LIS Education Lacking

I came across Gavia Libraria’s post on how many people feel that library education is lacking. The “Library Loon,” as the author calls themselves, complains about LIS professionals in a rough job market complaining how their LIS education has not made them the shiny, gleaming candidate that everyone wants. Okay, I get her point – we can’t blame LIS education for a poor job market (at least not wholly).

But I am a person who recently graduated from a top LIS program (in the United States) – and I was the shiny, gleaming candidate that everyone wanted. I had no trouble getting interviews or offers, and had a job lined up months before I graduated. It might very well look like the poster child for a successful and robust LIS education.

And I still feel that LIS education is quite lacking and isn’t (always) helping us LIS professionals out.

LIS education can be so utterly devoid of intellectualism. I came from undergrad straight into my Masters of Library and Information Science program. And I quite quickly decided that library school was a little more like high school in its demands and intellectualism. For a graduate program, isn’t that unfortunate?

The professors I had were not particularly good. Yes, I had a few stand outs – but the bar was so low (due to the majority of the faculty) that perhaps it was easy to stand out. Yes, I know I was at a research university – and not a teaching one – but I would hope that the majority my professors had more of a passion than they decided to show. And they might have had the classic problem of PhDs not being taught instruction, how to teach, etc. We also had adjunct faculty (who were either librarians in the surrounding community or staff members in other academic departments) who class after class lodged complaints about – and it always seemed that the administration shrugged.

I loved my graduate assistantship, and I can’t say I mind the “oohs” and “ahhs” I get when I say where I went to school. But I still think – if the top LIS program in the country had these “problems” – that LIS education across the country must be lacking in something.

Scholarly Communication

So if you have the (mis)fortune of being a faculty librarian, you probably have some sort of scholarly communication requirements. I do. Peer-reviewed articles are the preferred mode of scholarly communication for my institution and position – but presentations and posters do count (if to a significantly lesser extent). I am working on articles, but presentations put one’s face out in front of people. And they’re a great way to put your name and specialties on editors’ radars.

So, I have had quite a bit of presenting this spring semester. So, on this lovely day at the end of the semester, I thought I would highlight my three presentations.

  • The Library Graduate Assistantship: A Crucial Supplement to an LIS Education
    • While undertaking their graduate studies, many library and information science (LIS) students seek pre-professional graduate assistantships. These assistantships can serve as excellent opportunities to complement student’s education and influence their future careers by providing them with relevant on-the-job education and skills. Graduate assistantships are a crucial to LIS education in helping new LIS professionals develop skills and experiences needed to attain gainful, professional employment.
    • Presented at ALISE 2017 in Atlanta, GA.
  • Setting a Course: Using Google Forms for Navigating Metadata for Digital Projects
    • Working with faculty and staff to create digital projects requires a complex group of skills and activities. Potential collaborators often jump to the end vision without fully grasping the need for proper description & metadata. Using Google Forms & Sheets is perceived as neutral and less frightening than working in a repository platform or using other proprietary productivity software.
    • Presented at ACRL 2017 in Baltimore, MD.
  • The Digital Potential: Making Digital Objects More Than a TIFF Image and a MODS Record
    • Many institutions digitize their physical collections. Unfortunately, once these items are digitized, they reside in a repository and act merely as digital representations of their physical counterparts. I discuss how libraries can make greater use of their homegrown electronic resources through collaborations between scholars, students, and the general community.
    • Presented at ER&L 2017 in Austin, TX.

Supply and Demand

I went to college at a time and place where many, many, many people wanted to be professors. I even have fantasies of being an English Literature PhD, or maybe a Comparative American Studies professor. But for me, at least, and probably many of my former classmates, pursuing the PhD and the professorship wasn’t worth it.

We heard stories of only 13 tenure-track History slots open nationwide, 7 tenure-track English professorships, etc – and hundreds of PhDs coming out of grad school. We heard of people hunting for years (like 7, 8, 9+ years) for a stable job, waiting it out by adjuncting or acquiring fellowships. We saw our own visiting professors leave their children, their spouses, their parents, etc. in order to come teach for limited terms – some as long as 3 years, others as short as 4 months. And we knew most of those visiting faculty would be visiting somewhere else after their stint with us.

