Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Older and Younger Librarians and Jobs

This news story made the rounds last week. It reports about a economic study showing that large numbers of older workers don’t crowd out younger workers.

It’s an AP story, and I’m not sure what you can tell about the different headlines written for it. The Washington Post link above is headlined: Will Surge of Older Workers take Jobs from Young?

National news outlets tended to frame the headline as a question, and we know from Betteridge’s law of headlines that the answer is no. Local news outlets tended to have headlines like: Research: Boomers won’t squeeze younger workers out of jobs. I guess the national news outlets like clickbait headlines more.

Although individual people relying upon anecdotal evidence believe that younger people aren’t getting jobs because old people won’t just retire already, the macroeconomic evidence indicates that’s not true.

The article reminded me of the argument in librarianship that comes up occasionally, mainly from younger and unemployed librarians who believe that older librarians refusing to retire is one of the reasons they can’t get jobs.

This is especially prevalent in periods of recession, when older librarians who might otherwise retire choose to keep working because they now can’t afford to do anything else.

The economic data suggests it doesn’t matter much because there aren’t a set number of jobs, at least over the long run. As one economist noted, when women entered the workforce, they didn’t displace men. The economy expanded.

The economy of libraries doesn’t expand that much, and obviously not to the degree the entire economy does. Libraries do create new types of jobs, but these tend to be alternatives when other librarians leave or retire.

Yes, maybe we need another emerging digital something-or-other librarian, but that will have to wait until Crusty the Cataloger retires and frees up some money.

Nevertheless, the young, unemployed librarian complaint isn’t a very compelling one, and as a librarian who plans to never ever retire unless I get rich, I can say a few reasons why.

First of all, the complaint tries to say that one group of people are superior and more deserving than another group of people. Normally, we’d call that bigotry of some kind: racism, sexism, whatever.

In this case, it’s generally ageism. The young are narcissistic, and think of themselves as more deserving of everything. Older people are just non-human objects who don’t have lives, loves, desires, or concerns of their own. Get them away! Yuck!

The reverse happens as well, and it’s not pretty. In the comments of some of the articles we get the inevitable comment that young people can’t get jobs because they’re lazy and entitled. Which might not be true, but….

Any young, unemployed librarian who claims the problem is that the oldsters won’t just die off already might not be lazy, but is definitely suffering from an unjustified sense of entitlement.

The harsh universal truth is that nobody owes you a job. You’re not entitled to one, much less the one you really want. Whatever you have been told to the contrary is wrong, and you were foolish for believing it.

To believe that some other human being should wreck their life plans so that you can get that job nobody owes you is extremely arrogant. Get over yourself.

The problem is that the entitled young and the crusty old who argue over this issue don’t really see the other group of people as people. They’re either obstacles or annoyances.

There must be plenty of young people who are as lazy and entitled as the bitter oldsters think they are, but I haven’t met any of them. The younger librarians I’ve met have generally been engaged with their work and eager to succeed.

And those old librarians who are just wasting space best saved for the young? Well, I’ve met plenty of old useless librarians in my day, but the key part of that description is “useless,” not old. Getting rid of the useless librarians would make space for experienced and competent librarians, who won’t necessarily be young at all.

The thing is, as long as one can remain mentally active, one can do a good job as a librarian, and the best older librarians still keep their minds active. This isn’t manual labor. It’s not a job that wears you down to nothing if you do it right.

The sad thing is that it does seem harder for young people these days to find jobs than it was a generation or two ago. If you make your money through the stock market, then you’ve been doing well the past few years. For everyone else, times have been harder and there are systemic economic issues that will make it increasingly harder for most people to find good jobs.

But it’s a lot easier to ignore that when you make some other group the enemy. It’s old people not retiring. It’s immigrants taking our jobs. It’s those Asians and their crazy high test scores keeping me out of college. It’s always someone else’s fault.



  1. All of the ageism I saw while working in libraries was against older workers. I was sure I wouldn’t get my first entry-level library job because I was up against people with decades of experience, but I got the job because I was young and fresh out of school. Meanwhile those librarians with all that experience were still laid off in the middle of the recession. When I got into middle management at a public library EEOC-dodging phrases like “vibrant” or “technologically savvy” were thrown around.

    When I graduated (first graduating class after the great recession hit, woo!) things sucked. Five years out I look at the job market and see that it’s improved in my area with a few MLS jobs posted every couple of weeks instead of every couple of months like back in ’08-’09, but by any objective view the library market still seriously sucks.

