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

Geographic Mobility and Its Discontents

Someone left a comment on a post a few weeks ago that I’ve been meaning to address. Consider this addressing. It’s a long comment disagreeing with my claim that a lack of geographic mobility can make it harder to get jobs.

Here’s a shortened version:

After two years of looking for a professional library job, I think it’s time that I took issue with something the Annoyed Librarian keeps repeating and that I continuously find not be true….

What she seems to be deliberately ignoring is the fact that some libraries see geographic mobility as a “symptom of desperation.” That is an exact quote from a phone interview I did with an academic library two years ago….

Even more disheartening is when a library places a job add on LibGig and specifically states that, “This employer requests that only candidates within 100 miles of Townson, MD apply to this job.” Here’s the link, if you think I’m making this up:

These are good points, so maybe it’s time to make some qualifications.

First, I never said geographic mobility means you will get a job, only that the lack of it can hinder you. If you’re stuck in some small town without libraries and you want a library job, you’re probably out of luck. The same is generally true if you’re stuck in a town with a big library school. I still think this is true.

Second, based mostly on personal experience and anecdotal evidence, there does seem to be a distinction between which types of libraries hire nationally and which don’t. Basically, the more prominent the library, the better chance it hires nationally.

In practice, that means most public libraries aren’t going to be hiring people from far away. They don’t have the money to bring in candidates and they’re not competitive nationally.

While lots of librarians are want to work in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, fewer would make sacrifices to work in a small town they’ve never heard of. They know this. The libraries know this. So national searches are a waste of time.

Based on the comment, the same seems to be true of academic libraries. Libraries at major universities hire nationally. By major, I more or less mean ARL libraries, the big private universities, the flagship state universities, etc. These libraries aren’t going to restrict themselves to whomever happens to have a close zip code if the candidates look promising.

Applying for a job at Harvard from California wouldn’t be considered a sign of desperation.

The same might be true of the top liberal arts colleges such as Williams or Swarthmore. I’ve known lots of people working at colleges like that who weren’t locals.

So where does that leave us? There are all the smaller colleges and universities, which sometimes seem to have hiring practices similar to small public libraries. Their faculty are probably hired that way, too.

The job posting linked in the comment isn’t for a professional job, but there’s another listing at Towson University for a professional job that has the same geographic limitations. The reason? Possibly because it fits the academic profile sketched above. It’s not a nationally ranked university. It’s a regional public university.

The nationally known universities in Maryland, and probably the only ones people outside of Maryland have ever heard of, are the University of Maryland at College Park and Johns Hopkins, and neither of them likely limit their hires to within a hundred miles.

If this analysis is right, a rule of thumb might be, if you’ve never heard of a college or university in some region you’re unfamiliar with, they probably won’t be hiring a lot of people from out of state.

Thus, your geographic mobility won’t help you get jobs at such places, even if the lack of it will prevent you from getting other jobs.

At best, I was only partly right, not that it’s helping anyone get a job.



  1. miss.smith says:

    I can see it from both sides. On one hand employers want the best person they can get and in the case of a big college library they can throw their net far and wide on the other hand if it’s a small town public library they want someone who understands the public amenities in the vicinity and is already set up and ready to start. Personally I’d be willing to move country let alone state. Why can’t they put ‘there is no travel allowance for candidates’ on the advert? surely that would solve the problem. As for smelling the desperation most job candidates are desperate nowadays ,finding work is an uphill struggle, as a candidate you hope the human resources team have some imagination when raking through resumes.

  2. I interviewed at a small county public library for a Teen Services position while in my last semester of library school in 2009. It was a 35 hour a week position that paid $25,000 a year with no relocation fees.

    The lady doing the interview let slip that they had 27 applicants interviewing for the position and more than half of them came from outside the state. Some were flying across the country and putting themselves up in hotels to interview for the job.

    Of course that was back at the height of the Great Recession when budgets were hemhorraging and library jobs were even more difficult to find than they are now, but I think it illustrates the “reeking of desperation” job searcher quite nicely.

