Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Discrimination of the Market

On my post about no more promotions, someone commented that to move up you have to move away, or words to that effect. Was there a time when that wasn’t true?

Moving away to move up in libraries could also be a natural consequence of the librarian shortage myth, at least in places where that wasn’t traditionally true. But it’s been true for lots of good librarian jobs for a long time.

There’s a paradox involved. Often jobs for which one moves away pay pretty well. The sales manager is transferred to Omaha but gets a nice raise, for example.

For most library jobs that’s not true. If you leave library school and aren’t willing to move anywhere in the country depending on the job, you’ve already hampered yourself in the market.

However, if you do move across the country, you probably won’t get paid very much, especially if you’re just out of library school.

Add to that the libraries that don’t pay moving expenses, and you’ll be out a couple thousand dollars moving across country for a job that doesn’t pay well.

The competition for administrative jobs, especially top ones, isn’t quite as fierce since the eligible candidates are fewer, but it’s still a fact that you have to move somewhere else most of the time. At least you make more money.

Why does this system, so exploitative of librarians, work? Because librarians keep participating in it.

Librarians tend to be politically left in sentiment, and many, perhaps most, librarians are public employees in one form or another. But the profession itself operates on a free market just like most other professions.

Because of their left-leaning sentiments, there’s lots of talk of discrimination and diversity as problems in librarianship. The really far out librarians talk about how oppressed we all are, like we’re toiling away in the Gulag Librarypelago instead of working safe middle-class jobs in generally clean, well lighted environments.

However, it’s true that the system is discriminatory; the question is who is discriminated against?

Usually in America, anyone who’s not white and middle class or above has more of a burden to bear, but that’s not necessarily true here.

Plenty of white middle class people don’t participate in the system because they won’t, or at least can’t easily, move.

Of course they could move, but with a spouse who works, children in school, maybe aging parents to care for, moving for a better job is a worse choice than staying put.

They’re socially embedded white middle class folks, and they can’t compete in the market, because the market doesn’t make it worth their while.

And if just one spouse moves and one stays with the kids, it’s usually the man who moves while the woman stays with the kids. That burden, even if freely chosen, has a disproportionate effect on the mostly female library profession.

They get added to the list of people who are already discriminated against in librarianship because of their skin color, or their looks, or their grammar, or their accent, or their “lack of fit with the organization.” That last one is my personal favorite, because it’s so vague it can be used to disqualify anyone.

And of course we can throw in poor people of whatever race. If you’ve made it through library school, you’re already considerably better educated than the general populace, only about a quarter of which even have college degrees.

But that doesn’t mean you have any money. You might have nothing but debt, and adding to that debt to move away from friends and family for a job that doesn’t pay particularly well might not seem like a good idea.

On the other hand, what alternative wouldn’t be either worse or unworkable?

The most drastic alternative would be some sort of library profession planned economy, which those who see oppression everywhere would probably love.

Every library job would go to whoever the dictatorial powers that be deemed most worthy, and that worth wouldn’t be based on qualifications for the job, willingness and ability to move where the job is, or any of the usual arbitrary and sometimes unfair criteria.

It could be run out of an ALA Office of Intellectual Unfreedom, or maybe Double Plus Unfreedom. And it would be a disaster as competitive candidates simply left the profession and libraries sunk into poorly organized mediocrity or worse, and that’s compared to how they are now.

Anyway, in my experience, leftish librarians are all for more fairness in hiring as long as they’re not the ones losing out on jobs.

As for racial diversity, which is usually the diversity people mean, there are small palliatives for that now, with a few scholarships and internships.

But to really diversity the profession racially, or indeed even ethnically or socio-economically, the solutions would have to be grander and start much earlier, with lots of college scholarships and internships.

That would certainly be possible, and would probably be a good thing for the profession to get away from being 85% middle class white women, but it’s unworkable because nobody would pay for it.

It would cost millions of dollars a year to do it at all well, it would need contracts with required years of service much like the military, and the money would come from exactly nowhere.

It’s only something that could be done at the federal government level, and there’s no motivation because there’s no shortage of librarians.

So the system we have, as unfair as it might seem, is all we’re going to get without drastic changes that few would really want in practice and nobody’s going to pay for anyway.

Who benefits the most? Those with no tight geographical ties. Those with the money to move. Those who can dedicate themselves to padding a CV or resume without too many family obligations, which are more often men than women.

Basically the mobile, childless, middle and upper middle class librarians are the main beneficiaries of the system.

In addition to being better at stuff than other librarians, if you want to improve your chances of moving up in librarianship, become a childless, rootless person with some financial means. That’s something they don’t teach you in library school, but maybe they should.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. despondentinthemidwest says:

    I sit here typing this as a former archivist with 15 years of experience, and in all that time, my job was part time with not much in the way of benefits (certainly not insurance). FIFTEEN YEARS of working part time. Maybe I was too damn stubborn, or believed too much in the value of what I was doing to refocus towards something else. I won’t say I’m blameless. But seriously, after that long in the field, and hundreds of resumes sent out, all I ever got were rejection letters. The only job that would hire me was the one I had for 15 years, which again, was part time. Really? Look, I’m not expecting anything majestic here. I don’t expect to be the head of the Library of Congress, or to make $100,000+ in the field. I just want a full time job that pays me enough to live. Is that too much to ask for? I mean shit, man. I tried retooling my cover letter and resume, tried networking, attended conferences when I could, got the DAS (Digital Archival Specialist), became a certified archivist. What more do you want from me? In pains me deeply that this has happened, and it’s made me wish I could take back the last 15 years and do something else where there are actual jobs available and where you don’t have to practically slit someone’s throat to get it.