Yeah, a PhD and traditional professorship didn’t look too promising.

For me, that meant setting my sights on something else that 1) I liked, that 2) paid, that 3) was more stable than adjuncting. That thing was librarianship.

I was lucky: I secured a tenure-track job at a small liberal arts college months before I graduated library school. That’s in part because the market for academic librarians is different than the market for more traditional professorship. But just because it’s different doesn’t necessarily make the job market easy for librarians.

In libraries, due to automation and shrinking budgets, there are fewer and fewer staff and faculty. Which means fewer and fewer available jobs for LIS professionals (in academic, public, school, special libraries). And the professionals privileged enough to have jobs might only be part time, or are doing the work of 2+ people. There’s enough work to go around, it seems, and yet no initiative to hire any more people.

*

One Thanksgiving during my time at grad school, I was talking to my uncle. He was on the school board in his district, and was talking about how the schools needed librarians. It seemed, to him and that school board, that there was a severe lack of school librarians to hire.

“Why don’t you become a school librarian?” he asked. “We need them.”

There are plenty of reasons I knew I was not meant to be a school librarian. Rather than detail those nuances – including that I had no desire to get a teaching certificate – I just cut straight to the easiest topic for people to understand. “It doesn’t pay enough.”

“Well, if schools really need librarians, they’ll pay more for them,” he said.

I shrugged, shaking my head. “It doesn’t always work that way.”

My uncle was thinking of the idea of supply and demand. If the demand is high (the schools need librarians) and the supply is low (there aren’t enough librarians), librarians would cost more. The schools would compete with each other, by paying more money, in order to get librarians.

Basically any librarian knows that supply and demand doesn’t seem to work for libraries. Is it because libraries are at least ideologically separate from markets (i.e. patrons don’t pay for library services or materials), so therefore we don’t hire staff based on market principles? Is it because there are clearly other constraints beyond supply and demand? Or is it because librarians don’t have value in the way other professions have? (If a hospital needed a doctor, it would increase the salary to get one – rather than keeping open a job posting that listed the salary as half of what a physician should make.)

And I assure you, there is no lack of librarians. But there is a lack of places that will pay for one.

*

John Warner writes about supply and demand in academia for Inside Higher Ed. He notes how tenured faculty retire or quit, and are never replaced. Even if it’s quite clear a professor is needed – i.e. there are still students and the institution hires adjuncts to teach the former tenured professor’s courses. And even when Humanities departments see a decrease in enrollment, tenured faculty in that department aren’t let go. Supply and demand…doesn’t seem to work there.

And it doesn’t seem to work for librarians.

I have seen this in every place I’ve worked: there’s enough work and need for more staff and librarians. I luxuriate in the thought of having an Electronic Resource Librarian (or more!); others pine for an Instructional Design Librarian, a Copyright and Licensing Librarian, a Scholarly Communications Librarian, an Access Services Librarian, a Metadata Librarian. We have the work for them – there’s that demand. But it’s not like any of the libraries I’ve worked for is going out and acquiring these librarians.

*

I asked one of my coworkers – mostly rhetorically – if we had an oversupply of librarians or academics, or an under-supply of jobs. At the time, I had only ever heard is that there are too many academics / librarians, that LIS and other programs are being irresponsible in producing so many graduates. I wasn’t expecting another answer.

But my coworker said, “We could be like the 70s, where all the PhDs had jobs and departments were fully staffed.”

We, or our institutions, or the powers-that-be, have decided that our universities and libraries don’t need to be fully staffed. We might need more full-time professors and librarians (demand) and there are plenty of highly qualified candidates (supply). But, the way things are, supply and demand doesn’t have anything to do with academic jobs.

Your Colleagues and a Lot of Meetings

When I was interviewing for my first professional position out of grad school, I was always asked what I liked most about the position I was currently holding in my university library’s acquisitions unit. My first answer was always, “The people.” Then, of course, I had to explain why I liked librarianship, and a technical services position too.

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Rebecca and former coworkers. Nada Sweid, 2016.