    • Andrew:

      That is absurd on the part of the library! There is no reason they can’t narrow the pool down to a reasonable 3, especially if the applicants are paying their own way.

      I was job hunting in the late 90’s and had a library call for an on-campus interview somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. They explained they could not pay for any travel and I said that’s fine. Then I asked how many others they were interviewing and he replied “ten.” When I finally stopped laughing I gave a polite “no thanks” and declined the interview.

      I understand not all libraries have the funds to fly in candidates, but that does not give them an excuse to abuse so many people. If each person pays an average of $1,000 for a 1 in 27 shot of getting a job, it means $26,000 is being wasted. No one should be taking interviews under those conditions. They are not being serious about either their time in interviewing 27 people nor about the candidate’s time, money, and need for realistic feedback. Who would want to work for people like that?

      It’s immoral and abusive.

    • I agree. That was one of numerous red flags raised during the interview. Some highlights include the interviewer asking about marital status and future family plans, commented on how a male would be nice for working with some of the difficult women in the building, and the interview ran over so I got a parking ticket.

      All in all not an organization anyone would want to work for. I was local but I felt sorry for the poor saps who schlepped across the country for that treatment.

  3. New graduates do not get interviews for professional positions at major universities. So, it’s not going to help them to be geographically mobile. If they live in a city with a library school or a city where there are no libraries, they are pretty much stuck there without a job.

    • As a new graduate (in CA) I got an interview for a small school in a small town in OK. Took the job and it was the best thing I ever did for my career and a great job. Being geographically mobile helps, period. If they are willing to go where no one else will they have much better odds of getting that first job.

    • I was a new graduate (May 2012) and got a professional job at an academic university (where I am still working). About thousand miles away from where I was currently living, go figure.

    • Since when? I did…others I know did. Cite your source.

  4. Transplant Librarian says:

    I think if you can explain/ show why you want to relocate to that town specifically it helps. I relocated from out of state into my current public library position. On my side were family in the area and the fact that I did a bit of research before my interview. Saying “I just want a job and I”ll go anywhere” reeks of desperation. Saying “I’ve always wanted to be part of a Maryland academic library, and this is why” makes it seem like you want to be a part of their community.

  5. I’m stuck in a city with a big library school, but I still got a professional job at the public library in town (a month before graduating actually).

  6. Sorry to poo-poo anyone’s ideas, but the vast majority of new librarians in my area (major county system in CA) are in-house people who were clerks or assistants who got their degree. Maybe 20% are from out of the system. Maybe .01% are from out of the area (say beyond 100 miles). Mobility is good, but the tried and true is getting a lower position and working up. Be involved, networking etc. You’ve got to be willing to sweept the floor, etc., before you hit the big time. I got my degree in ’07, and got a librarian position in-house about two months before graduation. I worked from page (3 years) to clerk (2 years) to clerical supervisor (2 years), then librarian (6 years). Now working on branch manager. Now that was before the recession, so I really do sympathize for some of you. But don’t discount the value of coming in on the lower jobs, being very vocal that you want to promote, and finding a good mentor to guide you. It will happen eventually. Best of luck.

    • What do you do when the Masters degree student loans come due, and you’re making a page salary? That’s the rub with taking lower level jobs.

    • It sounds like anyone who did not start as a page in your library system would have a hard time getting a job there. (There may be other reasons why people are interested in working there, so they don’t apply.) There are two sides to this situation. On one hand, it means the library systems rewards those that are interested in career advancement by hiring them for higher level positions. One the other hand, if the majority of the people that are hired within in the system are those that have “grown up” within that system, the organization viewpoint can be very limited. That can be limiting for organizational change and growth.

    • Sean – you may have one of the only jobs in the country that allowed you to work up to a position, and actually gave you one. Most would say that an individual would not be content with starting low, given their education and investment and wouldn’t stay if they were hired. Congratulations on being in the right place.

