Deciding between two library jobs
February 26, 2015 1:19 PM   Subscribe

I have to choose between two librarian positions soon, and could use others' advice and experience. I have been an academic librarian for a number of years, married to an academic, and we have both received offers from the same two universities. This is great, because we get to finally live together full-time. But, the two librarian jobs and universities are quite different.

Job One is a tenure-track librarian position at a large university. The area is nice, and my wife already has a condo in the city. The assigned subject areas are in line with my educational background, potential colleagues seem interesting and intelligent, and there is a very clear path to promotion/tenure. It appears to be a very supportive environment to someone starting out on this path. Salary is about what I make now, in a city with lower cost of living.

The downside to this job as I see it: I have never imagined myself in a traditional academic librarian position, and am not attracted to the idea of researching and publishing in the library field. The job would include traditional professorial tasks (committees, publishing, speaking, etc.). These are all things with which I have little experience, and I am not sure I would enjoy any of them. That being said, it is possible that researching and more actively participating in the library field would be something I enjoy.

Job Two is an untenured librarian position in the user experience department at a smaller university. It would use my background in a different way and I would be able to establish policy, work on catalog and website redesign and work with different populations that use the library. It would use my tech skills and other interests in a way I don't see Job One as being flexible enough to fulfill. Also, it is a smaller university and department, and that is the type of workplace at which I have the most experience.

Potential downsides: I don't have experience in UX librarianship. There is not a clear path to promotion, and the pay is a little less than what I currently make. (My wife's salary would be higher, so our total take-home pay would still increase dramatically.) I wasn't able to meet any potential colleagues while we visited, and workplace politics are an unknown.

The first job feels like a huge opportunity, and I'm feeling a bit guilty that I'm not more excited about it. There are so many people out there that would be overjoyed to receive this offer. The second job seems more exciting to me on the surface, but may prove less fulfilling/challenging over time. Both will involve my moving to another part of the US. I have some extended family in both cities, so we will not be isolated either way.

Other considerations: My spouse has made it abundantly clear that this is my decision, as her career will flourish wherever we go. That being said, I cannot help but consider her professional aspirations. Her department at Job Two's institution is of a lower ranking; professionally, it would be a step down. But, life at Job Two University would be comfortable and we would be able to save more money each year to retire in a more desirable area.

Hopefully some of you academic librarian types are willing to share experiences or point me to resources I have not yet found on my own (I've read blog posts on librarians leaving TT jobs, and librarians defending TT) -- experiences, thoughts, other considerations when mulling over big career decisions? Are we missing something? Can someone lend me a magic 8 ball? Thanks ahead of time.

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If it were me, and my spouse and family, I would choose Job One. But I am relatively risk-averse. It sounds like Job One wins overall (nice area, better for spouse, supportive colleagues, you already have a condo there, etc.) and that the things that could potentially be good about Job Two (more interesting) are far outweighed by the bad or unknown (worse for spouse, unable to meet any potential colleagues (huge red flag!).

Choose Job One.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:28 PM on February 26, 2015

Job One. It's all upside. Tenure track means security, which in Library Science is a fucking Coelacanth. You already have housing, and the job for your wife is better.

You're rather nichte hay, nichte ha on jobs themselves, the rest resolves itself.

Job One. No question.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:37 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Job One. I'm assuming that if you take Job One, you can research and publish on the topics that interest you from Job Two: policy, catalog, website redesign, different populations that use the library, tech skills, etc. You can write the articles that people who are doing jobs like Job Two rely on to justify their decisions to their higher-ups; in other words, your Job One research and publications could have an impact on multiple libraries, instead of just the one where you'd work if you were to take Job Two.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:01 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nontenured academic librarian here. You want Job One. For the reasons everybody's already said.
posted by the dief at 2:11 PM on February 26, 2015

From the way you've worded this, it sounds like you'd really rather choose Job Two, and came to us looking for permission to turn down the "on paper" better Job One offer. What isn't totally clear is whether you want Job Two because it sounds like more fun and is totally up your alley, or because you're simply afraid of Job One. If you are afraid of Job One, why is that?
posted by ldthomps at 2:19 PM on February 26, 2015

Well, I would choose Job 1...but then, I'm a tenured academic. (Committee work is actually kind of fun, as long as you don't take it too seriously.)

If it turns out you hate it, you can go on the market again in a few years.
posted by leahwrenn at 2:28 PM on February 26, 2015

Job 1 seems like the clear winner from what you have written.
posted by saradarlin at 2:38 PM on February 26, 2015

Take Job 1. Tenure in academia is very valuable, with ever decreasing educational funding.
posted by WizKid at 6:41 PM on February 26, 2015

Is your spouse really neutral about her job offers?
In my experience the spouse with the biggest paycheck or 'biggest' job gets a bit more of a say as to where the family relocates.
How do things look if you give her vote on which Location to move to a weight of 1.5 to your 1 ?
posted by calgirl at 8:11 PM on February 26, 2015

I literally found myself talking about this today with a faculty member who was interested. The way I explained it to her was this way: librarians who have institutional expectations around research, publishing, and service are more likely to keep up with innovations in the field (can't publish in a new area if you don't know where the new areas are) and more likely to be engaged in leading and changing the profession (service requirements, yo), and as a result provide better service to their user population. Scholarship, research, and service all get put on the backburner in favor of the 'real job' when there's no tenure requirements functioning as a stick.

