In one of my final classes in my Masters of Library and Information Science program, an undergraduate sat in. They worked for a library consortium, in the center where all the interlibrary loan books got rerouted. (Yeah, that’s a really cool place to work. Of course, they would want to be a librarian.) They asked the class for advice on how to prepare themselves for a career in libraries. My classmates and I gave advice (perhaps not all of it useful). The event prompted me to think about what someone needs to think about before deciding to go to library school, before becoming a librarian.
Should you be a librarian?
I am quite happy to be a librarian. I got very lucky that I found a career path that looks like it will fit me. But it doesn’t fit with everyone. And there are enough cons that means if you don’t really want to be a librarian, don’t be a librarian.
All professional librarians will tell you that you don’t become a librarian for the money. Librarians made a median pay of $56,880 per year (about $27 per hour). It’s not a lot. Still, that pay is not abysmal. For example, a public relations specialist would make $56,770 per year and editors make $56,010. Chemical lab technicians make $44,660 annually and tax examiners make $51,430 annually on average. Of course, these other jobs do not require a masters degree – but they prove librarianship is not completely fiscally irresponsible. Still, if one were to get a professional degree, a JD (a law degree) looks more fiscally sound ($115,820 per year).
There is the stereotype (supposedly) that librarians basically hide in the basement and never talk to anyone. Yes, there are definitely jobs like that. My acquisitions job would be like that, if I didn’t push for more interactivity and higher level work. But most of the time that behind-the-scenes labor is no longer performed by professional staff. Most frequently, librarians are going to be on the frontlines: they deal directly with the public and with administration (i.e. managing people). If you want to be a librarian, be ready to face the public and plenty of library employees.
The job market isn’t terrible…but it’s lackluster. If you come out of a top program, like I did, people will want you. But the job doesn’t have to be a very good one and probably will pay you barely subsistence-level wages. You also have to agree to move anywhere (including the Yukon Territory). Being geographically constrained might kill your librarianship career. To get that exciting, well-paying job in a good location, you still need to be brilliant – out of a good school and with experience out the wazoo. But if you want to be a librarian, you’re much more likely to seek out those experiences that will help you land a decent job.
Library school is awful. To get through 4 semesters of utter boredom and intellectual decay, you have to really want to be a librarian. I am so lucky that I got my assistantship. I love my assistantship. And if I didn’t have that job to prove my love for librarianship, library school would have killed that love.
So, not everything is great about librarianship. There are still awesome perks. Librarians get a lot of vacation time. We throw really good parties. We get to learn a lot about everything. We are exposed to technology in ways others never are, so we become really techy. Many librarian communities are liberal; and many are conservative (you’ll find your niche well enough). The staff who work in libraries are often great people to work with; I’ve never had a problem with my coworkers. You’ve got so much to do that it’s hard to get bored.
So, should you be a librarian? Think about it. Don’t be one if you don’t want to. But if you do, I’m cheering you on.