Waiting Professional Man

My Worst Job Interview Experience, Part 1

Do not apply for a job at the University of Cincinnati.

It took me two-and-a-half years to get a job after I started looking for professional positions. In November of 2015 I was invited to interview with the University of Cincinnati’s (UC’s) main library, Langsam. I, of course, was very excited. I was almost a year into my job search and hadn’t landed anything yet so to be considered for this position was heartening.

Earlier in the year I’d been asked to interview at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. This was my first time being flown out to interview for a job, and the experience was nothing but pleasant. They paid for my flights, put me up in a hotel for two nights, took me out for a meal, arranged my ground travel, and everyone I met or dealt with was kindly and professional. Even though the position was not a “professional” librarian position they still treated me like I was a “professional” with all the respect and dignity that that word implies in the academic librarian context.

You can imagine that when UC called to offer me an in-person interview I had a certain set of expectations. It was a little odd, then, when UC said that I’d have to pay for my travel to be reimbursed later after the interview. “Well, okay, that’s fair. I guess.” I thought. The sense of oddness grew to disappointment when they refused to pay for a second night in the hotel. I’d have to pay for that myself. At the time I was making less than $25k a year. It would have been fiscally prohibitive for me to have an extra night in a hotel room. So now, I knew that no matter what I did, I’d have to travel and interview on the same day.

These reservations aside, I was still excited for the chance to interview, and I dutifully began making my arrangements. Because I was having the foot the bill for my air travel myself I took the cheapest flights I could manage for my time schedule. This meant that I’d leave the day before the interview and fly from St. Louis, to Chicago, and then down to Cincinnati. Then, the next day I would have a half-day interview before getting a flight from Cincinnati, back to Chicago, back to St. Louis. Overland that’s 594 miles, one way, for cities that are only about 355 miles apart. I will never understand airline economics. How is it cheaper for the airline for me to do that than to fly directly? I’ll never know.

STL-CHI-CIN
An overland map of my flight path because Google Maps won’t allow you to daisy-chain flight directions.

That was November and my interview was in early December. As we got closer to the interview date I began to learn more about what was to come, or not come, as it were. It became clear that there would be no shared meal, and I was told that “a shuttle would be provided” for my ground transportation from the airport. So, no one from the library was going to be meeting me. If you’ve never been there, the primary Cincinnati airport (CVG) is not in Ohio, but Kentucky. It’s at least a thirty minute drive from the airport to the University on whose property my hotel was.

Flash forward to the two days of the interview trip. I, of course, have had to take vacation days for this — another cost to me on top of the flights, albeit a normal and expected one. At 8:30 in the morning (Central) I got on the Metrolink with my luggage and proceeded to the airport for my flights. I don’t know now the sequence of events, but there was some relatively short delay in either St. Louis or Chicago and by the time I got on the plane in Chicago and we got in the air I was well stressed out. The flight between Chicago and Cincinnati is only about an hour, give or take, but the attendants still proceeded with the drink orders. I was ready for a drink and asked for a whiskey on the rocks. The attendant huffed a little and excused herself, because she didn’t have the machine to process my debit card. Prior to her leaving, though, she poured my drink. Then, just as she got to the front of the plan, “Bong!” goes the intercom before the pilot asks the attendants to secure the cabin for landing.

whiskey-clipart-whisky-glass-clip-art_418920That’s right. Free booze.

I still had plenty of time to finish my drink before landing and did so dutifully. We were approximately forty-five minutes late getting into CVG. Not terrible; and besides, a shuttle had been provided for me. I made my way through the airport. On the way to baggage claim I saw several drivers with signs expecting passengers. None of them had my name on them, nor did any indicate UC. So, I kept walking and looking for my shuttle driver. I had one bag checked and since it was after 6:00 PM (Eastern) in northern Kentucky there wasn’t much air traffic so it didn’t take long for my bag to arrive. Picking up my bag I next went out to the ground transportation area to continue the search for my shuttle.

