Is She Crazy to Want to Work in Libraries? Advice for a Potential Librarian.

Yesterday I received this email through my Facebook contact form. I thought I’d post a response publicly so others can see it and to tap the wisdom of the web, What do you think, is she crazy to want to work in libraries?

I follow you on twitter and really enjoy all the information that you share. I’m a 41 year wife, mother of one and student. I’m working on my undergraduate degree with plans to get an MLS degree when I’m finished.

If you have time, please send me some advice.

What I want to ask you is this: am I crazy to want to work in a library? Everyone I tell (not library people) are so discouraging and seem to think libraries are going to die out and become a thing of the past. I’ve heard that a love of books is the worst possible reason to want to work in a library, but in addition to loving books, I love technology and I love people.

Hi Crystal,

Unfortunately I can’t give you an easy yes or no. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The best I can do it point you towards some resources that I think the will help you better understand what being a librarian entails, what librarians really do and what their work days are like. If you haven’t already I strongly suggest working in a library. Volunteer if you have to in order to get a foot in the door.

For online resources I recommend you start with this slideshow by Ned Potter

Then I recommend you read these links from So You Want to be a Librarian? A Guide For Those Considering an MLS, Current Students & Job Seekers. The full posts contains more links and advice but these are for those thinking about getting a degree, working on it or newly graduated.

It might also be of help to read these posts on what it really means to have an MLS

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21 comments for “Is She Crazy to Want to Work in Libraries? Advice for a Potential Librarian.

  1. November 30, 2010 at 8:11 am

    I am completely torn as to what to say to this. On the one hand my natural optimism and love of the profession pushes me to say “of course you should become a librarian! It’s fantastic” – particularly as you’ve put your love of people and technology up there with a love of books (you understand the profession already!).

    But on the other hand, your concerns that the profession may actually cease to exist (at least in its current form) are probably legitimate, and as it says in the presentation more people qualify than retire each year so it’s a very tough market to enter.

    I think the skills an Information Professional has are absolutely vital, and will continue to be so even if the doomsday scenario of libraries not really existing comes to pass; we’ll have a role even if our buildings do not. So maybe it IS a profession you should join..?

    Incidentally, the love of books thing – there are still library roles where this will stand you in good stead. It’s not *the* worst possible reason to want to work in library. It’s just that there is something of a backlash against the whole concept, because libraries are evolving and public perceptions of libraries are not. We recoil from the love of books thing because we don’t want people to enter the profession thinking it’ll be like perhaps it was 30 years ago (ie sedate, and surrounded by dusty old tomes) – but you seem to know the reality, so you’ll probably be fine. :)

    • November 30, 2010 at 8:40 am

      Ned – well thought out response, as always. You address the issues many of us are concerned about without sounding like Doomsday is coming.

  2. November 30, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Speaking from personal experience, my advice would be don’t go into this thinking that you’re going to be a librarian who reads/recommends books to patrons and occasionally helps them with a computer problem. Some days you will feel like you work at Blockbuster, other days you’ll feel like a babysitter, then there will be those days where you spend most of the day trying to figure out why the photocopier won’t work. But those days will be offset by those moments when you’re able to help a patron locate information that they need for research or a book that they’ve been dying to read and, to me, that makes it all worth it.

  3. November 30, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Thank you for yet another mention. As a current library school student hoping upon hope that I will be able to find a suitable full-time job in the information profession (hopefully less than a year after I graduate – I have friends who have been unemployed 1-2 years now), I think it is also important to factor in the competition for traditional library jobs. I wrote another blog post about the number of students currently enrolled in library school (20,000+ in the U.S. alone, according to this year’s unreleased ALISE statistical report), and I wondered if we should be warning potential students about the stiff competition. I think there is a LOT one can do with an MLIS besides work in libraries, but you have to know the possibilities (cue What’s the Alternative? by Rachel Singer Gordon). I hope this person has a lot of library experience, or can gain access to some, and I hope she won’t accrue too much debt to pursue it. Those are the concerns I have about people entering library school right now.

  4. November 30, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Another great post! I just blogged about this recently too but my comments are mostly a rehashing of what others have said. Yep, competition for full time jobs is stiff, librarians mostly love their work so few retire or move on, plus the trend in public libraries at least is to replace librarians with lower paid paraprofessionals in my own experience. I’ve bought into the philosophy of do what you love and if you love libraries – go for it, but it may take a while to get there if you don’t already have an “in”

  5. anonymous
    November 30, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Social media is your friend until your employer bans you from using it. :(

    • anonymous
      November 30, 2010 at 11:19 am

      And let’s not forget be good at your job but not so good that you get outside recognition. A lot of libraries frown upon that. Somehow it makes the boss look bad to have great employees,

  6. November 30, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    I would tell anyone NO. Not that the job is terrible or that the pay is low or that the profession is suffering an identity crisis. But that I really can’t tell them what the job might be when they finally graduate and start to look for work.
    If you are in a job right now where there is some benefit to getting the degress, then YES, get that diploma. Otherwise, I can’t recommend it. I got mine in one year. But even then, the Internet changed everything that my job would become. And who knows how our jobs might be changed one year from now.
    You can argue that the core mission isn’t changing and that we are still buying and circulating books, but the librarians who work well with print are not retiring. And when they do, the library isn’t going to hire someone to replace someone with those job skills. I know I’m not. I want someone who can teach, and organize and present programs. I want someone who can handle the stress of patron needs and wants. I want someone who understands technology, but not necessarily someone who buys every new thing.
    I don’t even see a standard librarian job desciption anymore, so how can I tell someone YES when we can’t even define what we do?

