Librarian Superpowers

At the Grinnell College Libraries, we are making trading cards (like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards) for library faculty and staff – starting with the faculty.

With great research skill comes great responsibility
From the Florida Libraries, AskALibrarian.Org.

Well, it’s harder to think of superpowers than one might think.  Or at least, I had a tough time coming up with them.  But here are what are going on my cards – and a little bit of “why.”

  • Basement Dweller.
    • For the past 3 years (and for the foreseeable future), I have been working in a basement.  I think basements are just where libraries put tech services people. (Yes, there is a valid/good reason – but that’s for another post.)

      There was also this wonderful time when I was in a meeting with my supervisor during my time as a graduate assistantship.  My supervisor was telling me what a great time to get into librarianship it was.  “Librarianship isn’t sitting in a basement and not talking to anyone anymore,” she said.  I began laughing because I definitely was sitting in a basement and I definitely didn’t have to talk to anyone if I didn’t want to.  (My coworkers, though, were way too awesome to avoid, so I talked to them.)

      I am a proud Basement Dweller.

  • Technical Services Hierophant
    • A hierophant is a person who interprets esoteric principles and sacred mysteries – usually an Ancient Greek priestess or priest.

      I know tech services talk can be next to unintelligible to the un-initiated, so it probably sounds like I’m talking in tongues or something.  And when I’m trying to explain all the tech services stuff to non-tech services people, I’m definitely interpreting esoteric principles.  (I’d like to say they’re “sacred mysteries” but…that might be getting ahead of myself.)


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.

So you want to be a librarian? Part II – Love Potion

“viol – treble,” Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection, accessed September 12, 2016,

As a new academic librarian, I am slowly but surely encountering more and more undergraduates who want to pursue a career in libraries. And being the most recent MLIS graduate at my workplace, I feel particularly able to talk about getting an MLIS. So, I have had a few students come my way with questions.

One student was pressured by their adviser to talk to a librarian. (I rolled my eyes at the adviser who sends a first-year to ask about requirements for getting into an MLIS program. It’s not anything like trying to get into, for example, a veterinary program – with a litany of prerequisites. But that’s another story for another time.) This student told me that they were a music major, and were hoping to become a music librarian in the future. They wanted to be a librarian because, from the time they were little, they would create libraries and pretend to be a librarian.

While I know that hopes, goals, and dreams change as life progresses, I thought this student’s take on librarianship was a good. They wanted to mix a childhood dream of running a library with their current passion of making music. This “love potion,” as I have been calling it, would make a career.  They could be a music librarian.

So, you want to be a librarian? Take a page out of this first-year college student’s book: make a love potion and find a good career. They mixed music and libraries. I mixed a few more things (probably because I know more about librarianship): a heaping dose of technical services, a sprinkle of French (and Arabic), and the opportunity to learn more programming languages.

If you want to be a librarian, think about your interests, your talents, your passions – and try to mix them together. There’s a librarian position for just about anything.

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.

So you want to be a librarian?, Part I

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.

woman searching internet for information
“Peach fuzz” by Ray_LAC via flicker | CC BY 2.0

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.