Even though I think I had to qualify more about why I liked my current employment – beyond just liking the people I worked with – I think my immediate response fostered a lot of interest from potential employers. I sounded like someone who might be reasonable to work with; I wasn’t someone who had a better relationship with the books than the person in the next cubicle.

Libraries are looking for new employees who will work at least peacefully with the other staff.

The farther out of graduate school I get, the more I realize that librarianship (and probably most work in general) is more about personality and interdepartmental interaction than it is about hard skill sets like creating purchase orders or hacking away at several lines of PHP or cycling through reference questions. After 5 hours of meetings, 1.5 hours of reference and instruction, and 1 hour of supervising your direct reports, you don’t have much time left in an 8 hour day. (No wonder most of us feel overworked.) That’s basically 7.5 hours of interpersonal interaction. Yep, it’s the majority of your work time. The hard skills might get you the interview (because those are most apparent on your resume and cover letter) but those soft skills are what you need when you’re actually working.

So, an employer and hiring committee that knows what it’s doing will want to find an employee with the ability to work well with others.

This can, I know, become a dangerous path to tread for employers. They want someone deemed “friendly” and who “fits” their departmental culture. “Fit” so often excludes people of color; and ideas of “approachability” and “friendliness” are highly gendered and often eliminate perfectly suitable candidates. And for the many of us who are introverted and nervous in our interviews (or those of us with social anxiety), we know that interviewers want to see these traits – and we are horrified that we cannot live up to those expectations.

My advice is twofold. First, you need to market how you can work well with other people. No, you don’t need to be a social butterfly, the life of the party, charming, arrogant, or anything of the sort. But you do need to have examples ready of how you work with others. I would say 2 or 3 examples as the minimum, so that you can highlight your ability to be a “team player.” And a sort of mini-philosophy of working with others is also a good idea. I would say something like, “I could, if I wanted, work in the library basement and not talk to anyone – but that’s not really how I want to work.”

Then, I want you to know that your days will be filled with meetings and people. (Yes, it is exhausting.) So, you should strive to find people you will be happy working with. When you’re interviewing, pay attention to whether you think you like the people interviewing you. Yes, there can always be a few surprises – but if your instinct says the majority of the people interviewing you, you might have found a good job.

Make Work, Not Love

The National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students at private universities are employees, just last month.  Now, graduate students – teaching assistants, research assistants, graduate assistants, etc. – have the ability to collectively bargain with their institutions.  The NLRB recognized higher education institutions as a place of labor.  Sara Matthiesen, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, notes that this idea of universities as workplaces is rare in most discourses.  Higher education is often seen as a “labor of love,” and not just plain old labor.

I’m in academia, as a librarian-professor; and I must say that I hear the “labor of love” statement all the time.  Librarians are notorious for saying “You don’t become a librarian for the money.”

Every time I hear this, though, I want to say, But I did.

If I didn’t care about money, if I didn’t care about job security, if I didn’t care about (relative) career stability, if I didn’t care about healthcare and dental, if I didn’t care about a career that would support having a car and a nice apartment and a horse – then why the hell would I be working in a library?  Why the hell would I be working anywhere? If I didn’t care about those things, well, life might be a lot simpler – and I would take way more naps than I do currently.

The most recent time a fellow librarian said “You don’t become a librarian for the money,” I said:

“I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t paying me.”

And though I did not say it, I fully endorse saying “I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t paying me enough.

I love academia.  I love researching.  I love having access to all sorts of information, that my institution is paying for (not me).  I like the free gym membership.  I love knowing my colleagues are working on highly intellectual endeavors.  I love working with students (particularly undergraduates) as they stretch their fledgling intellectual wings and try to find themselves and scholarly resources.

But just because I love (or like) many aspects of my job doesn’t mean it’s not a job.  Just because I like my job doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be compensated fairly.  It’s nearly ridiculous to think that liking or disliking your job should affect your pay.  Do you pay someone more because they hate their job?  No.  If that was so, we should just find a cohort of really nasty and poor academics – then academia will pay better. (See, ridiculous.)  Whether or not we like our job should not be the criteria for how much we get paid.

(I’ve found put that even if the IT people like their jobs, a bigger pot of money can pretty easily lure them away.)

