Thursday, April 05, 2007


I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want

After listening to a little news story this morning about President Bush pushing controversial appointments through when Congress isn't in session, I've been thinking about entitlement, and the way it goes hand-in-hand with being proactive and taking responsibility. (My personal political biases aside, this atmosphere of "if you're not on board with everything we do, you're anti-American" and "if I can't do it one way, I'll circumvent the process" can't help but be harmful.)

Moving on, though, I see a similar sense of entitlement and attempt to blame others festering among some members of our profession. Yes, the impending shortage of librarians has been overstated. Yes, it's frustrating that desirable locations and areas around library schools are glutted with new graduates. Yes, entry-level salaries in many institutions are embarrassingly low. Yes, these are very real frustrations. Yes, institutions and professional associations should be proactive in offering internships and mentoring programs and broadening their searches and welcoming new blood and....

None of this is unique to librarianship. You'll see the same same "need experience to get experience" trap in lots of fields. You'll see the same rush to live in the same cities, driving costs up and making the job market tighter. You'll see English departments graduating BAs trying to get jobs in New York in publishing; you'll see humanities departments graduating Ph.D.s trying to get jobs, well, anywhere, or even going back for their MLIS, of all things. Complaining about being misled, or that the profession somehow fails new librarians, simply dumps all of the responsibility off of the individual and onto someone else, whether that be the ALA, or a given library school, or the media. While this may make a job seeker feel better -- "it's not my fault it's hard to find a job" -- it doesn't help anyone.

On newlib-l recently, someone posted an interesting job ad from Google. One response boiled down to "I don't have those skills, so this is irrelevant." Well, I don't know SQL either, but the ways in which opportunities for librarians are expanding is darn interesting, and I'll guarantee you SOMEONE on that list has the desired background. Instead of "this job ad isn't for me, so it isn't for anyone," it's more productive to look at multiple job ads over time. What are employers looking for? What skills can be learned through self-study, online workshops, coursework, just playing around with technology? What local libraries might be open to interns or volunteers? What skills, knowledge, or experience are applicable to the skills and qualities employers desire? What projects might help build name recognition? How to get involved professionally? Who might critique a resume and/or cover letter? Jobs don't fall in anyone's lap; no one is entitled.

In what appears to be an attempt at a pointed April Fool's joke, "unemployed librarians" posted this fake job ad to multiple lists a few days ago, and also attempted more than once to post it to While creative, this is less proactive than reactive; adding junk jobs to a database intended to help people find employment is less than helpful, and including a real person's e-mail address and phone number simply mean-spirited. Beyond the immediate implications -- we should all know by now that our online interactions affect our employment and professional prospects -- think of the time and mental energy expended in things like this. Think about what could be accomplished if that same time and energy were channeled in a different direction.

Finding a job is just the first step, and being proactive now the first step in being proactive throughout a career. If we're going to continue to remain relevant as a profession, we need first to take personal responsibility -- for remaining informed, for building something that goes beyond ourselves, for moving forward in our careers. Our institutions are nothing without their people; our profession is built from our multiple and ongoing contributions to the field. It's difficult to be proactive in moving ourselves or the profession forward if a sense of entitlement and a belief that we are subject to forces beyond our control permeates our careers.

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I actually thought the fake job ad was pretty clever, but I have a thing about labor and deprofessionalization (thank you, Dr. Greg Downey). I do agree that trying to contaminate real job lists is extremely uncool, though.

As for complaining about labor conditions, it's a bit of a catch-22. If you're on the raw end of them, you're pegged "sour grapes" no matter what you say or how you say it. But how many of us who are on the good end of things raise appropriate levels of Cain?

You do, Rachel. I try to. But I don't fault the un- and underemployed for complaining.

Completely with you on the rest, though. I went through this with "New Librarian." It was heinous.
Dorothea - Sure, and I do believe that as a profession we could do better, and that a whole lot of individual institutions should do better (hence, all the caveats in the original post). However, I also believe that people need to take responsibility for their own careers. There's a difference between constructive criticism and constant complaint, especially complaint with a concomitant lack of willingness to do anything to improve the situation.

I also think that how someone takes on their job hunt says a lot about how they will behave once they do get into the workplace. If their reaction upon frustration in the job hunt is to post repeatedly to mailing lists blaming everyone else, rather than to find ways to beef up a resume or acquire skills or make contacts or otherwise make themselves more employable, then I figure their reaction to frustration in the workplace will be to complain to coworkers or rail against a budget authority, rather than to find steps to make things better or work around a negative situation. If their reaction to positive suggestions or constructive criticism is to find 20 ways they can't act on these suggestions, then I figure their reaction in the workplace to new ideas will be to look for the negative and reasons why new programs or services won't work.

