More on getting hired: It’s not passion, people!

I’ve confessed to being addicted to HR blogs in the past. One of my favourites, nö, my favourite is The Cynical Girl Laurie Ruettimann. Tonight’s she’s giving a presentation at NC State about getting a job after you graduation.

I liked it. Particularly her main points:

  • Have a skill or two
  • Demonstrate a work ethic
  • Take pride in your work
  • Tell a better story
  • Rethink passion

All job applicants should have these in the back of their mind throughout the application and hiring process. I’ve witnessed acquaintances/colleagues/people I’ve interviewed falter on several of these points, which definitely makes for a less than compelling candidate. The interesting, and perhaps more controversial point is the last one. Ruettimann has pissed on the dreams of passionate new-grads before, but she makes a good point.

Don’t let your passion get in the way of a paycheck. You can work 8 hours at a crappy job and still have 16 hours/day to sleep, eat, poop, shower, and work on your passion.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be one of those people who is all consumed by your profession (whatever it may be), OK actually I probably am, but I also think at some point you need to divorce your self the individual from your self the worker. Not that you can’t be an individual and a worker, but when times are tough and you need a paycheck, you might have to make that split. No harm in that, just reality folks.

So what’s that mean for librarians? (Since I know this blog has to tie everything back to libraries…) Recognize it’s a job. A special job that sometimes we take to cult like levels, but it’s still a job. I love what I do. I really like my field and I’m quite happy I fell into it. That said, I really hope this doesn’t define me. I would like to think there’s more to me than transportation information, but if my colleagues and customers don’t know that, it’s fine. I’ll bore my partner with the latest and greatest Sheffield Wednesday drama. If you, like me, are one of the several humanities grads needing a job, focus on the job not the subject. It will get you places and give you money to spend on your passion.

The job market sucks, how are you supposed to compete?

Imagine my surprise today when I was catching up on my HR blogs when I see a post from Ask A Manager featuring a question from a recent LIS grad. Of course this is a tired topic on library blogs (I know I’ve talked about it a lot from many different angles), but to see it sort of mainstream? Whoa! Here’s the letter:

I have wanted to be a librarian since my senior year of high school, and I recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Library Science. I knew finding a library job would be difficult because of the economy, but my situation is made worse by my lack of geographical mobility and the fact that I live next to one of the largest library schools in the county. I’ve only been looking for a library job for 4 months, but in that time I’ve had only one interview.

I was recently volunteering in a place where I got to do what is basically my dream job, but I had to stop so that I could find a second part time job (outside of the library field). Sometimes I feel like I should have kept volunteering. My supervisor said that she wished she could have hired me, but that they simply don’t have the funds. Although I love this work, I feel like I would have to sacrifice so much and put my life on hold to even have a shot at getting a paid position. For example, I could have continued volunteering, but then I wouldn’t have been able to work enough to afford moving out of my parents’ house.

I beginning to think that continuing to look for a library job is hopeless and irresponsible. Right now I am working two part time jobs while looking for a librarian position. Do you think I should look for a more permanent full time job outside of the library field? Should I give up on a profession that I love, but which doesn’t seem to have any room for me?

There were a lot of good comments from librarians, but the advice seemed to lack direction or action. (I will comment there after I finish this post.)

What would I say to this librarian? Lots of things. (Seriously, if you stop by my reference desk I will talk your ears off about this topic.)
First of all, keep applying. This is really something I’ve picked up from reading blogs like Ask A Manager and Evil HR Lady. It’s also been a theme on listservs like NEWLIB-L. (OK, that list veers to trollish, but there’s some good stuff there.) I know you’re wanted to be a librarian for a long time (long than me for sure), but that doesn’t mean a job’s going to fall out of the sky for you. Hustle and apply to as many jobs as it takes. Yeah, it’ll be work, but it’ll be worth it.

Speaking of hustle, you need to network. Network online. Network in person. Network with people you want to be your future colleagues. Network with people who might be able to refer you to your future colleagues. One thing that really struck me as odd to be missing from all of the suggestions was professional associations. That’s what some of them are great at – I’m talking SLA. Networking is an effective way to find leads for jobs and to make yourself stand out from the pack applying for jobs. A lot of these associations also have job postings on their sites. Really, join your local SLA chapter, get involved, and network. It will help.

Also, and I think you’ve figured this out, you can’t be completely married to any one type of library right now. I’m not suggesting applying for positions you know you’ll hate if you get them, but expand your options by considering more than just your dream job. Are you interested in cataloging? Look into metadata and digital libraries. Again, let me be the SLA champion, and say that non-traditional jobs might be the way to go. I wish library schools raised awareness of these sorts of career paths, but alas..

I know it’s hard. I know that public libraries are getting slammed financially, as are universities. That’s just the nature of the recession – library services are easier to cut than firefighters. It’s also true that corporate libraries are disappearing, as are libraries at lawfirms. All that said, the information professional jobs are still out there, you just need to be more creative and flexible.

Good luck.

Online Education – When the Ivory Tower goes to Bits

reading, originally uploaded by kendrak.

(That’s me, lo almost 4 years ago doing course work for my online MSLIS/MSIS program.)

