Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Surveying the Numerous Career Guides to Librarianship

You might think with the MLS being the worst master’s degree for jobs and all that there wouldn’t be many books recommending librarianship as a career, but you’d be wrong. There are plenty.

I counted 10 different books published between 2002 and 2009 showing you how to start a career in librarianship. For those of you still interested, let’s take a little survey, shall we?

First, there’s Jump Start Your Career in Library and Information Science, from Scarecrow Press in 2002. That might be the first librarian career guide of the new millennium, or at least the first I found. Jump start that career! The future is yours!

If Scarecrow does something, the other publishers better jump on the bandwagon as well. And they did, so we got Straight from the Stacks: A Firsthand Guide to Careers in Library and Information Science, from ALA Editions in 2003. And that’s a firsthand guide, implying all others might be secondhand guides.

Scarecrow, I’m assuming, wasn’t going to take that lying down, so 2004 brought us their The Librarian’s Career Guidebook, by the same editor as Jump Start Your Career. Hey, if you’ve got a dead horse, beat it.

Once there’s an obvious market for this kind of thing, non-library publishers jump in as well, so in 2006 we got Career Opportunities In Library And Information Science from Checkmark Books. I’d never heard of them, but they publish other career guides. Since the press does all sorts of career guides and the author probably isn’t a librarian, we could possibly call this a thirdhand guide to the field.

This foray into the field was apparently too much for Scarecrow, who brought out New Librarian, New Job: Practical Advice for Managing the Transition in the same year. I guess it’s a little different from a pure career guide. It’s only a career guide for the new librarian. Wait, I guess they all probably are, so this counts. At least they got a new editor for this one. It’s nice to get different perspectives on these things.

By this time Libraries Unlimited must have been soiling themselves with thoughts of an untapped market, so 2006 brought us yet a fourth career guide: Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals. We all remember 2006 as a banner year, when all was bliss, when few of us had heard of credit default swaps. Ahh, those were the days.

Coming late the game, Libraries Unlimited was apparently trying to play catch-up, so in 2007 they released A Day in the Life: Career Options in Library and Information Science, edited by the same person who edited the first two Scarecrow career guides. Something tells me we’re plowing a shallow field here, or maybe beating the same dead horse in the same shallow field. Just insert whatever homespun metaphor you want.

Then another non-library publisher decided to leap into the fray. After all, with this many career books there must be something going on. Libraries must be HOT! So McGraw Hill released Opportunities in Library and Information Science in 2008. They tried to make up for the most boring title of the bunch with an enthusiastic blurb:

Get informed and enjoy a successful, gratifying career!

Get started in a position that has a future and is financially rewarding. Opportunities in Library and Information Science Careers provides you with a complete overview of the job possibilities, salary figures, and experience required to enter the fields of library and information science.

Gratifying, got a future, financially rewarding? That sounds like my kind of job. Sign me up, baby!

This was a HOT field, so 2009 brought us two more books. First, there’s So You Want To Be a Librarian from Library Juice Press, and what I assume is a revised version of Career Opportunities in Library and Information Science from the busy beavers at Checkmark Books. There’s a different editor, though, so maybe it’s trying to compete with the same title from the same publishers. Some publishers are just weird.

Over an 8-year period ending in 2009, we saw 10 career guides, 3 from Scarecrow, 2 from Libraries Unlimited, 2 from Checkmark, 1 from McGraw Hill, and 1 from the Library Juice Press. But then they seemed to have dried up? What happened?

I think we know what happened. The economy started to bottom out. Library jobs were scarce. Libraries were laying off employees and cutting hours and very occasionally closing a branch. And 3 years later, the MLS is the worst master’s degree for jobs.

For years the ALA and library schools talked about a bright future where old fogey librarians were retiring and new library school graduates would find lots of great jobs. The future looked rosy if you looked at it through rose-colored glasses, and no one has rosier colored glasses than people who give career advice for profit.

Based on the existence of all these guides, I guess it wasn’t just the ALA and library schools who were deluded, but the publishers as well.

So now, if you’ve graduated from library school, have ignored the job wisdom of the AL for the past 5 years, read one or more of these books, and insist on blaming someone other than yourself, you have some more people to blame for your misfortune.

You’re welcome.



  1. ChickenPolitics says:

    If the cycles of the economy have less of an influence in the future of public institutions, would the job prospects remain grim?

  2. elena librarian says:

    Still waiting for those old fogies to retire. This ‘fact’ was told to me back in 1996 (wow, maybe I am the old fogey) when I started library school. My sage wisdom for those in Library school now: Make sure if you do decide to become a librarian that you specialize and do other things, like learning about computer networking for example.