    That’s the real problem whether you’re young or old.

  2. I’ve only heard this argument as a joke. I hear that in a lot of cases people are retiring and their jobs aren’t being replaced.

    I did work with one lady on a project who had retired from a librarian position, she was set up with a nice pension, lived in a rich suburb and had no mortgage but wanted extra money to spend on luxury holidays. I was torn in that case. Should she have taken someone elses job when she didn’t need it?

    • finally a librarian says:

      That “one lady” can take any job she wants. Employment should go to (or kept by) the best qualified person. I have yet to see “priority given to the neediest person” in a job description. Should the person with, say, 3 kids get priority over someone with none or one, or the person with a mortgage offered a job over another living in the parents’ basement?

    • ‘Finally a Librarian’, yes I know that! Surprisingly I know how the job market works. I also knew people who didn’t get the work who were struggling with student loans. She wasn’t in a management role, so she probably shouldn’t have been employed since she was over qualified for the job and was most probably bored silly.

    • Wait – – that’s weird. You’re making it sound like even once she has a job, the comfortable older lady should be removed from her job. Not even if she’s one of two candidates for a job, if she already has the job. This couldn’t possibly be what you mean?

  3. Great article!

  4. I’m a Millennial librarian with colleagues of all ages, and my favorite coworkers are old enough to be my parents (and indeed, have children around my age). It’s one of the challenges of our profession — learning to work with people of different generations. It’s not a bad thing at all, and I’m happy my coworkers haven’t retired yet!

    But some of them tell me stories that sound like library fairy tales, and I have to admit, it’s frustrating. The stories are all pretty similar. They got a paraprofessional job at a library. They did well and liked it. The library gave them money and time off to pursue an MLS, then offered them a better paying job upon graduation.

    I, however, graduated with $40,000 of student loan debt. After cobbling together two low-paying internships for a year, I finally found a job. It required me to uproot my life to move across the country, and I was separated from my partner for almost a year. I suppose older librarians view all this as “paying my dues,” but in reality, I will be literally paying those dues for many, many years in the form of student loan payments, while they enjoy retirement after a career free of student debt.

    My story isn’t unusual. This is the fate my generation inherits. I agree that we librarians need to be realistic about the job market and not make assumptions about someone based on their age. But expressing my well-warranted frustration over the job market and my student debt doesn’t make me entitled, either.

    • “But some of them tell me stories that sound like library fairy tales, and I have to admit, it’s frustrating. The stories are all pretty similar. They got a paraprofessional job at a library. They did well and liked it. The library gave them money and time off to pursue an MLS, then offered them a better paying job upon graduation.”

      Not a fairy tale at all. My library provides every part of this today. I happened to come in with $40k in grad school debt, but many of my coworkers did and are taking advantage of this opportunity.

  5. I think the combination of high student loan debt, a glut of MLIS grads, competition for even part-time postings, and low starting salary is only going to create more resentment over time. I love working with my coworkers who are forty years older than me and am not looking forward to when they retire.

    They are not the problem in this situation, but I can see why people are looking for any tiny glimmer of hope for future job openings. Fighting for that glimmer of hope is usually voiced as resentment, unfortunately. I try not to complain and instead focus my time on growing my technical skills. All I can do is make myself a better candidate.

    What really scares me is that there are six students just at my tiny college applying to library programs. They clearly haven’t learned from the five of us with MLIS degrees (two have a second master’s!) working as paras or temps here.

  6. PenLib1985 says:

    Great insight. I graduated with my MLS in 2011. Things were tough. I worked a couple of temp/part-time jobs until I was able to land a full-time professional position in a public library. I worked in a library as a paraprofessional while in library school, which made me very fortunate. I was able to gain valuable experience while in school, which is something I think everyone should at least try to do. But, again, it’s really hard to do in a tough economic climate.

    When I finished school, I thought I would get a job immediately because I’m hardworking and I had good experience. But it took two years for me to land a full-time position. I learned a lot about myself in that period of financial stress, and I think it made me a more resilient person and worker in the end because it taught me to not take things for granted.

