Don’t become a librarian?

Monday mornings are always a little weird in the library. You never know what’s happened over the weekend or what state the library will be in. (Graduate students have keys to the library, and apparently it’s a happening place in off hours.) We’ve found laptops, bags of produce, and pairs of pants left behind.

Today I found this article, “Don’t Become a Scientist! posted on the wall in front of one of our posters. Prof. Jonathan I. Katz writes:

Science is fun and exciting. The thrill of discovery is unique. If you are smart, ambitious and hard working you should major in science as an undergraduate. But that is as far as you should take it. After graduation, you will have to deal with the real world. That means that you should not even consider going to graduate school in science. Do something else instead: medical school, law school, computers or engineering, or something else which appeals to you.

Why am I (a tenured professor of physics) trying to discourage you from following a career path which was successful for me? Because times have changed (I received my Ph.D. in 1973, and tenure in 1976). American science no longer offers a reasonable career path. If you go to graduate school in science it is in the expectation of spending your working life doing scientific research, using your ingenuity and curiosity to solve important and interesting problems. You will almost certainly be disappointed, probably when it is too late to choose another career.

People always say that it’s better to get a degree in science than humanities, but I’ve met a number of physics grad students who were unhappy at the bleak job market. Since all of the Ph.D. students hanging around our library are engineers, they don’t seem to worried about this article.

I wonder what if somebody wrote a similar article and sent it around library schools. “Don’t become a librarian. The pay will be terrible and jobs will be hard to find.” I know there are some people who have said that, but I’ve also heard this is the best time ever to go to library school because the field is changing so much and everybody’s getting ready to retire. I don’t buy it. If some wise, experienced librarian had told me to think about what I was doing before applying to library school (I didn’t have the luxury), it probably would have made me pause. Now, being pretty much done with the library half of grad school, it makes me wish that there was more attention to the application of what we’re learning and how to get a job. Who knows, maybe that last class I need to take will teach me that, but the job hunt scares me because I know there are lots of extremely capable librarians out these looking for spots in the same area I am.

Why do I want to be a librarian?

It’s a hard question to answer. Last week the Annoyed Librarian asked readers to answer that question, which naturally received a variety of responses. Looking over them it makes me think that perhaps the AL readers aren’t the right people to ask such vague questions to, because none of them said, “I’m a librarian because it’s a calling.” In library school, that seems to be the most acceptable answer, with “I love reading and books” a close second. Of course, this means I’m out of the club because I would probably say something about making information accessible for people to use, but apparently that sounds forced.

This weekend was full of school work and midterms, which naturally made me ask what the point was. Why am I in library school? What does business administration and finance have to do with helping people find old tech reports about traffic lights? Nothing, and I’ll admit the business course is for the MSIS not the MLIS, but the end result will hopefully make me a librarian so I’ll lump it all together. I guess learning more about information systems and administration will be valuable later on in my career, but for the moment it makes me see how vulnerable libraries are and that the old model needs to change. That’s easier said than done and I have a feeling my education’s already out dated before I even graduate.

The other important question (since I’m not really a librarian) is what sort of job do I want when I graduate school? I’ve always seen myself in an academic library and I would still prefer that, but I know I’ll have to go wherever I can actually get a job. The big thing I’m afraid of, is not actually working in a library, but for one of those library support companies. I really hope that doesn’t happen though because it seems like people who become teachers only to go work for Kaplan or textbook companies. Would I even need an MLIS for that? Probably not, though for most library functions you don’t. Oh well. Nothing fun to think about the day after a three day weekend.