How to cope with a soul-crushing job that no longer pays the bills
June 10, 2010 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I work at a public library, and it's gotten to the point where I just want to check out and not return.

I no longer have passion or enthusiasm for working in libraries and want to jump ship entirely. Getting my MLIS has been the biggest regret of my life.

I'm really interested in information architecture and technical writing, but I'm experiencing the classic catch-22 of not being able to break into either of these due to lack of experience. I've been trying to network and get to know people who are in charge of hiring (which is hard for me since I'm shy and introverted) and have also recruited a headhunter to help me.

Nevertheless, student loans are knocking on my door and I don't think I can hold them off for much longer. I also have CC debt that I'm trying to pay off and my income just isn't sufficient anymore, even with me cutting down my spending to absolute essentials. I have no one to help me in this regard and I need a new job ASAP. What can I do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do not quit until you have another job in the bag. I know it seems desperate right now, but it gets hard to recall just how fucking miserable unemployment is: having nothing to do except send out resume after resume, cover letter after cover letter, no reason to leave the house. I've found it to be ten times as demoralizing as working a shitty job.
posted by griphus at 9:43 AM on June 10, 2010 [13 favorites]

Do you have downtime at your current job? Maybe you could leverage your library science degree and librarian position to get yourself some information architecture credibility. You could build a web site or part of a web site for some neglected aspect of your library and sell it on your resume as being informed by library science principles (which hopefully, it will be).

As for technical writing, you could start a blog in which you write a series of knowledge base-style articles (except a little less dry, probably) explaining how to use some piece of technology. This also will help get your foot in the door.

I know someone that went the other way - she was a technical writer that went into library science. The admissions people felt there was some sort of crossover there, so I think it might work the other way as well.

Also, if you know of a specific company you want to target, you can hang out on their forums and explain, very technically and cleanly, how to solve their problems with the company's products. Then, after you get the company's attention, you could use that to get your foot in the door of a tech writer interview. This is a longshot, but it is better than nothing. If nothing, it's tech writing practice.
posted by ignignokt at 10:01 AM on June 10, 2010

Knowing where you live would have helped us. For example, if you are in the DC area I can recommend the IA and/or technical writing classes through the USDA Graduate School (which might not be affiliated with the USDA any more) as good, relatively cheap ways to gain experience and network with people working the field(s) you want to explore.
posted by arco at 10:02 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Many colleges--heck, even community colleges--will have technical writing courses you can take. Keep in mind that a lot of getting jobs in new fields is being able to spin your skills in a way that seems relevant.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:10 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

A good way to get out and take stock if you can't get a job is to travel. I know you have loans and I don't know if you can defer them, but for example you could teach English in South Korea if you apply soon and make enough money, or maybe China depending on how much you have to repay.
posted by Not Supplied at 10:22 AM on June 10, 2010

Drupal is hot in libraryland right now, and also has a learning curve like the side of a building. Wikipedia claims it's a CMS, but it also serves quite well as a framework for setting up a CMS (adding content types and/or views to make it do things you want which aren't available out of the box).

The software is very powerful, though frankly bewildering at first. Once you learn it, you could market yourself to libraries as someone who could help them set up a site that they could use later--with your concise and lucid instructions--to add their own content (like blogs, photos, slideshows, etc.) In Florida there's at least one team who go around teaching Drupal and setting up sites for companies and libraries (we've had them helping with our library site for at least a year now).

It's free, so there's little risk in working with it except for lost time if you decide you don't want to pursue it.

Though, again: learning curve? steep. Clear concise instructions? invaluable.
posted by johnofjack at 10:39 AM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

I might be way off-base, and if so, mea culpa:

It sounds like you have a long-term plan: Get into technical writing / info architecture.

You are taking steps to do that, and there's lots of advice here and more coming on that front. My only addition to that is that maybe you'll have to have a two-step process -- get a job that's closer to the world of libraries than the world of tech writers for a while, like johnofjack suggests, then using that to step into a position that is closer to your ideal.

What you need, I think, is a short-term plan, and to separate the long- and the short- of it all.

Immediate problems sound like:
a) your salary is not sufficient to allow your long-term plan to build toward the goal of getting a new job.
b) you are unhappy in your job, can't jump right now, can't afford to run away.

a) Obviously getting other income to cushion the crunch -- doesn't matter what it is. When I had my first job in publishing it was paid a pittance. I was paying off student loans and living pay cheque to pay cheque, and so I got a weekend job as a security / front desk person at a community centre. I gave me an extra $200 per month, which meant I could breathe financially. It wasn't a resume job, it was a money job. I stayed until I could afford not to.

b) This is the big one. You need to separate your regret about your degree from your unhappiness about this job. Stop the regret. Your job isn't fulfilling you, it's draining you by the sounds of it, but part of that draining might be caused by a feeling that you've made a horrible mistake and are stuck. Remember: Your job now is temporary, it isn't a permanent part of you. You've decided that already and you are doing / going to do the right things to ensure it is -- talking to be people in the jobs you want to have about how to be them, etc.

