The Race to the Bottom

“Thou hast said enough.
Beshrew thee, cousin, which didst lead me forth
Of that sweet way I was in to despair!
What say you now?
What comfort have we now?
By heaven, I’ll hate him everlastingly
That bids me be of comfort any more.”
-Richard II, William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. Act 3, Scene II


If you want to understand my and other unemployed librarian’s frustrations, read this man’s posts and read them well!  Then, you will finally understand why my heart is flagging in finding a library job and looking elsewhere.

I blame myself for not researching the librarian field more effectively.  I would have found out that shelling out for a Master of Library Science degree was not a wise idea.  I’ve always gone with what I love or what I thought I would love.  I do not regret my education, in case one may be thinking that.

The only way to get a full-time librarian job is to have experience.  How do you get experience?  Volunteering and entry-level part-time jobs.  Well, if you have the MLS, some libraries may not accept you in those positions as it “dilutes” the profession.   In defense of the non-snooty librarians, a hiring library manager has to worry if you’ll leave immediately once that hard-to-find full-time librarian position opens elsewhere and you get it.  The Great Recession starting in 2007 meant a lot of libraries closed branches, cut hours, and let go much of their staff.  Things have improved since then (and statistically, the Great Recession is, I think, over but good luck explaining that to ordinary people in the U.S.) and yet libraries are still struggling.  When they do determine a need for a position, they may prefer non-benefited, part-time workers as opposed to full-time librarians.  Cheap, but a real bummer.  The library science schools are also cash-cows for colleges, so there’s a flooded market of MLS graduates in addition to laid-off professionals fighting for limited positions.  It’s an employer’s market. Also, don’t get me started on “applicant tracking systems” with shifty software and reducing you and your employment history into data points.

I have a dark theory about public libraries, too, and why funding (which provides job positions) can be hard.  I don’t think public libraries have much respect by upper middle class Americans and politicians as they can buy the books or information they want.  So when public libraries ask for more money, politicians do not see much benefit for them and their middle class financial backers.  That’s mean, but politics and money are involved with libraries just as with anything else.  Just go to your library board meetings and eventually you’ll see something wonky, even if board members try their mightiness to stay above the fray.

My focus has primarily been on the job woes with public libraries.  State-funded and private colleges and museums that hire librarians were hit hard during the Great Recession as well.  They particularly prefer specialists with graduate degrees, so just a bachelor’s and an MLS will likely not be enough.  Oh, and the experience!  You need it first!

I suppose the best advice I have for aspiring librarians is you have to love libraries to death and not just “like” them.  Computer science, computer engineering, database management, etc… anything in those areas will undoubtedly get you a library job as a systems librarian, automation librarian, or digital archivist.  So, love (not just “like”) technology.  I failed my Visual Basic class, so you have no fear of competition from me at least.  Libraries seem to love “customer service” experience and, believe me, you’ll deal with the best and worst of customers/patrons.  It helps to like people or at least pretend to like them.

Good luck to all those searching.  We’re going to need it in this race to the bottom.

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