Remember the oddness and disappointment I felt earlier in the process? I was now starting to approach genuine concern. Still, there was no UC shuttle. I knew I was staying at a Marriott and I saw a Marriott shuttle. I walked up to the driver and told him where I was needing to go and he shook his head saying in his thick accent “No. Not that Marriott. Airport Marriott only.” I thanked him and walked back toward the building. There were two other shuttle companies represented out there, that night. I approached both of them while they were chatting and smoking, but neither of them acted like they were expecting anyone, or in anyway acted like I was a potential customer, so, I gave up on them and went inside. Concern was turning to panic.

This whole time I was calling and emailing my one-and-only UC contact and checking my emails searching increasingly desperately for more clues or information about the shuttle that was to be provided. There was nothing. Only “a shuttle will be provided” was the information given to me. Inside the terminal I found an information desk with a kindly white-haired man posted to it. “I’m sorry. That’s not the kind of information I have.” He said, sympathetically.

At that time, one of us noticed a young man in a UC jacket standing by himself. I went to him and explained my situation. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m waiting for someone else.” I paused for a moment awaiting an offer of help in my plight. None came.

You can imagine how I felt at this point. It had been over eight hours of travel by train and plane for a trip that would have taken me five-and-a-half hours if I had just driven my own car. I was in a foreign airport outside of a foreign city with no one but myself to get me out of this situation. I was tired. I was hungry. I was angry. I was confused. I was scared. The University of Cincinnati had abandoned me at the airport. I did the only thing I could do in this situation. I got a cab that took me to the hotel which I paid for with my own money. “A shuttle will be provided,” rang in my ears.

The University of Cincinnati had abandoned me at the airport.

I get to the hotel, check in to my room, call my wife and regale her with my thus far harrowing story after which I head downstairs to the hotel restaurant. By this time it’s after 8:00 in the evening and I essentially had the restaurant to myself. I decide to treat myself after a long day and order something expensive-ish and a Manhattan, straight-up. Since I was the only customer the waitress and I were talking and I told her about my day. She was very sympathetic and earned a good tip. After a little while my drink came out and I started to sip it. On the second sip I realized that it was, in fact, a very pleasant Old Fashioned I was drinking and not a Manhattan. Right about the same time the waitress and the bartender came rushing over to my table to apologize for the mix up. This was hardly the worst thing that had happened to me that day and I took it in good humor. “Do you still want the Manhattan?” They asked. “We won’t charge you for it.”

13_1789356531_l“Yes.” I said. “I’d like that, very much.”

Free booze, twice in one day.

After dinner, I went back up to my room. I took some time to rehearse my presentation before heading to bed. But already I’m remembering that job interviews are your opportunity to interview your would-be employer as much as they are interviewing you. Thus far, UC had done nothing, nothing, to ingratiate themselves to me. In fact, they hadn’t treated me with any respect at all. Did they really want me, or not? Did they treat all their candidates this way? Did they consider this to be a “professional” position, or something less? If this is how they treat their candidates, how do they treat their employees? Did I really even want this job anymore? These are the thoughts I was having as the booze, food, and exhaustion took me off to sleep.

Continued in Part 2: Getting Out of Ohio

book and red wine on a marble table

I’m Fully Staffed Again!, or, I Needed a Drink

Recently, a candidate accepted a job offer to work for me. This means that for the first time since the end of June I’m fully staffed in my department. Prior to that I was fully staffed for 4-6 weeks, maybe. Other than that, from October 2017-May 2018 I was down one or more positions in my department. That’s most of my first fifteen months in this job. That’s not to mention my hiring manager who sought other opportunities after my first seven months and is not being directly replaced. Of the six positions under me I have now hired five of them, all five of whom are still in their year-long (!) probationary period which will require three performance evaluations each through their eleventh month on the job.

Now, no one is allowed to leave for two years, minimum.

I’m nailing them to their desks, dammit.

I’m tired of this crap.

Don’t get my wrong. I’ve got a great staff, now, of which I’m very proud, and I think our new edition is going to fold in nicely. But while I’ve gained a TON of experience in employee recruitment, it is not one of my favorite tasks. In particular, I hate reading through the cover letters and resumes, although it does give me plenty of opportunities to be judgemental, which is always nice.

  • Why did you put that comma there?
  • Don’t tell me about your reading habits. I don’t care!
  • Yes, it’s great that you volunteered as a puppy petter for three years, but how does that help you deal with an angry patron at nine o’clock in the evening?
  • So, you’re just looking for any job that’s not your current one, then?
  • “Library” has two “R’s,” thank you.

