Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The sky is falling

Alright, after last week's post about keeping things brief, I'm going to eat my words and go off on a bit of a rant.

Sometimes I wonder if librarians are their own worst enemy. There, I said it.

The above image - from PostSecret, a collaborative art project where total strangers mail in post cards with their secrets on them - illustrates beautifully where I am coming from.

We get it - the economy sucks and the sucky economy is screwing over libraries left and right. We've talked about this for ages now. Can we please move on?

It's really frustrating as a library student to be hearing the same thing over and over again: libraries aren't hiring, librarians aren't retiring, budgets are getting cut, folks are getting laid off, branches are closing, rah rah rah rah rah....

It seems like most librarians, library workers and fellow students I come across - both in person and (mostly) online - are broken records, stuck in the "woe is us" mentality.

I - the naive library student - say enough is enough! We've gone through the cathartic bellyaching phase and now is the roll-up-our-sleeves and work harder phase. It doesn't sound like fun, but I think it's what we've got to do.

Personally, I am a little nervous about what my job prospects will be like when I graduate in a year, but I've been hustling, and I'm willing to hustle a little more when school is over. I'll do what it takes to get a personally satisfying job. I'm well aware that I am going to leave Portland - an amazing city that has been my home for four years now. There is a strong reality that I'll have to live in a much less glamorous part of the county. Maybe even Kansas.

Except for who we vote for and what we choose to do with our money, we have very little control over the state of the economy. So let's try and focus on what we do have control over: ourselves. What can we do to stop library closings? Advocate, advocate, advocate. One of the things that most attracted me to the idea of becoming a librarian/information professional was the activism that seemed to go hand in hand with the position. Librarians fight for the right of the patron, for the privacy of the patron, for the access of the patron. Well - now is the time to fight for ourselves!

Here is a great link to, with a list of single-link library advocacy sites.

And here is link to contact your elected representatives to ensure that libraries get in on the Jobs for Main Street Act.

What else can we do? Accept change. I feel like a lot of the hand wringing that librarians are doing is not only over the state of the economy, but also the fact that libraries are quickly changing. Well - if we want to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our communities, we are going to have to change. The mission of a library - from my prospective - is to connect an individual with information. If the format of the information is changing, than the format of the library will change too.

I don't intend to sound insensitive to the very real fears people are experiencing out there - although I am sure that I am coming off that way. For those who have been laid off or lost jobs - I'm sorry. Bad things happen to really really good people. I wish you the best and hope you are quickly on your feet.

I know I am in a very lucky position - I'm a young student without a family, mortgage, car, pets. I'm highly mobile and I have grown up using the technology that libraries now employ. But these are my skills and attributes that I have to take advantage of. This is something that we all should do, especially in this day and age of volatility, look at what we bring to the table and how to use those skills to our advantage.

I write all of this after attending a quarterly staff meeting at the library where I work - and while it was pretty mundane, it was also pretty exciting as well. The library where I work - before I started working here nine months ago - has gone through a lot of the same troubles that most libraries have gonethrough. Between lay offs, retirements and hiring freezes the staff here is half to a third of what it was before this great recession.

Yet here we are today still working - albeit a bit harder. Not only are we surviving, but we are thriving. The amazing library staff is working on building the resources for a mobile library, we are opening up a 24 hour study space for the students, we are outreaching to the different academic departments and schools within the university and applying for competitive grants to secure our funding into the future. And with the wage/hire freeze lifted - there is hope for more job opportunities.

What I guess it all boils down to - for me (this is my blog so I'm allowed a bit of selfishness) - is that I am the future and this is my reality. In a way, I am glad to have entered library school in 2009 - it means that I am a blank slate. I don't know what it was like when budgets were flush and things were easier. I am cutting my teeth when the industry is facing some of it's worst challenges than ever before. And I'm going to be a better librarian for it.

Let me know what you think. Am I too harsh? Too idealistic? Too Unrealistic? I would love to read your thoughts...


  1. I really enjoyed your post and I don't think you are being too idealistic. It's important to stay positive and move the library services forward despite the bad economy. You are also entering the field at the lowest point so it only gets better from here right? :)

  2. Change isn't a four letter word. Sure, it's a bit sad that many libraries are evolving into places where books are far less prominent than in days of yore, but we are still able to help people. We need to stop collectively mourning the death of the (physical) book--they're not dead, they're just resting--and accept that libraries are there to serve the needs of the patrons. If the needs of the patrons happen to be oriented toward a practical desire for community space, job help and entertainment rather than toward some lofty amd theoretical desire for Proust, Homer and Heidegger, so be it. It isn't wrong or lesser or a perversion of what a library _should_ be. Libraries are for use, so let us make libraries as useful and indispensable as possible.

  3. I hear ya. I got sick of the whining and moaning five years ago when I was in school, too--and I found a job then and have had no problems staying unemployed. The unemployment stress is particularly pronounced here in Portland, though, so I suspect you're getting it from both sides--locally and from the profession. I suspect several of your classmates are realizing with horror that getting the degree in Portland doesn't mean getting a job in Portland.

    Having a good attitude can be a huge help. Good luck to you!

  4. @ Jeff - I think not only will it get better from here, but when I see the economy go through similar motions, which I am sure it will, I'll have had this experience and will *hopefully* know how to deal with it.

    @ Jazmin - Indeed! Libraries are for use! And we need to ensure that they are getting used. I'm glad there are like-minded individuals out there. Together, we'll set things right...

    @PDX - You're right about Portland. I've met folks who graduated from my same program 5+ years ago and they're still trying to find jobs as Librarians. At least they have jobs in libraries (as techs, assistants, and even some as pages....). Thanks for the good wishes!

  5. So Kansas is the state that is keeping libraries open? On a good note, 3 states away, I walked into a packed, small building last week and got my Denver Public Library card. This branch had also recently gone through a $400,000 renovation, shown by the photos on the wall. Every computer was in use, and so were all of the reading tables. My branch serves a predominantly Hispanic community, had a very large section of books in Spanish, and a pretty big set of general-use computers. I will hope that as long a libraries can serve their communities well, and ch-ch-change to do that, their communities will reward them with patronage.