11 April 2012

Thoughts on the Working World, Education, and Librarianship

Once again it is not a completely decent hour for me to be writing. I blame evening classes (thank goodness I only have to endure 2.5 more weeks of these impertinent disruptions in my natural work and rest patterns) and my chronically restless mind. But I digress.

Although I have the good fortune of having some temporary work immediately following graduation, launching my post-student career and nurturing my future professional life have been heavily on my mind.  In light of the continually stagnant economy, the struggles of finding work and the value of education are being heavily discussed today. "Educational Return On Investment" seems to be a popular topic of discussion, flanked by contentious debates about student loan debt and encouraging purely utilitarian attitudes regarding educational choices. LIS degrees (Library and Information Science, for the non-librarian folks) tend to be brutally attacked in these discussions. A recent Forbes article listed an MLS as one of the worst educational investments one could make, mainly based on salary data. Despite the [wildly fallacious] rumors of an aging librarian workforce, librarians are now retiring late, and once they do, they are not being replaced (although this pattern cannot continue forever without the workforce entirely dying out). Many, like these sisters, ponder if a university education is really all it is chalked up to be for the price. In another realm of the debate on educational value is the ever popular undergraduate degree in business, which has come increasingly under attack for its apparent inability to produce professionals that can think critically and creatively. Alternatively, liberal arts degrees are being attacked (as they've been for a while) for their apparent inability to generate earning power and produce graduates who can make themselves truly useful. Bitterness abounds. More on the education debate later.
It isn't easy studying what matters.

In the midst of all this, here is a summary of my current thoughts on entering the library workforce and the requisite graduate degree, which I'll expand in upcoming posts:

1. The Corporate and Academic World Must Come Together-As a former skeptic of the business world, I worked in a corporate setting for the first time recently and learned immensely from the experience, especially in terms of communication and outreach. Especially after this experience, I am continually frustrated by how much the corporate and academic realms seem to enjoy pushing against each other. Librarians with mostly humanities backgrounds can benefit greatly from the business world, as Stephen Bell so aptly explains in a recent LJ column. Conversely, corporate culture could gain a lot if it stopped wasting so much energy on banal team-building activities and encouraged more authentic and un-bounded creativity. Not to mention most businesses and law firms employ their own fleets of librarians, archivists, and information analysts to manage their risks and assets. One activity I enjoyed in corporate was educating others about what I do for a living, and why it is important to their business and to contemporary culture. Museum exhibits need sponsorships, but executives also need us. I agree with the general sentiments of Peter Coclanis that corporate leadership needs deep thinkers, but we can't expect the corporate world to create 'CIAOs' and adopt academic culture. The burden of proof is still on us.

2. Work to live, don't live to work-When I consider my short life, it is difficult to recall a time when I wasn't working at all. In grade school, it was a paper route, then came the onslaught of high school extracurriculars, a part-time job at the grocery store, and then round-the-clock demands of full-time university study and activities. When I combine the hours I now work each week at both my jobs, my time in class, and time doing work for class, the total usually hoovers above what is conventionally labelled the "average work week," which I'm continually reminded is well over the dreamy 40 hour total that's often engrained in my wishful thinking. I almost cried with affirmation when I read this recent Salon article about re-adjusting our work week. Professional dedication and success don't necessitate a bulging time clock. All people--and their families--deserve better.

3. Librarians: Think Inspector Gadget, not the neighborhood cat lady-I, as many of my peers, often am met with remarks about how it must be so peaceful and relaxing to be a librarian. "It must be so nice to sit around and read all the time" they often say. Others are incredulous about my career choice, as if I have just signed up to become a member of an endangered species that is dying off with all the books (which aren't endangered at all). Most librarians spend the majority of their time with computers, not books. We help patrons with research, and develop book collections, but we also build digital collections, develop applications for data sharing, design websites, and mark-up documents to improve access. Librarians are not archaic and out of touch--on the contrary, they use social media more than almost any other professionals I know. The world changes quickly in this information age, and librarians are often at the leading edge of the waves of change.

4. MLS: The Expensive Necessity-Most practical and charitable mentors will advise students not to go to graduate school unless they obtain funding, either through fellowships, professional support, or departmental scholarships. I am astounded by the growing number of individuals who are rashly taking out student loans for their doctoral degrees--in humanities disciplines, no less (are you mad?). In the economic sense, an MLS is a necessary evil. It's almost impossible to win a professional library job without one (if one doesn't already have a Ph.D.). In my department, less than 10% of students receive funding of any kind, and only a small fraction of those receive full tuition remission. This is typical of MLS programs everywhere. If the world waited for library education to be better funded, it would have nearly no librarians. And the insatiable desire for tuition money does injury to the quality of librarians entering the workforce. LIS departments are generally caught in a catch-22: admit as many students as possible to ensure tuition money and departmental survival, or admit fewer students, making academic requirements more rigorous but sacrificing financial security.

Coming Soon: More on higher education, the spiritual side of the job search, and corporate culture.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful post. I hope that you continue to blog. I've enjoyed meeting you through it.