Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarian: by the Numbers

Someplace job search site  has created yet another job rankings list based on the sort of rigorous methodology you’d expect from people trying to hustle money out of you.

Librarian ranks 61, just below nuclear engineer and aerospace engineer and just above judge and heating/refrigeration mechanic. But why would the job of judge, which supposedly has similar environmental, stress, and physical demands of a heating/refrigeration mechanic while earning almost 3 times the annual pay be only one rank higher than the mechanic?

They answer that question. “Both jobs have lower stress levels, but a Judge has a better work environment while a Heating/Refrigeration Mechanic has a better job outlook.”

That’s where lists by places trying to make money from people looking for jobs get things wrong. Once you have a job, the “job outlook” means very little, especially if the “”mega factor” for outlook as defined here is expected employment growth through the year 2020.”

That’s why judges making $120,000 a year aren’t considering looking for work in the position just above them, Librarian. A true job ranking would rank how good or bad jobs were once you got into them, not based on how likely there are to be more of them.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that heating/refrigeration mechanic is a tedious, unpleasant job. The fact that lots more of them will be hired in the next few years doesn’t make it a better job. It just means more people will get to work in tedious, unpleasant jobs.

If increasing availability is an important factor to a job being good, then fast food worker is possibly one of the best jobs around. It’s like the joke about the two clueless people discussing the food in a bad restaurant. “The food here is terrible.” “Yes, and such small portions!”

It’s hard to say why being a librarian is better than being a judge. Definitely not the average pay. Supposedly, librarians have less stress and fewer physical demands.

I can understand the stress part, but fewer physical demands? If you’ve ever wondered what job would be even less physically demanding than sitting in a chair and occasionally banging a table with a small wooden hammer, now you have your answer: librarian.

Librarian is a good job because of the low stress, the decent work environment, and the low physical demands. If only it had a good “job outlook,” it might be the best job in America! That, and it paid better, but money isn’t everything, as many librarians tell themselves every month while trying to pay their bills.

Oh, sure, there are probably some stressed out librarians, but I bet most of that stress has nothing to do with their work as librarians. Librarian workplace stress is mostly caused by bad bosses and annoying coworkers, and most professions have those.

Take bad bosses and annoying coworkers out of the equation, and things start to look pretty good. Consider the job of a typical reference librarian. Reference librarians sit around waiting for people to ask them questions, even if nobody wants to ask questions.

The great thing is, they’re working even if they’re just sitting at a desk doing nothing. In fact, you could argue that sitting at a reference desk doing nothing but smiling expectantly makes someone a better reference librarian than someone who distracts themselves with other work or another sudoku puzzle.

For that matter, sitting at a desk surfing the Internet for news could be considered library work. Reference librarians should be well informed people, after all.

Is there a nonadministrative professional job in a library that’s actually difficult or unpleasant? Again, leaving out the factors of bad bosses or colleagues.

Cataloging? Are there even any catalogers left? The few real catalogers I’ve known tend to like their work when they’re allowed to do it.

Collection development? I’ve yet to meet a librarian who complains about being able to buy books with someone else’s money. For avid readers, it’s the best job around. You can always make sure your library is well stocked with whatever it is you like to read.

The broad category of librarians who do things in the background with computers? Systems librarians, web designers, etc. Does this count as professional library work, or just professional work done in a library?

Nevertheless, the only complaint I ever hear from those people is that they’re overworked, and yet in my library all the systems people sit in a locked room playing poker all day. I know because I had a webcam installed and have the video streaming on the library website. That no one has noticed yet says something about my library.

I think it’s high time librarians pointed out how great it is being a librarian, and certainly better than being a social worker (#51).

Okay, at this point, I know some of you will complain about how being a librarian is sometimes like being a social worker. Or a babysitter. Or a custodian. Or a printer jam repair person. Basically, any of those tasks you end up doing at your library where the phrase “I went to library school for this?!” creeps into your brain.

What can I say? You got took. Go find a job where they hire librarians to do librarian things like sit at desks surfing the Internet and they hire other people to do other specialized jobs like babysit and clean up messes.

In a real  library, librarians do librarian stuff, which means the small portion of library work that is remotely interesting or challenging or shows any hope for breaking up the monotony of the day. Everything else should be left to the oppressed library worker. That’s what they’re there for.

If those job website people knew all this, librarian would probably shoot straight to the top of the list.



  1. These ratings are absurd. They remind me of the “best places to live” ratings. Why does North Dakota always come out on top for the best to live? No one lives there.

    • Hi, North Dakotan here. ND ranks high because real estate is dirt cheap and it’s safe and friendly. It’s a great place to grow up and it’s a great place to raise a family. That said, since I’m already grown and not having kids any time soon, I moved away and haven’t looked back.

      Plus, there’s oil there.

    • Librarienne…I will repeat my point: North Dakota real estate is cheap and North Dakota is safe because so few people live there. Why do so few people live there? You tell me.

    • Joe Schallan says:

      Because it’s flatter than a pancake. (A geographer recently investigated this statistically, analyzing vertical departure from mean for the surface of a pancake and the surface of North Dakota, and proved that, yes, North Dakota IS flatter than a pancake.)

