Courage, Creativity, Community

Scary Stories About Librarianship

It was 2010, and I was in library school. At a dinner, a retired librarian told me that getting an MLS was a terrible idea. Jobs were few and far between, and the positions that were available were undesirable. It was scary in there- I should stay away.

It was 2012, and I was finishing my MLS and attending my first ALA, working on the vendor side. Another library ghost story – a well-meaning librarian warned me against taking a job with a vendor because I would never get a job in a REAL library. Vendors were evil and corporate, people with degrees who worked at vendors were greedy and not REAL librarians.

In 2013, I became a coordinator, and a former classmate pointed out a blog post from a library personality to me. I spent errant hours considering if I had made a catastrophic mistake, whether such positions are secret hexes laid on bright-eyed up-and-comers by evil stepmothers administration.

In 2017, I accepted a position at an institution where I don’t have faculty status. A colleague who is faculty told me it was tantamount to career suicide.

I am here to kill your boogymen, librarianship. I know you warned me about them with the best of intentions. I have climbed to the top of a pile of what you told me were bad ideas and from this vantage point my observation is this: your fears and anxieties, while valid, are stress-inducing and sometimes poorly presented to those of us newer to the profession. Your assumption that we should make different choices speaks to the privilege of later career. All of early career is risky and choices are limited.

I am now in midcareer(ish), and it has taken me more than five years to discover that what lies under the profession’s focus on shouting “here be dragons” isn’t functionally about supporting or informing  newcomers. On the positive side, it’s about critiquing power structures, but it’s also about reinforcing widely held negative viewpoints which can make organizational change even harder. Our fears and anxieties become contagious and self-perpetuating.

Here’s how I approach giving advice from my experiences:

  • I don’t encourage people to get an MLS without talking about how the job market is difficult and offering to serve as a mentor, advisor, and reference.
  • I don’t tell people that moving from the vendor side to the academic library side is easy, but I do tell them the pay is good and that the academic libraries you want to work for value diverse experiences.
  • I loved my work as a coordinator, both times I did it- I loved the challenge of building relationships and creating services. And
  • That valuable experience that put me in a position to move into a role as a department head, helping to make the right professional and financial decision for me personally. And making decisions informed by your own needs, desires, and experiences is the best anyone can do.

TL;DR: Be informed, don’t be afraid.






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