Librarianship: The Low Stress Job?

Would you agree with a recent post from Jennifer Hill over at the “Stress Relief Handbook” that librarians work in the 2nd lest stressful job out there in the workplace? Check out this link: http://thestressreliefhandbook.com/2010/01/low-stress-jobs-librarian/. From what I can tell, Jennifer isn’t a librarian or employed by one. She has, however, described her joy at visiting libraries while growing up. She writes: “I still understand the appeal of spending my days in the warmth of a library, surrounded by books and people who like to read them”. She had even considered a job as a librarian and did some research into it as she explains:

There’s something really appealing to me about spending the day buried among books, or collating and organizing documents and information. It sounds almost therapeutic. From research I’ve done in the past (yes, I actually looked into becoming a librarian myself -it’s the English major genes at work!), it is the kind of job where you mostly work at your own pace and don’t have people breathing down your neck. Definitely up there on low stress careers’ lists

Being a librarian in an academic library, I couldn’t resist responding to this blog. As one colleague put it, Jennifer is mistaking Disneyland for Harvard while another thanked me for a good laugh. Let’s take a look at Jennifer’s points. Many are innocent and right on the mark. Others simply ignore the complexities of library jobs.

The Basics:

Apparently the first place to look if you’re interested in becoming a librarian is ALA whose website is “comprehensive” and has a great deal of information. I certainly agree that there is a lot of information about libraries on ALA’s website, much of it very useful. Of course, you might try talking to your local librarians, checking out library and/or information science programs, and various online sources like blogs, listservs or anything librarian (there are quite a few out there). Jennifer is quite correct in that there are different types of librarians and jobs to do in libraries. If you can, try working or volunteering at a library. It’s quite different working for one than just being a patron. This first hand experience will definitely give you an idea of what it’s like to work in a library.

The Academic Library:

Ah … the academic library where we all wear tweed coats and corduroys and thank our lucky stars that we have such a low stress job working at the reference desk. Perhaps your library might have still have a reference desk. Many academic libraries have either renamed and “retooled” their reference desks and departments or just plain gotten rid of them all together. Several articles and blogs have discussed the “reference is dead” issue. It is clear that “reference” is now on the out and embedded librarian in. Cataloging? I thought that was a dirty word in academic libraries since we all aspire to be metadata librarians. Perhaps at one time, working at academic libraries might have been a low stress job. But let’s face it – budget cuts, early retirements, forced retirements, hiring deep freezes and the search to offer more snazzier services make life more than interesting. Typically, your academic librarian does a couple of jobs making for a packed day.

The Public Library:

Ahh, the fond memories of my public library where the homeless hang out and I’m 58th on the list of holds for that new book that just came in. Public libraries, like academic libraries, are feeling the pinch. Many have closed their doors. Many have had to fight the public to keep certain books on the shelves or fight against their own towns for resources. It’s a difficult task to make sure people know that public libraries are more than just a place to get books. And yet, many associate libraries as a storehouse just for books. The thing is that many public libraries do so much more. They offer services, events, access to computers and the internet, databases, magazines, and so much more.

School Libraries or Media Centers:

A dying bread of librarian? Recently there was a school that got rid of all of their books in favor of computers for their library. So much for the “I love books and I’m a librarian” theory.

Specialist Libraries:

It is true that there are a lot of opportunities out there for librarians depending on your skills.

Necessary Qualifications:

Ah the master’s degree. The Masters in Information Science or Library and Information Science has been around for some time. If you would like to become a librarian, technology is a must these days. The more computer skills you have, the better off you’ll be. If you’d like to be able to have a job at the end, I would even suggest taking classes in computer science, web design, databases, and languages. Above all, the degree is what you make of it. I would suggest trying your hand in a paraprofessional position first and then seeing if this is the career for you. Typically libraries hire those without the professional degree and some of these positions are quite rewarding. You can always get your degree later – there are even some institutions that will help pay for it.

Cost:

Let’s face it. This degree is expensive for what it’s worth. You will learn more in the field than in any class. And Jennifer is correct in that librarians don’t make a lot of money.

Prospects:

I’ve heard for years and my older colleagues for about 20 years that there will significant job openings in the next 5-10 years. Well when you consider budget cuts, hiring freezes, retirements, and the like, many of those positions are not being continued. Libraries tend to be understaffed these days. Much of what we do in academic libraries is thanks to work studies. For public libraries, this might be volunteers. In addition to reduced staff, the job market is extremely competitive. Having just your library degree might be enough for a very general job in a public library where perhaps you know a couple of people in a town in which you have lived. But academic libraries and many special corporate libraries require more experience and sometimes a second degree. Even some public libraries require more experience or advanced degrees. Many of the subject specialists at Boston Public Library don’t have degrees in library and/or information science but are experts in their field. In order to be an administrator, it is recommended to have an advanced degree of some kind. The point is that just like with any other job you have to make sure you stand out from the crowd in some way.

Certainly, being a librarian is not a life or death type of job. We tend to work in offices and cubicles in front of a computer screen most of the time. That doesn’t mean it’s not rewarded or that this is a low stress job.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Librarianship: The Low Stress Job?

  1. Professional and non professional all staff know, Libraries are not like they used to be. People are not either. Today people are stressed before they even come to a library and so are the children. Thank goodness for the kind and patient because we couldn’t otherwise do our jobs. Many leave just because internet is not available right now, their poor children never even get a say. We are still daycares and refuge for the needy, all who get equal time attention and computer use. We love our jobs and are gratified by their accomplishment through our efforts. We stand stressed and ready for another battle til the end.

  2. Tim Dodge

    I’ve been a professional academic librarian for 31 years and one thing I can say for sure: this is NOT a low-stress occupation! Between dealing with ceaseless change largely brought about by the unending computer revolution, inadequate budgets which mean doing more work with fewer resources (human and otherwise), and a constant stream of service-related projects, and publishing not perishing (many academic librarians such as myself are faculty members, hence the need to publish and present), I sometimes feel a bit frantic. Paradoxically, I also feel this has been a tremendously rewarding career. I am never, ever bored, I find that many of my professsional projects including publishing to be mentally stimulating, I have great colleagues, and I feel personally rewarded by the knowledge that I have both directly (at the reference desk, at bibliographic instructions) helped thousands of library patrons and indirectly (via publications, via collection building, via service at professional associations as well as on university committees).
    Low stress? No way! Fulfilling and rewarding as a career? Yes!

    • Jen

      I agree. This is definitely not a low stress job but absolutely rewarding. What I find difficult is that there is still this lingering image that librarians sit, read, and word with books all day. There are so many skills and opportunities needed to be a librarian. I think this is why the job of a librarian can be stressful but also rewarding. Thanks for your comments Tim.

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