“Psychology, Industrial”, or are failed academics tainting librarianship?

26 Aug

It’s Friday. I’m sitting in the Andrews Library at the College of Wooster, waiting for Steve to finish work at five and even though my weekend’s already begun, this post is on my mind–time to write. The novel I’m half way through will just have to wait a bit longer.

This week, I used a subject heading that, at first encounter, seemed odd and likely wrong. “Psychology, Industrial” doesn’t create any possibility of self-explanation as other sub. heads but before I deemed it ill used for the record, I went to the LC Authorities. Turns out, it is quite a catch-all that was perfect for the item, however, I doubt a patron (let alone this cataloger) would ever have searched for it. Here’s a screenshot of the narrower terms:

It is a useful sub. heading for this type of topic but again it’d really only be useful after the patron, or librarian, was already aware of its meaning and use. It’d be great help once you’d found it, though. I remember Prof. Edmund Kern at Lawrence University telling me, during a meeting about a paper for him, that the trick was finding the sub. headings that were about what you wanted and then searching them, sometimes turning up other related sub. headings to search as well.

As interesting as I find this subject heading, what does this have to do with anything other than my item and fond memories of my alma mater? Well, Annoyed Librarian’s recent post got me thinking and things just clicked this week. Why do people become librarians? While AL’s post is about the loss of tenure for academic librarian positions, there are a few paragraphs about failed academics becoming librarians:

“One thing I’ve noticed about people with PhDs is that they’ll put up with anything to stay in academia. They don’t listen to reason before getting their degrees, and by the time they’ve spent ten years at their underfunded university earning a degree they’re not suited for anything else.

But librarians? Most librarians theoretically have skills that are marketable outside of academia, and except for the ones that are failed academics who still don’t listen to reason and think they’ll get cushy jobs, those librarians aren’t necessarily wedded to academic librarianship. If they’re good enough to get jobs at all, they can probably gets jobs elsewhere.

I guess there are all the librarians who believe library schools and the ALA that there is a librarian shortage will still be desperate, like all the PhDs who mistakenly thought the world would owe them a job just because they wrote a dissertation on an extremely obscure topic.

Depending on how the profession goes, it might even be the same group of people, who go back to library school thinking, “no, this time, I really will get a job!” Because that’s exactly what librarianship needs, more people who failed at other things before “settling” for librarianship.”

I’ve left AL’s hyper links in but please visit the post, linked before the quote, for the whole piece, which is worth the read.

The idea of “failed academics” becoming librarians isn’t new and it was a topic talked about among students at library school, at least for me. Are failed academics tainting the field? Do they detract from those of us (i.e. me and my husband, Steve) who chose to become librarians as our first profession?

No to both questions. On the contrary, I believe people with other degrees who then become librarians offer much value to the profession.

For starters, they have specialized knowledge that can be helpful for researchers and students in certain topics. During my time as a student worker at the UMich Law Library, I wasn’t allowed to work reference because only Law students worked the desk, besides the Law librarians with JDs. Also, I’ve seen job descriptions in which, such as a Science librarian position, a PhD was required and an MSI/MLIS was optional. Sure, library service skills are easier to learn and people can be trained, where as specialized topical knowledge can make a difference in helping a patron find information or know where to start looking. This raises the question, are library degrees even needed? Having earned mine in April, I’m in the camp that deems they are, but could be a whole other post.

Also, some people are more passionate and find their niche in something only after they’ve tried another thing. There’s a plethora of reasons why we all do what we do, when we do it, and why. Who says those “failed academics” won’t make great librarians who can really help people well since they know their subject and sources throughly? Perhaps I’m being optimistic in my assessment but let’s take the best case possible. Why wouldn’t you want a people with Chemistry, Biology, and Astronomy degrees working the reference desk at a college or university? Having various degrees represented on library staff makes sense. It’s not always possible, but if it is and there are interested people for the jobs, why not?

MasterChef season 2 just finished–did you catch it? It’s still on Hulu, if not. The premise is home cooks from America (though the series is international, but the American one gets Ramsay!), without any formal training complete against each other. Suzy, a neural engineer, said she’s going to pursue becoming a chef and cooking from now on, finally having found her true passion in life. So why can’t libraryland just embrace paraprofessionals, first-career librarians, “failed academics” who became librarians, and all those in between that make up the library field that so desperately needs to ban together especially now when library funding and support keeps waning each year? We may provide free services and information but if we don’t speak up as a whole, things will just keep slipping. This isn’t to say that nothing is being done–there are certainly many libraries and communities fighting for maintaining and increasing funding and support–but there could be more comradery amongst the different types of librarians and libraries.

Lastly, AL ends by asking if we should dissuade people from becoming librarians, telling the readers to “think very carefully”. At the end of the day, I got a job and so did my husband. Many of our fellow library graduates are still looking, and interviewing for the lucky ones. The economy is tough right now, for everyone. If you want to go into librarianship, do it. Just do what makes you happy and earns you a living–that’s my philosophy. While Steve and I both landed jobs, we live three hours apart and commute on weekends to hangout, and Skype during the week. It’s not an ideal arrangement but we are both working at jobs we love, that make us happy, so for now the arrangement works.

It’s 5 pm, the library is closing, and in moments the lights will automatically go out here at the Andrew Library. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, it’s been on my mind throughout the week but now that it’s on the screen, it’s time to post and sign out, then enjoy my weekend with Steve in Wooster!

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Uncategorized


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