like that!

    Now I’m one of the many downsized staff and am halfway through my 2nd Master’s. I will be back in customer support by Thanksgiving, granted I can secure one of the $12/hr jobs. A 16-hour work week is still enough to bolster your resume credentials. No, I’d apply and work hard just to get that particular job.

  28. This is fairly common in the business world today. It’s very difficult to hire the right person. Government has a tendency to collect tired and useless dead weight. I’m sure Sno Isle has it’s own collection of old, tired, useless people that don’t contribute and are extremely resistant to change, call in sick all the time, always in some meeting, etc. This tactic Sno-Isle uses is merely a weed out process, so they don’t get stuck with more dead weight. Rest assured, if you’re a strong, intelligent, hard working employee, you’ll quickly get moved up — they won’t want to lose you! This is only the problem for people they don’t want. If you’re complaing and you think poorly of this — maybe you’re the dead weight!!

  29. leslie minor says:

    I thought about applying for this job, but realized that an hour and a half drive each way for a four hour shift is simply stupid. I have been subbing for a city library for four years in Washington State and cannot get a real job. I’m thinkin’ retail or anything to help pay for my daughter’s college costs. It really is depressing.

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