      If not for the curvature of the earth, you could stand on a porch in Bismarck and see Chicago. For one such as myself who grew up in terrain, such a prospect would be depressing in the extreme.

      Also, it’s cold. Really cold. The only thing between North Dakota and the North Pole is a barbed-wire fence.

      And also, the few people who would be your neighbors are large, pasty, taciturn people of German descent. Coming as they do from a heritage of one unmitigated disaster after another, their outlook is grim. On the occasion when they do speak, there is no filter between brain and mouth.

      One more thing. At no other point in North America is the ocean farther away, unless you count Hudson’s Bay. Most don’t.

      The nearest “metropolis” is Winnipeg, whose only festival consists of carving immense topiary animals out of ice on the coldest day of the year.

      Have I answered the question?

    • And Arizona is such a GREAT place to live.

    • @Joe, what do you have against flatness? For a state that’s frozen most of the year, the flatness of the terrain saves lives!

    • @Will, as Joe gleefully pointed out, it’s cold–and flat. That seems to be all people know about North Dakota, if they know anything about North Dakota at all. Perhaps ND doesn’t talk itself up enough, or perhaps cheap real estate and plentiful jobs isn’t a very sexy lure. Since the recession began though, people have been moving to ND in droves.

    • North Dakota also has the best economy/job market in the country right now, hands down. That’s a big inducement to some folks, when they can’t find a job where they’re from. And some folks just like that prairie stuff. And cold wind that blows like crazy. Too each their own.

  2. Michelle Sellars says:

    One aspect these ranking sites always miss is that there are many varieties of librarians (several of which are listed in this article). There are all the different job titles, but also different work environments–a collections development librarian at a small public library is going to have different stresses, work environment, pay grade, job requirements, etc. from a subject specialist at a large university. My the work I do and have done in the past at historical societies, private libraries, museums, and archives is very different from what many public librarians and university librarians face every day. And my projected pay scale and job growth are a lot lower than one of my fellow MLIS all the latest about ebooks and copyright issues, and can do tech/web/media-related things for her library.

  3. Public Library says:

    I have had to deal with many HVAC repairmen over the past 15 years. They all seem very happy and cheerful. In fact, a number of them seem to live in my nieghborhood, which while not trendy, is a nice place to live.

  4. pt frawley says:

    Trying to define what being a good librarian isn’t… an indirect, mystical approach – I’ll settle for that.
    In my last public library ref-lib job in a poor city there was lots of stress and it came from the proper source, the patrons. I learned that street criminals and drug dealers use libraries for the same reasons other people do. Also that you can be totally nuts and still exercise good research skills.

  5. I love the term “library school”. It ranks right up there with such terms as “military intelligence”, “business ethics” or “legally drunk”.

    I personally know many political scholars who completed their Ph.D work while attending political school.


  6. Joe Schallan says:

    “Librarian is a good job because of the low stress…”

    I’m going to say it because someone has to. This is undeniably true for academic librarians, but not true at all for public ones.

    • I’m a public librarian so it would be easy for me to agree with you Joe. However, while in graduate school I interned at an academic library. They had a heck of a time getting respect from faculty. They couldn’t even get the departments they liaised with to let them sit in on department meetings or collect syllabi for collection development purposes.

  7. The stress at my public library is mitigated by patrons thoughtful enough to warn us that our alien overlords are coming. Having been quite anxious about not knowing the whereabouts of aforementioned overlords, I can now rest easy. That said, I wish the patrons were more specific; I need to know how long I have to finish the novel I’ve been working on at the reference desk.

  8. Overworked Librarian says:

    I can also attest to the stress in public libraries. I have experienced the following incidents in one library in the past three years:
    gunfire: a domestic dispute between a husband, a wife and her lover and the couple’s teenage daughters. The husband fired his gun in the air from just in front of the entrance to the library… they had just exited the library and had been arguing in front of the circulation desk for 20 mins.
    a bomb threat: in the end it was just an empty styrofoam box strategically placed to freak us out. The barefoot patron who sat under a tree across from my truck dared me to open it… The bomb squad was called and with the dogs and in full bomb squad get-up carefully removed the box.

    a man entered the library and went directly up to another patron hit him hard enough to spew blood.

    I could go on and I don’t have time…

  9. Solo Boy says:

    As a solo librarian, I get the best of both worlds: surf the web & read magazines all day long, buy books with other people’s money, smile and say I don’t have time to look up an answer right now, have my very own library server that I can tinker with, and especially, take long lunches.

    The only stress is when someone higher up wants to look at the budget!

  10. My patrons are great. It’s management that drives me crazy.

  11. pt frawley says:

    I’m glad others have had some of the same wacky-patron experiences. Dealing with the public is a challenge. After a while, though, I stopped trying to change the corny stereotypes about shush-happy librarians and settled down to helping people find what they really came in for. In poor neighborhoods it takes an effort to do something positive. At one point I blurted out to another staff member that we were doing “God’s work” helping folks with job resumes. I still believe it. Problem patrons can be found in affluent settings, too.

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