Friday, April 25, 2008

Librarianship: The Husband Problem

Cynthia at Library Garden on Library Jobs: Single People Need Not Apply?

I wanted to write about this because I've been thinking a lot about feminist issues and librarianship lately, and I think her plight has a lot of different angles to it that need to be addressed. Some of it is related to being single in a low-paying profession in a high cost of living area. One of the reasons I have never gone back to NJ to live is that $500 couldn't get the local bookstore owner a room to rent in a house with kitchen privileges near where I grew up in the mid-90's, but $365 got me a crappy 1 bedroom apartment here when I graduated in 1997 and made $10 an hour.

Like Cynthia, I think it's unacceptable that our field thinks that the response to people's concerns about being able to afford health insurance is "can't you get that through your husband's job?" I find it disturbing but sadly symptomatic of the profession. Public service shouldn't expect to be underwritten by private enterprise; private enterprise is really unreliable in that endeavor.

But whyis it that librarianship expects that it can attract people who will work for low pay and no benefits, for years at times, and give 110% to the cause of public service and smile? And that this workforce will be underwritten by someone else? I loved my work last year, but it was something that I was able to do due to an inheritance and comfort in the fact that The Don believed in both sabbaticals and career change. I think it's a certain arrogance on the part of the profession, not necessarily a sense of entitlement on behalf of some of the people trying to work within it, that throws up barriers and attitudes that you will pay dues, you will work for free, you will contribute in ways we deem valuable that are costly both monetarily and in terms of energy and time. And I think it's unsustainable if that's the underpinning of how librarianship functions.

I mean, I don't hear anyone floating ideas like digital designers like Genevieve should be giving away their work or MFA Jane should be writing free poems on demand in the town square. That's their intellectual content and they should be able to license it and derive revenue from it. But I do hear a lot of ideas like "librarians should be involved in validating the content on Wikipedia" that make me roll my eyes because until Wikipedia pays me cash, I feel no need to give away my intellectual property and time. My brain and my time are valuable. I deserve to be paid fairly for my efforts.

The Romance Heroine once observed to me that library school is filled with nerds, and I agreed, but since I've been out in the working world I've had to revise that estimation. The library world is filled with Tracy Flicks--people turned on by power with too much energy to spare. And to tie this back to Cynthia's piece, frankly that's another way the profession is biased against the women who fill it, especially single women. I’m single and I tell you, it’s hard not having anyone else to depend on to do a quick load of laundry, call the insurance company, stay home and wait for the plumber. There’s only so much streamlining of your life you can do until you run out of time, and setting up a profession that expects unpaid contributions in the form of blogging, committee activity, conference organizing, etc. creates an environment where only those who either have this home support to handle the nitty gritty details of life or are willing to run around in crusty underwear consumed by librarianship can participate.

I didn’t become a librarian because I’m motivated by money. I’m primarily motivated by praise, a sense of belonging and helpfulness and a cause. But I expect to be fairly compensated for my activities, and creating an unrealistic expectation that librarians should be happy and able to work for less due to a love of the profession and that they might have someone willing to underwrite their participation is ridiculous and bad for us all.

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