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.

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.