So, You Want to Become a Librarian/Archivist: 2012 edition

Dear Internet,

In 2008 or so, I started writing columns on “So, You Want to Become a Librarian/Archivist”, which ended up becoming pretty popular. With as many domain shuffles I’ve had in the last four years, the content is archived but has not been put back on this current domain as of yet.

A few days ago, my friend Kate said, “Hey! There is a thread on Ravelry about wanting to become a librarian. I think you should chime in.” And I agreed. Below is my original post with some slight editing. Once I stop getting lazy, I’ll put up the older posts, but the below pretty much is succintly how I feel today.

Please, please, please use this to pass around to anyone who is thinking of becoming a librarian, please add in your own comments about your experiences with library school, education, job hunt, anything. I don’t know where the misconceptions are coming from, but if watching #libchat is any indication, a lot of n00bs out there still can’t shake the myths. I no longer care WHY the myths exist, I just want to break them.

—-

First, if you can’t find what you’re looking for via Google or any search engines, then you’re going to be a terrible librarian. Here is my point: I searched for “online library science programs accredited” in Google and the VERY FIRST item is a link to ALA (American Library Association – our professions largest professional organization) listing of accredited schools, which includes online programs. I know of four you can do entirely online:

There is probably others that do entirely online degrees, but those are the big ones. The number of library schools in the US is tiny (like 50?), so it averages one per state. Most, if not all schools, offer a blended degree of online/in classroom.

There ARE schools that offer library science or library tech degrees in bachelors or as certification programs. These are not the same thing as getting a MLIS. I want to make this clear because this is commonly misunderstood.

So WHY do you want to be a librarian? You only say, I think I would be good at this. But you don’t really clarify WHY you think you would be good at this. Here is a major site aggregator for library jobs that is compiled by ALA. Even if you see the same job title twice, you will hardly see the same job responsibilities, duties, or description. If you think the job is going to be standing around all day handling and reading books: Let me burst that bubble for you right quick. I barely have time to keep up with my professional reading, let alone personal reading. I was more cultured in topics and titles when I slung books at a bookstore then working in a library system.

At this point, you’re probably wondering: Who the hell is this person?

  • I’m a systems and web librarian at a community college
  • I have a GED, BA, MA, and now my MLIS
  • I graduated from Wayne State in 2010 with my MLIS and archival certification
  • I’m not going to be overly humble here: I was the golden child of my class. I worked through school at the campus library as a reference librarian, I was on many professional committees on and off campus, I started a new organization ON campus, I was active within the community, and I had a 3.85 GPA. It took a year and 114 job applications before I landed a job. I applied for EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE.

(Also, I would highly advise you NOT to go to Wayne for your online program. This is the worst run school ever, the director is douchebag delight who is out of touch with the needs of the students — we tried to get him removed as head when I was there.  His main residence is in the southern states. Yes, he’s a director of a program in MI, but lives in the south. The programs are poorly coordinated and run. Stay the fuck away from Wayne.)

Let’s move on to your education: A lot of people say that having a degree in history, or English, or similar is extremely helpful in having a MLIS. This is true and this is bullshit. It’s bullshit because EVERYTHING you do outside of library school will be extremely beneficial to your career path. Those customer service skills you learned in retail? You will be a prince(ss) among the people for deft handling of difficult patrons. You’re interest in comics and gaming? You will soon be scheduling programming and events for teens and adults when new releases come out. Worked in housekeeping or similar detail while going to school? You will be the MASTER of unclogging toilets. There will not be one skill you have not acquired in your personal or previous professional life that you will not call upon at some point in your library career.

Also, having a degree in the humanities such as English or History does not give you a leg up in getting a MLIS or working in a library. It is relevant if you want to specialize but if you are going to work somewhere and a specialization is not required, your degree in underwater basket weaving is just as useful as the one in physics. I am also going to strongly suggest you get, if you do not already have, heavy tech skills. I worked in the IT industry for nearly a decade before going back to finish my undergrad and then on my two masters degrees and having my background in IT  has been a boon to my job search and interviews

Next is job descriptions. My title is “systems and web librarian.” What does this mean? At my institution, it means that I am responsible for:

  • Maintaining our online catalog system (OPAC) in all capacities
  • I manage, update, create content for our library’s website and all social media accounts
  • I am a liaison to six departments on campus so I keep up to trends and info on all those fields
  • I do collection development for my departments
  • I teach information literacy classes 85 hours a semester
  • I am on the reference desk 10-15 hours a week
  • I am on numerous committees on campus
  • I participate heavily with the state wide library organization
  • I am the liaison to the institutions IT department and I work with them on many tech projects

Now I have a colleague who works at a local college here who does nothing but web development for the library. It was required he had his MLIS. Not that he does 1/6th of what I do, but that his job is 1/6 of what I do. Some librarians on this list may recognize that what I’ve listed is similar to their own lists of what is expected of them.