  7. November 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I love these types of posts and questions. Without duplicating the already great advice offered in the linked articles and comments below, I’d suggest that Crystal check out the hacklibschool project that myself and other library school students are working on. The goal is to provide a brief overview, or a map, for the types of issues, projects, and content that one might come up against in an LIS program and offer tips and advice from current students to future students. We are co-editing a wiki that will be more throughly updated after this semester ends (this Friday for me!!). Check it out here – http://hacklibschool.pbworks.com

  8. November 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I’ve worked in libraries (as a professional without an MLS) for 11 years. I am planning to go back to school next fall to start my MLS. I have exactly the experience described below – teaching, training, technology, programs but yet I get letters from HR departments telling me I wasted their time by applying for a job when I “obviously” did not meet the minimum qualifications. It’s almost enough to make one bitter against the entire profession.

    I say almost because that said, I still love libraries and I want to be part of the change that needs to happen to transform libraries into something relevant and sustainable.

    (By the way -If anyone is looking to hire such a person please contact me as I am packed and ready to move!)

    My advice for Crystal is to follow your heart. There is always room for one more passionate person who has her heart in the right place. You love technology and people–then libraries would be a great fit for you!

  9. November 30, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Is She Crazy to Want to Work in Libraries? What Advice Do You Have for a Potential Librarian. | Librarian by Day http://librarianbyday.net/2010/11/30/is-

    • kellylynnknight
      November 30, 2010 at 11:01 pm

      RT @librarianbyday: Is She Crazy to Want to Work in Libraries? What Advice Do You Have for a Potential Librarian. | Librarian by Day htt …

  10. November 30, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    This is a great blog post… In my opinion, the future librarian will have to LOVE data – and maybe even know a programming language like SQL. (SQL is fairly easy so don’t worry.) Think about this – every two days, there is more information created in the world then all of the information that was created from the start of recorded modern history up until 2003. This is exponential growth – and what’s most exciting is that the majority of this information is unstructured (meaning there needs to be some intelligence to interpret the relevance of the data). This is one of the best articles describing the future of data and information from The Economist – http://www.economist.com/node/15557443. If you love this article and are passionate about information, becoming a librarian may be for you.

  11. December 1, 2010 at 1:15 am

    Great post, and lots of good responses! @effing, how long have you been in librarianship, that you *ever* expected it to sit still? When I was in library school in the late 80s, they told us something was coming. It involved computers, it was going to be big, and no one knew what it was yet. We just had to be ready to change with whatever the job ended up being, and be sure to keep good customer service in our sights.

    @Michael – loved the Economist article! From the time I finished library school, I’ve felt like I’ve been in the right place at the right time. More and more, keeping track of information is a full-time job, and librarians are the ones with that job. It’s changing, of course, and fragmenting, and coming back together in new ways, but since that’s what the rest of society is doing, this is a good thing. We need to be agile, and keep up with how people want their reading material (whether statistics, fiction, or whatever), and we’ll never outlive our usefulness.

  12. sally sue
    December 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I would say only do it if you can get the degree without going into debt for it. You’re not going to make enough money with the degree to justify the debt. Good luck.

  13. December 5, 2010 at 11:32 am

    I think if you feel called to a profession, to do it. Understand it as best you can before choosing it, but then go for it. Your passion will make it work and the skills you gain will be useful whatever you do.

    Like teachers, we have to remember how marketable our skills are, even beyond the library field specifically. I find that its easy to forget the outside “world” and believe that our skills have value, but lots of institutions from law firms to Google value and need the creativity, organizational abilities, and self-motivation that librarians have.

  14. December 7, 2010 at 11:38 am

    As a recent MSLS graduate (December ’08), I can say that if you are passionate about librarianship, go for it, but if you want a guaranteed job immediately following graduation, understand that that might not be realistic. I have been looking for a library position in NJ for over two years now. Despite much networking and many applications, I still haven’t been offered a job. I don’t think people should discourage students from becoming librarians. Instead, educate them so that they are aware of the realities of the job market. This may help prevent disappointments later on.

  15. December 22, 2010 at 4:02 am

    This is a great blog post… In my opinion, the future librarian will have to LOVE data – and maybe even know a programming language like SQL. (SQL is fairly easy so don’t worry.) Think about this – every two days, there is more information created in the world then all of the information that was created from the start of recorded modern history up until 2003. This is exponential growth – and what’s most exciting is that the majority of this information is unstructured (meaning there needs to be some intelligence to interpret the relevance of the data). This is one of the best articles describing the future of data and information from The Economist – http://www.economist.com/node/15557443. If you love this article and are passionate about information, becoming a librarian may be for you.

  16. December 22, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I love these types of posts and questions. Without duplicating the already great advice offered in the linked articles and comments below, I’d suggest that Crystal check out the hacklibschool project that myself and other library school students are working on. The goal is to provide a brief overview, or a map, for the types of issues, projects, and content that one might come up against in an LIS program and offer tips and advice from current students to future students. We are co-editing a wiki that will be more throughly updated after this semester ends (this Friday for me!!). Check it out here – http://hacklibschool.pbworks.com

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