So, when someone tells you “You don’t become a librarian (a professor, an academic, etc) for the money,” perhaps think about telling them that since you are working, since you have a job – you are a librarian (or whatever) because it pays you.  Don’t let people devalue your career because it might be fun.

For today, I say make work, not love.

Gender in Library IT

In mid-May, I graduated from my library science program.  With my graduation, I had to leave my graduate assistantship in library acquisitions.  I am one of the fortunate graduates who have a job all lined up; I’ll start in July of the 2016-2017 fiscal year (just a few days away).  I am going to be a systems librarian.  Systems librarianship definitely falls under technical services (my seeming forte at this point in my life), but it also falls under library IT.

Knowing that I’ll be working in library IT (and with campus IT), I was interested when I saw that LITA (Library Information Technology Association) Blog had posted about gender in library IT.  “Let’s look at gender in library IT” sums up what you probably already know, but it also points out some interesting things that I wouldn’t have guessed.

So, let’s look at some highlights from the post:

  • ALA is 87% white, 81% female (as of 2015 data), but heads of IT positions are predominantly held by males.
  • In library IT, men outnumber women 2.5: 1.
  • Women author 65% of articles in non-technology library journals, but only 35% of articles in library IT journals.
  • A lot of IT positions in libraries aren’t labeled as librarian positions.
  • Library IT folks get paid more than their non-IT counterparts.
  • But women and men working in library IT get paid, for the most part, equally. (YES!)

For more, go check out the blog itself.

My Acquisitions Graduate Assistantship

wordcloud (2)When I left my Acquisitions Graduate Assistantship at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (because I graduated), my supervisor wanted me to write up a one-page summary of the work I did in the Acquisitions department.

This summary would help her recall what I had done, in case anyone ever called her up to ask about my credentials.  And this summary might help to remind me of all the aspects of library acquisitions that I have experience in.  This reminder could come in handy if I ever want to switch jobs in the future; if I want an acquisitions position, I have a nice list of everything I’ve already done.  (No need to struggle to remember in order to fill out applications, or answer interview questions.)

My supervisor recommended creating one of these summaries for each job I have, so I can always return back to them and say “Hey, I’ve done that and that.”

So, I wrote up that acquisitions summary and you can find it here – Acquisitions Graduate Assistant.

Turning Down the Job Offer

walk away
Modified version of “Walk away (Wong Kar-Wai) by lo_lozd, via Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

During my last year of graduate school, I spent plenty of hours working on getting my next position.  Everyone in my class, too, was working on applications and interviews and discussing with significant others about relocation.  Due to the economy and the state of the job market, we were all abuzz with job anxiety.

So, when I was offered a job in January, why did I turn them down?

I’m not going to go into huge details here – in part because I believe it is best not to call people out when nothing egregious happened.  But I will give generalities and some advice.

(Now, I have a disclaimer.  I come from a privileged place.  I still had four months of school and five or more months of income from my current assistantship.  And while my housing was a bit precarious (once May hit), I could find a short-term lease.  I had some cushion when I was offered that job and turned it down.  Not everyone has that luxury.)

At my interview, (I felt) I aced their questions.  The people who interviewed me, who I would have been working with were nice-seeming.  The library was thrilled to have me as a candidate.  I probably wouldn’t have been miserable in my job.

But there were other things that added up.

I want to work with a diverse patron group, and I also want to live in a diverse community.  I realize that most PWI won’t be ultra-diverse; and I realize that historical redlining still affects current day housing and communities.  So, I’m not likely to find some utopian version of diversity.  But this institution and geographical region were unbelievably (to me) homogeneous.

Then, this library was located in a strange real estate market.  As a young professional – and a young person – I’m not ready to purchase a house.  But this housing market had high rent prices and low mortgages.  My housing situation looked precarious to start.

This precariousness became even more important in my decision to decline the job – when I found out this library refused to negotiate on salary.  I’m a librarian, I understand that libraries across the country are strapped for cash.  I also understand claims that we should have set salaries, rather than negotiable ones – but this job market doesn’t have set salaries.  So, an unwillingness to negotiate even a small increase in salary was strange and strongly put me off.  When a library (or any employer) refuses to negotiate with a female potential employee, it makes the employer seem sexist because so often women are treated differently than men when talking money.  Would this library have put down their foot with a man for a 5% salary increase?  I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

In the end, I’m without that job.  Yes, I feel guilty.  I know that so many people can’t say no.  I feel unsure.  I don’t know if I might have been okay, that it wouldn’t be so bad.  I felt greedy.  I had turned them down at least in part for financial reasons.