So the job market. Yes, it’s brutal. But so is it everywhere, it is NOT just in library world. I’ll reference my point above of 114 job applications and year before I landed my gig, but I want to stress I did NOT apply for positions only at libraries, I applied for any and all positions that I was qualified for in librarianship or as an archivist regardless of the sector. Just because you have an MLIS and/or you’re a certified archivist doesn’t mean you have to work at a library or at an archives. This seems to be a popular misconception that all n00b librarians/archivist seem to think is true. For example, Blizzard Entertainment is looking for an Associate Librarian & Archivist. I have many friends who have never set foot, professionally, in what is considered to be traditional librarian/archivist jobs. Other options are: Knowledge management, information architecture, UX designer, content producer, and about two dozen other fields you can go in with a MLIS.

So let’s talk cash. Yes, librarians are underpaid, I will not disagree with this. But the amount of cash you make is solely relevant to the type of job and where you live. I have friends in Chicago who work in public libraries who think $45K starting out is terrible, WHEREAS in Michigan (anywhere in the state really), that’s hooker and blow money right thar. I’ve applied for jobs, many with the same titles/qualifications/etc that ranged as divergent as $30-100K. It’s crazy with the lack of consistency, but I get super frustrated when people do not take cost of living and high cost areas into faction here. Another friend of mine, who is looking to move into becoming a director at a small college, found a gig in Maine that paid $32K. For a director’s job.

If you think librarianship is where the big rollers are, you are sorely mistaken. You can wage your MLIS into a field that pays you big money, but as a whole, librarians do NOT work for the benefits of fame and fortune.

We’ve talked school choice, getting an education, kind of jobs you can get, and your potential big bank.
Let’s talk about paying for this education.

I had $100K in student loan debt when I came out of my MLIS. (Had because it’s now down to $69K.) That money funded most of my BA and both of my masters. Knowing me, I knew that I needed to not work 40 hours a week while going to school because it would not work for me. I had tried that before many times and always ended up dropping out of classes (this is part of the reason it took me so long before heading back to finish my undergrad. I have transcripts in at least 6 colleges before I sucked it up and knew I had to put school as a priority). I knew that coming out of this, I was going to be heavily in debt and I was totally okay with that. Could I have made better choices with the funds? Sure. I could have done a lot more to save/grants/scholarships. But I do not regret getting my degrees. Not all people are like me. I have a friend who is doing her MLIS degree two classes at a time. I have another friend who did the program in 18 months (traditionally, it takes 2 years). Some are paying for it by themselves and others are getting loans. You need to do what’s best FOR YOU. Everyone’s experiences and expectations are different. There are a lot of options to finance/save/pay for classes. Research them. I was also lucky to land a job that pays me enough for hookers and blow, so I’m fast tracking my student loan payments and the entire debt will be paid off in 10 years.

Lastly, let’s talk about job titles. The field of thought is to be called a librarian is to have a MLIS. But, a lot of rural/small libraries are getting away with volunteers and/or long term employees who call themselves “librarians” (withOUT a MLIS) because they worked at that particular location for 900 years so they are the best choice. I do get that train of thought, I do. But it’s like calling ones self a doctor after reading WebMD. There is a lot more to the word “librarian” then just working in a library and I wish more people would see that.

Which brings me up to my last point: If you decide to go this route and you want to do this for a living, be prepared to defend what you do ALL THE TIME. Example: When I saw my orthopedic surgeon for the first time earlier this year, and he asked me what I did and I told him I was a librarian, he said, “I thought libraries are dead? Everything is on Google.” Uh, what? My retort was, “Do you stop using stairs because elevators come into existence? Do you no longer have an accountant because TurboTax exists?” He got my point real quick. People are often careless and dumb, but when it comes to the life of libraries, they are downright stupid.

This has been a production of “Lisa’s Quick Guide to Becoming a Librarian” in 10 easy steps. No warranties implied or assumed. Money back not guaranteed. Act now as this is a limited time offer.

So, why do you want to be a librarian again?

-Lisa

P.S. Every other Wednesday or so, there is a great chat on Twitter called #libchat, that starts at 8PM Eastern. You may want to check that out and consequently, you can find me on Twitter as @pnkrcklibrarian if you have any questions. Lastly, you can also email me if you have questions about Wayne, library school, or why the sky is blue!

