Category Archives: library careers

Satisfaction For The Profession

Back in 2003 I authored an article titled “Passion for the Profession” in portal: Libraries and the Academy. In this piece I shared my reasons for being passionate about our work and provided my rationale for why we do it – and why those contemplating a career in librarianship would do well to consider the academic sector. I waxed eloquently on the virtues of serving students and faculty, as well as the joys of being part of an academic community and a professional network. But perhaps I was guilty of overselling the concept of professional passion. According to some real passion experts maybe I should have written an article titled “Satisfaction for the Profession” or “Finding Meaning in the Profession” because for most of us that is about all we can hope to achieve.

Real passion, it turns out, is rather elusive. According to experts true job passion is a state of total involvement and complete immersion. A truly passionate academic librarian is fully absorbed in the experience. How absorbed? Picture a teenager playing his or her favorite video game. Hours can pass totally unnoticed. While I often have days when I’m wondering where the morning went and occasionally have one where I literally lose track of time – an occupational hazard that leads to showing up late for appointments – most days pass just about right and rarely does boredom strike. When I occasionally check Facebook or Twitter during the work day it seems that some colleagues are frequently changing their status, reporting their top five kung-fu movies or sharing quiz results that indicate which Star Wars character they are. A passionate academic librarian would be so immersed in their work that he or she would not only not have time for such questionable diversions, but would be so caught up in their work that they would hardly even contemplate stopping for a little break. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with the occasional social network visit – it may even be beneficial in giving our brains a needed rest. A truly passionate academic librarian just wouldn’t go there.

While I enjoyed thinking and writing about being passionate for academic librarianship – and it made for a good article title – in hindsight I’d say that while most of us certainly enjoy our work and are challenged by what we do, passion may be too strong a word. I’m certainly not the only academic librarian who has gone on record expressing their passion for the profession (see here). But perhaps it’s not necessary to be passionate about academic librarianship at all. According to the experts, feeling a sense of control over one’s work situation and having work that one is able to master while taking on challenges that afford the opportunity to grow are the foundation of feeling satisfied with one’s job. Being completely immersed (obsessed?), if that’s a sign of passion, is not necessarily required for workplace happiness or professional success.

So if you do find yourself in a position of speaking with a potential, future academic librarian what should you tell him or her? Should you pull all the stops and go with the “P” word? Or is knowing just how elusive real passion is a reason to put the kibosh on introducing it into the conversation? In thinking this over I conclude that it’s fine to go with passion. If I tell someone I’m passionate about my work I think he or she gets it – I really like what I do and look forward to doing it. From there it’s a matter of elaborating on the reasons why I know so many colleagues who, like me, have practiced this profession for so long. Ultimately I think it does go beyond just being satisfied about or finding meaning in what we do. What is it that explains our passion for the profession? If you have a chance, try reading the article.

Onellums’s last FYALE post, short and sweet

When I tried to reflect on my first year of academic librarianship and what I should include as advice for other new librarians in my final post here at ACRLog, platitudes such as “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” kept popping into my head. So I thought I’d start with a short list of the somewhat obvious qualities that I repeatedly found helpful at work: 

1) Maintaining a positive attitude 
2) Persistence 
3) Cooperativeness

Then I thought of some more personal advice I would give (that I learned the hard way):

1) A workplace is a political minefield. Best do your homework before putting your foot in it.
2) It is better to be flexible than cavalier. Youth and energy are not endearing to everyone.
3) Leave your desk to have human conversations every once in a while. Librarians are perhaps more prone to use email and other text-based media, but I cannot count the number of times a solution has been more forthcoming when I approached people directly. 

And because I am writing this during performance review season, here is a sprinkling of self-criticism and future goals:

1) As Susanna mentioned in her last post, I too am realizing that I might not be fit for a lifelong career in public services. I may not have the requisite gift of patience, and I am noticing that the areas of my job I find most enjoyable involve making systems and processes simpler and more efficient. When I moved to New Jersey last August I lacked the confidence to apply for systems librarian jobs, but now I am motivated to learn more programming and pursue work in that direction. 
2) I would like to publish in the professional literature. Publishing informally online is great, but I am going to try and shoot for something more rigorous and official. 
3) I would like to continue to interact and participate with this and other communities of librarians. They (we?) are wonderful. I hope some day I can be as useful to them as they currently are to me.  

Thanks for reading and commenting — I have really enjoyed writing here! If anyone wants to continue to follow my thoughts, I post weekly to my personal blog, the librarian’s commute. And it would be great to meet you in person if you are going to ALA next week!

The Organization of Information

My husband (a philosophy professor) and I (a librarian and former bookstore manager) just finished cataloging our entire book collection into LibraryThing.  You can only imagine the number of bookshelves in our house, right?  For Valentine’s Day I gave him an LT lifetime subscription and he gave me one of their CueCat scanners, and we spent several days scanning, adding, and tagging with reckless abandon.  (This really does relate, I promise!)  I’ve mentioned before that I work at a “one person library”, so even in the time between semesters I have to keep the library open, cooling my heels in a mostly empty building.  Sure, a few students come in to check email or Facebook, but in general the month of May is Very Slow, especially for someone who likes to stay busy.