I think it will be awhile before I am no longer conflicted about my decision.  But I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable having taken the job.  While I didn’t foresee issues with my immediate coworkers and the library wanted me, I had to consider if I would be happy with my decision to take the job.  Did I want to be in a location I didn’t like, paying high rent prices, and working for an employer who gave hints that it might have been (perhaps unconsciously) discriminating against me?  Probably not.

The moral of the story?  Well, if there is a moral, it is: it’s okay to turn down a job offer.  You have to balance your job with your life, your desire for a job and your intuition. Hopefully, then, you can have a job that you like.

Impostor Syndrome

Man in the Iron Mask
“L’Homme au Masque de Fer” By Anonymous; cropped by Beyond My Ken, 30 April 2010 (UTC) – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.07185.

In the 1970s, clinical psychologists Drs. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes coined the term “impostor syndrome” to describe high-achieving individuals (mainly women) who don’t internalize their accomplishments and thus fear being exposed as a “fraud.”

In the library Twitterverse, I saw plenty of unbelievably accomplished librarians complain of impostor syndrome.  While I don’t doubt their statements – I fully believe these colleagues when they speak of their emotions – I couldn’t relate.  For the most part, I have been comfortable in my positions; nothing ever seemed out of scope.

Then, I landed my first professional gig.

While I don’t match impostor syndrome perfectly, I can now fully relate to my peer’s uncertainties.  My new gig is not entry level and it carries with it a lot of responsibility – to the library, to the university, to the profession, to academia.  (Thank you, tenure-track job.)  If I think too long on it, I get dry-mouthed and somewhat breathless.  Yes, I can do all of that stuff; I’m fully capable.  But it’s so much responsibility.  And it’s amazing to me that my new employer has that much confidence in me – and that I had the amount of confidence that it took to apply, interview, and accept that position.

So, to my peers facing impostor syndrome: I can now relate.  But let’s agree to be amazed at what we can accomplish and have accomplished.  That feels a bit better than thinking we’re frauds (which we are very much not).

Big Changes, Big Excitement, Big Stress

For #LISMentalHealthWeek (January 17 – 23), the “Information water witchAngela Galvan wrote a vignette titled “All that you leave behind” about dealing with a mental health issue after moving to a vastly new location (New York state from southern Ohio) for work.  It meant leaving her support network and learning a new environment while struggling with simply surviving – eating, sleeping, etc.  It’s an excellent piece, and I recommend reading it.

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“Lost Lonely Luggage” by Strange Luke. 2011. Attribution 2.0 Generic, via Flickr.com.

And it also reminded me of a blog post on Hack Library School, “The Perils of Seeing a Job as Your Endgame” by Callie Wiygul – which also discusses burning out after library school.  (The two pieces are vastly different, but they both discuss the emotional struggles individuals go through when switching jobs and relocating.)

These pieces got me thinking: what will it be like when I graduate from my masters program?

All-in-all, I’m excited.  I love my graduate assistantship in acquisitions, but I don’t love my classes.  (To put it nicely.)  The area in which I live is…fine.  And yes, I do have friends here – and I’m close to family.  Moving on will require giving up an awesome job, a reasonably nice place to live, and the friends I’ve made.  But leaving also means finally getting a break from school – after 18 years.  Making more money (but probably spending more, too).  An opportunity for (another) fresh start.

It’s a balance between losses and gains.  I suppose every major life change is.

After having read the aforementioned articles, though, I know I need to remind myself to be self-aware.  This last semester of library school will challenge me by forcing me to juggle schoolwork with applying and interviewing for jobs with taking care of my Reggie with taking care of myself.  I will need to monitor myself to know when maybe I need to take a break, or indulge in something special to get me through.

For all those other librarians out there who are managing a job search, here’s a gentle reminder to make sure you take care of yourself. Big changes can mean big excitement, and big stress.