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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