    • Sean,
      The reason I moved and didn’t start at a lower level job was because I was afraid of getting stuck working at that level, which was far below the experience I had already acquired working in these type of positions in libraries both as a volunteer while working full time, then at university and in internships after I started school. Since I was supporting myself, I also wanted to make a living wage and the jobs you describe wouldn’t have paid enough to survive on. Most of them also had no benefits. So instead, shortly after graduation, I moved to a place that not many would have chosen to start in a low level management job where I worked for six years and learned a lot. That job qualified me for the much higher level job where I currently work in a wonderful location. Some people also never make it out of lower level positions, and don’t have parents or a spouse to help support them while waiting for someone to move or retire. I know of people who have been promoted an moved up like you did, but I also have known hard working people who have gotten stuck in positions they never thought they’d be in years after finishing their degrees.

  7. I have to admit, I don’t really like the migratory nature of the “Be geographically mobile!” culture. I can’t think of a good way around it, but the truth is, I’d rather choose a place and then find a job there than chase jobs all over the country. There’s no point to having a good job if you’re expected to pick up stakes and move all the time — it’s not worth the trade-off. I’d like to put down some roots, for heaven’s sake. Being a nomad at 43 isn’t nearly as fun as being a nomad at 21. And I didn’t like it at 21.

    Unfortunately, the places I want to go don’t have jobs to find when I get there (home to Western New York) or don’t really pay enough for the cost of living there (Boston).

    • The idea is to be geographically mobile fresh out of library school, not forever. Once you have that 3+ years professional experience it becomes a lot easier to narrow your job search. When you’re fresh out of library school even the seemingly “entry level” jobs are asking for 1 to 2 years professional experience.

  8. “What do you do when the Masters degree student loans come due, and you’re making a page salary? That’s the rub with taking lower level jobs.”

    Wait till you make more money, then start school. If you can’t pay the bills, its really not smart to start accruing the debt and hoping you can defer it ad infinitum. I know that might be hard for some to swallow, but Dave Ramsey would be proud of you.

    On the personal side I got married and had our first child in the two years I was in school. But I was working full time too. I remember coming home to do a paper while my wife was still in the hospital with our first. But I was already in library work for a good 7 or 8 years. Have a full time library job locked in before go accruing the debt. It just makes financial sense.

  9. I was flat out asked once how in the world I had heard about a job at a local library. My father in law had forwarded it to me because we were considering moving to the area. They seemed shocked that anyone outside of their county had seen the ad.

    • I know. While people have the awareness that the internet is global, there isn’t the knowledge that the internet is global and that anyone anywhere with internet service can view job advertisements. That anyone is ever surprised by the contacts they get is truly strange.

  10. There’s a reason beyond the “appearance of desperation” that employers in small places sometimes prefer local candidates.

    Our small school district likes to interview candidates with ties to the area because they have been through the same cycle several times: hire a new teacher/librarian/administrator from outside the area; the candidate moves to our tiny town and s/he (or more often her/his spouse) realizes that while it’s a beautiful place and really is a nice place to raise a family, there is NOTHING TO DO HERE; new employee almost immediately begins job search, and resigns after one year; school district starts all over again.

    Small towns and small employers often cannot compete financially with larger places, and their locations can be isolating. Getting someone who already knows what they are in for (and already has reasons they want to be there) can help with employee longevity.

    • FromTheBurbs says:

      Cranky – your observations sound true for suburban and rural libraries. Another factor is that a big part of the service these libraries provide is pleasant community space — being a place where you can enjoy social activities with your neighbors and learn about local comings and goings. I’ve observed folks that work in these libraries have strong local connections (e.g. grew up in town, have raised (or are raising) kids up through the school system, have a spouse that works in town). For these libraries, candidates from other parts of the country may seem like less of a fit even if their professional credentials are stronger than those of local candidates.

  11. I am an academic librarian who had to move 500+ miles to get my first full time professional job. I was lucky-I did not have family issues that would have required me to stay in my former state. I had been unable to get a full-time professional position (which included benefits) so I moved. When I got this job, I was working full-time doing something else; a job that paid well and had benefits. I saw plenty of ads (especially in public libraries) for part-time positions without benefits. I could not afford to work those jobs, so I worked full time at my other career, and worked part-time at an academic library until I found a full time academic library-again 500+ miles away. The library paid my relocation expenses.

