Tag Archives: jobs

We need more lady library managers! A call to action

21 Nov

Imagine you’re sitting in library class, maybe Foundations of Libraries or something like that, and suddenly the instructor makes you do one of those exercises that every single person in existence hates – where you go around the room and in one or two sentences, you spell out your career aspirations.  Some of you don’t even know what those are.  Others are all too happy to share the perfect trajectory they’ve charted for themselves.  Your class is probably about 10% male, and without much dissension, the men say they want to end up in some sort of management/trustee position, and the ladies mention mid-level positions (often not even heads of departments).  There are the outliers, the men who want nothing more than to be reference librarians, and the women who want to be a county library system manager.  But largely, no.

The statistic changes a bit, but not by much more than a blip.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that of all librarians, 83.5% are women.  Women in library administration are averaged at 20%, except in academic libraries where the number is closer to 40% (Stoffle, 2006).  Clearly these statistics represent a huge disparity between male and female leadership in libraries.

Why?  Why are men so underrepresented in our field, and yet vastly overrepresented in management of libraries?  There have been countless studies and research conducted, and honestly, it’s a huge mountain of theories and postulates.  Some suggest that women are attracted to the “softer” positions, where they don’t have to be as confrontational or aggressive.  Some consider that female librarians are more likely to want to help individuals, so they stay in mid-level positions where they can interact with patrons.  Some suggest that men tend to get more promotions because of the glass ceiling working in their favor, or the fact that it’s likely a man doing the promoting and he knows how men work (how does he propose to supervise the female librarians, in that case?).  I’m not really interested in reading through the research just so I can condense it into 2 or 3 sentences.

Here’s what I do know:  I have met more capable, intelligent, decisive women in libraries than I can shake a stick at.  The same is true for archives.  It has nothing to do with the fact the positions demand technological fluency.  To a one, they are the women willing to go out and learn the skills they didn’t pick up in library school, learn things about the business side of a library, and do the networking required of a person in a position of power.  It wasn’t about hard skills, or soft skills; it was about being motivated to go out of the comfort zone and learn business.

Ladies, there is nothing wrong with being good at business.  Nor at liking to do the tasks that make up the running of a department or library, or library system.  So I end this with a call to action.  Look inside yourself.  If you have the drive, please think about going into management; if you want it enough, you’ll still get to interact with patrons (build it into your schedule if it’s that important).  But we need more lady managers, and we’re just as capable.  Go out and represent!

References (not otherwise linked):

Stoffle, C. (2006, June 6). Transforming Libraries. Presented at a IRLS 504 lecture at the University of Arizona.


Collection Development: art form, or form of science?

14 Nov

Depending on who you talk to (and right now it’s me), collection development can be one of the most important aspects of library’s work, one of the most overlooked, or one that gets way too much money from other avenues.  I, being involved in a love affair with collection dev and management, as well as all things paperwork, happen to think it’s highly important.  Think about it: without collection development, there is no assessment of what your users need/want to use, and users go away.  At its heart, collection development makes the library.

It’s not just about books, either.  It’s about websites, subscription services, A/V materials, and the occasional self-generated material.  Make no mistake, if you’re doing collection development, you need to like lists, and you need to  like catalogs.  Not OPACs, but reading through catalogs and reviews.

I think collection development includes making your collection more accessible for your users, so you need to be up-to-date on technologies that make it possible.  For instance, I use Blekko as a search engine for our school because it’s easy to point to and tell the students that within the sites, they will find 100% vetted, reliable information that they can be sure will be acceptable in a paper.  And it lets me shift some onus onto the program directors, getting them to share resources they’ve found with me.

Collection development takes a lot of patience, a lot of research, and a lot of evaluation of user needs in order to build a relevant collection, making it a lot of science-type work.  I argue that it also takes a certain intuition, thinking outside the norm for your patrons to stretch the reaches of what they like/need without alienating them with the too-different.  In that way, it’s an art form, requiring a delicate touch.

It also requires the ability to step back from what you like, and pick what others like (and you might hate).  It’s a selfless act, choosing materials without bias and representing viewpoints you don’t agree with.  I feel that if there aren’t at least a few materials in each order/batch of materials you accumulate that you don’t want to ever read or engage with, then you haven’t done your job.

If you want to do collection development, you should be detail-oriented, love trolling trade catalogs and Amazon and Barnes and Noble (their recommendations provide some unique suggestions), and be prepared to spend money on things you don’t like.  It’s rewarding, but time-consuming, at times fun and at time smash-your-face-into-your-desk frustrating.  So consider what you’ll be putting into it before you sign up.

Jump at de sun

12 Sep

Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to “jump at de sun.” We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.  -Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road, 1942


That quote was sent to me as the “motto” for my class (2004) at my undergraduate college, Denison University.  It came on a binder full of materials about roommates, meal plans, and registering for classes, along with an explanation that as we enter into higher education, we should always reach for goals that were glorious instead of always settling for the simple, easy, and attainable.  It’s stayed with me, even if I happen to like the relatively simple goals.