  7. OldLibrarian says:

    Yes, there is a glut of MLIS degrees, a dearth of jobs, and a trend toward downsizing professional library staff through attrition. So under what delusions do people continue to pursue a master’s degree program in a low-paying field with bleak to non-existent prospects for either full-time employment or a liveable wage? I have little sympathy for anyone who accrues 40K in student loan debt on an MLIS and then cries foul because they cannot find a job in the field. As the old saying goes, a failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part. I hear Wal-Mart is hiring.

    • PenLib1985 says:

      I worked through school and didn’t come out with any debt, in part because I received an IMLS grant that paid my tuition. Others were not as lucky. I graduated with folks who now owe $70k plus, and are still looking for gainful employment. It is still really tough out there, and I feel extremely fortunate to have a job at all.

    • Kronan the Grammarian says:

      Before I started library school in 2009, I had carefully researched the field. According to everything I read, while job growth would be small compared to other fields, there would be growth in the field of librarianship, especially because of Boomer retirements. I also researched the opportunities in the area in which I live & then focused my studies on the area that had the biggest opportunity for employment. I hardly think that the Great Recession & corporatization of academic libraries was a failure to plan on my part. I feel very fortunate that I don’t have student loans to repay, but as a 50-year-old trying to start a second career, I’ve come to believe that earning my MLS was a waste of time & money, as I have both the “oldster” & the “newbie-so-let’s-make-salaries-half-of-what-they-were” labels attached to me.

  8. We’ve been hearing about the “boomer retirements” for what — 20 or more years? The previous AL, who bowed out of this blog a few years ago, used to mock the myth of the pending waves of retirements and the boundless jobs which would arise out of their ashes. Maybe the wave isn’t a complete myth. I’ve noticed there have been retirements this year, which opened a job move for me that I paid for out-of-pocket because few places will pay anyone to move now, unless it’s a large library system and the job is a director’s job. The jobs that are finally opening won’t help the newcomer much because they have mostly been for director, library management and other high level jobs. There is still too little out there that is not part time and low paying with lots of competition for new graduates. Too many online schools are turning out too many graduates.

    • anonymous says:

      Different ALs? So, name the “previous” and “current” ALs…I’d love to know….

    • newoldskool says:

      I also venture that this isn’t the original AL. I followed the original AL from the early years (2008, 2009?). She was highly critical of ALA, who eventually bought out the blog, given its growing popularity. While this writer makes an effort to imitate the writing style, it is pretty markedly different since AL started being hosted by LJ (ALA). It might even be the second or third AL ghostwriter, actually. The content is similar but the irreverent tone is different. Not saying the content is any less relevant to us, but…there’s just something deflated about it since the move to LJ. Kinda like hearing Joplin and Beatles’ songs used in commercials. No Anarchy for the ALA anymore…

    • I also venture that this isn’t the original AL.

      Yes, I’ve also thought a few people may have written under AL. Writing styles have subtly shifted. I don’t follow the blog like I did when the original was writing it, just check in periodically through the news feed. The original blog started in 2006 I think.

  9. Biblio Boomer says:

    ” After cobbling together two low-paying internships for a year, I finally found a job. It required me to uproot my life to move across the country, and I was separated from my partner for almost a year.”
    Every generation has their issues. Back in the early 90’s, before the Internet was taken for granted, I commuted 110 miles each way to attend library school. Some of my classmates took a year off their jobs and moved across the country to get their degrees, with no guarantee of a job when they got back. I’ll admit, tuition was affordable then, and I’m personally glad I didn’t get an online degree, but it wasn’t easy for us older folks, either!

    • ghostwrider says:

      ” After cobbling together two low-paying internships for a year, I finally found a job. It required me to uproot my life to move across the country, and I was separated from my partner for almost a year.”
      I was married, but my husband was an over the road truck driver. I worked three part-time jobs while going to graduate school-one of them as a para-professional at a library, so I know what how you feel. I was not a younger kid though. I had student loans, too. I was a hybrid. I came from the Generation X.

  10. Different ALs? So, name the “previous” and “current” ALs…I’d love to know….

    Several years ago, AL said she was leaving this blog forever. Then she (I guess it’s a she) came back, declaring it was an April Fool’s joke. The writing style and tone after that were quite different, and many earlier readers (me included) were convinced it was different person writing under AL, even though the second AL in the beginning tried to copy, and not successfully, the original’s style. The new AL never refuted our claims, nor paid any attention to them. Originally AL was an independent blog until AL, the original, moved to her one time nemesis — here, i.e., ALA, which AL had always poked fun at and never had much use for. She claimed she was moving for the money and would bring her massage therapist, Chip, along. A number of librarians accused her of selling out at that time, but it was certainly the same person who moved over. The original AL was more biting, acerbic and funnier. It doesn’t matter who writes under Annoyed Librarian, but I’m certain this is a different blogger than the original.

