Hey Libraries: It’s Not Me, It’s You

So Librarian Drupalvangelist Nina McHale announced that she is leaving her current library job as of 10 June to work outside the field for a Drupal developer.  Coupled with a co-worker announcing his departure this week (it’s an internal move, and a good one for him, and a good one for our team in that his presence will allow for better inter-department relations), and even the host of my favorite web series (The Brain Scoop) announcing her new job at the Field Museum in Chicago, I start thinking: Is it time for me to make the leap? Hey Libraries, do we need to break up – and it’s not me – it’s you?

I have many of the same grievances that Nina has with libraries:  low pay, poor (but improving) library-publisher-vendor relations, lack of self-marketing skills, etc.  As an MLS working in a non-traditional career (library resource provider, if you know me you know the place), I’ve tried to work on reform from within on that second one.  But after running for ALA Council three times and and losing each time, do I have any more fight within me to run again, at least while in my current job?

But then there’s libraries.  And more questions.  Do I want to work somewhere where I have to fight for the existence of my job each year?  Where my master’s degree results in compensation of $32,000 a year? (By the way, that was the posted salary for a library director in Tinton Falls, NJ.  No kidding.)  Now I know that one does not simply walk into the library profession with expectations of a six figure salary, but a livable wage (of which $32k a year is not, at least in my part of the United States) should be a bare minimum and certainly not something our profession has to fight for on a near-daily basis.

I’ve been writing websites since the days of Geocities (RIP), and managed to get some Drupal (and self-hosted WordPress site) skills under my belt, mostly on nights, weekends, and lunch hours.  I still have much to learn, but I have learned enough to know that maybe a career in web design and content strategy – where I can use principles from my library education in a career where self-marketing is welcomed and where I am properly compensated for my skills – is the next step.

And then there’s a training career, which I would have not discovered a passion for if it wasn’t for the T is for Training podcast folk.  (My mom was a teacher – maybe I inherited the gene from her and it just stayed dormant?)  And what about a research-based job?  I have friends in research professions, like my library school friend Jessica Speer who is a researcher for DePaul University, or my friend Melody Clark who works at University of Washington’s Technology and Social Change Group (TASCHA).   And I don’t count out that dream of getting another degree, which depending on day has varied from resurrecting the LIS Ph.D. dream to a Master’s in Public Administration, to a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership to the MBA.

As Nina indicates, “Maybe after immersing myself in a non-library web development for a good long, I’ll have the skills and experience to come back and help solve some of these issues.”   Perhaps I need that kind of break as well.  Much to think about this summer, for sure.

16 thoughts on “Hey Libraries: It’s Not Me, It’s You

  1. Sigh. I feel both saddened and validated to read this post. Saddened, because I’ve kinda sorta cyber-”known” you and your journey the past several years, and validated because these musings underline my own decision to drop out of an MLS program mid-year and do a complete 180. It was an extremely difficult time, and yet now, 3 years later, I can’t help but feel I dodged a bullet. I remain a die-hard advocate for public libraries, but right now I feel I can do more good outside the system than within.

    • It’s interesting to read your blog to learn that the “grass is not greener on the other side”. Seven years, after receiving a MLS degree from UW-Madison and taking advantage of eight years of traveling and work in the federal sector; I decided to seek out employment ops in my profession. Your assessment of libraries is an interesting one and makes me pause and think about my current status – as an unemployed librarian – as a blessing in disguise?

    • curious… what are you doing outside the system? What are helpful actions that can keep and expand our Libraries role and meaningfulness?

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  4. I am beginning to think we are just at the beginning of watching LIS lose record numbers of qualified, talented, and innovative librarians. Perhaps, instead of retirements that have been touted for so long as making room for new librarians (didn’t happen and many are hanging on way past their retirement ages), it is those who have been in the profession 10 years or less who will leave, making room for the new kids. After all, if you’ve been in librarianship 10 years and can’t move up, then it’s either take a lateral transfer or move out. I have also been eyeing a PhD so I am putting steps in place to make that happen, which may or may not include librarianship.

  5. I think even for those of us who are on the flipside and feel that–for now–our employers appreciate us [monetarily], we’re in a similar boat where we have divorced ourselves from “librarians” as our first identity. Okay, I’m using the royal “we” here. I mean I and just hope I’m not alone. Everywhere you look, I am a Front-End Web Developer that *specializes* in user-experience for libraries and higher-ed. I really don’t draw all that much attention to my MLIS. I’m not sure what this means, ultimately; but I feel more confident in my employability as a developer who ALSO HAPPENS TO BE A LIBRARIAN than a web services librarian.

  6. I worked as a web developer, database administrator, programmer, etc. for a very long time before becoming a librarian. The grass is not greener on that side of the pasture. The pay is better, but you tend to work much longer hours and be under significantly more stress, whether you work for a company or as a contractor. For some, it may be worth the tradeoff. For me, it ceased to be after a decade or so.

    I’m happy in my library position, but I am also well paid and have a great city government supporting me. That’s obviously not the case for everyone.

    Library schools have been forecasting mass librarian retirements for the past 10 years. It’s not going to happen. I see a lot of library directors retiring (or changing careers), but not many regular librarians. Far, far too many people are graduating with library degrees these days when you consider the number of jobs available.

  7. I’m wondering if there might finally be critical mass for a professional organization for MLS exiles — people who went to library school and/or used to work in libraries but had to jump ship finally and leave the profession for economic reasons. There are a lot of us and who knows what we could accomplish if we organized. Maybe start with a LinkedIn group & see what happens from there?

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  9. Has anyone considered “special” librarianship? I work in a non-profit institution (I came from academe) and (dare I say it) I am ridiculously well paid, our organization respects the library, and the work is and the organization is challenging and stimulating. I’d never go back. There’s more to it than academic or public librarianship.

    • Oops–but the work is difficult and smashes the grammar area of your brain at the end of the day! Sorry about that…

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