That's a controversial statement, but I'm a mid-career librarian who transitioned from non-TT positions to a 'continuing appointment' (TT-lite and it ain't that lite) position about 18 months ago and I see the difference in myself and others pretty strongly. It's made me a better librarian. Initially I was scared of the challenge and not sure how things would go, but it's absolutely been a good experience and I highly recommend considering it.

As someone pointed out above, do query your spouse carefully. I don't think they have automatic veto power or a force multiplier or whatever, but I do think they have an opinion that they maybe haven't stated yet.

Also? The fact that you didn't even meet your potential colleagues at Job Two is a huge flaming red flag. That's pretty unusual in my experience, no matter the size of the library, and coupling it with the fact that you don't actually have UX experience but they were willing to hire anyway (depending on how related your skillset is, because I know UX folks can be hard to come by) is Not Good. Do take another look at Job Two before you accept it.

FWIW, I'm not sure what you've been doing in your years of experience in academic libraries but I'd be happy to talk with you further over MeMail or email about your career aspirations and how the two positions line up. I am an academic TT-ish librarian in a large library at a public university who came from a non-TT position in a smaller library, so maybe my perspective can be of help to you.
posted by librarylis at 10:00 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also librarian here. (And also job hunting, the reasons for which may be relevant to your situation).

Job 1. Because it's the winner for reasons of security, later options (for both you and your wife) if you need to, and because both liking your potential colleagues *and* having a very clear idea of the expectations of the job (and the support to do it) are huge factors in day to day quality of worklife. There will likely be lots of space to find research/speaking/publishing goals that do fit at least some of your interests.

The fact you haven't met any of your potential colleagues at Job 2 is a huge red flag for me. They may be really awesome people, but there are awesome people that you don't work well with, and how do you know if that's them? Likewise, that you don't have a clear idea what it would take to be seen as successful in the position, what your options might be for promotion, etc.

The other part, though, is that it's really challenging to be in a position where you're the only person doing it, and there isn't a clear idea of what you're supposed to be doing. My current job is as an Information Technology Librarian in an academic library (librarians where I am are staff, not faculty), I'm the only job like that in the state system, and my job is being cut as part of ongoing budget cuts. It's a lot easier for a job to be cut when it's not really clear what it involves or why it matters (which is to say: you may know, and your boss may know, but it's layers above you that matter when it comes to cutting things.)

UX in particular is one of those categories of job where right now, people think they need it, but 3 or 5 or 10 years from now, they may decide they need something else instead. With the TT position, you can shift and adjust your research as your interests change (within reason and what's at least somewhat useful for your library), and it'll also be an easier job to move on from if you ever decide to.

Beyond that: I'd take a really hard look at resources about what it's like to live in each place - are you familiar with the Academic Hiring wiki (and specifically, the Universities to Avoid?) Have you done some digging to see if you can find what people working at both places say about it? (Sites like Glassdoor/etc. obviously have the problem of any review site, but they can sometimes point out things to check more closely). Have you reached out to anyone in your own networks about what the places are like to work for?

It might be that you find some compelling info that makes Job 2 a reasonable risk for you (though I'd still be pushing hard to at least Skype your potential colleagues before you make a decision) but it'd have to be pretty compelling for me to take Job 2 over Job 1.

(And oh, yeah, if you'd like to email or MeMail, I'd be glad to talk about the 'being the only person who X' thing in more detail.)
posted by modernhypatia at 9:31 PM on February 27, 2015

Mod note: From the OP:
Just to clarify: I did not meet my potential colleagues at Job Two because they were away at a conference that week (it was a last-minute recruitment trip primarily for my spouse); I am going to contact the department if I deem the job worthy of serious consideration. I did meet with the director for a few hours and she was open to speaking more about the position should I have questions.

Both universities are great to work for -- we know people that have been at each.

To complicate things a little more (sorry for not originally mentioning this), the weather is far superior (to this californian) at Job Two, and it is also much closer to my parents, 90-year-old grandmother, and almost all of my friends. That may be part of why ldthomps felt that I was shying away from Job One: If I am, it's more about the location than the work.

I asked on another forum about the cities in general, and it was unanimous that Job Two's city is a nicer place to live. Should this have been one long AskMefi post including geographic data? Perhaps.

If anyone has thoughts about living in a city that is less desirable (as in, snow and ice for several months, to a person who has seen snow 5x in their life) for a more desirable job I am all ears.

Thank you to everyone who responded. I am contactable by email if you have any thoughts over the next week. Still no concrete decisions here, but we will decide by mid-March.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:53 AM on February 28, 2015

If anyone has thoughts about living in a city that is less desirable (as in, snow and ice for several months, to a person who has seen snow 5x in their life) for a more desirable job I am all ears.

Well, I moved to Fairbanks AK for a more desirable job. Unless you truly can't deal with winter, I wouldn't base the entirety of you decision on the mere existence of winter---how about the other amenities in the Job 1 city? Are there good restaurants? Shopping? Places to buy houses? How are the housing princes? What sort of commute would you have? If you have/want kids, will Job 2 put you close enough to your parents that they will babysit regularly? (Cause that right there is killer.)

How's the budget situation at job 2? My university is in a bad financial situation right now, and staff jobs are at risk. Tenured jobs are at significantly less risk.

But honestly, this seems --- modulo the family stuff, which is definitely something you and your spouse will need to think carefully about--- like a no-brainer. You get a good job you think you'll like, which on paper is a *better* job with the potential of more job security, and your spouse gets a better job. Win win!
posted by leahwrenn at 3:28 PM on March 1, 2015

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