P.P. S. Another niblet about Wayne:  I landed a job on campus as a reference librarian in one of their libraries in my second semester, which I worked at until I graduated 18 months later. As I was doing a dual degree of sorts (librarian AND archivist), I also won a scholarship that same semester. My final semester, I had a bill for the same amount of the scholarship. When I contacted the school’s office, I found out they revoked my scholarship 18 months later, because they felt it was “unfair” as I had the job on campus. The job paid me, but did not give me any tuition breaks. If my partner (now husband) at the time did not have a good job, I’d be up shit’s creek without a damn paddle.

To: Make: Knitting – iTardis, an iPod cozy (v1.0)

iPod, iTardis, iPhone
iPod, iTardis, iPhone

Roughly about 18 months ago, Lindsay sent me a link to an Etsy page of a seller showcasing their knitted Tardis iPod/iPhone cozy. Lindsay, in her infinite cuteness, said, ” Make me this!”

The design and concept of the Etsy version was pretty poor: The person essentially knitted (with acrylic yarn no less) a tube, unseamed, and then cross-stitched Xs in for the white/shadow on the doors. I was more appalled that the seller wanted $20 for the thing, even though essentially it was wrist cuff, just slightly longer. I knew I could do a lot better version that would also be much cheaper.

When Lindsay came to visit a few weeks later, I had constructed the pattern (more or less) and all we just needed to get needles and yarn. I also guessed, based upon my knitting speed, it shouldn\’t take more than a few hours to turn out. Since Lindsay was going to be in town for a few days, I figured we could leisurely get this going and have it done at a later time.

Little did I know that it would be fits/starts spanning 18 fucking months, not a few hours as intended. The design, implementation,needles, yarn weight and colors: Everything was frogged and ignored by me for months only to beredone and then frogged again!

With all that being said, here is the iTardis (FINALLY), HUGE thanks to Krazy Kate, this really only took me a few hours from start to finish as I had predicted all those months ago. Krazy Kate showed me the path of how to streamline and design the cozy, and yet there are improvements to the design and construction to already be made and thus, this is a prototype. Lindsay was so excited about this being finished before she left today, that she left with the prototype on her iPod. This version fits my iPhone (seen above) better than the classic iPod above (it’s slightly longer).

If someone can give me measurements to their iPad, I would adore that as I want to knit up a prototype for it.

Whomever helps me out with the iPad version, will get the prototype for free when I’m done (shipping will also be on me).

Leave contact information via comments or the usual locations.

Pattern for all versions, with tweaks, coming soon-ish. Image above, however, will take you to the Flickr set showing the entire thing in-progress.

Everything you wanted to know about lisa marie rabey, but were afraid to ask.

I’ve talked, almost incessantly, over the years how keeping an online journal has influenced my life professionally and personally. 1 And yet despite the fact at how times (and technologies) have changed in the last decade, I still get amazed when my own interests often parlay into new opportunities for myself.

For example, recently I’ve become the go-to girl for WordPress based stuff. Several librarians at the academic library I work at have started using WP for professional and personal blogs, and I just happened to have been around when one of them whipped open the WP dashboard to their site. I said something like, “Oh, hey, you’re using WP!” and conversation stemmed from there of me giving tech-tips and know-how on how to use WP, how to integrate widgets and all that brouhaha.

Several weeks later in my digital imaging class, the museum my class will be working with wants to use WP for digital curation of our project — the catch is, the museum is just getting their feet wet on how to use WP and guess who is the only person who knows how to use WP in this scenario? You’ve guessed it — me!2 Because my WP dashboard is loaded to the gills with tweaks, gadgets and widgets, I showed them lib schooled. (and obvs. the dashboard) to explain some of the more robust features of WP and walk them through how things are done and what they can do with WP.

There are, almost literally, no limitations for what WP is capable of and I sing its praises loudly. But the one thing I thought was interesting about myself while I was showing colleagues and supervisors on the functionality of WP via my own site, is that it it dawned on me that I was ushering them into a vaguely private world where even a Google search for me will not bring up this site. I never meant to be completely anonymous with lib schooled. or even private, the content here was to be about my foray into obtaining my MLIS degree and boy howdy, some of the drafts in progress (like “Men I’ll never, ever date.”) having NOTHING to do with librarianship in the slightest.

Did I really feel comfortable showing this this data? Did they need to know that I have/had people calling me “god” for a variety of reasons for some time? That I have a fondness for Guinness, James Bond and Jane Austen? That I like to say “fuck” a lot? Is that information relevant?

On one hand, my line of thinking is clearly ridiculous. Since that ill fated day in 1995 when I discovered “the internet,” I’ve been obnoxiously postulating myself online in a variety of ways ranging from writing about my sex life, detailing very private information about myself to posting images of my tattoos and piercings3. I have left a virtual breadcrumb trail4 of who or what I am all over the internet — it’s almost like you can’t trip without finding me attached to something, somewhere.