I think that in order for you to be this unhappy with being a librarian, you have to be the kind of person who identifies with work, and doesn't see work as something you do to fund another passion in another part of your life. [Note the use of the verb to be: "being a ____"; contrast with "I work as ______"]

I get that. Take those feelings of identity with a profession, and give them a new home. You're not a librarian only, and you are not a public librarian only. You are someone with degree in information and a certain set of experiences -- or however you want to imagine yourself. There's a lot you can do with the smarts you have, and you will do lots of those things over your lifetime. But right now, for a short while, you are doing public librarianship.
posted by girlpublisher at 10:47 AM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Consider joining your local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. Good bunch of people; good networking opportunities.
posted by 5Q7 at 10:48 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding (thirding, fourthing?) the suggestions about working on your own to get experience with information architecture. What got me my current systems librarian job wasn't anything to do with what I learned in library school, but with my teaching myself PHP and building a database-driven restaurant review site and writing my own CMS for an SF convention website.

I had no paid experience in what I'm doing now - web design, app development, baby sysadmin stuff - but the unpaid experience was accepted, especially because they could go to the sites and see what I'd done.
posted by telophase at 11:19 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I work in IT and have hired Tech Writers in the past. Your degree and experience gives you a real advantage you just need to learn how to use it.
You could start by looking for work with help documentation and other 'end-user focused' work as there's less domain knowledge to acquire. If you find it interesting then usability can tie in to techwriting and is also interesting in its own right.
Look into some CMS's (as above) since you might be the same person maintaining the platform. Try smaller firms as they're easier to get into (no HR gatekeepers) and they offer a broader job scope. You may be the only TW in a team of 50 but you get so much exposure. There is so much out there for you. Chin up!
posted by fingerbang at 11:25 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get the debt situation squared away first (talk to a trustworthy debt counselor -- check one of the other AskMe questions about debt consolidation, etc.) before letting it drive you into a worse situation.

Don't try to deal with both the debt and career malaise at the same time, or your mental hamster wheel will overheat.
posted by benzenedream at 11:54 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you looked into the possibility of employment with a library database vendor? I work for one, and we've always been staffed with a lot of people with library backgrounds (yours truly included). Our technical writers work on things like online help documentation and user guides. Have you developed any user guides/pathfinders on the job, perhaps to help library patrons find information on specific topics or how to use a database? If not, this might be the kind of thing you can work on in the meantime, to make the best of a miserable situation.

Don't exactly know what the employment climate is like in this specific field at the moment, or whether you'd be open to relocating, but it's something to think about.
posted by medeine at 12:40 PM on June 10, 2010

Getting my MLIS has been the biggest regret of my life. - me too, on most days. Especially the days that I send out the checks for my student loans.

Lots of good thoughts so far; I'm interested to see what else others say. Girlpublisher, you made my day with Note the use of the verb to be: "being a ____"; contrast with "I work as ______" - this is the key to surviving any soul-crushing job.

The thing that has helped me the most has been to not allow my job to define who I am. I am good at what I do, and I do it Monday-Friday from 9am-6pm, but beyond that, I do not bring it home with me or let it define who I am. I make sure that I have the time and money to do things in the evenings and on the weekends/days off that give my life meaning.

WRT student loans, the minute I see a big expense on the horizon - car repairs and root canals seem to be my curses - I call the student loan companies and go into deferral. This allows me to maintain a sense of having meaningful life when these crises arise.
posted by chez shoes at 12:47 PM on June 10, 2010

I've been in low paying, public library staff hell. There is a lot of good advice here. No one has pointed out that not all public libraries are the same. You may be able to get another PL job to buy you time nearby (offer not good in Michigan). Or you could try subbing in your area, to get you extra money. Summer vacation season is upon us (along with Summer Reading Program).

Nthing learning how to spin your PL experience. People have a vague conception of librarianship (probably a good thing), but they "know" we communicate and help. You want to do technical writing? Great. Stress how your experience as a public library librarian has further developed your skills at communicating information at a variety of levels and in a variety of modes. Stuff like that. Information architecture? Well, I'm not sure what it is, but talking about organizational skills, facility with classification and such might help there.

People want to like librarians. Bridge the jargon, make your experience halfway relevant, and you'll have a great shot at getting out of your PL.
posted by QIbHom at 10:57 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gods, do I feel your pain! From the sounds of it, I'm willing to bet that you're working at circulation (that job will turn the most people-loving person into a misanthrope after a while.) I hope you find another job ASAP. You may want to consider just getting any old job at this point since it seems like you're at a breaking point. :(
posted by Anima Mundi at 9:44 AM on June 12, 2010

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