Okay, going trough the resumes and cover letters I find annoying, but the worst part, the absolute worst part is having to call that finalist and tell them that you went to the other candidate. I had to do this, again, and this time there were tears. Not blubbering and wailing (I’d guess that came after we hung up) but quiet disappointed tears. That was the absolute worst. While I’m confident I made the right choice, I felt like a terrible person. There was booze later.

In my earliest blog posts I concentrated on my job search. I did that because I really didn’t have anything else other than the persistent Hell that was my old job. I’ve been in this job less than two years and I still feel like a new-hire in a lot of ways. I also still remember what it feels like to be a job seeker and how frustrating that whole process is. Because of that memory and some of the horrible experiences I’ve had made a particular effort to be sure that I treat all of my applicants with as much respect and dignity as possible. Anyone that I give a telephone interview to gets an email response of a thanks-but-no-thanks that is either generally or specifically encouraging. Anyone who is brought in or otherwise gets a second interview gets a phone call from me, personally. Again, the phone call is personal, supportive, and encouraging.

These are small acts, but so many would-be employers don’t bother. When you have dozens of applicants for a position it’s not practical to email each of them individually, obviously. Hopefully, HR informs them eventually of their status, but many times they don’t. No one should ever be left to guess what their status is for any open position. Job searching can be such a bleak and horrible valley. It is an undignified chore, regardless of your skills or qualifications. It really doesn’t take much to treat others with even the smallest amount of respect; the respect they deserve.

So, Where Am I Going, Anyway?

In reference to my last post, and maybe in continuation of it, I’m asking a question about the rest of my career. This is also a continuation of the question that I first asked in my earliest blog posts,”Why do I want to be a librarian, anyway?” While my official job title may not say so, I’ve effectively reached my primary career goal coming out of library school: Become a Head of Access Services at an academic library. Great! Success! Now what?

What is the career path for someone in my position? My two previous supervisors became a head liaison librarian and a university librarian. Both would be remarkable and unrealistic jumps for me. My only publications are a promotional story about the library in a student newspaper and this blog. My two presentations were good, but not of the substance to show real professional staying power. Whatever is next for me, it will be hard for me to be taken seriously as a candidate without some highfalutin street cred.

I happen to work in a professionally prolific division of liaison and teaching & learning (T&L) Librarians. These are people who regularly publish and present and win awards for their efforts. While my job does not require me to emulate them I’m starting to feel like I should. I’ve always said I wanted to be active in the profession, regardless of my job description, but I have few ideas on where to start. One idea I mentioned in my previous post: get on a committee or committees. That, I plan to accomplish by Thanksgiving. But my experience with professional librarian committee work has not been all that positive, thus far. So, I can’t put my name on a committee roster and think that’s enough. I need to do work that is published in an industry publication. But again, where to start?

Paul Sharpe is my old boss and currently he is the University Librarian for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He also is the former editor of the Journal of Access Services (JOAS) and is still listed on its editorial board. Because of this, I’ve long known about JOAS‘s existence but never have I made the effort to see what they’re actually publishing, until today. Here’s a smattering of their recent article titles:

  1. Assessing Access Services: Building a Five-Year Plan to Sustainable Assessment
  2. Clinging to the Past: Circulation Policies in Academic Libraries in the United States
  3. Enhancing Access to Reading Matieals in Academic Libaries with Low Budgets Using a Book Bank System: Makerere Uinversity Library Experience
  4. When You Are in Charge: Reflections on Managing Staff in the Library
  5. Opportunities for Improved Patron Service with a New Integrated Library System

A few of these, and some others I didn’t type out actually look interesting to me. I hope to get to some of these in my professional reading discipline that I’m starting to build. It shouldn’t be surprising to me that some of these look interesting — it is my profession, after all — but considering my ambivalent attitude toward my profession the surprise is still occurring. Perhaps I’m not as jaded as I thought? Or perhaps they’ve lulled me in with their gentile song? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

I’m good in front of crowd and I word good.

