yet another wannabe-librarian query
February 18, 2005 8:36 AM   Subscribe

I know there're a lot of MeFi librarians, since I've searched on this topic, but my specific questions don't seem to have been addressed yet. First, do you think there are a decent amount of entry-level public library jobs out there? The gubmint says so, various librarian blogs say no. Also--this would be a career change for me, so by the time I get the MLS I'd be around 40. Is it laughable to think anyone would hire a 40-year-old entry-level librarian? I've been in publishing for a while and am burned out but good. As a callow youth I worked quite happily in bookstores, and now as a grown-up I think a library job would provide similar psychic gratification but with better benefits and pay. Someone set me straight. TIA.
posted by scratch to Work & Money (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is my bullet pointed list on the job shortage debate but all my evidence that isn't ALA placement center stats is anecdotal. I think there aren't as many entry-level jobs as the ALA and the library schools want you to believe and others agree. One thing I do know is that the less geographically limited you are [will you move for a job? if so, good] the better your job chances. I can address your other questions. Your age doesn't matter much. Unless your age, for some reason, is closely related to technophobia or some weird grandpa-like crotchetiness, it doesn't matter if you're 20 or 40. It's a "mature" profession in many ways. I am 36 and still a whippersnapper to a lot of people at ALA and elsewhere.

There is less autonomy in much of the library world compared to working in a bookstore, at least the bookstores my friends work in. Library work is more like non-profit publishing work, imho. There is more routine work, more office politics and more conflicts between doing what is right for the patrons and doing what is right for staff. That said, I wouldn't work anywhere else, even though the pay tends towards the lousy. Feel free to email or AIM me if you want to chat more about library work.
posted by jessamyn at 8:46 AM on February 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

40-years-old seems about the middle of the age spread in my graduate program. Most of the students have a professional background in something book or information related and are making a mid-career switch to librarian.
posted by stet at 8:49 AM on February 18, 2005

Seconding stet - we do go to the same school, but I think it's not uncommon. I'm 24, and can count on one hand the number of people my age. A third to a half of us are thirty or under. So you'd not be in the minority. There are always several grey heads in all my classes.
posted by librarina at 8:54 AM on February 18, 2005

40 will be no problem for a new librarian (I'm 26 and when I was in library school a few years back, half the class had kids my age), so your experience will be an asset (esp. a publishing background).

I'm an academic librarian-type, so I don't know much about the publics. I do know that finding an entry-level academic job is pretty tough. The type of work I and my minions perform is closer to data entry than it is working in a bookstore, but's largely because I'm in tech services, not on the desk.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:13 AM on February 18, 2005

Well, the short answer is, "Yes and no."
If that wasn't vague enough for you, the long answer is a little muddier. It goes something like this:
There are many factors at work. A lot of the stuff we've seen over the past 8-10 years says that there's an old guard that's due to retire Real Soon Now, and then the streets will be paved with gold and there'll be two jobs for everyone! I don't think this is strictly untrue; there are many old librarians. Some of them will retire, some of them will work 'til they die because they like the work. In either case, they're old and they'll be gone before too long.
On the other hand, there are more and more young librarians every day; a lot of them heard the aforementioned sales pitch and went to library school, so you're not going to be without competition.
Additionally, more and more jackasses think the internet makes libraries obsolete. While it does make it easier for the reasonably savvy to do the easy part of our jobs, it doesn't really have much impact on the more difficult parts. Seriously. However, many of these jackasses are in a position to decide whether or not to replace outgoing librarians with new librarians and that's where things get a little iffy. Systems librarians are getting replaced with IT people, reference librarians are getting replaced with someone from the circ desk who went to college and reads a lot, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't.
On the other other hand, the sky isn't falling. A lot of the online ranting that I see about the impossibility of getting a library job seems to come from a small, loud group of people who I can't help but suspect have some sort of major defect that makes them largely unhireable. Indeed, bitching on the internet about how nobody will give you a job that you clearly deserve seems to me to be suspiciously like taking careful aim at your own foot.
In my opinion, it's worth the plunge. There are jobs, just not as many as we were led to believe. More importantly, I know a lot of librarians but I don't know many who don't like their jobs. There are parts of the job that are very hateable, but in the main, it's a good life. It's a field that is very comfortable with entry-level 40 year-olds. And it's not like there are tons of other options with less risk.
posted by willpie at 9:14 AM on February 18, 2005