By now I’ve caught up with all my work, and I’m starting to invent projects.  I’ve read several books that faculty have recommended to students, the better to talk about them when students have questions.  (I just finished 1776 by David McCullough, and am currently plodding my way through A History of the American Revolution by John Richard Alden.  McCullough is a much more entertaining read, if you’re curious.)  I’ve done some book shifting to make the shelves more balanced, in the hope that my miniscule book budget for next year will actually get passed.  I finished the dreaded Professional Development Plan.  I’m pondering articles I’d like to write but wonder if I can ever get them published.  Unfortunately though, since I work a ten-hour day, I run out of library-related projects fast.  So I’ve started to get creative.

The one thing my position doesn’t have me doing is the cataloging, which of course is what I *would* be doing in a perfect world.  So I came up with another great idea – not precisely work related but close enough for my purposes.  I decided to add Library of Congress call numbers to all of our books in LibraryThing.  I don’t have access here to OCLC’s Connexion or Cataloger’s Desktop, but what the heck.  There are plenty of free resources at my disposal.  And I do want to stay reasonably current with the cataloging trends, because someday, somewhere, I’d really like to get back into tech services full time.  My husband, who actually organizes his philosophy books by *author’s birthday*, thinks I’m nuts.  But I’ve actually been enjoying myself immensely.  It hones my research skills when I run across a title I’m not familiar with.  It encourages me to familiarize myself with the Library of Congress online catalog. It makes me want to take some of the cataloging seminars offered by Lyrasis!

So, two questions I’d like to offer up:
1) When you hit a down-time (if you ever hit a down-time), how do you keep yourself busy?
2) More importantly, how do you keep current in an area where you don’t spend your day-to-day time, but would if you had your choice?

What To Wear At ACRL

Sometimes we get interesting tips here at ACRLog. Seems like there is a bit of tweeting going on among first-timers headed to Seattle for ACRL who have a bit of a dilemma. What should people wear to ACRL? Quite a few of the first-time attendees are new or soon-to-be LIS program graduates who are thinking job opportunity. So they need the help of you more experienced academic librarians. What advice would you give to these colleagues? They want to dress to impress, but is it necessary to go all the way and wear the full-out business suit? Or will business casual get the job done? Are jeans, even stylish ones, out of the question? And what about piercings and tattoos? Display them proudly or be thinking “cover it up”?

Personally, I’m going with business casual and that’s what I recommend. I think of ACRL as a business-oriented program, so business casual seems most appropriate. I think we should avoid suits (and definitely no ties!). I don’t have a problem with those who want to dress down a bit, but I’d encourage those who want to make a good first impression to avoid jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. So what do others think – and we need your suggestions fast. Those suitcases have to be packed and ready to roll in less than 48 hours. Someone out there is counting on your advice so share it in a comment.

Still Waiting For Those Old Librarians To Retire

Editor’s Note: A frequent source of grousing among those newer-to-the-profession academic librarians is that the “impending shortage of librarians” they heard so much about is just a myth. The shortage, no doubt, is predicated on the expectations that many senior members of the profession would soon be retiring. Someone who has closely studied employment and retirement trends among academic librarians over the years is Stanley Wilder, Associate Dean for Information Management Services at the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries. In this guest post Wilder shares some of his latest findings on how the economic downturn is likely to impact academic librarian retirement trends.

Can academic librarians afford to retire in the Bush recession? Already in April of 2008, the Wall Street Journal noted that declines in home values and the stock market were driving many to delay their retirements. This fall’s calamitous drop in home values and investment portfolios can only have reinforced this trend, and my informal canvass of academic library colleagues leads me to suspect that we are delaying our retirements along with everyone else.

Retirement is an unusually resilient cultural behavior, and largely impervious to routine economic fluctuations. The ARL demographic data are a case in point: the portion of the population aged 65 and older has been remarkably stable over the past 22 years (at about 3%), despite recessions in the early 1990s and early 2000s. The stability of this group is all the more remarkable in a population that has otherwise swung dramatically from young to old.

But the Bush recession is clearly not a routine economic fluctuation. What would delayed retirement mean to academic librarianship? The first to go would be the projections of the age profile of U.S. ARL librarians developed in conjunction with my two reports for ARL, which would become obsolete should retirement behavior change significantly. Next, it should be said that delayed retirements would not affect all librarians equally. For example, ARL directors may have already begun to delay: in 2000, 2% were 65 and over, jumping to 9% in 2005. In functional areas of the academic library, catalogers were not far behind at 7% but the impact is negligible on IT professionals, the youngest job category in the ARL data. And racial and ethnic sub-groups within the profession are effected differently. Delayed retirement would have less impact on African American librarians, an unusually young population, but Asian librarians are significantly high with 9% in the 65 and over category.

I have been saying that the anticipated shortage of librarians is unlikely, but a bad economy with delayed retirements would make it harder still to imagine generalized labor shortages in our profession. We are far more likely to see large applicant pools chasing a reduced number of openings. I suspect they already have. Finally it should be obvious that while retirements can be delayed, they cannot be foregone altogether, meaning that the inevitable youth movement may be more dramatic, if somewhat later than anticipated.

None of this speculation matters if academic librarians do not, in fact, delay their retirements. Until we have data to tell us what is actually happening, I would love for ACRLog readers to comment on trends they see in their own libraries or in their region. Have you heard of senior librarians planning to delay their retirements? Do libraries find themselves newly unable to fill vacancies, and has there has been a recent change in the quality and quantity of applicants for those positions they are able to post? Share your observations.

Many thanks to Stanley Wilder for sharing his observations on retirement trends in this contributed guest post!