I understand being frustrated, I understand complaining, but it can't stop there.
Interesting post, Rachel. While I admit I don't subcribe to newlib-l, I do get emails from unemployed librarians and new librarians who cannot find work…and they are asking me difficult questions I cannot answer. It’s effected me to the point where I don’t wanna blog professionally anymore, and risk metamorphosing into the bitter librarian; I’d rather leave my cards on the table and walk away. Coincidentally, young librarians are not the only librarians who complain…young people complain about the lack of library jobs and older, employed librarians complain about the lack of funding or dismantled budgets. Young librarians complain on listserv’s and employed librarians complain in professional journals and newsletters…

When young librarians ask me questions about the field’s standards and values…these are the types of questions that get me thinking. In some states (if not most) it seems to be a legitimate free-for-all for library jobs where there are weak standards for library employment. When a young librarian with a good solid heart who’s enthusiastic and has fantastic potential gets overlooked for someone without an MLS, I have no answer. I doubt many people do. Teachers need teaching degrees to go into a public school, and there are way may teachers in this country than there are librarians. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent stats, there are over 3 million school teachers, compared to only 159,000 librarians (of which 39,750 are public librarians.) With such a small group of people, you would think we all could come together and agree on very important issues like standards and values.

Yet another reason why I left library school three years ago, and will be starting again five months from now. Now
I'm not afraid to talk about the factors that would have probably hurt me in the employment market had I finished library school two years ago instead of three years from now at the earliest. Would I be accurate in saying that the majority of new librarians are either working on second (or third, fourth...) careers, graduated from college more than five years ago, have worked for or volunteered at libraries in some capacity for a long time, and/or are returning to the workforce in a new field? I think that the high school --> college --> library school direct path (with no time off in between) is rare, and that it takes a very talented person to be successful right away taking that route. I'm one of the few people in history to not be talented enough, and fail, but now I have a chance to make up for it.

Every time I've complained about something in my career, I used that moment to make something happen. After being the worst library school student ever, I went out and got more experience, and figured out how to get myself back in school. I waited until I was ready. I had a moment of professional frustration lately. To fix that, I got more involved... and I was welcomed more than I was turned away. (Thanks Rachel.) Now I have positive momentum again in my career... and that's the key. Only you can raise your own stock.

I failed myself. I'm responsible. I apologize to librarianship for not being better for and to it in the past. I apologize if I ever said that librarianship failed me. However... I feel that some opportunities that can help one's positive professional momentum are realistically not available to everyone. I can't, say, quit my current job to do a six-month unpaid internship... but for someone else, that issue might not even exist. (I'm sorry... I'm dancing around what is probably among the most difficult topics in our field to discuss, with the discussion itself bordering on unethical.) Everyone's professional path will vary, and some will just be easier than others. You just have to work with what you have available to you. Hopefully, being overlooked due to a lack of life experience won't be part of the equation.
Here, here Rachel! I think this had to be said, even if it sounds callous to some people. I used to try to offer assistance and advice to some of the same people on NEWLIB-L whom I know you're describing, and I had to unsubscribe from the list because there was so much rampant negativity. So much blaming of everything (except oneself) and not enough working to make oneself more marketable. Yes, the ALA should have been more up-front about the job situation and library schools should better prepare librarians for the "real world," but the damage is already done and now people need to figure out how to make the sucky situation they're in better. Go to conferences, speak at conferences, write an article, learn HTML or a programming language, volunteer at a library, etc.

I think complaining is fine. I complained when I couldn't find a job. Sometimes people need to vent. But venting alone will not find anyone a job and what a lot of these people are doing is more than just venting.

I was one of those people who couldn't find a job once upon a time. And I worked my butt off trying to develop my skills and do things that would distinguish me from the pack. I learned new technologies, created a spiffy web portfolio, blogged, created a wiki for the ALA Conference, etc. And, yes, it did help me get my job.

On the other hand, I have also seen people on that same listserv (people who had an easy time finding a job out of school) writing really arrogant posts about how there must be something wrong with job seekers if they can't find jobs. Those attitudes should be stamped out as well. There are so many factors involved in getting a job and it's really frustrating to be told that you are somehow deficient because it's taking you a while to get a job. I remember reading posts like that and thinking "maybe they're right. Maybe there is some reason why I'm not finding a job and they are."