    • Alex Kyrios says:

      I think you’re confusing Library Journal and American Libraries. LJ isn’t owned by ALA like American Libraries is.

  11. People do not get the job because they are necessarily the “best”. Personality, looks, connections, just plain luck plays into it so stop clapping yourselves on the back. When I got a degree in a different field I was more welcomed into the fold. The problem is why should librarians tell the truth, especially those who teach? They need the young recruits. If the graduates can’t find jobs they ply them with certificates, and extra training to keep the money coming in. Some of you are fortunate enough to have libraries that hire and help. Others are not so fortunate. To say you don’t care about those who have entered your profession shows that people who enter the library profession care only about eating their young. You do not nurture you kill… and that will be the end of your profession. You are not nurturing you own life line, but than you don’t care that pension is in reach…I could entertain all of you about my profession and what I went through, but that is life. To not mentor others shows supreme narcissism, but maybe that is who this profession attracts.
    I do agree, the person who says that Annoyed either isn’t the first one or is totally bored…sounding the bell…last librarian out is a rotten egg…by the way having never gone to library school, but thought about it, I have found that those who get library jobs at my community library are dull, and dumb for the most part. At times I have had to take a book and tell them the wrong catalog number was put on, some do not even know how to find a book in the library…or anything about getting a book on inter library loan.. too bad, nice kids, but they need to get out of this patrons way and let ME do their job.,

  12. I think that the enmity between older and younger librarians is misplaced if it’s even true at all. I graduated in ’09 with an MLIS degree and struggled to find a full-time professional gig. It was all too easy to blame older librarians for hogging the good jobs, but know I can’t really blame them for holding on to those jobs. In my limited experience at that time (I was a paraprofessional in a public library), I saw a lot of jaded older librarians hanging on until they could afford to retire. My frustration was not against older generations of libarians, but those who clearly despised their jobs and clearly did just enough to not get fired.

    Like AL pointed out, the key is on ‘useless’ and not necessarily old. Librarianship is one of the professions that unfortunately allows for a lot of dead weight. Many professional jobs require extensive experience in libraries that disqualifies new librarians with little experience. As a result, the young people that could potentially innovate libraries for the good are not ‘qualified’ for these jobs. The challenges of automation, tight budgets, and the perceptions that libraries in general do not help a librarianship culture that is self-defeating. We can change, but only after its been vetted through multiple committees of MLIS-holding librarians.

    • “We can change, but only after its been vetted through multiple committees of MLIS-holding librarians.” THIS.

      My favorite scapegoat is the ALA and its ridiculous accreditation system, FWIW. ALA is the one enabling the diploma mills churning out desperate serfs willing to work part-time pooled positions at $15/hour w/ no benefits. Let’s end the charade that is the MLS already.

  13. Today I rang a potential employer and asked what their selection criteria of “Advanced computer skills” meant in a more detailled sense. Their answer was “Well, basically we are looking for a digital native.”

    Oh well. Thanks for making me phone you to hear the ageism.

  14. think you’re confusing Library Journal and American Libraries. LJ isn’t owned by ALA like American Libraries is.

    Yes.. At the time, however, the move from an independent blog to here was interpreted by readers as joining the enemy, i.e., ALA, which viewpoint was also represented by Library Journal. AL herself made jokes about this.

  15. It’s not ageism when the older librarians won’t retire. Seriously, i’ve been looking for better jobs in libraries for years and can’t find one because of the oldie-librarian click. And I’ve seen my fair-share of librarians that are useless and taking up space. In addition to this libraries don’t offer ironically any out-reach type of programs like other jobs to pool in young people or keep them interested in being a librarian. It’s called hogging up the job positions and not allowing others to have a chance at their lives while they age out with the building. Since when has a library ever provide or suggest scholarship funds for those interested in the degree? Barely any, while other companies have out-reached to actively recruit potential employees into their companies.

