Please take time to read all the comments. They provide some interesting food-for-thought, particularly for us as we are at the beginnings of our careers...
From Will Unwound
February 16, 2012
WILL UNWOUND #684: “From the Tavern Mailbox: Goodbye to Librarianship”
Note from Will: On a regular basis I get emails from librarians who want to drink deeply of the collective wisdom found in our Unwinders Tavern. If you have an issue that is bugging you feel free to send me an email at email@example.com and I will run it in this blog so that our Unwinders can comment on it. Feel free to change identifiable details so as to protect your identity. I received this email last month. Please give your best advice to anonymous.
Just writing to thank you for your last Manley Arts piece about meeting librarians’ needs. Particularly the part about librarians not having taken a vow of poverty. I wasn’t going to rant but you did say you have a lot of free time… I am about to leave the field because the pay is so much lower than the modest ALA-recommended minimum my alma mater touted as de rigeur when I was looking into grad school. The professional satisfaction promised as a trade-off is not happening, either.
The other payoff missing from public librarians’ lives is the professional dignity I was expecting when I became a librarian several years ago. I thought being a librarian would be great, given my aptitude for technology and the written word combined with my social altruism. Whoops. Most of the young librarians I know regret their choice. The most ambitious of us are the most miserable because we know that we could, as they say in the dating game, “do better.” I can make databases, but here I am un-jamming the photocopier and repeating program dates and times for callers who don’t have a pen handy. (It’s not that I need to pay my dues and work up the ladder: this is the highest position under Director.) Patrons are disrespectful, clerks talk to us like we’re pages, and managers struggle to keep a straight face when we suggest salaries should reflect value delivered rather than time served. There is a stark difference in the types of personalities and demographics the field attracts today vs. the era of my coworkers’ entrance to the field. Our colleagues make us pariahs for so rudely writing them an e-mail when they are in the building. They have worked here forever and half of them can barely use computers, forget that PCs have been widely accessible for over fifteen years. We are smart, enterprising, eager professionals. Projects fail miserably because none of my dear elders know how to conduct a productive meeting or start and complete a project. Our ideas are met with “that’s very neat but this is how we’ve always done it” and our attempts at competitive salaries are met with “well you knew going into this you wouldn’t be making a fortune.”
What’s broken? Is it a clash of power structures? I theorize that in a women-run organization like a “traditional public library” the structure is like a family, where authority comes from physical age instead of from your job title which you earned with your ability, like how us Gen X-ers came up. Is it that the civil service system has ruined the money-for-work model, leaving us hard workers feeling cheated? I felt a moment of clarity the day I realized “this doesn’t have to be my problem.” Much as I love social programs, I am industrious and don’t need the system to provide for me.
As you say, basic needs must be met. After looking these last four years for one of these elusive “real-pay” jobs I have given up on librarianship as a career and switched directions to focus on a consulting business centered around journalism and web design. Sometime before my biological clock stops ticking I will type up that resignation letter and say: I cannot raise a family and pay my student loans for $15 an hour. You will have to find another “professional” librarian.
For a long time I was worried it was me: I interview poorly? I don’t know the right people? Wouldn’t you know, less than a year into Project: New Career and I already have a couple freelance clients. Stranger still, none of them have balked over money or yelled at me because they don’t know how to make a photocopy. Perhaps the libraries here will miss my abilities, but life is too short to stay on this train.
I imagine you field lots of letters like this so I won’t ramble any more. I’ll just say thank you again and maybe at least the donut thing will catch on.