    When we do searches at my library, we do national searches; we want the best person for the job. We pay relocation expenses. All academic libraries do not have the budget for this. However, when interviewing non-local candidates, I have to be concerned about if the person will like the area enough to stay, or if they will be packing their bags after 6-12 months because they are unhappy because they don’t like the area, miss their family, find the area a cultural wasteland (insert sarcasm) etc. We’ve had this happen. I don’t think the candidates were lying when they said they would like the area-they meant it at the time. However, viewing a place on an interview is very different from actually living someplace day-to-day. If I hire a candidate, pay relo expenses, and they don’t like it and leave not only am I out of the relo money, but I now don’t have an employee for at least 6 months, because it will take time to do another search and get someone hired. Once a replacement person is hired, I have to factor in the time it takes for the new employee to get trained and get acclimated to the organization-minimum another 6 months. Put a dollar figure to that time and effort, and you’ll see why organizations may be hesitant about hiring employees not from the local area.

    I moved from one geographic region of the country to another, and trust me, having lived in one region of the country for most of my life, moving to a smaller city in a geographic region has had its drawbacks for me. There is nothing wrong with the area; it is just smaller than I am used to and I miss living in a larger more metropolitan area.

    • I think you make some very good points in your comments, about not liking the area. My husband found a job in CT, we are both from the Midwest (huge culture shock!), and I have been lucky enough to find 2 part time library jobs while here. We hate this area, all of our family is back in the midwest, and people here are so rude compared to the Midwest (sorry to offend anyone from here) and really need to learn how to drive and to stop and smell the roses once in a while. Thankfully, the company needed someone to transfer to their other office, and another state that is more suitable to our needs.

    • I think you need to have geographic mobility, but that doesn’t mean you have to be willing to go anywhere and everywhere. When I completed my degree and was applying for jobs, I was very open about moving, across the country if necessary, but only to places my husband and I would actually want to live. I looked into each town and city and its culture before applying. I didn’t need to move to South Dakota or Arkansas to know that I wouldn’t want to live there.

      We ended up in southern Vermont and are very happy here, and I have a full time librarian position with great benefits.

    • C. My family is half Midwestern and half New English. There are things I really love about both regions. It always breaks my heart a bit to hear this criticism of the region. Stick it out, you may just find that after being “accepted”, you have some amazing neighbors.

    • We are leaving in a month, my husband has been here 7 years and I have been here 2. Why bother sticking it out when things are not going to change? I do have some nice neighbors, and some nice coworkers, however the complete and total lack of respect that people have for one another in this region is outstanding. Why bother being polite to just a couple people, everyone deserves basic common courtesy.

  12. My first job I moved to a place I didn’t really want to live, but it was a great job that I very much wanted to have. I couldn’t afford to work in a low level part time job, so moving was necessary. Once there I was learning so much that I wanted to stay a while. The experience of living outside of my comfort zone was valuable and I grew a lot during the six years I lived within this community. Now I have a management job where I want to live, which I wouldn’t have been able to get without the experience of that first job.

    Most of out-of-state interviews in public libraries are done on Skype now so there is no travel fee, except perhaps for finalists. Public libraries generally no longer have the funding to pay for relocation so this does come out of the applicant’s pocket, though lodging may be covered. It was for me when I was a finalist for my first job. For my current job, I stayed with family during the final interview.

  13. Carol Morency says:

    I agree with From the Burbs about the need for local candidates for suburban and small public library jobs. While a good candidate can come from anywhere, so much about service and collections at public libraries involves knowing the area. If you have to orient a new librarian to the town, let alone explain the demographics, histories, politics, etc., that’s time not spent teaching them the million other things one needs to learn to work in a library. If someone has come from a large metro library with branches to a suburban facility with one building, the culture shock — even for the savviest person — can be huge.

