When I was looking for a job, I remember reading (and sometimes participating in) the many discussions about the job market on NEWLIB-L and NEXGENLIB-L. People would talk about how they’d read articles about a rosy employment forecast for librarians and how the graying of the profession would lead to plentiful jobs. I read those too. In fact, I remember my dad sending me clippings about the “librarian shortage.” However, I’d decided I wanted to become a librarian well before I read any of those things. It was really the only thing I could imagine myself doing and I still feel that way. People on the board vented their frustrations — to varrying degrees — about their job market frustrations. And I shared many of those same frustrations. Yes, the constant discussions about the job market became tedious, but what I really found absurd were some of the responses of our more fortunate (employed) colleagues.

Some people with jobs responded with sympathy and concern for their unemployed colleagues. Some offered useful advice. Others were not so kind. I can’t tell you how many posts I read that basically “blamed the victim” and chalked the fact that they hadn’t found a job up to a defect on their part. Some complained that the job-seekers were too negative (some may have been, but most were just discussing the fact that there really was no evidence of the promised librarian shortage). Others who had jobs bragged that they’d had no problem finding a job after graduate school and they couldn’t understand the problems we were having. Others described why they had a job and we didn’t. It was because of their great cover letters, their tech skills, their assertiveness, their practicum, their prior experience, their geographical flexibility, etc. All in all, I found people’s explanations of why they had a job and we didn’t lacking. I was geographically flexible. I’d worked in a public and academic setting while in grad school. I had tech skills. I’m not a terrible writer. Offering advice on how to craft a great cover letter or what to ask in a job interview is very valuable, but to pretend that you really know why you got a job is laughable.

Finding a job, to me, seems about as difficult as finding love. Some people find the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with in high school. Other people don’t find that kind of love until they’re in their 50’s or 60’s. And it’s not necessarily because they are not attractive, or smart, or have a great personality (though those can factor into it). Mostly, it’s because they haven’t found that elusive sense of “fit” with another person. They haven’t found that person that they click with — that they can be completely themselves around. I certainly never found that until I met my husband, though I’d dated a lot of people with whom I didn’t have that sense of “fit”. And there were so many things that could have gone wrong. It would have been so easy for me to never have met Adam and it was so random that I did. And why do people initially click? Is it because of their mutual love of Star Trek or Thai food or because they find they went to the same college? What is it specifically about me and Adam that made us such a good match? It certainly doesn’t boil down to any one thing. But people — women especially — are lead to believe that there is something wrong with them if they aren’t married by a certain age or are at least in a serious relationship. One of my former social work colleagues is bright, beautiful, successful, and independent. Why hasn’t she found lasting love when I think any guy would be lucky to be with her? Is she picky? Or is she just looking for someone she feels that sense of “fit’ with?

It’s the same for finding a job. Why did I get my job? Was it because they liked the screencasts I’d created? Was it my blog? Was it my enthusiasm for Vermont? Was it because I can design websites? Was it because of my cover letter? Was it because I sent thank-you notes? Was it because I was a Wesleyan grad and Wesleyan has a historical connection to Norwich? Or was it something more elusive? Maybe it’s because I “clicked” with everyone I spoke with at Norwich. I certainly felt more comfortable in that interview than I had in any other. I think it was a combination of so many factors — both in and outside of my control — that I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to why I got this job and others haven’t found one yet. A librarian friend of mine suggested that perhaps she got a job offer because she’d gone to the same school as the library director’s daughter. How random is that? So much of finding a job is those little connections you make with the people you will be working with. I’m happy to offer advice to job seekers, but I can’t pretend that my finding a job somehow makes me superior or gives me any superior knowledge.

I got to thinking about this while listening to an inteview with Barbara Ehrenreich on NPR about her new book Bait and Switch : The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. In this book, Ehrenreich pretends to be one of the growing population of those who have been laid off from white collar jobs. She looks for jobs and gets insulting job offers (considering the resume and references she cooked up for this). She goes to job seminars that promise to help people find high-paying full-time employment. What she said is that people who have been laid-off are treated like there is something specifically wrong with them which is keeping them from finding a job; that they are somehow deficient rather than simply being a victim of circumstances. This got me to thinking about my own job hunt and the randomness of it all. Sure, you need certain skills, flexibility, and personality to find a job. But so much of it is just out of our control.

Here are some statistics which show that, at least right now, there is a serious shortage of jobs for librarians. Let’s take a look at the ALA Placement Center Statistics from the Annual Conference over the past few years. From 1998-2001 there were always more job openings than seekers. In 2001, at the ALA Conference in San Francisco, there were 703 job openings for 463 applicants at the placement center. By the next year, the tables had turned and there were 278 jobs for 368 job seekers. Here are the stats for 2003 until 2005 (the conference in Chicago).

Year Location Job Openings Job Seekers
2003 Toronto 142 317
2004 Orlando 251 333
2005 Chicago 297 621

Kudos to anyone who was able to find a job against those odds. But for those of you who didn’t, don’t think that someone getting a job over you always means that you are less qualified. Work on your cover letters. Work on your interview skills. Beef up your tech skills. Try and get published or get more involved in professional organizations. Scour those job websites. But don’t let anyone make you feel like you have some sort of deficiency because you don’t have a job. Keep your chin up!