  3. DevelopmentArrested says:

    Career opportunities the ones that never knock. Every job they offer you’s to keep you out the dock

  4. academictech says:

    The economy is not to blame for the lack of library jobs. When I was first considering library school back in 2003 there were already blogs and email lists full of unemployed or underemployed MLS grads. The staff reductions have been going on for a long time.

  5. DevelopmentArrested says:

    Well, the economy is to blame. What you mean is “This current economic downturn…”

    And I don’t know if I can answer ChickenPolitics question. I’m guessing the answer is… yes? It’s hard to say definitively.

    Even if the economy had less of an impact every society must decide what it’s going to invest in. For a long while, our society has chosen to put less and less resources in the education of people, young and old.

    In addition, many in the public don’t particularly view libraries as currently relevant. And as the Annoyed Librarian frequently points out, libraries’ attempts at convincing people that they still have a function by taking up a new role as community entertainment center are at best misguided at worst detrimental to the profession.

  6. Tired Librarian says:

    The horrible thing is, speaking as a retiring librarian, more and more often, I find myself irritated with people and think “Why didn’t you just Google (or Bing, or whatever) that? It’s like refusing to use a bank machine.

    Society DOES value education – or at least knowledge. Every day I am amazed and excited by what institutions and individuals are making available on the Internet. The institution I work for? not so much! They’re too worried that the great-great-great grand-child of somebody-or-other might squawk about copyright if they digitize some ancient publication. I could have contributed more if I was unemployed.

    A lot (not all, but a lot)of libraries have missed the boat. There’s just not going to be the positions for librarians in the future.

  7. It is amazing to me that they try to lump library science with information technology. The training is not the same. Then there is the line that library science prepares you for the computer fields. No it does not unless you have
    an undergraduate degree in computer science. As far as I am concerned they have enough librarian graduates who are not employed or underemployed that they need not graduate another one for the next 10 years. But everyone thinks they will be the lucky one. Good luck with that.

  8. Charming Billy says:

    I’m unemployed librarian. I’m not a newbie. I worked in the field from the 80s till 2008 when I gave up my job to relocate. Dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

    My wife is an employed librarian. We’re both amazed at the number of her colleagues who want to get an MLIS. I’ve told my wife she needs to gently discourage them. She would be doing them — and me — a favor (I don’t need more competition). But really there’s nothing she could or would do unless one of them approached her personally for advice.

    She’s also a branch manager and she agonizes over whether to post advertisements for the local MLIS program on the bulletin board. The program sends them out all the time. Their advertising gets better as job prospects for their grads get worse. It’s evil. I tell her she’s doing her patrons a disservice. But she posts them anyway. What else can she do?

    So I try to do my part. Here goes: DON’T GET AN MLIS! You’re better off getting an AA in Nursing or HVAC technology at the local community college! At least you’ll be employable and have less debt. I’m not kidding. Think about it.

  9. I do not have an MLIS, I work as a library assistant cataloging books. The job does not pay as much as a librarian’s salary but working for a public university it is relatively secure and provides good benefits,

    • Charming Billy says:

      Stephen you are a lucky man. I can’t seem to land any kind of library job — been job hunting for over 5 years — and I would love to have your job. But since I have an MLIS I wouldn’t be considered for your position. It’s a Catch 22.

      I wish search committees and other responsible parties were more open minded about hiring MLIS holders for parapro positions. There are so few professional positions, and there aren’t likely to be many in the near future (in fact there are likely to be fewer and fewer) so the best thing that could happen to a unemployed MLIS holder like me is to land a decent parapro job. It’s a LOT better than nothing, which is what I have now. In fact, I’m retraining as a paralegal and have no hopes of ever landing a library job.

  10. Bruce Campbell says:

    Good advice up there (elena librarian) about specializing in technology.

    I think the downturn is going to make librarianship a competitive field (duh, right?). There are going to be fewer librarians with problems maintaining eye contact, poor work ethic, resistance to change, and passivity. Only the outstanding, active ones will be hired. It’s a sort of Darwinism. I know this sounds insensitive and is a generalization. I’m sure there are some excellent unemployed librarians. Maybe.

    • Bruce Campbell says:

      What I said is true in all fields. When there’s a surplus of degree holders in a field and a scarcity of jobs in said field, generally the best and most competitive candidates (librarians) are hired.

      5 years is a long time. You should take your own advice and go back to school. That’s what I’d do if I were you.

      Insensitive? Too much sugar-coating of the circumstances (e.g. an MLS is a competitive degree in a growing field, etc) is what created this whole mess.

  11. Charming Billy says:

    Yes, Bruce there are quite a few excellent unemployed librarians. I’m one of them.

    And yes, you sound superficial and insensitive.