I was speaking with a colleague recently, one of the T&L librarians, after I read a series of blog posts she co-wrote for The Librarian Parlor and without getting too much into my professional ambivalence told her how I didn’t know what I had to contribute and wouldn’t know where to start. She completely empathized with me and knew exactly where I was coming from. It’s some form of impostor syndrome, we agreed. It’s not that I don’t think I could do the work. I’ve always believed that I’m a good writer and a good public speaker. I’m good in front of crowd and I word good. That’s not the problem. The problem — or the question, anyway — is what situation do I have to describe that would be of interest to an editorial board or reader that may actually be professionally useful? What new data could I collect that would be illuminating? I have no freaking idea. What am I doing? Where am I going, anyway?

white shark with fish

Swimming with Purpose

In a few short weeks the new semester begins. This will be my second academic year in this position. Over the last year there have been so many changes at work including a roughly 83% (five out of six) turnover in personnel in my department. That means that only myself and one staff member are doing the jobs we were doing at this time last year. Another position was moved under me that I didn’t have at that time, and yet another position has been created out of whole cloth.

I’m nearly fully staffed. The new position has a person in place, while another unexpectedly became open a few weeks ago and is in the search process now. I’m skeptical, at this point if that position will be filled before classes start in the last week in August, but we can hope.

anakin skywalker fan artWhile I’m far from the expert manager I’d like to be, I’ve gained enough comfort and confidence that I’m starting to feel a little restless. I’m like a shark. I need to feel like I’m always moving forward. Stagnation leads to depression. Depression leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side of the Force. I’ve always been like this, but there are external pressures that lately have been niggling at the back of my brain creating the feeling of unease.

Success should never be measured just by money, but to be personally successful in the things I’m committed to the fact is that I need to make more money. While I’m making more money now than I ever have before, it won’t be enough to achieve the success to which I’m referring. The best way for me to make that money is to increase my professional success. While I’m off to a good — if delayed — start, I’m feeling that I need to broaden my portfolio to make myself more attractive to other positions that may open up in my current library or another library down the road.

I probably have to do this job at least two more years before I’m attractive to another library or for another position within this one. I’m okay with that. I like my job and where I work, and I don’t really want to leave the area in which I’m living. But the facts are, in librarianship, in order to move up one usually has to move out. I can’t do either of those things until I build more skills.

I’ve made my feelings about my library school experience clear throughout this blog. To be honest, only three years from graduation and I feel like the education I received is already obsolete for academic librarianship. At best it would have been sufficient for an ’00s era librarian, but when it was 2015 and I was seeing librarian jobs posted for functions I’d never heard of (e.g. GIS Librarianship) I knew there was a problem. Furthermore, I still have the problem of no teaching experience and no way to get it, as far as I know.

I’ve looked into digital humanities as a possible interest, but haven’t found a passion for it. I’m interested in outreach, but have little time to participate in my outreach librarian’s programs. I have the capacity for metadata, but not the interest. I’m frightened that I’m going to be stuck in middle management making not-quite enough money for the foreseeable future.

While in my position I’m not technically a “professional” librarian, one way I can increase my value is to act like one. The best way for me to do that is become active in committee work though a conference or other professional group. I’ll be returning to the Access Services Conference, this year, where there may be opportunities to jump on a committee with them. They tried to talk me into it last year, actually. I felt like the new guy at a church in which the old-timers were eager to put the new person to work.

I’m also making a concerted effort to up my professional reading. I have books that my boss has given me on various aspects of management in libraries and I have access to Lynda.com and other online materials in which I can build management skills. I also can read more literature in the field, especially from the two major librarian professional organizations of which I’m a member: ALA and ACRL. Right now, I’m hoping for two hours a week. I’ve already done an hour, this morning. This may not seem like a lot to you, but it’s a big deal for me.

minions rejoicing

I still feel like I need to build library-relevant skills that are outside of the management realm. What that looks like, though, I just don’t know. Hopefully, being engaged in my professional reading and taking whatever other learning opportunities I have will help. It’s easy for one to say “follow your passion,” but that seems trite and unrealistic. Only a lucky few of us get to truly make a profession out of our passions. If my inner shark is going to swim with purpose, I need to keep exploring my options to find that purpose. So, for the time being, at least, my purpose is to find my purpose.

avenue q purpose

Emotionalism, the Trials of Public Service, & Vulcans

walmart-black-friday-deals-doorbustersWe’ve all been there. You’ve got a line backed up to the exits, the phone is ringing off the hook, and a patron is standing there wanting to argue policy with you. You could be working in retail, a public library, an academic library, or anywhere there is a front-line public service desk. It is difficult. It is stressful. It is rarely fun. About the only positive thing you can say about it is that it makes the time pass quickly. Thirty minutes or an hour can pass in a few seconds.

