Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Don’t Tell Librarians They Aren’t Stressed

If you’re a librarian and haven’t been replaced by a computer yet, then at least you have one of the least stressful jobs in the country according to some random website that releases meaningless lists like this in order to generate hits and links.

But if there’s one thing librarians don’t like, it’s being told how little stress they suffer compared to police officers or whatever. Even in Canada they get upset, although Canadian indignation seems pretty mild.

A Kind Reader sent me this article, which is really a response to this one. The original article is sort of responding to the list of least stressful jobs, and also making some kind of argument about technology, although I’m not clear what it is.

Technology was supposed to simplify our lives, but hasn’t, supposedly. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m washing clothes in a river or walking a mile to retrieve potable water.

Since librarian is lumped in with jobs like drill press operator and hair stylist, a cautious writer might make some distinctions among them. Not so our techno-weary Canadian.

For example, except for university professor, “these positions carry relatively little responsibility, and modest or low pay.” The modest or low pay part is applicable to most librarians, although I’m not sure about the relatively little responsibility. Sort of depends on the job.

Regarding librarians, we enter totally uninformed territory here: “None of these trades involve supervising a large number of people, making decisions that will affect a lot of people or managing troublesome things like budgets.”

Maybe dieticians and seamstresses don’t supervise people or manage budgets. I wouldn’t know, so I’m not making any claims. I don’t have time to do the research because I’m too busy supervising people and managing budgets.

Another amusing one: “a lot of these positions are relatively low-tech. Although there have been innovations in the tools many of these workers use, gadgets like a drill press or hair clippers are still by their nature quite simple to operate. Compare that with the latest release of Microsoft Office or learning the eccentricities of SharePoint.”

I guess to a news editor learning the eccentricities of Microsoft Office or Sharepoint are the height of technological accomplishment. In a lot of libraries, that’s the stuff even the clerical staff have to know. How about learning the intricacies of an ILS or building a digital library?

I wasn’t actually going to respond to the list of most or least stressful jobs again, but I had to take another look after a group of librarians protested against the ignorance of the writer. They point out how uninformed the guy is about librarians.

There’s really so little reason to be defensive, though. We know from just about everything written in the popular press about libraries and librarians that journalists know next to nothing about libraries.

If we extrapolate from their uninformed claims about libraries, we might think that journalists have no understanding of any professions other than their own. Then again, journalists are paid to pretend to know a little bit about everything, and sometimes they get carried away.

I’m willing to say that I have no idea whether some of these jobs are stressful, technical, or what. What does a medical lab technician do? Is there no room for errors that could harm people? Seems like there might be. That could be stressful.

Audiologist. Is that a technologically advanced job? Beats me. Although when the comparison to tough tech is learning Sharepoint, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.

Hair stylist? This one at least I know because I use them. Okay, doesn’t seem very technical to me. Scissors and hair chemicals haven’t changed that radically over time. The educational bar is definitely lower than librarian or audiologist. But who knows what stress and tech lurk in the backrooms of hair salons?

Instead of getting defensive about stupid stuff like this, I just use it as further evidence that the general public has no idea what librarians do. Maybe that’s a good thing. If they don’t know what we do, maybe they won’t know if it can be replaced by a computer or not.



  1. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    “…we might think that journalists have no understanding of any professions other than their own” — AL, you are making the assumption that journalist have an actual understanding of their own profession. Have you seen any of the cable news channels?

  2. Sometimes I think librarians are the journalists of the knowledge-world.

  3. In 2006, a British psychologist Saqib Saddiq studied stress-levels of jobs and discovered librarians were far more stressed than firefighters or police, who are trained to handle extreme stress. I’d like to know the basis for this study.

    • Libraries have all the stress of working directly with the public, often the more difficult members of the public, with none of the power or authority that comes with being a police officer or firefighter.

    • Stress? Librarians of smaller public libraries are stressed wondering if they will have any funding other than late fees coming in next year! It seems libraries large and small are always fighting for their place in the community. I wonder how many beauticians have to stress out about this?

  4. The title of the list in the original article is “least stressful.” And quite frankly the reason I didn’t become a doctor, architect, police officer, etc. is because of the stress.

    I don’t want to be responsible for saving someones life, I don’t want to be responsible for building staying up and I don’t want to be responsible for solving horrendous crimes.

    The fact that people are stressing out about their job not being considered stressful shows that you have nothing to be stressed out about. Get over it, the average librarian has only low pay to stress out about. (Obviously there are exceptions like being a prison librarian or a director having to worry about budget.)

    • With all respect to Me, an “average” librarian, at least in a public library, deals with a great deal more on his or her mind than low pay.

      In many organizations, understaffing is a way of life. Staff members regularly perform the work of more than one person, when a position is not filled after someone leaves, or that position is eliminated. Additional help, even with volunteers, is not always available or appropriate to use in getting necessary taskes accomplished.

      It can be quite frustrating to work on library programming (things like weekly story times, arts and crafts, etc.), as well as any special assignments that come up, in addition to regular duties of reference, circulation, collection development, meetings, and so on. These are things that cannot be put off – supervisors often do not allow it, and for some, supervisors may not really understand what is going on when they assign more work (which also causes stress and frustation on many different levels).

      This is only one example of the different types of stress that the “average” librarian experiences, in addition to thinking about low pay.

    • Look, I’m a librarian. But I am aware of what you are talking about and deal with it everyday. But I am not going to sit here and equate my stress to that of a doctor or police officer, etc. Again something that is least stressful is not stress free. I deal with meetings and budget cuts but am still capable of understanding that while libraries are important they are not the most important thing in the world and that doesn’t make me a bad librarian is just means I’m not a pretentious librarian.

      By the way, if story hour doesn’t happen no one dies. :)

  5. I agree with Me!. Librarians needs to get beyond their “self-important” thinking. Librarianship is not rocket science and “keys” to the kingdom of information have long ago been passed along to the end-user – no longer locked up via Dialog or STN through command language. I believe that most educated end users, in their subject domain, are much more literate in finding scholarly content than the typical “reference” librarian when the user knows the resources avaialble and how to use them. Budgets, babysitting personnel and their petty issues, collection issues and dealing with people are everyday facets of my management life – but these are management issues that are true of most, if not all, disciplines; stressful – yes, but it is not the librarian job that it is stressful in the literal sense. As a discipline, the “subject domain” in and of itself is not stressful.

    What does it say about the general nature of librarianship if public libraries are looking more and more like community centers.

    Just saying.

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