Yesterday on Twitter I got into a discussion with one of the sagest librarians I know – Anna Creech – about being honest and realistic to aspirant librarians/archivists yet still promoting more diversity in the ranks. The conversation kind of ended with a well intentioned, but also kind of part of the problem LIS professor chimed in with some super Pollyannaish points. She’s not entirely wrong, but it also reflects a generational and situational issue where well intentioned advice from people who are established in their careers often misses the mark because the landscape has changed drastically post-2008. “Careers ain’t ever gonna knock.”
This is a hard line to walk – I don’t want to tell kids, “There’s no future.” I also don’t want to make them think the road ahead is sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. One of my fears is that my natural cynicism (thanks mom) leads me to focus on what I don’t like about librarianship, and the troubles. Let’s face it – it’s not all doom, but the future isn’t quite rosy yet. I worry that I might throw up barriers to potential new librarians with my bad attitude, particularly people from diverse backgrounds this profession actively needs: non-hetere, non-white, non-cisgendered, first generation college educated, and so on. Balancing realism with encouragement given the budgets and changing missions of libraries is hard. But whatever, I went to school and got the job and I shouldn’t rain on other people’s parades because they want to do the same.
Instead of saying, “Don’t go to library school,” I’ll continue to suggest, “Get a job in a library.” Any undergrads reading this; seriously, get a campus library job. You’ll never have the opportunity for some paid experience that will help you understand what working in a library is actually about. I think for a lot of people the allure of libraries and archives as a workplace is based in a love of the familiar and nostalgia. A lot of people like libraries and archives because they’re cool places with interesting resources, and for the most part they aren’t evil. Since we’re a career-obsessed society, it makes sense that people feel the need to pick a career early and they’ll go with what they know. So when I tell people, “work in a library,” it’s not only because I know it will help them get jobs after they graduate school, but they’ll have a better notion of the different job functions and concerns. A lot of undergrads don’t get metadata or privacy yet. I hope it prepares them for the kind of work and the underlying philosophies that will ultimately help them be nimble as the ground shifts underfoot. We can’t talk about “new roles for info pros” when many LIS school students don’t even know what roles info pros hold beyond the obvious.
The bigger issue for me is making sure I’m not yet another hypocrite when talking to new professionals. This is a trend that I see too often that the advice from established professionals to students and job seekers is clueless and lacks a certain empathy and self-awareness. The advice focuses on what they feel is important and what they feel should be important, but they seem to forget what it was like to be in school trying to figure out life, or getting an entry level position. That’s totally human nature, but also sounds like they’re trying to pull the drawbridge up on the profession. Myopic. More about that later though.