Frustration in the library world…

October 13, 2011

Photo courtesy of somegeekintn at Flickr

As I have been job searching, I have taken advantage of various free webinars offered on job searching or library topics.  Between these webinars and my professional reading,  I have noticed that there is a lot of negativity around the library profession as of late.

The negativity has revolved around two topics: the fate of libraries in the digital world, and the lack of jobs for librarians.

Any search in library publications or online will bring up how the library is “dead”, or unused, or not needed.  Mayors and city councils are cutting funds, hours, and positions (most recently here in the Chicago area.)  However, if you actually go to a library, you easily see how much activity is happening.  Even in the corporate realm, which has cut back their library services, the library space and staff is being reimagined and information analyzers and alerting experts. Although the stereotype of the stodgy librarian persists, most libraries have staffs who are keeping the library moving forward, changing with the times, and providing what their public wants and needs.  Even if you don’t use your public, corporate, or academic library, you may be surprised how many people are using these resources.  I hope that when decisions are made to close or cut back services, the library’s users and their needs are kept at the forefront of the decisions.  Because libraries reflect their communities and provide  a service that is irreplaceable. Libraries need to do their best for their communities and keep positive, though–the library as a community resource is still alive and well, and even thriving in spite of the atmosphere of fear created around us.

In direct relation to the above changes, library jobs are becoming more scarce.  Some if this may be because of cutbacks or hiring freezes.  Much of it may be from an influx of people obtaining their MLS degrees.  About five years ago, librarianship was being touted as a profession to watch as large portion of our profession was reaching retirement, leaving positions available for new blood.  However, the recession happened, and the retirements did not.  I was on a webinar the other day on job search tactics for a difficult market.  There were over 675 other librarians and librarians-to-be from across the country, many of whom were chatting in the chat box during the webinar.  Frustration and negativity abounded.  Many had been out of work 8+ months, or had graduated and had yet to find any position that would provide them with experience.   Some relayed their experience with interviewing, where they were one of 200+ applicants for an entry-level job.   And, many had high student loan costs to deal with.  I found it depressing that this situation is occurring. And, “older” librarians are sometimes pressured to let in the “new” librarians, and stereotypes of the “hip, cool, young” librarian as the only future and the “old, computer illiterate” librarian needing to retire is prevalent within the librarian community itself.  We need to support, respect, and appreciate each other for our strengths, as a house divided cannot stand.

One thing I did feel from some of the comments is that perhaps for some of these people, librarianship was less of a calling and more of a practical decision (they liked reading and analyzing, didn’t like their current course of study or profession, or felt that becoming a librarian would be an easy career path).  There is nothing wrong with that, but being a librarian/information professional takes a lot of persistence and perseverance.  An understanding and desire to be in a service occupation is necessary; library jobs may not pay well or have little in the way of compensation besides the great feeling you get when you help lead someone to the information and knowledge they seek.

I hope that as librarians and libraries adapt into the digital wave (which we are doing in droves, and successfully, too!), we will become more upbeat about the changes.  These changes are exciting, and necessary, and here to stay.  There is no going back to what was before.  The thing to do is to find the way to work within this environment, and with each other, and remember why you became a librarian in the first place.

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