So this post will be an homage to jumping at the sun.  We all have dream jobs, ideal situations, places we want to end up.  For some of us, that’s being a mid-level librarian, or a children’s librarian, or a library manager.  Some of us want to change the profession as we know it (I’m looking at you, ConsiderJennifer) or help guide younger librarians.

My dream job is being a librarian or archivist for a collection like the Hard Rock Cafe, or someone’s weird amalgam personal collection.  Or at the Vatican, because holy cow the awesome things I’d see.  I’d like being the one in charge of the collection, even if it’s just me, because I want to be involved with making it something the public at large can appreciate and enjoy.

As for something unattainable, I’d like it if I were subsidized to live in a house with an enormous library and read books, then talk about them.  But some dreams are useful for de-stressing instead of becoming a goal, and that’s what this one is.

The other thing about jumping at the sun is that if you keep practicing jumping, each time you jump, you jump a little higher.  So what’s your sun, and do you jump at it?

ROI and what it means professionally

29 Aug

How many of you have heard the acronym ROI?  How many of you know what it means?  If you don’t know what it is, or haven’t heard of it, you should make yourself familiar with it.  Glancingly familiar, at the very least.

ROI means “return on investment”.  It’s commonly used in the private sector, but I think it can apply to a library in any sector.  The wonderful thing about ROI is that it performs a very unique job, determined in part by how you choose to set the parameters.

See, return on investment doesn’t have to be narrowly defined by your monetary investment, or does return mean profit, exclusively.  “Investment” can be anything from monies, to time, effort, and brainstorming sessions with others.  You can define how much investment you’ve put in (and it’s good to use some sort of  number or value-indicating statement) based on the work that went into a project.  “Return” can range from direct profit, to increased sales (in the case of libraries, usage statistics or circulation stats), community feeling/goodwill, visibility/press, or reduction in other costs.

So obviously, knowing how much investment was put into your goal of “increase community visibility” for the library helps you evaluate whether or not your strategy was successful when you look at your usage/circulation stats for your return.  On a personal professional level, looking at the investment in your career could include time spent reading publications, travel expenses to conferences, time spent on professional organization activities and message boards, writing blogs, keeping your LinkedIn account current, and so on.  The return on investment could include knowledge you glean from professional organizations, getting your name more visible within your local network of professionals, visitor stats for your blog, earned a chairmanship in your professional organization, etc.

The only limit on your investment and return is you!  It’s up to you to determine the parameters, but make sure you do so consistently and with honesty, otherwise your calculations will be erroneous.  The whole point of calculating ROI is figuring out how much you’re getting out of your investments, to see if you need to change your methods or shift focus to something else.  Never lose sight of the goal: keeping your return higher than your investment.

Curating your career

28 Jul

As a relatively new librarian, I’ve had the good fortune to become a professional in an era where there are several outlets one can post a job, find a job, or promote your brand. I’ve also had the misfortune to come on board in a job economy that isn’t what it was five years ago for librarians, making it easy for employers to demand a certain level of experience for a certain amount of pay that wouldn’t have gotten a single applicant in years past.

All of the people I keep tabs on from library school don’t have full-time library jobs. Some have part-time jobs in libraries, that they then supplement with part-time jobs in other fields.  Granted, I certainly don’t keep tabs on everyone I graduated with, and I’m sure some went right from school into a job.  I just don’t think that’s the majority anymore.

It’s possible that all the graduates that have a “nostalgic” idea of what the job market “used to be” really have no idea what it was; those people who imagine that going to the “right” school and networking with your professors would get you an inside track into openings and really good positions, all based on a recommendation of how well you handled yourself in class and how your test scores were – are they making this ideal up?  I don’t know, as I certainly don’t know anyone this happened to.  It could be the situation that happened exactly once, and then was propagated via anecdote.

In any case, my experience in today’s job market is that if you are an unknown, the employer just isn’t interested.

Graduating librarians should note that “unknown” used to mean “no work experience”.  That’s not necessarily the case: you don’t need experience to transition from an unknown to a known.  Conversely, you can have experience but still be largely unknown.  The reason for that is simple: social media.  Today, everyone and their dogs (in some cases, literally) has a Facebook, or a Twitter, or a LinkedIn account.  I’m sure they’ll all start getting Google+ accounts too.  If you’re not on at least one of these platforms, you’re an unknown.  More importantly, you need to be on these platforms professionally.  That means no Facebook page where you’re friends with someone named “Cuddles McGee” unless that person had parents with an odd sense of humor.  You should have a professional headshot, with all your work experience listed, subscribe to feeds that relate to your profession, and list interests that are professional, along with a couple that are personal.  This page needs to be searchable, and you need to be aware of the type of content you’re creating.

More than ever, our professional reputations need to be public and visible.  It’s no longer enough to put in your hours at your job, do well, and hope to get noticed by superiors.  That model worked when you were likely to stay with an employer, or within a small geographic area, for your entire career.  Today, it’s not enough to have a career; you have to curate your career, just as you would a valuable collection.  What could be more important to your career than your reputation?  It’s not built on hard work alone.  You need to demonstrate that you’re interested and active in your field, that you have something to say and know how to say it, that you not only see the problems out there, but are capable of developing solutions.  The solutions don’t have to be perfect, the activities don’t have to be dull, but you must do something.

