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.

4 thoughts on “Don’t become a librarian?

  1. As a mid-career librarian in a budget-challenged environment, I fear libraries will want to hire cheaper, fresh-out-of-library-school graduates. Also, the baby boomer librarians are putting off retiring, so my opportunities for growth – beyond lateral – are limited. If I had it to do over, I probably wouldn’t go to library school.

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