By Meredith Farkas | January 6, 2005
I have two job interviews coming up that I’m very excited about. It’s made me optimistic that perhaps my job search will be over soon (fingers crossed). I haven’t been looking for so long — it hasn’t even been a month since I’ve graduated. There are plenty of people I hear about who have spent six months to a year looking for a job after library school. And I also hear about newly minted MLS’s who have had to take temp jobs and part-time jobs because they were unable to find steady full-time employment. So when I hear an appeal from the current ALA president and the Director of the Boston Public Library for more librarians to enter the field, I feel a bit miffed to say the least. Yes, that’s just what we need. More unemployed librarians. More supply so that we will all be so desparate for jobs we’ll accept even lower pay! What a great way to get librarians some well-earned respect, huh? Here’s an excerpt from their op-ed piece in the Bostom Globe:
For the American Library Association, the situation is even more haunting than the 86-year “curse of the Bambino.” Despite the fact that more people are using libraries than ever before, their funding continues to decrease. More than $80 million has been cut from public library budgets in the past year alone, which has weakened or closed libraries in more than 40 states.
In addition to budgetary issues, about 70 percent of librarians will reach retirement age within the next 20 years. Who will take their place? Librarians don’t rake in the multimillion-dollar salaries of major league ball players. They gain their rewards from helping a lonely senior citizen locate family members online, reading a book to a young child, or assisting a mother searching for information on college loans for her children. Eighty percent of librarians report being very satisfied with their career choice.
Spare me the saccharin. Flattery doesn’t pay the rent. I find library work enjoyable, which is why I entered the field, but I’d be even happier if librarians were paid more. Wouldn’t it be nice if librarians had a union that could lobby for better wages and better treatment (you know, like teachers have)? Oh wait! Isn’t that what the ALA is supposed to do? What I found as a social worker is that employers could always treat us like crap and pay us horribly because there would always be other idealists to take our place. If good social workers were hard to find, we would have been treated more like nurses who have been able to lobby for better pay because there is a legitimate shortage. Nurses were treated like gods at the community mental health center I worked at. Social workers were treated like cannon fodder.
What I find amazingly galling is that they can talk about budget cuts and librarian shortages in a single article. Do they not understand the budget cuts don’t just apply to library programs and materials budgets. They also equal cuts in hours and cuts in jobs for librarians. Are these projections of a librarian shortage based on any real empirical data (other than the fact that a large number of librarians are old)? Are there any projections about the actual growth or shrinkage of library jobs based on the economic situation? Who is doing this research?
Dorothea at Caveat Lector makes some excellent points about the supply and demand issue as well as about what the ALA is (or is not) doing for librarians right now:
Moreover, problems of the undervaluation and underpayment of librarians would be ameliorated by a temporary lack of supply. (Assuming, of course, that librarians are as valuable as we say we are. Right now, a lot of us are finding out the hard way that we’re not.)
All this talk of librarian shortages accomplishes is swelling the ranks of newly-minted librarians when no jobs exist for them. This is bad for them, bad for ALA, and bad for the profession. Stop doing it, ALA. Turn your attention to real, existing librarians who need your help right this minute finding work.
Jessamyn at Librarian.net also has an excellent critique of the editorial, and wonders whether the problem with library budget cuts is really caused by people not appreciating their libraries. Perhaps it may have something to do with the fact that there are cutbacks in city/county/state budgets, and it is more important to most people get their garbage picked up and have a police force than a library. It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs again.
I think what the ALA really needs a lesson in economics.