The C word

November 16, 2008

I had a great summer. Really, it was terrific. Except for the fact that it ended and I had to come back to school.

But here I am, and it’s actually not so bad. For the first time in a long time, I’m really happy with all of my classes. And, more importantly, it’s the beginning of my final year of school. Which means that I can no longer avoid thinking about the big C, my career.

I recently got a chance to meet Camila Alire, the president-elect of ALA, who visited my school and gave a presentation to students about the job search. Her big pieces of advice were to get job experience and get involved in professional associations. She also offered up that evergreen: you can either be geographically picky or picky about the kind of job you want to have.

I think this is true. As I have watched my classmates graduate and go job-hunting, the ones who are most successful are the ones who are willing to do just about anything or the ones who are willing to move just about anywhere. But those who are more picky—though they may be extremely smart and well-qualified—have a more difficult time finding stable employment. I have a friend who graduated a year and a half ago and is now in her second temporary job. A new co-worker just got her first permanent professional position after being in temporary jobs for three years. A former co-worker commutes 100 miles round-trip for a 20-hour a week job after a year of unsuccessful job-hunting. Another friend is working in a part-time, non-professional job while he looks for a job that actually makes use of the degree he just spent two years (and thousands of dollars) earning; another is working as a nanny to supplement her part-time children’s librarian position.

I could go on. All of these people are excellent librarians (or would be, if they could find work). But they are all unwilling to move halfway across the country and unwilling to work outside public libraries. And while unfortunate, it’s really just simple math: there are far more qualified applicants than there are jobs, especially when you live in close proximity to the only library/information school in the region.

I would add one more category to the flexibility matrix: salary. It’s a lot easier to find a job if you don’t care how much money you make. And just as geographic flexibility usually means “willingness to live in a crappy place,” and job flexibility often means “willingness to work at a crappy job,” salary flexibility translates as “willingness to work for crappy pay.” Salary flexibility is closely related to the other two types of flexibility: here in Seattle, starting salaries for public librarians are pretty good. But go just one county north or south and you’re looking at about a $10,000 a year pay cut.

Of course, the economy the way it is these days, flexibility starts to look more and more necessary. Obviously it’s not just librarians who are faced with dwindling employment choices.

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2 Responses to “The C word”

  1. Michelle Says:

    Hi Bo! Good to hear from you. Would love to hear about your classes–what a wonderful phenomenon to like *all* them!

    Good point about salary flexibility…I moved to Hawaii where I am now working as a library assistant…I calculated that in my current position, I would have to stay 33 years before I even approached what I made as a technician at KCLS! Even though I’d prefer to work as a librarian–and certainly to earn higher wages–I confess I’m pretty content because I feel like my work in serving the public through libraries is meaningful.

  2. Bo Says:

    Thanks, Michelle! Glad to hear that you enjoy your job. Sorry to hear that the pay is not so good! Makes me realize how lucky those folks are who are able to land a job in Seattle. But I suppose nobody decided to be a librarian for the money, right?

    As for my classes, they’re mostly MPA stuff. I have one great library class with Aaron Schmidt, the very thoughtful director of the North Plains Public Library and author of walkingpaper.org. We’re talking about a lot of interesting, nitty-gritty stuff like signage, architecture, and usable web design. As usual, it’s nice to take a class from someone who actually knows something about libraries; sadly, an exception.


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