Those of us who are the best at this can view these times as exhilarating periods of service and problem solving. The rest of us dread these times and feel panic and stress. Either way we’re exhausted at the end of our shifts.

sleepy bunny
Actual footage of me on a Tuesday at 3:00 PM during the first week of the semester.

I tend to agree that the busy times are exhilarating, and exhausting, and that they definitely make the day go faster. But I’ve never looked forward to them, and now that I’m the boss I have the added burden of being the top problem solver.

I’ve had primarily public service jobs since I was seventeen years old. At thirty-nine, now, that’s a lot of time on a sales floor or behind a counter. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve had a lot of successes and I’ve had a lot of failures. I have been praised and railed at; solved problems and caused them; kept my cool and lost my temper. I’ve been taken advantage of by a quick change artist, and called an ambulance for a patron in a medical emergency. It’s been an eventful twenty-two years.

If you do any job for long enough you’re naturally going to build some proficiency. I’ve never believed the “10,000 hours of an activity makes you an expert” meme. It’s too exacting and doesn’t account for raw talent, interest, ambition, or the ability to learn. I don’t know how many hours I’ve worked public services, but I’m certainly not an expert, even after twenty-two years. I don’t know that I ever will be, and I don’t know that anyone ever is. We all have our success and we all have our failures.

spider-man falling down stairs
No matter how amazing you are, sometimes you fall on your face.

I’ve recently had a few too many incidents in which I fell on my face and it got noticed by the wrong people. There are no immediate problems this has caused, but I am having to mind my P’s and Q’s a bit better. The thing is, though, all of the coaching I’ve received lately is all stuff that I’ve known for some time. I keep having the gnawing feeling that I used to be better at this.

Too Many Feelings

I am an emotional person. I always have been. As a child I got fingered as a cry-baby at school and the social ramifications of this created a cycle of repressed feelings, anger, and depression that have had a life-long affect on me. To this day, I describe myself as an angry person. I’m constantly having to suppress feelings of anger and frustration, but now, it’s less that I don’t feel “allowed” to have these feelings as much as expressing these feelings are counter-productive to my life.

I’m not angry all the time. I don’t have a secret violent side. I make friends and function as well in modern life as anyone can be expected. But constantly having to dial back my “negative” emotions takes a lot of willpower, and willpower is not something that we hold in infinite supply. Willpower is like a muscle. It can be conditioned to be strong, but after too much use it looses energy and needs to be recharged. The incidents that caught the wrong kind of attention of my superiors were ones in which my willpower was critically low.

giphy1This does not mean that I have no culpability for my actions. My behavior was as flawed as my techniques. I didn’t cross any professional lines, but I certainly did not behave in a way to solve the problems. I was not working to get to “yes.” I was defensive, pedantic, and arrogant. I let my frustration with my patrons’ senses of entitlement get the better of me. And something I had not truly begun to grok until recently, I displayed a terrible example for my employees, especially the student workers. Furthermore, in the social media age I could have provided fodder for negative publicity for the library if someone had videoed the incidents and posted them without the context of my actions. This not only could have been bad for my library, but bad for my career, as these things forever float around the internet. I’ve been a very bad boy.

Like I said, I used to be better at this. My emotionalism has gone through many stages in my life. It’s gone from the unbridled emotionalism of my childhood to the repressed emotionalism of my adolescence. After that came the bumpy emotional integration of my early adulthood. It was this time that I developed a reputation for “brutal honesty.” Engaging with my feelings were paramount to compassion or empathy. I was hard to like.