    At my job it’s pretty much bare bones which is sad for a library. The librarians there for some reason treat themselves as highly-established relics yet none of them would have been heard of except for a local newspaper or two from the town. I have seen librarians become very lax in the rules and conduct department and make a mockery out of the librarian position by being excessive chatter-boxes with lots of time on their hands. Now, there’s nothing wrong with talk no, but when a librarian walks in and a library ends up turning into a bon-bon social gossip club where all the librarians hang out in the office and talk mindlessly when their suppose to be working is a problem. Lazyness creeps in and librarians think that they themselves have some sort of privilege over the other positions of staff in the place. At my place, the librarians are so lazy that they rely on other staff to even clean up the offices where they gather themselves in after just throwing things around on the ground. It’s like a pig place and it’s totally unacceptable and defiantly would not fly in other places. But nothing is said, because their into their bon-bon social circles and expect others to clean up after them while they free-load off the job position. I have gone into break rooms numerous times where librarians have eaten like pigs where they won’t even clean up after themselves on break-room, they just leave it there for someone else to wipe up. Librarians that constantly sneeze or burp without covering their mouths. For woman that are suppose to be professionals, some of their habits are absolutely disgusting and their work-ethic poor. Even a $8.50 minimum wage worker does more work than the average librarian does. The librarians on the other hand, have the privilege of sitting around in a desk with a courtesy title attached to their names. Again there’s nothing wrong being at a desk but at the place i’ve worked at i’ve pretty much seen this get abused. Either their not paying attention or it’s like a social gathering.

    There are two old woman that are so senile that they shouldn’t even be working in a public place if they can’t pay attention to their surroundings and they have a habit of blocking things by hiding in the office. These are the type of librarians, along with the self-privilege and bon bon librarians that need to be filtered out of libraries. These types have no place other than literally taking up space and soaking up money that useful librarians could have that can actually make a library a better place. And instead they trod around like it’s their home-planet BECAUSE they have been at these places for 20+ odd years or more. These are the old type of woman who just refuse to retire.

    Don’t you think it’s time to retire and let someone else take over the job? These woman are so old if they don’t retire soon they might as well just kick the bucket at the work-place and that won’t be a pretty sight. I’m hoping I have a better job before that happens, but again the way libraries are at shuffling off younger people in favor of older people that are about to croak is dumb to say the least. Oldness doesn’t necessarily mean wisdom, and it also doesn’t mean a librarian that will stay long when their almost well into their granny retirement golden age. Do these libraries really expect them to be around much longer anyway?

    Half of the libraries now don’t even have the skills to keep up with the new technology that’s emerging. Their scared of it literally, and it’s most of the reasons why libraries have been held back in the new technological advancements because of these old ones who still wanna keep the libraries old, traditional, and out-dated. The younger librarians are more hip and into q what’s going on compared to a librarian who’s been working since 1940 and never heard or seen a computer expect Microsoft Office as the very least. There’s not enough librarian jobs as it is right now, and the old ones need to stop taking up the space. And all that talk about younger librarians not having the qualification is idiotic. What is so hard doing some customer service, setting up some programs to fill the monthly calendar, making contacts, doing some grants, and searching up materials? Nothing. Infact, the colleges have pretty much taught anyone who’s gone to school to do this, even *without* a library degree as a necessity. Any employer who tells a younger librarian that their not qualified is a liar. The younger librarians can type faster than the older ones can peck at the keyboard.

  16. As a public librarian with 35 years of dedicated and diversified duties in a medium-sized public library, this article really hits the nail on the head. I started at the age of 24 and had total respect for the older librarians with more experience. I would never have thrown my youth and recent library school skills in their faces. Now I am being treated like the village idiot and am actually thinking of having a t-shirt made up with that title. The newbies come in and treat you like a moron and interrupt you when you’re trying to help a patron. Of course within a few years they are promoted to the job title that took me 20 years to attain or become a supervisor and I must bow to them. I had no intentions of retiring anytime soon as I love our patrons and the job that I do. I’m just fed up with losing my self respect by being mistreated by these newbies. Sad that the profession treats seasoned librarians like dirt.

    • When I was new graduate I was raring to go and I wanted to get in there and make an impression. I think in my first job I came across as slightly arrogant because I wanted to learn and get ahead but the older members of staff were jaded and fed up and I didn’t get the training I needed in fact there was a lot of things that were misinterpreted I think more because I was new and they didn’t know me than I was young. I understand that now and I’ve learned to let others show me in new environments rather than step on toes if I already know it. It works both ways I did feel that the established members could be unhelpful and dismissive. I think the traits you describe are common with new graduates and maybe forgivable?

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