  2. What I’m seeing others in your situation do is take library jobs completely different than what they were maybe wanting if that job was full time. Another archivist in your situation and with an MLIS may have taken a job as a children’s librarian in a small, rural town because the job was full time and had benefits. They then hope to put in enough time in that job that they can hopefully move on to a job closer to what they really want to do in a more desirable location. Doesn’t always turn out that way, and I also get discouraged by what I see people having to be willing to do or put up with in order to just get a full time job.

  3. sciencereader says:

    Almost 30 years ago, as I was about to enter library school, I attended a gathering for new admittees where a senior person (I don’t remember his position) said that a key to being successful in the library field is to be willing to move to wherever a good job may be. Thus has it always been that being a “childless, rootless person with some financial means” is an important asset for a librarian wanting to get ahead. Being single, I would add, also helps.

  4. Doesn’t do much to alleviate the stereotype of the spinster librarian, does it?

  5. I’ve moved to five different states with my library degree and experience — gaining experience and moving up through the ranks. The key is that my wife and kids and I were willing to move to get ahead. I’d still be working for peanuts had I not been willing to uproot my family. The moves don’t seem to have harmed us. AND yes, each move was very difficult. Saying good bye always is. Life choices are not always easy and they are sometimes terribly painful.

  6. I haven’t been at my job for 15 years, yet, but I’m scared I’m going to be in the same boat. I’ve tried and tried to get a full time position somewhere. Now anywhere. And no one wants to hire me. I just want a full time job and be successful. I’m tired of depending on others in order to survive.

  7. There probably would be enough jobs if the ones that were vacated by retirements or someone leaving were filled. I see and hear of so many libraries operating with a skeleton crew and being chronically short staffed because when someone leaves, the job isn’t filled, the duties are just redistributed to the other remaining staff. If they are filled it’s by two part timers instead of one full time person or it takes months and months of begging the administration and fighting tooth and nail to open and fill the position.

  8. I’m with you! While I am a single, female librarian, I have uprooted my child to take new jobs and a higher income in other parts of the country. As a single parent, I don’t have much in the way of means, but I do scrimp and save for a move to make it manageable. I have a closet full of broken down boxes for when I make my next move, for example. My parents uprooted us when we were growing up so my father could make more money at his next job opportunity. That is, unfortunately, the American Way, whether we like it or not. In the long run, while those life choices we make can be painful, they can also be opportunities for growth and learning. I learned how to adapt to new situations every time I changed schools and locations. I learned firsthand that people do things differently in some parts of the country, but that we’re all essentially the same, regardless of location or background. Those are wonderful lessons to give our children to experience – and it makes us better, more empathetic leaders.

  9. There are corporate (both for profit and not-for-profit) library jobs. They pay (usually very) well. They pay moving expenses. I never see anyone talking about them here (or in library schools, for that matter). They have archives, too. Just sayin’.

  10. In my experience, moving is not necessary and maybe not an advantage. While a couple of my part timers moved to neighboring states to get full time jobs (both were young, single, childless, and could leave the bulk of their stuff at home with their parents), none of the full timers here have done so. All of us are still working in the area where we got our MLS/MLIS, and we range widely in age and when we got our degrees. Many of us did work part time, temporary, or for less desirable employers, but all stayed in the same geographic area due to family commitments. The difference to me is the resume padding part — what did you do in that less desirable job to distinguish yourself and impress people? The ones who got full time jobs were the ones who conducted research, got additional degrees (we’re academic, so often this was through tuition remission and didn’t involve more debt), networked, and stood out. The ones who are part time or stuck in crappy jobs forever complain, do the minimum, and act surprised when nothing comes their way.

    BTW, planning to move for a first job is not always a successful strategy anyway because:
    1. Unless you’re really willing to go to the back end of nowhere, library schools are plentiful and in most places you will be competing with local grads who don’t have to relocate. Nobody wants to deal with those hassles for an entry level employee — it’s much easier to pick one who can start ASAP.
    2. Keep in mind that if you do relocate to the ends of the earth, jobs you can jump to will be few and far between, so while there is more competition in desirable locations, there are also more open positions.
    3. On top of that, our area is expensive, so most candidates who don’t already live here will balk at the cost and drop out of the running.
    4. Candidates who you or a colleague already know (perhaps from an internship) will also have an edge. In every field, it’s not what you know, it’s who — and who knows you. If you want to have a successful career, get to know people and get to be known.

  11. I work for a public university library and I was asked to come to Q&A sessions for candidates for a paraprofessional position. I had thought about volunteering to be on the hiring committee but decided against it because of the time commitment. I really wished I had now after attending a few of the Q&A sessions and seeing their resumes.

    This particular position would have been a great one to get someone who is outside the usual for a library position. It would have required being flexible for some aspects of the job, but after looking at the resumes of all the persons selected for in person interviews, all of them weren’t good fits for the job. One was too inexperienced, but was an internal candidate. Another would have been better if their most useful experience had been more recent than the mid 2000s. The last two had no experience doing the core part of the job, which is more tech services.

    I work in a town with a thriving public library that has a more diverse workforce and many people working part time. It’s very likely that some of those part time people had skill sets and experience that could have been applied. They likely would have jumped at a chance to interview for a full time position with state benefits.

    It’s frustrating to hear the higher ups say that they want a more diverse workforce but not take any steps beyond saying it. We can only do so much with student hiring considering how low our minority numbers are even with affirmative action.

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