Saturday, September 27, 2008

Is Your Inability To Get A Librarian Job A Sign You're A Stupid Jackass?

Apparently, the perennial "Why can't I get a library job?" discussion has erupted on NewLib. I'm not a member anymore, but here's the background on both the list and the discussion, which just goes on and on: it can really hard to get a library job. It's nearly impossible to get one if your only library experience is the required semester-long practicum, or radically different from what path you wind up pursuing after graduation.

The listserv is about 70% normal, pleasant people looking for job advice or offering advice based on their own experiences or are interested in discussing library issues. The other 30% is a nice mix of really stupid people who could never get a job, people who are employed who are jackasses, and people who are unemployed and extremely bitter about it.

Can you get library job? Yes, but it helps to be extremely flexible in your geographic, wage, and other essential requirements. To a certain degree this advice seems to indicate you should either have a sugar spouse or a superhuman ability to perform miracles and live on cheap coffee and no food. Kind of like a supermodel, except you can't even afford drugs!

Look if you can't get a job, any job, something is probably wrong with you. But if you can't get a library job, I'm not so convinced that it's because you're a stupid lazy jackass and and it's all your own fault. It is very competitive, yes. But honestly, more and more if you talk to people the same complaints emerge: the library schools themselves are out of touch with the job market and pass along myths of a shortage, the coursework doesn't prepare students for the job, and admission requirements are so lax and the programs lack rigor and grant a degree almost meaningless and barely academic. That starts to indicate a widespread, systemic problem in the job market and librarian training. And honestly, no matter how much tough love advice is given to job seekers, if their training doesn't prepare them to meet the needs of employers, they are stuck with their best strategy being a DIY approach to fixing the gaps in their background and skills. That's all fine and good, but honestly--if you have to teach yourself everything, why spend $1200 per grad school class?*

Yes, I understand that you always have to invest your own time and money in upgraded skills, no ones owes you a job on a silver platter, blah blah fishcakes, but here's the rub: librarianship and library school programs promote themselves as a 2nd or 3rd career. Until recently, it was unusual to have students in their 20's or just out of undergrad comprise 50% of the class. When I started my degree 5 years ago at 28, I was considered pretty young for the program even if I had been working in libraries since high school. Mandy got grilled by her admissions committee in 1999 when she applied to library school straight from college. If previous experience in libraries isn't necessary for admission to the program, and the profession itself makes a big deal about diversity of experience and background being what it wants in its workforce but a Master's is the prerequisite for anyone to get a professional job, I don't think it's too much to expect the damn degree to thoroughly prepare you for the job.

Back to the lack of jobs-- here's the thing: there's not a lot of hard data to back up either side. But research and anecdotal stories do indicate that there are not many entry level jobs (ie, those that don't have a specific experience requirement), and that those jobs usually don't go to people with little experience or even with transferrable skills and experience from outside the library world.

Folks, I don't have a big message in this or even a dog in the fight anymore. I just read some links and got irritated. All I know is that librarianship is just like anything else--you do the best you can at any given time with what you've got, and count yourself lucky and spare the rest of us false modesty if it does. That's it.

*Yes, this is the what my last 3 credits cost me in 2007. My first 3 in 2003 cost $900, or a little less. At a state school. That's another rant for another day.

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