Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Should I Be a Librarian?, or If This Is What's In Your Heart...

A former student of mine recently asked me about my job. More to the point, this person is considering librarianship as a possible career. This is someone I got to know pretty well over the span of my first couple of years at my current job, someone I think would be fantastic as an instruction librarian. If I were to base my advice purely on whether s/he is suited to the work, that would be enough. "Go forth and study library science." The trouble is, there's so much more to consider. After letting the idea ruminate, I sent an honest answer, most of which I'm reproducing here:

  1. Most days I love my job. It appeals to me because I enjoy math/science/computers AND art/literature/humanities. In my role, I get to be a professional, academic generalist. 
  2. Depending on your motivation and your interests, there's a place in Biblioterra (a more fun appellation for "Libraryland" that I learned from Will Manley) for pretty much anyone.
  3. Most library science programs are a lot of work, but it's doable and (if you have the right professor) fun. 
  1. I do wish I made more money, but I make enough for what I need and to put a little aside (the reason for my adjuncting). It's not impossible to make money as a librarian, and my salary does reflect the market in which I work, but I do sometimes think about how much education I had to get to earn this salary - and shake my head ruefully.
  2. Job prospects are not great right now. Recruiters for library science graduate programs will try to feed you a load of bull hooey about Baby Boomers getting ready to retire, but with this economy hitting their retirement funds it isn't happening. Further, there is supposedly a slower than average expected growth in librarianship.
  3. Some days it's extremely hard being neither fish nor fowl. Not really faculty - even at colleges where librarians are given faculty rank - and not really staff. When this comes up, at best it's annoying and at its worst it's demoralizing.
  1. Don't get a PhD in Lib Sci unless you want to teach at a library science graduate program.
  2. A second master's can be useful, and is needed for some positions, but it's not required in general.
  3. Think about how much debt you'll accumulate, especially since no matter what kind of further education you get, you might end up working part time in academia at first.
After all the pros and cons, though, if this is what's in your heart, you should consider it. On the bad days, I talk about giving it all up and becoming a hermit, but on the good days - and those come more often than the other kind - I know I'm right where I want to be.

How about you? What do you tell people who ask you about librarianship as a career?


  1. I agree with a lot of this and I'd also add that a new librarian will almost certainly have to move (and in many cases, move a great distance) for at least his/her first library job. And often for the subsequent ones as well, given how little room there is for advancement in many library workplaces.

    Many people are also stuck trying to eke out a living by cobbling together many part-time jobs with no hopes for landing a full-time job.

    Anyone considering going to library school should start working in a library before sending in their tuition check. And you should try to get as much experience as possible before graduating.

    I do love working in public libraries but there are a lot of disadvantages: money, lots of nights and weekends, are just some of the first ones.

  2. Your post, in addition to the comment above, is exactly what I tell students. You must be aware of your passion, but you should also be realistic. The nice thing about the degree is that it is versatile, especially if it's in conjunction with an MBA or a degree from Kent State's IAKM program. You don't have to be a traditional librarian - there are other opportunities out there.

    You better watch out - I might start recommending you as a panelist for KSU's Library Careers Night. :-)

  3. I make decent money per hour as an adjunct...but I am only allowed about 21 hours a week max. Take home pay is okay, but what I have to pay for the benefits I don't receive as an adjunct is sad and leaves me with little. I feel like the only librarians that make good money are those that have been in the field for 30-some years or library directors (sometimes). I suppose librarians, like teachers and firefighters, are those under-paid pillars of the community. I always wonder if moving out of California to a place with a lower cost of living would help...