So why was I suddenly being Ms. Coy, 2009 about showcasing my blog, let alone a blog about library school? I’d like to blame Google, but that’s the easy way out. I’d like to think that as I’ve gotten older that I’ve become slightly more sophisticated and mature about my online dealings. As I near the end of this long, hard journey of schooling (I’ve been in classes since January of 2003, have completed two degrees and am working on my third), I know that my online presence is going is going to be more scrutinized now more than ever by future employers.

In the the book Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences, Bowker and Star discuss using (at the time of their writing) AltaVista for researching candidates from their application pool and questioning themselves about the moral and ethical ramifications of their actions. They deemed it like snooping in the host’s medicine cabinet while at a party — you shouldn’t do it, but yet you do it anyway because the curiosity is killing you and now you have information about your host (they, perhaps, like to use KY personal warming lubricant and Preparation H (but not at the same time)) that makes the urge to snoop almost impossible to resist.

So even, ethically and morally, having your future employer search for you online– this is not to say it hasn’t nor will it be done, you can almost guarantee yourself that somewhere, out there, grunts are doing research on your application while you wait for that call back for the desperately wanted interview.

The world has become so tech savvy that we are almost heading back to the era of chisels and stones. Bowker and Star are not the first ones to discuss snooping online nor the ramifications of your employer finding out about your online activities and squashing them, ala dooce who got canned from her job in 2002.

In the late ’90s, the idea of an employer Googling (before Googling was even a household name let alone a verb) was not necessarily an uncommon thing, as written by demonika in the ‘zine F.U.C.K.Her entry is poignant — and speaks volumes. And it’s now been a decade, when are we going to realize that flashing our boobs on a camera phone is not necessarily a good thing?

Google searches for me bring up varied results depending if you use my middle initial or not. But what is telling is that you get scads of information that is slightly different enough and old enough that may not be applicable to whatever it is you are looking for about me. If you search for academichussy, you get a bit more about me way more current and even more so if you do a search for pnkrcklibrarian, which has become my new nom de plume to reflect my new obsession, you find almost up to the minute stuff. There are still people who search for me as modgirl AND lisa because they remember that at one time I owned the domain modgirl.net (which I still do indeed own and use). So what does this mean? What you find about me varies depending on what you currently know of me, how you search for it and figure out if it is relevant regardless of how dated it is.

You also have to take into consideration that you’re only getting a small percentage of the picture of who I am, what interests me in 1995 and 1996 (J.D. Salinger, IRC, R.E.M.) is different from 2002 (Aphex Twin, Tivo, Laurell K. Hamilton) which is completely different than 2009 (Elbow, Wii, Kate Atkinson). The bottom line? Employers who use data derived from interent searching are screwing with the possiblity that what they see is not necessarily all that what they get. It’s almost impossible to not be integrated somehow online without showcasing personality aspects of yourself that may not be deemed professional or appropriate. There are people, like my boyfriend, who reject social networking and web 2.0 like there is no tomorrow. Overall, I think making an employment decision based on what one finds on the internet is morally and ethically wrong — and also i think that making a personality call on someone based on what you find out on the internet is also morally wrong.

In short:

  1. This is going to be more than likely bite me in the ass.
  2. I am a hypocrite.
  3. I don’t give a fuck.


1.If you’re interested in how my journaling has changed over the years, the Wayback machine has archives for simunye.org [From 1998 – 2000] and modgirl.net [From 2000 – 2005]. The entire archive should be up soon (I’ve been saying that for years) at modgirl.net. WP now has the functionality to import my LiveJournal [From 2002 – present-ish.]entries into WP, which I’d love to do on modgirl.net instead of freakin’ doing everything by hand.
2. I’m now working on a special project for this class on how to incorporate WP and other open source software into a workable, searchable archives; with the catch being geared towards small museums/libraries (primarily, where the archival/tech staff consists of 1-2 people).
3. Which seems innocent enough until you learn that some of those images are not exactly work-safe. Employers tend to frown when you’re perusing pictures of pierced nipples.
4. Amazon.com WishList | de.licio.us: modgirl | Facebook | flickr: modgirl | Goodreads | last.fm: modgirl | LibraryThing: academichussy | LiveJournal: academichussy | MySpace: modgeekgirl | Pandora: academichussy | ravelry: academichussy | /.: simunye | Twitter: pnkrcklibrarian | WiiNumber: 6103 8766 7240 5040
5. I also wrote for F.U.C.K. during the late ’90s and you can find my articles there as simunye or at modgirl.net.