June 2004

Michael Farrelly

library rakehell

They lied to us in library school.

They lied to us in library school.

While pursuing my Masters in Library Science I was told that there was a glut of information professional jobs out there just waiting to be snatched up.

After graduating with 2 degrees in Islamic history, I was very pleased to be going into a profession that seemed like ripe fruit for a book-savvy guy like me. I was even more pleased when I landed a librarian job less than a month out of school. Of course, that job was downsized and a departmental “restructuring” left me odd man out at the end of my contract only a year later.

Even with two master’s degrees, some library experience and impeccable references I cannot get a call back. Well, that is not entirely accurate. I did get one interview thus far and sat there smiling and being the ideal interviewee while I was told I was “overqualified” and my reasoning for taking a “reference assistant” position questioned. The answer to that question by the way is money, money, and money.

I have searched lisjobs.com so many times that I have screen burn from the site. I have tried using and abusing friends and family and contacts who are friends of the family and people who pass by on the street carrying library books weeping to them “Please… I’m hungry and can catalogue, for the love of god take me to your reader’s services, put a ring on my finger and sandals on my feet!” The prodigal librarian is ready to crawl for forgiveness of his sins. The sin of being over-educated, young, and not as experienced and in some cases I think, being a male.

I am a male, in case you think that Michael some parent’s cruel prank on their infant daughter, and females dominate the librarian profession. This actually suits me just fine (head out of the gutter, people) because while I am too fat to be a metrosexual I’m not a NASCAR dad either. I have tended to work with kids and young adults, through no clear strategy really just the twistings of fate and employment, which raises eyebrows for some. “Why do YOU want to work with kids?” The suspicion some people put in that sentence is palpable. Men who work with kids are suspect and if you want to work with teenagers you might as well just register with the cops right now.

Then there is the whole youth thing. I am twenty-five, which the teenagers I work with all seem to think is steps from the crypt but the librarian profession views as neo-natal. I’ve been talked down to, talked at, consoled and berated as if I were a child. Since, to them, I am. I’m always respectful of my elders, but if were talking about respect in broad terms what about respect being a two-way street? I’ll do one better and say, how about allowing me to earn your respect?

Another real problem is that library jobs are often being cut in half -- two part time jobs without benefits replacing one full-time person -- to save money. Librarian jobs aren’t high-paying gigs to start with (how many positions do you know of that require a master’s degree by pay around $30k a year?) but when you bisect the positions it’s even worse.

The business of libraries is vital to the whole of democracy. What other institution is there simply to answer your questions and help you? Schools are their own strange paradigm, but a library is the arbiter, the measure, of a civilization. What a noble calling to serve in such a place! Perhaps that, more than my silly meanderings is why it’s so hard to get a foot in the door at these places. Libraries are our link to the past and our hopes for the future housed in a single space. No wonder you have to sell yourself harder than Amway to be a librarian.

Therefore, I’ll sell myself. I come from blue-collar stock, have no fear I’m not a Bill O’Reilly feigning the dirt under my nails to gain the populist vote, and my work ethic is strong. I’ll put in long hours, work tirelessly on projects until they are perfect. I’m communicative, in writing and verbally, and easy-going. I have no weird personality flaws that would make me the alien invader of a library and while I love a good argument, I believe in harmony above all things. I love serving patrons, answering their questions, sussing out the minutest of reference details is a joy. There’s nothing as satisfying as putting the best possible materials into someone’s hands.