Build your brand while you’re still in school, through student organizations and as many internships as you can stomach.  Do poster sessions at conferences if you can afford to, and if you can’t, try to publish articles in student publications.  Bare minimum, maintain a professional Facebook and post links to stories and comment on them.  Offer to conduct workshops at your local library (they might turn you down, so check community colleges too).  Build networks of professionals and listen to their advice.  I know, you’ve heard this before.  Now more than ever, getting a job requires you to brand yourself and demonstrate your professional abilities and interests.

You curate your career because, honestly, it’s a lot of work.  It takes time to find things to comment on, and to write.  It takes creativity and energy that you could direct to some other aspect of your life.  But, being an information professional, you should be aware of the power of publicly available information, and you should be on that wave.  It’s “curating” because it requires attention, time, and nurturing that our predecessors didn’t have to put in unless they were senior management.

Today, everyone has a reputation.  Use it.

Undergraduate Work

16 Feb

As a shout out to my undergraduate college, Denison University, I wanted to talk about my undergrad degree and what I plan to do with it.

I got my B.A. in East Asian Studies and focused on Japanese language and literature.*  I didn’t want to do translating work, as honestly I was never spectacular at kanji and always felt my speaking ability outshined any writing I did.  I don’t think my personality is well-suited to teaching, although I do keep that in the back of my mind as a possibility to examine further one rainy day.  Those two things being the case, I knew I had to go to graduate school.

I have a family member who was a librarian and I had considered becoming one since my teens as a remote possibility.  But I realized that combined with my B.A. I could do awesome things.  That thing is subject librarianship.

Public librarianship is not an accurate picture of the profession as a whole; there are archives where you deal with primary materials, rare books where you deal with old and rare stuff, academic/research librarianship, library management, digital, and subject, to name a few.  Maybe I’ll do a post on it.

Subject librarianship is great for someone who got their undergrad and then realized library science is something they want to do.  It requires a degree, bachelors or masters (sometimes more) in the field, plus your masters in library science.  For example, a French Studies subject librarian would be required to have a degree in it or some related field, proven knowledge of the language, not necessarily fluency, and proven expertise regarding the subject matter.  Expertise is usually ascertained by the interviewer rather than academia (you don’t have to be published to be an expert).

I could easily do subject librarianship in East Asia, Chinese lit, or Japanese literature.  Chinese would be a bit difficult since I don’t know the language, but with subject librarianship the candidate pool is often so limited they’ll compromise as long as you’re strong elsewhere and the target demographic is reading translated materials (often the case).  If you don’t speak the language, you can often figure out just enough to have the important stuff in the native language as well.  These jobs are usually in academic libraries, so faculty can help you with native materials.

I know I’ve said elsewhere that library management is something I’m interested in, but I would really love to get a chance to do East Asian/Japanese subject librarianship since I do love the language and literature.  I had an awesome professor in school who encouraged our thoughts about works even if he didn’t agree with our analysis and who instilled in me his enjoyment of the always-complex, oft-absurd, entirely-nuanced genre of Japanese literature.

The Economics of a Degree?

14 Dec

As more and more of our generation graduate from library school with our MLS or MLIS, we’re finding that jobs are becoming scarce.  What was a librarian’s job market only 4 or 5 years ago has undergone a drastic reversal.  Now employers, thanks to the economy, are able to demand multiple masters degrees, years of experience, and familiarity with highly specific formats or standards…for a library assistant position, paid about $25,000 per year.  It’s depressing that there aren’t more jobs out there and it’s a Catch-22: how are we, as younger librarians, archivists and curators, supposed to get the experience employers want if no one will hire us?  Volunteering is good and public libraries need volunteers to run, but we have bills to pay just like our older counterparts.  And really, we didn’t go to graduate school to be allowed to volunteer.  Perhaps it’s snobbish of me, but I feel like my current knowledge and the fact I’m driven to establish myself makes the lack of 10+ years of experience not as much of a problem as some make it seem.

I realize there are jobs out there that really require the experience listed in the position, but I’ve gotten good advice on this.  “Apply for jobs even if you don’t match the description perfectly – if you can be 80% of the job, convince them the other 20% isn’t a problem and that someone else would be better suited to it regardless of candidate.”  I think that’s realistic; today’s job postings read like wish lists for Santa Claus.  Sadly, a lot of employers do get the Barbie Dream House and pony they’re asking for because our profession is a victim of this economy.  School libraries are cutting staff, public libraries are in a hiring freeze, and librarians who have been in the work force for over 40 years aren’t retiring because the economy isn’t the strongest.  Jobs are designed for people to retire, and that becomes a problem when you get people who don’t want to transition.  Older librarians, while capable of learning new technologies, will never be as comfortable as us because we grew up with it, to cite one example.

What does this mean for us, right now?  Unfortunately it means that many of us will have to settle for being underemployed in those assistant positions and hope we can ride the tide until we have the skills to demand what we’re worth.  Make no mistake, fellow recent graduates!  We are worth at least $50,000 per annum with benefits, and although you might settle for less, take pride in the fact you know your worth.  Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask for it when you get the chance.