While a lot of people do need to take responsibility for their situations, other people really need to be more sensitive too.
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THANK YOU! I'm only 2 semesters into my MLS, and have heard a lot of complaining. I have not even joined NEWLIB-L because, honestly, I'm *excited* about my new career and job prospects. (I came from thinking I was going to be an art professor- talk about hard jobs to get!!)

The ads I see and the jobs described seem great. I'm working on teaching myself programming because I think that will be essential. I'm interested in instructional design for distance education, which is an area I think librarians can make a HUGE difference.

In my first library school class the teacher had us go around and say why we were there. About half the class started their explanation with "I like books." I wonder if these types are the same ones that will have a hard time finding jobs. Who DOESN'T like books? Libraries are more than books, though. I got in because I like customer service but hate retail- libraries seem like a nice way to help people without trying to force them to buy something.

Sorry, got off track. Thanks for the post!
Karin -- you are right on. I do a lot of hiring and I wish more students came out of Library School understanding what the profession was really about. It's about people -- nice people, difficult people, but anyone who is in our building. It's about being flexible and able to learn and change without expecting to be trained on everything that changes (we ARE librarians after all), it's about caring more about our patrons than about ourselves -- look to the future, accept what patrons tell us THEY really want, and let our own tradition or comfort and beliefs go.

I will hire someone with the right outlook and attitude in an instant over someone who is technically proficient but lives in the past, blames everyone and everything, and never sees a need to step out of their own mind and look around.
It'd be great if more employers were like you :) ("I will hire someone with the right outlook and attitude in an instant over someone who is technically proficient but lives in the past, blames everyone and everything, and never sees a need to step out of their own mind and look around.") People are so important in the work world.

As for Rachel's post - the firs thought in my mind was "AMEN SISTER!" :) You are so right - especially that last paragraph - which I'm going to post to my blog right now!
It can be hard out there for a librarian, especially a new one. And while other professions have challenges, NEWLIB is the type of place for those new librarians that are having problems to ask questions, and for others to pose solutions. When I was an "unemployed librarian" I was heartened to see others were in the same boat as me. And when I was an "underemployed librarian" it was good to get some advice.
I've been a library director for 20 years and have seen the disappointment in people I've had to tell I wasn't going to hire ... in large part because "they like books" and little more. The question is: What do you offer the hiring library?

It may be that a large library somewhere has an acquisitions department filled with people who "like books" and do not have to interact with the public. Most of us, though, need people who have computer skills and human skills in addition to the (assumed) interest in books and what they contain.

(And I don't want to get started on those whose "love of books" is confined to a particular genre!)
That ad was an example of viral marketing. And it was wildly successful. Hundreds of librarians read it, it shamed a library system known for treating its employees badly, and it must have struck a chord because you are commenting on it.

Unless all the unemployed librarians get jobs soon we'll be seeing more and more of this type of stunt.

Let it be a lesson to the ALA and the library schools... if you educate us and fail to hire us, we will turn against you until you do.
I think there is a real tension going on in Library training vs Learning to be a Librarian. For instance, should we be teaching our library school students sql, or should we be teaching them the basic tools they need to learn sql, or any other database language. The students want skills, but if they want technical skills, i'd suggest going to technical college, a 2 years degree will give you mastery of sql and such. But the MLS is a master's degree, not an associates degree, it should be teaching the basic professional skills of librarianship and then... teach some specializations. I'm of the school that says we should be taking the liberal arts stance of 'teaching people how to learn many things' instead of the technical stance of 'teach a skill'.

One thing that I note is complaining usually does nothing. If you want to change the world, change it, change yourself, and move on. But it has been my experience that complaining is the act of demanding someone else to change, and what happens when you do that? usually either nothing, or backlash.
Just found your post, Rachel. You stated the situation very well. I'm one of the subscribers to NEWLIB-L. I've been weaning myself from responding though lately--I do post occasionally when I feel my opinion may be unique and helpful--often I respond directly off list to the poster. The same comments seem to be posted over and over and it's getting old now. It does seem that this year has generated a lot of negativity by a few people unfortunately. I'm of the camp that believes that 1) you are in charge of your own career no matter what the conditions and 2) library school is not a technical school, nor should it be, at least not at a Master's level. Just wanted to say those few words.
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