By my late twenties I had begun to grow that empathy, even in spite of myself, and began questioning what kind of person I wanted to be. I didn’t become less judgmental, as much as more aware of others feelings. I still may think your taste in music is terrible, but I’m not going to tease you about it anymore. Then, something unexpected happened. I started crying again.

yhuyo9pOn a scale of one-to-ten, if I’m between three and seven, everything is fine. If I get pushed above or below that range, however, it’s cryface time. I cried more at my wedding than my wife did. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry with any kind of excitement. Anytime my emotions are red-lining, or heck, orange-lining, I’m crying.

…New Life and New Civilizations…

So how do I handle it? How do I handle dealing with my habitual anger and the constant threat of tears in the face of the crush of a busy library. What was it I thought I was so good at? The only solution — as with so many things in life — is the wisdom of Spok, or more generally, the emotional discipline of the Vulcans. As Star Trek developed the ideas of Vulcan philosophy it went from a biological inability to have feelings to a spiritual discipline. It’s not that Vulcans don’t have emotions, it’s that their emotions were so powerful it nearly drove the species to extinction. It was their development of this emotional sequestration that allowed them to function and become the force in the Alpha Quadrant that they became — or will become by the twenty-fourth century.

spock-and-sarek-in-star-trek-vi

Obviously, this is an extreme model, but a useful analogy. The ability to build an emotional wall to separate yourself from your emotions is vital for someone like me. The point is to not make the emotions inaccessible, but to sequester them until they can be expressed in a healthy manner. It takes discipline. It takes willpower. It takes a psychic awareness of your own emotional extremes and current state. I did used to be very good at this. In fact, I had gotten so good at it that I started to worry about my ability to connect emotionally with anyone. I had become too Vulcan. At one point I thought I might even have turned myself into a sociopath, but then I actually looked up what a sociopath was saw that that was not remotely the case.

My challenge now is to reconnect with my Vulcanness; to regain that emotional discipline that used to be so easy for me. “Under-react” my boss tells me. When I’m feeling worked up, I need to mentally take a step back and evaluate what I’m feeling. Which emotion is it? Is it reasonable in the situation? Am I hungry? What is the real problem? How do I solve it in the best way? I knew how to do this once. I believe that I still do. Now I just have to practice.

 

 

 

The Ambivalent Librarian

About six months ago I wrote about the perception of professionalism in libraries. About three months ago I began a post with the above title. That post was begun at a point of emotional nadir in which my depression had had a significant resurgence. I was in fear of losing my job, and I really didn’t know what I was doing in the profession anymore. Fortunately, that time has passed and I have since deleted all of the content from that depressive would-be post.

Why Am I an Ambivalent Librarian?

I was twenty-six years old and halfway through my undergraduate degree when I began working in my first library job. Over the next two years I began to really enjoy the environment and the work I was doing and decided to make libraries my new career. I knew that for the best paying and most career advancing jobs I’d have to get a Master’s degree in Library Science. But, as I looked around at the librarians and paraprofessionals I worked closely with I saw no significant difference in the work they were doing. Even my department head was little better than a retail manager. What then was the purpose of a library degree? Later, I worked at a local public library, where again, the librarians in charge were little better than retail management and they did many of the same tasks as the paraprofessional staff. What was the degree good for? Later, still, I got my first full-time library job at a university library and again, I couldn’t tell what was so special about the library science degree. As far as I could tell, all of the specialized work that was being done — in the front of house, at least — was stuff that was relatively easy to learn through one-on-one instruction and trial and error. Now, I was never involved in library instruction, subject selecting, and the like, but I still didn’t see what was so important about that library degree.

I did see that I was never ever going to get a better job without it, though.

I enrolled in library school and spent the next four years mostly complaining about the lack of depth and generally low instructor expectations from something that claimed to be a Master’s degree. I was not a happy student and did not make many friends in that time. With only a few exceptions I felt that I was required to work much harder as an undergraduate than a graduate student, which seems upside-down to me. Furthermore, I was learning that that for so many jobs in academic libraries one was expected to have a second Master’s degree in a certain subject. Still, the question persisted, what was the purpose or use of a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science?

I Call It “Librarian Hazing.”

It’s the gauntlet; the basic training, of a profession that rarely looks like what is presented in the classroom. I’ve talked to librarians from all across the country who went to any number of library programs. Some, seem to had wonderful and challenging experiences in library school that they are grateful for. Others, like me, had disappointing experiences that really put into question the value of the whole process. I, for one, think the whole thing is done incorrectly.

