One honest problem facing new librarians: the part-time job

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Summary: Job postings for librarians are as varied as any job. Some of them, though, seem to expect a lot for a short number of hours.

Monday, 07 December 2009

(13:31:40 CST)

One honest problem facing new librarians: the part-time job

I am listening to Behemoth's Evangelion for the third or fourth time. Blackened Death Metal is a strange genre of music for a librarian, but for whatever reason it helps me to think. Plus, Behemoth, Polish Metal Gods as they are, included such lyrics as "I divine Iconoclast/ Injecting chaos into my veins/ With life accepted/ With pain resurrected/ Is the embrace ov [sic] god in man profound" which at least beats out your average pop-music lyrics (the moot is open about whether the lyrics actually mean anything). If you want some heavy metal, emphasis on the heavy, then Behemoth's recent CD is my highest thumbs-up for the genre in awhile. Sarah half-hated it, but take that as you will.

If I ever get around to forming an avant-garde melo-death band: my focus will be on Latin-sung lyrics dealing with physics and classic philosophy. My target audience will be two or three people wide. Guaranteed.

Behemoth aside, the idea of the day is mostly about relaxing and coming to terms with the end of the term. I think I did ok. Going into the last couple of assignments, I had good grades; but those last couple of assignments will make up at least a plurality of my grade. Everything is at least slightly up in the air, but I worked hard on them so I think it will be ok. I'm 90% sure of it.

This puts me, roughly, at the half-way point between done and not done. Which means I get asked "What are you going to do when you graduate?" about as often as I get asked "You need a Masters degree for that?" I am not sure if the balance will ever tip completely over. The answer to the post-graduation question is: I want to work with academic libraries, with an emphasis somewhere between reference/research work, digital libraries, and e-versus-p comparative bibliometrics. My ultimate goal would probably be testing and implementing new electronic research techniques and interfaces to help and improve research methodologies. Helping people to get more for their library buck, as it were. Where in the world I am going to do this is unknown. I like the Huntsville region and, if you expand to North Alabama a little more generally, there are several academic libraries close enough by to probably work. Economics being as they are, now, and the field changing like it is, I have no idea how likely something nearby is. I have been told that the number one difference between librarians who get good jobs and those who don't is a willingness to travel. I can only guess that is even more true nowadays.

This morning, Annoyed Librarian posted an entry talking about retiring librarians. She mentions that sometimes the wrong librarian retires: namely the one who loves the job retires because they are tired, while the one who does not care stays in the position because they never do anything, anyhow. Since I have started the Masters I have heard conflicting reports of the "greying of the position" mixed with reports of there being too many young librarians to get jobs. It only seems likely that younger people will end up blaming older librarians for staying around too long and depriving new librarians of jobs long enough that many of the youg'uns bail from the position (and yes, I have heard classmates and other students cite exactly this, kind of often).

I have mixed feelings of how accurate this sort of thought pattern it is because there are plenty of old doctors and lawyers and pyschologists and teachers and yet the new folk manage to get jobs just fine. Maybe those other professional degrees offer better retirement packages? More likely, those other degrees get the sort of budget needed to continue to expand. This country is more populous than ever and all those doctors and teachers and what-have-you are getting a boom in jobs, while libraries are shrinking departments and trying to do the dread "more with less" dance.

On the other hand, how is a young'un like me supposed to overcome the often disproportional experience requirements needed to get a job if we have been working part-time, non-professional services? I am lucky, I have a job that gives me the hours and experience I need to learn all about working with digital databases and reference work. When I graduate, it will be a high-point on my resume, right next to the ALA accreditation. For those others who came into library work from an outside profession, like many of my classmates, or had to stick with the job they had rather than get a library job: what do they do while waiting for a good enough position to open it up to make it worth their degree? They cannot merely show up to an interview with a smile and open mind, can they?

As a case in point, with some name and details withheld because I am not trying to pick a fight, merely show a trend, here are the summation of two library positions that have recently opened up recently in the Huntsville area. Both were part-time (explicitly, 20-hours a week). Both required a Masters degree. Both wanted some degree of additional experience in various other fields. One wanted digital, social science, and reference experience. The other one wanted teaching experience. I have no idea what the salary on the former was, but the latter was under $15 an hour. One could argue these are gateway jobs, and no doubt they are, but gateway jobs requiring years of experience on top of a Masters degree just seems like a slap in the face. Call me old-fashioned, but part-time jobs seem to be what people working towards a degree get, not something that they get after getter a higher degree.

Huntsville is not the only place, the Library Journal 2009 Placements & Salaries Survey showed a general increase of part-time jobs, decrease of full-time jobs, and (maybe saddest of all), an increase of "non-professional" jobs. The reasons I call out the last bit as saddest is because in the some- to oft-times political world of librarianship, people with an MLIS but a "non-librarian" job are occasionally unable to call themselves a librarian in the professional sense despite having the degree and working in a library. I am lucky, maybe, because academic libraries are one of the few fields that are increasing the number of full-time jobs; but I bet I have to get out of the South to really take advantage of that.

To put this in a better perspective. By the time I get done with my Masters, I will have spent seven or so years in college (it comes out to be more than that in actual years, slightly, because I took one year off and I did not attend summer semesters until the the last year of undergrad and now in grad school). The last two years alone will have cost me around $12000 in tuition, with maybe another $3000-$5000 in miscellaneous expenditure (books, class-related travel, et cetera). Taking a rough median of the second number, we are looking at about $16,000 plus time and effort into getting a higher degree. Assuming I took a part-time job at $15 an hour, for $300 per week, then I would be looking, pre-taxes, at only about $15,600. If I got two equal jobs, I would be over $30,000 per year, pre-taxes, but the work load of two part-time jobs is more than just one full-time job. In neither of the above jobs am I including the extra experience needed to qualify: the teaching or previous reference work. Partially because it does not specificy how much, but partially because it is not needed to show what sort of uphill battles us young'uns are going to have to face over the next couple of years.

Part-time librarianship, if anything, is going to increase, and once the benefits of the degree (getting a job as a librarian) start becoming unable to feasibly support the cost and time of the degree (my costs are actually on the low end of things); then the degree is going to dry up. Five bucks, by the way, says that libraries turn to non-degreed personnel to save money instead of increasing the salary of the now fewer MLIS holders that would be out there. The risk is being run of series of degreed librarians being less employable than their non-degreed counterparts. This is worst-case-scenario stuff, sure, but for a number of librarians this is the sort of fight they are dealing with.

It is for reasons like this that part of me thinks library and librarian advocacy is my calling; to help talk my brothers and sisters up and to find new shapes and forms for our given field. People outside of the field are currently deciding many of the most important features (budget, legalities) and it seems like we insiders are starting to suffer.

I am still quite hopeful. I whole-heartedly think I made the right choice. I absolutely love my job as a reference librarian and I am good at it. Here's hoping that I can get the chance to keep it up for as long as I am able to be a benefit to my profession. By the way, my music playlist has moved on to Justin Bianco's Nocturnum, slightly upbeat new-age synth-and-beat work. Nice and relaxing. It is a good circle to walk.

Si Vales, Valeo


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