  12. Bruce Campbell says:

    Whoops, meant to post that after you. What I said is true in all fields. When there’s a surplus of degree holders in a field and a scarcity of jobs in said field, generally the best and most competitive candidates (librarians) are hired.

    5 years is a long time. You should take your own advice and go back to school. That’s what I’d do if I were you.

    Insensitive? Too much sugar-coating of the circumstances (e.g. an MLS is a competitive degree in a growing field, etc) is what created this whole mess.

  13. Charming Billy says:

    Duh. Like I said, I AM retraining.

    I exaggerated some, I admit. I have landed some jobs in the past few years, temp jobs and a PT permanent position with unworkable hours that I had to leave. My big mistake was relocating just before the credit crunch hit the economy without first securing a position. But I had little choice; it was a family emergency.

    If you are employed, or were lucky enough to land a job quickly, then you simply do not understand the way things work now for job seekers. The old rules don’t apply any more. It doesn’t matter how good you are, there is such a surfeit of good librarians that you can’t rely on being the best.

    The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong is proverbial, but in the library field, the bad economy as well as the increasing number of grads from expanded and online programs, ensure that a large number of MLS holders, be they ever so swift and strong, will simply not find jobs.

    So, the sugar coating isn’t just the myth of the elusive retiring librarian or the polite fiction of the transferability of the MLS, it’s also the fable that the best candidates will find jobs.

    I have been in this field since the mid 80s. Started out as a shelver, worked my way up to a parapro, got the MLS and landed good jobs. I’ve done academic and public, public and tech services. So, I’ve seen all sides of the profession. I’ve hired “excellent” candidates, only to see them reveal themselves as accomplished and subtle BS artists with raging personality disorders.

    My wife is a librarian as well. Snce I left my job to relocate she’s been the Assistant Director and Director of a good sized public library system and is now a branch manager at of one of the top rated public library systems in the country. She’s seen “excellent” and “competitive” librarians hired since the library job market tanked turn into walking disasters, while solid, competent librarians who find self promotion difficult and distasteful soldier on without incident — if they’re employed — or leave the field once it’s clear there are no jobs.

  14. Bruce Campbell says:

    Billy – Right, Paralegal. Sorry. I reread my post and I sound offensive. Bad delivery.

    My situation is similar to yours. Moved for my wife’s job. I’ve been part time as a librarian for three years. We moved to a less populated area of the country where there were fewer jobs and the economy was in the toilet before 2008.

    In the last three months I applied to 9 jobs, got five responses, and two job offers. After I accepted a job about a month ago I kept getting responses to my applications. Bottom line: I made the most of my PT position and did all I could to stand out as a candidate. My work has paid off.

    During my time in libraries I’ve always been one of the hardest workers and have been repeatedly disappointed by a number of my colleagues. I spent time in the private sector and I echo Ray in Ghostbusters “They expect results!” and I’ve never slowed down or gotten complacent once I switched to libraries.

    Maybe this is where I differ from my colleagues. Maybe this is why there were so many interested employers when I started applying to jobs. What I’m saying is…maybe this is what I’m talking about in my first post.

    I understand there are parts of the country that don’t have jobs and I feel sympathy for those who can’t relocate. I know this advice probably doesn’t apply to you because you’re experienced and capable and moved due to family stuff, but I think the only way to make sure you have a job in libraries is to make yourself indispensable.

  15. Charming Billy says:

    No problem. I made the most of my PT/Temp positions too and it paid off when I got a permanent PT position last year. That would’ve been OK even long term so I could care for our kids, but it was an evening only position over an hour away. That made it impossible to do childcare except during summers when the kids were out offschool. During the rest of the year the burden fell on my wife’s shoulders. That didn’t work out so I had to give it. I had several interviews last summer but no offers, so I enrolled in the paralegal classes. We’ll see how that works out.

    I think librarians who haven’t faced the tough job market don’t appreciate their jobs. My wifes see that all the time. A lot of belly aching and back stabbing over nothing. We both think: YOU HAVE A JOB! What are complaining about. But they’re the ones who’ve been in the jobs for years. And yes, a lot of them are gold bricks.

    I have become much more result oriented and harder working in the last few jobs I’ve had. I was always a good employee, but probably spent too much time in the public sector for my own good. But I’m aware that doesn’t work nowadays and I was never the stereotypical government employee. I’ve always seen myself as a public servant and the patron is my employer. My greatest fear is ending up like a DMV employee.

    My recent supervisors have liked me and gave me great recommendations. So I know I’m good, but the competition’s fierce and although I’m personable and a hard worker, I am not the best net worker and self brander. That’s what I’ve got to work on. Plus we live in big city that’s between two big library schools. Lots of MLS holders here.

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