I’d endorse a medieval-style apprenticeship program that placed a novitiate in the library on day one in which they develop skills based on actual library work, rather than relying on textbooks and theory. Textbooks and theory are important, of course, but can’t convey the realities of the work. Ever. This approach would not only make better librarians, but also stem the market flood of inexperienced library graduates that hit the streets every year. This would also greatly extend the time required to train librarians and be so relationship-based — rather than classroom-based — that it would be financially unfeasible for universities to implement. So this won’t happen, but it’s a dream.

When I began thinking about librarianship as a career, I was thinking of getting into ILL or cataloging (i.e. back of house operations), but by the time I was half-way through my librarian education I had realized that while I do have a cataloger’s brain and could be very successful in that kind of work, that the lack of variety and patron interaction were something that I’d miss. I’d accidentally become a public services (i.e. front of house) librarian. I couldn’t have made that change without direct experience in the field.

I would get very frustrated with classmates — who usually were lovely people — who seemed to enter library school on a whim; who did not or had never worked in a library. People who seemed to have romantic notions of what library work was like and saw it as the greener grass on the other side of the septic tank. Library schools, by not being able to provide these people with hands-on work, only did these people an expensive disservice. I wanted to shake them by their shoulders and tell them that they were wasting their time and their money, especially when they would look you in the face and say they could never relocate from their tiny Missouri town because they had children or whichever honorably sentimental excuse they were using.

After I received my Master’s degree it took me two years to get another job, and even that one only required a high-school diploma. I’m still not a “professional” librarian by industry standards, regardless of the work I perform. The reasons it took me that long to get a job are complex and we can’t ignore the significance of sheer dumb luck, but there are two relevant professional reasons that my job search was longer than advertised:

  1. I had no full-time employee management experience (student assistants only).
  2. I had never been a teacher.

Lack of management and teaching experience disqualified me from ninety percent of the jobs out there. If a decade’s experience as a student assistant and paraprofessional weren’t enough to qualify me for librarian job after achieving my master’s degree, my wistful classmates wouldn’t have a prayer.

So, we have a situation in which the library degree, by itself, is not enough for the best-paying, most advancing careers, and is sometimes seen as secondary to your other Master’s degree. Furthermore, librarian education is uneven, at best. Yet, we have this culture that only says your a “real” librarian if you been through the MLIS degree process. Library school is truly librarian hazing: an expensive, difficult, and time consuming process with few tangible rewards.

That’s Library School, Yeah, but the Work…

The work. I really like the work. I get frustrated like anyone else, but I get to come to work every day and work with college students on both sides of the desk. I get to work with these remarkable and ambitious people and be a small part of their education. With the youngest of them who work for me I get to be a small part of finishing their journey to adulthood. I get to support my amazing colleagues who are teaching research skills and information literacy. I get to lean on talented technicians making sure the information is findable.

The thing about the work, though, is that it is largely moving away from what is stereotypically seen as library work. The traditional reference desk is dying the slow painful death of suburban shopping malls as more and more information is readily accessible online. SMS and Chat services mean that many questions about library access can be managed from any computer. With the advent of RFID tagging and self-checkout stations, plus, tablets and web-based circulation software the traditional circulation desk will soon begin to die out as the reference desk has. Neither will disappear completely, but if you can purchase an iMac at the Apple store without a cash register, then why do we need a massive piece of furniture dedicated to book circulation or ready reference consultation?

My colleagues in the back of the house are performing work more akin to a computer scientist than the catalogers of the past. Newer features like makerspaces and whole departments like my library’s new “Knowledge Production” group are asking fundamental questions about what an academic library can or should be. We’re putting in audio and video production studios, video editing suites, 3D printers, and a GIS lab. None of this is covered in any library school I’ve ever heard of. It’s almost like the term “librarian” doesn’t mean anything anymore. That’s not bad or good. It is just reality.

I’m an ambivalent librarian because I see the wonderful work and true value of us dedicating our professional lives to ensure students and faculty have access to the resources they need to be successful in their studies, but I also see the anachronistic approach to librarian education and credentials that do not reflect the future — or even the present — of the profession.