  14. Maybe going from large city to a small town this is true, Carol. But if you like smaller communities for other reasons, like numerous outdoor activities in a gorgeous area, I don’t think this applies. It really depends on the candidate, i.e., why this library in this town. I’ve had two libraries that hired me as an out-of-state candidate and both were in relatively small communities, under 50,000. I don’t like to live in cities, though I like to visit them so looked for jobs that had at least a small city not too far away. The libraries in both cases said they wanted a fresh perspective. Also, traveling can be fun. There are benefits to be found in living in different cultures, even if they are in the States, particularly in learning a second language, as I did in my first library in a community where over 50 percent of the people spoke Spanish as their first language. I’ve known a number of librarians who moved and did just fine in their new home. It all depends on adaptability.

  15. Can I just say that as someone getting out of library school this is disgustingly disheartening to read.

    I am going to be in debt more money than I will probably ever make…… an area with many library schools. I doubt I will be able to find work around here with all the competition. I have experience. Not 2-3 years worth. I don’t have two masters degrees. One tapped me out financially. I don’t know 3 languages. I am not a computer scientist.

    I am open to moving. I have accepted the idea that I will likely HAVE to move somewhere in order to work and to pay my $1000 a month student loan bills. I am open to LEAVING THE COUNTRY for work.

    To hear that places don’t even look at your resume if you aren’t from nearby makes me feel awful. (When this has been trumpeted as the way to find a job) To hear that even if they do look at your resume and want to interview you, your gonna have to pony up the hundreds (or thousand or so) dollars required to get a chance at the job. Only to be told you seem “desperate”.

    Yes I am desperate. I spent tens of thousands of dollars and years of my life working for this job. Yes I am desperate I have to eat, I have to pay rent, I have to pay the bank the enormous compounding interest they give grad students now. I don’t have a wife or a husband to support me on my job search. I don’t have parents to do it. It’s either get a job or be homeless.

    Ya shame on me. I know. I listened to my parents and counsellors telling me to get educated. Stupid idea. I had a decent thing going in retail. I could go out once a month.

  16. says:

    First, for the Annoyed Librarian:
    Thank you for responding to my post, and for concluding that in your previous posts you were, at least, “only partly right.” You were also fair in noting that the link I posted was not to a professional position, so, thank you for actually viewing the position. Also, thanks for viewing Towson University’s opening and explaining the difference between national and regional institutions. A lot of your commentary was useful and it reflects a lot of what other people have told me.

    Now, for Everyone Else:
    I guess the one thing I’ve learned from this is that to get a professional library job, you have to already be working there as a non-professional/staff-level librarian. The only thing I need to do now is look for one of those professional librarians whose nearing the end of his/her career and patiently hover over them like a buzzard…

  17. With the exception of my first year as a professional I’ve always worked in academic libraries. I got my degree at what is now the University of North Texas in Denton, TX. Less than five miles away, as the crow flies is Texas Women’s University. Both had ALA-accredited programs and both were a clear shot up either I-35E or I-35W from Dallas and Fort Worth. To say that finding a library job in the metroplex is difficult is obvious. Finding a library where you had a chance to move up and advance your career was even harder. Fortunately, the college I had gone to my freshmen and sophomore years of college was looking for an instruction librarian, which is what I wanted to be coming out of library school. That school was a small private college located in western NC and I jumped at the chance. Because we were a small staff I got a chance to do just about everything there was to do in a library during those five years. Eventually I became the coordinator of the music library and as a result honed my cataloging skills as well as reference and instruction. By the time I was ready to move on I was confident enough to become head of cataloging at a university in Arkansas. From there I moved to head of cataloging at a medical library in Dallas where I spent seven years on the cutting edge – it was during that time that the Web came to be, and I was learning HTML early on. After that I finally realized that I had a broad enough background to be qualified to be a director. So, I applied and after a few interviews around the country I was hired by a small college in southwestern Virginia. Three years there and I’m back in my native state of Texas and have been director here for nearly thirteen years now. For me moving around brought many more opportunities than I would have originally had staying in the DFW area, and I might never have felt ready to direct. Fortunately I am single and have no dependents other than dogs and cats, so these were all ideal situations for me. I would think that would be more problematic for those in relationships.

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE