Are You Thinking About Going Corporate

I had two jobs before I started my first academic library position. Going through library school I was thinking special libraries. I never really thought much about academic librarianship as a career option. The prospects of working on more in depth research projects for others appealed to me. One of the special library jobs was in a nonprofit, but the other was corporate. Both were good jobs where I learned lots of useful skills, and worked with exactly no other librarians – but many other interesting colleagues with diverse professional backgrounds.

As I became more professionally active in local associations I got to know a few academic librarians. I really liked the ideas they were sharing and the work they were doing. It became more clear in my mind that working in a one-person library setting was inhibiting my professional growth – I wasn’t learning from library colleagues nor was there any advancement opportunity. The possibilities of being engaged in the teaching and learning process began to carry greater appeal than performing the research for other professionals, however challenging it was. I started applying for academic library positions, and was frequently rejected. I had absolutely no experience working in an academic library. Eventually, thanks to the business research skills I developed in my corporate special library job, I was able to make the transition to a business library at a research university. I’ve never looked back.

What about going in the opposite direction? I actually cannot recall even a single academic librarian who has left academia to transition to a position in a corporate library. I’m sure it happens more often than we know. An academic librarian could get burnt out on dealing with students and faculty. He or she might decide to get off the tenure track, or tire of dealing with library co-workers. A forced relocation may take someone to a town where the only opportunity is in the corporate sector. And yes, corporate/special library positions often have higher salaries. There are any number of reasons why an academic librarian might want to go corporate.

That was the topic of a thread at the BUSLIB-L discussion list where there are many corporate and academic librarians exchanging information and advice. The conversation was started by an academic librarian who inquired about the possibilities for going corporate. Wondering whether it was time to pursue opportunities outside of higher education, this academic librarian asked others to share the pros and cons of their jobs in academic or corporate libraries. The conversation generated quite a few responses, and here is a summarized list of the pros and cons for each type of library position:

PROS – Corporate Librarianship

* Less of the committee work that often comes with academic librarianship, and less need to juggle multiple opinions and multiple constituencies, so to speak
* More opportunities to be an independent operator; self-starters would find the corporate environment stimulating
* No publishing requirements
* Focused, directed work process aimed at a specific outcome; less of the “fuzzy” goals that sometimes characterize academia
* research and analysis-driven, rather than teaching-oriented

PROS – Academic Librarianship

* Work in a highly collaborative environment
* Persons around to back you up and mentor you if/when needed
* Opportunities to teach and nurture students and library patrons
* You show people how to research, rather than doing all the research yourself
* A more laid-back environment than corporate; can wear jeans to work

CONS: Corporate Librarianship

* A driven, hectic pace; work must be completed speedily and efficiently with little space for lengthy rumination; “pressure cooker” environment
* Corporate librarians are often solo operators; no-one to back you up when you’re sick or need to take time away from work
* Constant need to reaffirm your worth to the corporation (that’s worth in monetary terms); corporate librarians are easily laid off in bad economies
* Must constantly network and liaise with persons within and without the company

CONS: Academic Librarianship

– The requirement to solicit and consider opinions from many persons and many different bailiwicks prior to making decisions; the collaborative environment is not always the most efficient
– “Publish or perish;” tenure/continuing status pressures
– Generally lower salaries

As with most lists of pros and cons, someone’s “pro” is another person’s “con”. I don’t see the need to publish as a drawback in academic librarianship. If you like to research and write, share your ideas, enjoy the rewards of publications, etc., it’s great to be in an environment that supports and potentially expects you to publish (bear in mind that approximately half of all academic libraries have no tenure or publishing requirements, so if you don’t like the publish or perish environment it can be avoided). The work environment also comes up here. Do you like to work with other librarians or would you rather be a one-person librarian? No one mentioned the potential advantages of working with a group of non-librarians. I always learned a great deal from the social workers, fundraisers, planners, marketers, tech wizards and other non-librarians I worked with – and in academic librarianship we get to work with many non-librarian colleagues in student services, residential life or administrative services.

What would I add? For me a pro of academic librarianship is tuition remission and access to further education. I would never have earned my doctorate had I stayed in the corporate world. Not only did I have access to a program right on my own campus, but the bulk of the tuition was covered. Corporate librarians could counter that by suggesting one doesn’t necessarily need advanced degrees in their world (although a business librarian in the corporate sector can certainly appreciate having an MBA). And let’s not forget tuition benefits for children and other family members. With the cost of college today, tuition support for family members is a fantastic benefit, and almost worth putting up with any “con” of academic librarianship. I am aware that many corporations do offer tuition reimbursement to their employees, but I suspect the number that help pay for dependents’ education is quite small.

Although this conversation focused primarily on going from academia to the corporate world, I’d suggest that academic librarians seeking to transition out of higher education think of it as academic versus special. Most of the “pros” for corporate librarianship apply to nonprofit sector special library positions. This is a good option for those who might want a one-person library position that doesn’t require going corporate – or the need for business librarianship skills. Of course, I hope academic librarians will always seek to stay committed to a career in higher education, but personal goals change and sometimes life’s circumstances require us to shift career paths when we least expect it.

So what pro or con would you add to these lists? And just for the record – I have never worn jeans to work.

4 thoughts on “Are You Thinking About Going Corporate”

  1. I love this topic! At both the newspaper and the public utility where I was before my current academic position, I worked in a library with 2-4 other library staff.

    Pros Special: Resources and techniques can’t just sound like a good idea – they need to deliver. By doing the research myself, I gained a deep knowledge of my sources and expertise in using them. I also have an appreciation for freshmen confronted with researching a brand new (to them) topic with a deadline looming – that was my life. I loved being part of the concrete task of putting out a daily paper. I learned new things every day.

    Pros Academic: I guess it boils down to more time/support to discuss, research, collaborate, teach, and write about topics in a deeper way than the corporate world allows. Student learning is a lot fuzzier of a goal than a news story or an annual report, but potentially more satisfying. There is a bigger picture focus in academia that I appreciate. I learn new things every day.

  2. The special library model is what to aim for. It is logistically impossible when hundreds of students are looking for similar information. But it is very possible with faculty queries and those from graduate students and more advanced undergraduates. In this mode, the inquirer tells what is wanted and the librarian retrieves useful items, points the asker to websites, etc., better and faster than the asker could have for him/herself. If the questioner does not learn library skills, so what. The asker has learned that librarians can provide real and helpful resources/services and will carry that idea into their work and family life.

  3. This is an important topic because it might help some people make some wise career choices. I’ve worked on both sides and I’d like to add some pros & cons:

    CONS: Corporate Librarianship:

    I don’t really have an additional con to add, but I would like to stress the author is extremely accurate in that corporate librarians often work alone & face the challenge of justifying their existence when profit margins and stock prices are low.

    PROS: Corporate librarianship:

    The pay is often a lot better and the potential to receive annual raises for positive performance is much higher. The healthcare benefits are often better too.

    CONS: Academic Librarianship:

    As mentioned earlier, the pay is low, but this needs to be emphasized. The pay is a lot lower. If you are providing for a family, the pay will never be enough. Once you hire in, the pay does not increase quickly for most librarians. There are raises to be received with tenure levels, but they are not so impressive on a monthly pay check after taxes. Tuition reimbursement is a wonderful thing, but the monthly pay is extremely low.

    Academic Librarians are usually second class citizens within academia. A part of the second class citizenship is the pay. The salary gap between professors and librarians can be extremely high. This is an emotional topic and many people will be quick to point out examples of low paid professors. Nothing changes the fact that a wide gap exists, and you will have to live the reality everyday on campus. There is also no monetary advantage to subject specialization. A new assistant professor within a marketing program of a business school may earn six figures as a starting salary. A business librarian, on the other hand, will probably not earn more than any other type of subject librarian. And, no matter what the business librarian’s starting salary might be, it won’t be anywhere close to six figures.

    Most academic librarians also lack the lifestyle advantage professors receive via an 8 or 10 month contract even when summer student attendance is low. This is also an emotional issue, but it all comes down to librarians having a second tier status.

    Library Science research is usually not valued as highly as other types of academic research. I think a part of the reason for this lack of high regard is that library science is often belittled as a mediocre social science discipline. The most significant reason, however, is that library science research rarely generates large grants for the college or university.

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