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Unanswered Questions about Jobs

My email tends to pile up, and sometimes emails go weeks or even months without a response. Today is a slight effort at clearing the inbox.

Within the last few months, Kind Readers have sent in a couple of questions I’d like to try to answer. Here’s the first one:

The comments concern me that a career in librarianship is not so rosy, especially for a newbie with some curmudgeonly inclinations. Many folks sound like they signed up for debtors prison, rather than fulfilling their life’s purpose.

Can you guide me toward some non-aligned reviews of library/information science programs as well as discussions among graduates?

My answer is, no, I can’t. Most of the conversations around library school and librarianship are I’ve seen online are usually positive. Is that because most librarians are happy with their jobs or because it’s the propaganda that library schools and the ALA would most like to promote? Or both?

The comments section of the AL has tended to attract the skeptical, the cynical, and occasionally the desperate. Which is more representative of how librarians “really” feel about the degree and their jobs?

My guess is that there’s no consensus and it really depends on your position. Fully employed librarians, which includes most librarians, have steady middle class jobs that they should be happy with, but steady middle class job salaries don’t go as far as they once did and librarians still complain.

What to make of that, though? The ALA propaganda around increasing salaries complains that librarians aren’t paid like professionals with equivalent master’s degrees, but there aren’t any equivalent master’s degrees.

If librarians want to make more money, they can go do something else. If nobody will hire them for more money, then there’s no objective way to argue they “deserve” more. Fully employed librarians are almost never starving or homeless anyway.

Signing up for debtor’s prison or fulfilling their life’s purpose might not be mutually exclusive. Librarians can do both.

Regardless, I haven’t seen a place with a neutral discussion of jobs, if that’s even possible.

A different question about jobs and degrees from someone with an MLS and a few years of experience who has had trouble finding a job:

I visit your blog from time to time either to feel better or worse about my job situation…. I have read the article entitled 61 non-traditional library jobs and while several sound very interesting most if not all of them require experience I did not receive while in graduate school. I was wondering if you had any ideas of alternative jobs for an MLIS graduate?

Any ideas for alternative jobs? Hmmm.

First, if this is the article in question, most of the “non-librarian jobs” are actually librarian jobs that don’t have “librarian” in the title, and as the article itself notes, most of them require an MLS. Most of them have to do with finding, organizing, or making information accessible. So, librarian stuff.

Library school doesn’t actually qualify you for most librarian jobs, because most of them want more education and experience specific to the job in question. The jobs on this list are like that. They just don’t tell you that in library school.

What would actual alternative jobs for librarians be? My easy answer: I don’t know. My flippant answer: something in retail, until retail goes away, and then something in an Amazon warehouse.

With an MLS you’re technically qualified for a generic librarian job, the problem being that there aren’t many libraries advertising for a “generic librarian.”

However, and here’s the good news, you’re also eligible for any job that requires only a generic bachelor’s degree! The world of employment outside certain well defined professions that require advanced degrees is thus limitless. Isn’t that liberating?

It seems to be true that becoming a librarian with a good job and solid career prospects requires an MLS, a lot of experience, and even more luck. But that’s probably true of all good jobs, including any other jobs librarians might want to look for.

It’s that “lots of luck” part that nobody likes to tell people about but seems to increase in importance every year.

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Comments

  1. anonymous coward says:

    Unless you are working for a city/library with tuition reimbursement or you have a ton of grants and scholarships I’m not sure I could recommend going to library school. I mean, it worked out well for me- but I’m a little lucky and a little driven. If your goal in life is to be a librarian 1 at a public library i would like to to everything to convince you that isn’t a great career choice.

    • unemployed librarian says:

      and it helps to be white too.

    • The “helps to be white” is unequivacolly untrue. As a hiring manager we actively seek minority candidates. I’ve been a hiring manager at 5 libraries and it’s been the same at every single one. Now if you want to argue that the MLIS steers minority candidates away and shrinks the pool of qualified candidates there is an argument to be made there.

