Dear Internet,

Monday, I discussed the ridiculousness of job titles and their descriptions.
Tuesday, I provided empirical proof of what job descriptions really mean, including examples and suggestions to make changes in this system.

Today I’m going to talk about “unicorn” and “blended” positions and how they are stifling the profession, not enhancing it.

Now I acknowledge I’m going to get some flack for this post — mainly because people will be clutching their pearls re: economy, location, cost of living, position within the library, and more. I get it. I do. Those are all valid concerns and statements.

But in the end, the argument remains the same: We’re expecting too much out of people and pay them too little for their expertise, knowledge, and education.

(I have a post brewing on the ridiculousness on interviews. Oh yes, yes I do.)

Unicorn jobs
When yesterday’s post was circulating the interwebs, numerous people commented it was an apt description of what a unicorn job looks like. I’m not one to disagree when people are commenting on my cleverness, but there is more to just the description alone that makes these positions “unicorn.”

Using my previous job as the example, I will dissect the job to discern how many positions one person was/are to preform.

  • Traditional library services – reference, collection development, etc
  • System administrator – ILS, unix/linux, Windows, and other back end
  • Database administrators – maintain the library’s various databases, including intranet
  • Web developer (all flavors) – Scripting, programming languages, web design, graphic design, etc
  • Social media / outreach / content creator / community manager – Maintain online presence, work with web developer on content creation, maintain analytics, SEO, UX/UI, etc
  • Accessibility manager –  Maintain accessibility standards not only in the physical space but also online space. They would work with the web developer and social media manager on content, library database accessibility standards, etc
  • Copyright manager – Work with staff (library / college) on all duties in accordance with copyright(ed) materials
  • Open source guru – Work with numerous previously related managers / professionals on curating, suggesting, maintaining open source software for the needs of the library
  • Project manager – Creates, maintains, and works with various aforementioned on coordinating workflows for projects

Nine separate jobs. NINE. All rolled up into a single position.

Yes. One position.

Not only am I to know how to manage library’s databases and backend servers I need to have an in-depth knowledge of UX/UI, copyright, accessibility, project management, and so on.

And you want to pay me HOW MUCH for that privilege?

Now another set of pearl clutching: “We cannot afford to hire more than X people.” “We don’t need a whole host of services such as mentioned, just a tiny bit.” And my favorite,

It’s always been this way.”

We used to use ice blocks for our fridges and sent conversations using telegraphs. No, it doesn’t have to be, “always been this way.”

You’re not a forward thinking library, you’re cheap, you’re expecting miracles to happen in too short amount of time span, and the big one: you’re devaluing your employees..

Basically you’re cheap. And not forward thinking.

There. I said it.

“Forward thinking” is one of the hot questions prospective employees ask you — what do you think is “forward thinking” for libraries? And the answer they want to hear is, “3D printers,” “makerspaces,” and “geospatial technology.” Because, you know, everyone does that.

I want to marry James McAvoy but there’s a snowball chance in hell that’ll happen.

(Hume was on point when he posited just because X happened over and over again, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get the same result with X in the future. Inductive reasoning. In Lisa parlance: Just because I haven’t been able to marry James McAvoy in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future though experience tells me it will.)

Blended positions
Blended positions are the new hotness in library land and are incredibly similar to unicorns. In my understanding, a blended position is where not only you have your job but you’ll have basic knowledge/experience/etc for someone else’s job thus if said someone else calls out sick, and they were the cataloger, you could pick up their slack.

You know, while still doing your job.

Now I’ve heard this described as more as “helping” people, because everyone has a little bit of knowledge of the other, but the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became it’s another shot at keeping the budget in line.

Library administrators want people to have specialized skills while also being generalists.

Huh?

That is what it boils down to. They want someone who has a second master’s in X while having their MLIS, while also having specialized skills in another field, keeping up with all of that while adding new skills to their  resume.

Are you tired yet? I am. I can barely keep up with my areas of interest let alone pick up yet more interests.

Can you?

Again, I get it. Not everyone is an ivy league or a wealthy community who can command separate people for each of the above listed positions. That’s not unreasonable. But many of those positions don’t require MLIS degrees and nor should you require the candidates to have them. You’re watering down the profession requiring everyone to be everything.

And you know the hilarious bit?

Many of my friends, who have MLIS’ and were doing any one of the above, ended up moving out of library land and into a position that specialized in one specific thing (server admin, database admin, etc). And you know what else?

They got paid a whole effing more than what they were commanding at their previous library.

Sometimes as much as 50% more.

So here is a library begging for everyone to be specialized and generalized, who pay squat, and seem perturbed when their unicorns / blended people scamper off to other positions.

To put it mildly: We’re effing ourselves over.

I’m typically considered to be a unicorn as I have a long history of working in tech, I have two masters’ degrees, I’m trained as an archivist, and my professional interests are in a whole ‘nother area. (You may not agree to this, but you know, your opinion and all that rot.) And I’ve mentioned before, prospective employees love the resume, letters of interest, my portfolio, and everything I stand for, but not me due to the case.

Always second runner up, I am.

I don’t mind being all of those things. Previous skills learned in previous jobs means I’m a lot more able, and flexible, to pick up new things. e.g. During my first foray into college, I worked at a meat packing plant stuffing sausages into the bottom of their plastic containers before they were vacuumed packed and shipped. You know what that job gave me? A very good eye for detail (every sausage had to be just so), flexibility in working different shifts (my hours varied), and standing on my feet for long periods of time.

Many job positions require those three things and hey! I learned them at a meat packing plant.

I will admit I kind of love being a unicorn, I get to learn new things and exalt my awesomeness all over the place. The downside, however, is I got burned out fairly quickly, I lost my steam, and started hating my job.

My suggestions are to not require MLIS’ for every goddamned position in your library; be flexible on those position requirements; actually pay for your employees professional development; stop demanding 1000% when you’re only paying 69%.

Stop watering down the profession. Stop demanding more bang for your buck. Stop asking for things that are not a benefit to your library.

Ditch the goddamned team building exercises, Myers-Brigg tests, or any other bullshit. Everyone hates doing them, they tend to lie to make themselves look better, and things never change.

If you want to really change, start utilizing your existing staff on their skills and abilities. Start paying your employees more. Start giving them an opportunity to grow without planning to chop them down later. (e.g. Assume they will get bored and leave once they obtain said skills.) And most of all? Listen to your employees. Listen to what their wants and needs are and parlay them into your mission plan, or whatever buzzword filled thing that describes your library.

Change the “always has been” to actually be “forward thinking.”

P.S. If you are in a unicorn or blended position, and love it, great. I’m glad someone is getting something out of it. And to clarify, I get some library’s need backups as they are short staff, just don’t expect them to know everything about that other person’s job.


Did I get Hume’s meaning wrong? Am I incorrect about what blended relationships mean? Am I missing something? Comments are open! (Just don’t be an ass and effing it up for the rest of the population.)

Tomorrow, I will finally talk about pay and benefits. Huzzah!