I’ve never been able to (or really tried) to hide the fact that I went to school online. Was it my first choice? Not exactly, but given my options and my field I think it was the best choice for me at the time. I was worried that somehow my degree would be considered less worthy by my colleagues, but that hasn’t been the case. I still get the weird looks when people make the connection that “attended” a school in Philadelphia whilst living and working in Berkeley, but they get over it quickly. So that’s my background – I am a product of online education, as are several talented librarians. It’s hard to ignore that for many areas, it’s the only option for library school.

There has been a lot of discussion and angst about online programs recently in the area. University of California’s Commission on the Future is looking at ways to maintain access to education in the face budget woes, and they seem to determined that online education is the answer. The pilot is supposed to start with online courses that are required at all the campuses, which makes sense on an economies of scale thing. The Daily Cal and SF Chronicle have talked about it. It’s clear from the mood on campus that people are not happy at the thought. It’s clear that UC is thinking more students means more money, and there are legitimate concerns about the quality of education, but it could help make UC affordable and possible for many students who would otherwise qualify, if it were not for cost. Just yesterday it was announced that fewer Latinos were admitted this past year, while out of state admissions saw a jump. It’s related, naturally.

Then today University Diaries reported about a story in Georgia, where a student is accused of taking tests in online courses for a fraternity. Margaret Soltan’s concern is that with online courses you have no way to verify the students are who they say they are, and why she refers to online education as poor white trash. I can’t really tell how tongue-in-cheek it’s meant to be, being educated in poor white trash manner, but then again I’m not really trying to be too much of an academic. I am in the quasi-ghetto of the library after all.

Regardless, I think there is good reason to be concerned with how academia proceeds with online courses, but that doesn’t make online education and distance learning the end of civilization or the worst thing on the planet. I don’t think Drexel was like the University of Phoenix. (Or maybe I’m lying to myself?) I can’t imagine whatever UC ends up doing will be like something like they advertise in those catchy/annoying Education Connection commercials. I also wonder how much of the concern is legitimate concern for the quality of education for the students, and how much of it is concern about change. Maybe I would feel differently if I took the other path where I because a professor of Historical Germanic Linguistics, and I would be up at arms about how we are ruining the academy. I wish the criticism of online education didn’t have that tinge of elitism that tends to be so entrenched in higher education.

Honestly, when I think about people getting online degrees I think of my classmates. Most of us were either working full-time or raising families and working part-time. The flexibility of the program allowed us to continue to do so and only take out loans for tuition. There are lots of bright students who simply can’t afford to go to university with the current model, yet we as a society keep telling them that college is the answer. We need to change the message I guess.

Tenure and Academic Freedom: Times are changing.

Last week I asked if academic librarians should be faculty. The issue of academic freedom came up, as faculty status (and tenure) should protect librarians. Is that really the case though? Is tenure the only way to achieve that? According to the American Association of University Professors it is.

The bottom line is that librarians (academic or otherwise) are unwilling, through their premier professional association, to shame those involved in the most egregious violations of intellectual freedom when the violations occur within the profession. This unwillingness to engage academic and intellectual freedom within libraries has resulted in a serious bifurcation: such protections exist for the users of libraries and in building, maintaining, preserving, and providing access to library collections of all types, but they do not cross the desk in practice to the professionals who must stock those collections and serve those users. Academic and intellectual freedom in the library workplace is, primarily, a rhetorical value and an object lesson to those who take academic freedom for granted or misunderstand it. It is a reality only for those librarians fortunate enough to be faculty members—and to be taken seriously as such.

John Buschman makes some good points in that article, such as the role of ALA in advocating for the rights of librarians (and how they may have let them down), but ultimately, I don’t agree with his point. He represents the broader interests of faculty and tenure, and as long as many institutions consider librarians faculty, they have to keep that line.

Tara Murrary linked to this Chronicle blog post about the broader issue of tenure and academic freedom. Is this going to be the end of tenure? The implications for professors seems to be more uncertain, but for librarians we’ve been doing this for years. I think this is a great time to reflect on what we do and what academic freedom actually means for librarians, rather than just invoking it in name.

I have a hard time even thinking what academic freedom means to me. Does this mean the freedom to pursue projects and initiatives? I have that. What about research? Well, I could if I had time and money. That has more to do with the staffing and funding constraints of my workplace (which is practically a universal), that I don’t think my lack of tenure has anything to do with it. I feel fortunate that the institute I work for values the library’s missions and what we do, even if we are examining things that won’t immediately affect our users. I think library administrations need to do a more effective job communicating the needs of librarians to campus administration, but that’s a whole other issue. (Maybe I should examine the trend of library administrators not being librarians?)

So what does tenure really protect? It might make people feel comfortable to exercise their academic freedom, but really it’s just the job security. Mess with tenure and people freak out, “Oh no! You can fire me!” Was tenure intended to protect people who weren’t doing their job? It shouldn’t be a shield for incompetence or an unwillingness to perform. For professors, I’m not sure what that means, but for librarians it’s very clear. You don’t want to change what you do to meet the needs of your users? That’s not a tenure issue. This is why I see them as two separate issues.