  2. Moons ago I got involved due to a family member not being able to get a library job beyond a library assistant at a computer desk. Years later, this is still the case with a substitute librarian job added and a third job as well. Many of her acquaintances have the same issue never being able to grab the ring as they ride on the carousel…It seems to be a field working to eliminate the MLS degree to save money by hiring high school or college graduate for low paying, part time work that once was done by MLS. Therefore, why can there be a justification for the need of a graduate degree for this field? Running around with facial piercing and being male, or not knowing how to catalog or dress professionally seems to be a qualification at my local library. The world does not need one more library program or MLS degree…it is full of people who have the qualifications but are told they are losers, not lucky, not driven, unqualified, meaningless and further humiliated for keeping professors employed,

  3. Frumious Bandersnatch says:

    While I know it’s a popular meme, it isn’t always the evil Library Industry keeping down the brilliantly talented masses. I’ve known too many new MLS graduates whose actual issue is that they assumed being a librarian would mostly entail spending their career sitting at a reference desk, reading novels all day, and answering the occasional question. When they find out that desk-sitting jobs aren’t generally full-time, with master’s degree level pay and benefits, and that they are actually going to have to increase their skill set, specialize and advance, their world is destroyed.

  4. Money can be made in this profession if you have the skills and interview well. The problem is that salaries vary widely based on the town. I make $90k as a department head (not administration) in a system that’s sizable but not massive like NYPL or something. I’m only 30 years old. You just need to be flexible geographically, have the ability to network and have the skills to back it up.

    • unemployed librarian says:

      @me. You are overpaid. $90k for what?

    • Holy smokes…not even the head of my library gets paid that much….

    • All depends on system size. We circ 1.4 million physical items per year and have a budget close to 5 million. The library world has easily the greatest pay disparity for similar work than any profession due to the stark differences between municipalities. My director gets paid 140k but has a staff of 100+.

    • 90k and 140k, are great library salaries almost anywhere. I live on the east coast and our salaries are too low for the cost of living ($55k), plus now they are downgrading positions from Librarian 3 to Librarian 2, basically a $10k salary reduction whenever a position becomes vacant

  5. I wonder if the people stuck working part time jobs are not geographically flexible. When I was a recent MLIS graduate the only places willing to interview me were colleges 2-4 hours from the nearest airport. I took a job in the middle of no where, got 3 years experience and was able to interview at colleges in cities. If you absolutely cannot move then take whatever part time you can get and use that experience to apply to any full time librarian position available locally.

    • Jake Anonymous Bitterman says:

      It’s not like I WANTED to move away from my entire support network to land a job in the field, but I was willing (if apprehensive) to do it. I applied to jobs in DC, Boston, NYC, Houston, Appleton, St Louis, and probably a lot of smaller towns that I can’t remember offhand. BUPKIS!!

    • Frumious Bandersnatch says:

      It may be tough to find a decent entry level job in Boston or DC, etc. because there is just too much competition. OTOH, a number of the MLS’s I know really did jump-start their career by taking a job in the middle of nowhere, then building off of the experience and skill set they got there. If you start in a rural system with maybe only two or three MLS staff, you’ll likely have experience in administration, reference, circulation, digital media, collection development, and cataloging that you can legitimately list on your resume inside of three years.

  6. However says:

    If you have a BA and can write coherently, there are tons of jobs.

    I work for the Clinical Trials Department of the Food and Drug Administration. I write documents– internal use documents, white papers, notices and newsletters for clinical trial directors, and notices and information for the public.

    I got the job because I had a decent portfolio with technical writing, which I’d done as a freelancer. My first client was a startup I contacted on AngelList. As a startup, they were willing to take a risk on a college grad with no relevant professional experience. It was a three-month gig (paid), and totally worth it because the portfolio I created in those three months landed me years’ worth of freelance work, and ultimately a full time government job.

    So, yeah, being able to read complex documents and write about them clearly is an in demand skill, and someone with an MLS degree probably has it.

  7. @unemployed librarian LOL. Go kick rocks. I wonder why you’re unemployed?

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