I also agree about the average age. I'm 25, and I'm always the youngest at the local librarian meetings. From what I've seen, public libraries tend to attract slightly older people (which, in Boston, I think is attributable to the fact that us youngsters have no savings and can't afford to live here on public librarian salary).
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:14 AM on February 18, 2005

To follow up Robocop here, there are more public library jobs than academic library jobs and the public library jobs are usually easier to get. Easier to lose, especially if you're in a budget-chopping urban area, but easier to get. If you think that there's any chance you'll want to work in an academic library, do not take a public library job first; many academic libraries regard more than a year or two public library experience as a bug, not a feature. No, I don't know why.
posted by willpie at 9:38 AM on February 18, 2005

I finished library school last August. Mid-to-late 30s was average for most of my classes, except the "tech track" ones. I work in an academic library, a 40-ish new person would fit right in.

I'd agree that if you're willing to move, you could land a good job without too much trouble, especially if you have a special area of expertise (surely there's something applicable in your publishing experience). If you don't want to move, try to get an internship or practicum at a local library or two or three while you're in school. This will give you both practical experience (which many have prior to library school) and some contacts for job searching.
posted by donnagirl at 9:42 AM on February 18, 2005

I work as a librarian in special libraries, without a graduate degree. There's so much less hierarchy than the public system, and a greater range of opportunities than a large academic library. [my opinion, of course - have you considered special libraries?] You may be interested in an undergraduate program such as the one I did - much less expensive than the graduate degree, but still a good basis for any library work except a post that requires supervision.

I can't think your age would be a drawback at all. Please e-mail me if I can answer any questions.
posted by goofyfoot at 10:11 AM on February 18, 2005

Unless your age, for some reason, is closely related to technophobia or some weird grandpa-like crotchetiness, it doesn't matter if you're 20 or 40.

If you are technophobic, of course, you're even better off because you'll be snapped up for a systems librarian position very quickly.

If, better yet, you're technophobic and possessed of a weird grandpa-like crotchetiness, you might even get a gig writing for a library journal or two on "The Role of Technology and Libraries" or some such.


Are salaries in the publishing world really so abysmal that those of librarians are a step up?
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:19 AM on February 18, 2005

I'd agree with everyone else in that you're definitely not too old to start this second career. I also agree that you'll have an easier time getting a job if location isn't an issue.

I work full-time as an academic librarian and substitute at two public libraries. I must say that if you're thinking of public library work, as far as I can tell, the situation isn't that great. I do live in an area with two library schools--so it's a very competative market. But it seems that a great number of the jobs that are open are part-time jobs, in order for the library to avoid having to shell out benefits. In terms of what someone said about academic libraries not wanting you after too many years of public library work, the same can be said in the reverse situation. At least in terms of what I have encountered.

And finally, entry level jobs in academic libraries are very hard to come by, as someone mentioned. I am 26 and only have one because I've worked in libraries since I was 16, and was lucky enough to work as a GA in one of the academic libraries where I got my LIS degree. Experience is the key. Any kind you can get. Subbing is a great way to get experience.

The one suggestion I have if you're thinking of going the academic route, is to get comfortable with group instruction and reference work--those types of jobs are the most common entry-level types in academic libraries. Also, you'll probably be expected to get a second graduate degree or PhD at some point, if you don't already have one.
posted by fabesfaves at 10:33 AM on February 18, 2005

What's the pay scale like in the librarian field? Are there any particular specializations that are attractive to the field right now? Who makes the most money and who makes the least? Just curious about the economics of library work as a profession.
posted by Succa at 11:07 AM on February 18, 2005

What's the pay scale like in the librarian field?

Only field requiring a Master's degree that pays less than elementary education.
posted by stet at 11:21 AM on February 18, 2005

Here's a quickie salary survey. Please note that this is for full-time staff. In Vermont, for example, most public librarians are not full time, but most who work in larger libraries are. Academic librarians traditionally earn more than public librarians. There's another chart of salary ranges towards the bottom of this page.
posted by jessamyn at 12:07 PM on February 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone, for your very useful responses. I feel somewhat encouraged now, and for me that's a big step. Oh, and Ishmael--publishing has long been famous for its notoriously low salaries (it's the "gentleman's profession," doncha know). Not that I'd expect or hope to get rich as a librarian, I'm just starving for something new.
posted by scratch at 12:23 PM on February 18, 2005

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