More on Jobs: What about Librarianship? (Why I Love Being a Librarian)


The Challenge

Like so many others, I have known many young librarians (as in new to the profession, recently graduated) who are struggling to find positions. I have had queries from people considering library school and wondering if they really will be able to find a job with that degree. I have had mixed reactions to this. One the one hand, I feel … nervous and uncertain and worried about both the immediate job environment (living in *Michigan*!!!) as well as the future of the profession. On the other hand, I see persons with library degrees and skills working in so many exciting new ventures, forging ahead in a “brave new world”, to reuse a treasured old phrase that works perhaps even better for us now.

I see this dynamic as perhaps a bit related to a presentation I attended last night in Second Life by Katie Fenstalker, about “double bind” situations in work and education. A Double Bind is, in a very short explanation, basically a Catch-22 – damned if you do, damned if you don’t, resulting often in a kind of decisionmaking paralysis. What is required but seldom really happens is what Katie called Voicing — talk about the situation, describe the problems, the constraints, the assumptions. REFRAME the two contradictory options. This will often result in a new flexibility with respect to the problem, an awareness of choices that weren’t being perceived, and an ability to make new decisions focused on different options for action. No more paralysis — that is what is most important.

I was just asked via Facebook to comment on a regional library blog and the resulting discussion about challenges in finding jobs in libraries when so many small libraries (hospital, corporate, schools and academic) are being closed as cost savings for their parent institutions.

The Cornflower: Assistance in Transition: http://nnlm.gov/gmr/blog/2009/06/22/assistance-in-transition/

This happened with my own library last year, so the topic strikes close to the bone. At that time, I blogged about why, as miserable as I feel about it happening, I still firmly believed it was a necessary course of action.

MBlog: Dental Information and Library Innovation: Farewell to the Dentistry Library: mblog.lib.umich.edu/dentlib/archives/2008/09/farewell_to_the.html

I was asked to comment on this because of my post earlier today on new ways of finding and creating jobs.

ETechLib: Looking for a Job or New Hire? What About Social Media, Cloud Computing and Virtual Worlds?: http://etechlib.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/looking-for-a-job-or-new-hire-what-about-social-media-cloud-computing-and-virtual-worlds/

I am now thinking perhaps it might be helpful in enlarging the discussion / conversation and reframing the perspective of the concerns if I share my reply to two recent questions on this from people who are thinking about going to library school and wondering if this is a good choice.

The Questions

1) I am thinking about going back to school to get my masters. I think I might be applying for the MLIS at UW. I was wondering if you had any advice or tips for me…

2) My question is this: even though I am pursuing an MFA in XXXXX, I have a strong desire to educate others about literature, and instead of going into college-level teaching, I am very interested in pursuing library science at some point. I feel like librarians do so much in the way of education, and I think I would be really good at it. I have wanted to do this for years — since I worked at my school’s library as an undergraduate — but when I started to look into it as an option in 2004, the job market was pretty terrible for librarians. I read recently that library science has been listed as a job with a good outlook, and I am wondering if you could give me your perspective on the market.

The Reply

I am happy to help more generally with information about librarianship. I agree that there is no harm in trying, because with every effort you learn something more about teh process of applying and getting accepted, and more about yourself and what you really want. I was not accepted to the first 3 programs I applied to (which were poetry), and it wasn’t until I changed my direction that I got accepted to a variety of schools, enough to have a choice.

You might want to watch my new video about how current trends in technology and librarianship fit within the larger historical context.

The full presentation (which looks at a contemporary vision of what librarianship is and can be placed in a historical context) has slides available here.

Who, Why & How We Serve: The Evolution of Collaborative Librarianship Through Social Media: http://www.slideshare.net/umhealthscienceslibraries/who-why-how-we-serve-the-evolution-of-collaborative-librarianship-through-social-media

What I love about librarianship is that it encompasses such a broad range of topics and situations that whatever you love, whatever inspires passion in you, can be an acceptable area of intellectual and professional inquiry. For example, when I was applying to library school, I read an article by a man who studied how the soldiers in the Civil War got their newspapers on the battlefields. I thought, if he can do that, I can do anything I want.

More recently, I have a friend who applied for a job as a culinary arts curator (as in cookbook collectors?) and another who thrives in a library that is all about studying cars. Even Disney has librarians! You name it, there is probably a library somewhere. You can come from anywhere and pretty much go anywhere. The culinary curator used to be a professional chef, but detoured along the way to manage a library system in Second Life (online 3d virtual worlds). The automotive librarian was a single mom, newly divorced, who hadn’t had a job in ages and didn’t know what she wanted to do. It turns out she really LOVES cars, and there just aren’t a lot of jobs for women who are automotive geeks.

Me, I started out going into librarianship mostly to be able to have a safe job and raise my kid. I thought it would be safer than being a poet. I fell in love with the profession pretty fast, tho. This is a little bit how I got into it.

ETechLib: Ada Lovelace Day: Women in Tech I Admire: http://etechlib.wordpress.com/2009/03/24/ada-lovelace-day-women-in-tech-i-admire/

As far as tips? If you know what you love, that will work to your advantage. If you don’t know what you love, librarianship is a great way to be exposed to a lot of different options. What you love will come find you. :) If librarianship doesn’t work, that’s OK, too, of course. It is OK to not get accepted at first, then find out what was missing, and do a better job of showing your passion for the topic the next time around. Have fun. Be creative. If you aren’t sure, maybe go do volunteer work or get a part time job in a local library or helping a social organization that does advocacy for something you care about. Think about how you feel about helping people or organizing stuff, since librarians tend to fall into either one camp or the other. If helping people fits, think what kind of people you want to help — young folk, kids, seniors, students, regular folk, folk with special needs, health needs, smart folk, teens, etc. Heck, I know librarians who specialize in public library collections of videogames for teens and young adults. Really. There are jobs like that.

I think you get the idea. I hope this gave you a few ideas of things to think about. You are doing the right thing by asking librarians about libraries. Go visit libraries, and talk to the librarians about what they do and what they like or don’t like about their jobs. Ask who they know that is doing library stuff but not in a library. See how it sounds to you after you learn a bit more about it. Make sure that you either like the idea, or at least don’t feel repelled or bored, and think you could be comfortable and safe in the work. Librarianship can be a great bridge to other professions. It never hurts to build expertise in how to search for information and answer hard questions. This is ALWAYS useful in any other profession.

If you do go to library school and want to talk more about it as things go on, holler every now and then, ok?

Here is wishing you the best!! Have FUN!

Patricia

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