I Want To Be A XXX Librarian, Part III

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!

I Want To Be A XXX Librarian, Part II

Dear Internet,

Yesterday I discussed the ridiculousness of job titles and their descriptions. For empirical proof, I’m going to dissect my last position, where I worked for nearly four years as a Systems & Web Librarian, and what those responsibilities really meant.

Let’s look at the requirements for that job directly from the horse’s mouth:

  • Information Literacy: In collaboration with colleagues, classroom instructors, and the Information Literacy Librarian, design, teach, and promote general and subject-focused instruction sessions that support the academic curriculum; develop a personal teaching philosophy; contextualize instruction based on course learning outcomes; teach database and web searching and evaluation; understand and apply Institutional Learner Outcomes (ILOs); participate in the development and delivery of library instruction to online and distance learners; create and maintain SubjectGuides and other instructional materials using web, presentation, and course management software; and participate continuously in the development and administration of learning assessments. (You’ll note this is one sentence. Cut/pasted for its absurdness in length.)
  • Reference Services
  • Collection Development
  • Liaison Service
  • College Service: Participate in faculty responsibilities as described in the Faculty Performance Evaluation system, including student advising and campus-wide committee work; cultivate collegial working relationships within the LLC; collaborate with colleagues in local, regional, and national libraries to cooperatively develop and manage print and digital resources; promote awareness of the LLC’s mission, resources and services; collaborate with LLC staff in long and short term planning; and support the mission, vision, values and strategic priorities of the LLC and the College. (You’ll note this is one sentence. Cut/pasted for its absurdness in length.)
  • Professional Development

(Pretty standard stuff you’ll see on most academic librarian job responsibilities.)

Now on to the real meat of the job:

  1. Coordinate and trouble-shoot daily operation of the ILS
  2. Serve as liaison to  IT Department for the integrated library system, web page server, and setup of library PCs
  3. Serve on campus-wide teams relevant to web page services and other information technology tools and resources
  4. Manage, design, and develop library website for optimum exposure and ease of use. Lead library team responsible for the content and presentation of the web site, including the use of existing and emerging social media
  5. Compile statistics on use of library system and library web page
  6. Maintain library’s  collaboration with statewide collaborative resource-sharing initiative
  7. Use technical expertise to assist with implementing and maintaining digital library services, including OCLC ILLiad and instructional support materials
  8. Provide library staff support and training in ILS and virtual services
  9. Demonstrated experience maximizing the effectiveness, efficiency, and appeal of instruction and other learning experiences through intentional instructional effort
  10. Portfolio of web page design and implementation projects
  11. Knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm for evaluating and integrating emerging library technologies (They mean social media.)
  12. Ability to demonstrate the mental health necessary to safely engage in the librarian discipline as determined by professional standards of practice.

Now the job description is much longer, but I’ve weeded out the humdrum stuff. Let me now break down how I spent my 37.5 hour work week.

  • Reference desk: 10 hours
  • Instruction and prep for said instruction: 10 hours
  • Department and college wide meetings, including liaison departments: 10 hours
  • Fixing library computers, scanners, and related items: 5 hours a week

Number of hours to fulfill the listing of what I was hired, web and systems, to do: 2.75 hours.

A week.

Am I exaggerating?  Sadly no.

Let me break down what those job duties really meant:

  1. This was handled between myself and cataloging person, but mainly by me. I used lunch time and reference desk time to fix, update, and maintain the ILS
  2. The previous two librarians in the position burned bridges with the IT department and the library was on the lowest rung of the ladder for any kind of support. Because of that poor relationship, it took me six+ months to get into having weeklyish meetings with the various heads of the department and to get respect from those heads. The library has zero control over desktop environments, software updates and fixes, and so on. No one other than IT, including the Systems & Web Librarian had/has admin access. The best I could do is fix software issues (“I don’t know how to do headers.”), reboot machines, and fix student laptops because the library, aka me, was faster than the college’s open student lab. I doubt that has changed.
  3. The college’s website was handed over to the communications team, there is one person, in IT, handling/maintaining the college’s site and they have get “suggestions” from said communications team before doing any kind of work on the site. The systems and web librarian has zero administrative access.
  4. Library website is controlled by the college. Everyone in the library, per the library’s director, has access to update/manage/etc. It took me a year to get the staff to okay all changes I made for better navigation, usability, and other refinements before someone else in the library effed up my hard work, which I had to fix. In the nearly two years I’ve been gone, the site has remained identical to how I left it.
  5. As described for ILS and social media. Stats on the library’s website is controlled by the college and I had to make a formal request to get the analytics.
  6. As described
  7. More or less as described. The ILS is not hosted at the college, it’s managed by the ILS company. I could update and control the front end of the ILS for patron viewing but that’s about it.
  8. No one did this until I came along. So, as described.
  9. Buzz words
  10. I was the only person, confirmed by IT and the library director, who presented a web portfolio for tenure. Since the college runs the website, no idea why this was added since the person in this position would not have any control.
  11. They killed off half of my social media initiatives, the social media is rarely updated.
  12. About 12. YES, that was on the job description. YES, it was reference to me as I’m bipolar. YES, the college was bombarded with phone calls, emails, and so on to get that removed. YES, I was in process with talking to the college’s legal team on suing the college. Good times.

You may be asking yourself the following questions:

  • “Lisa, you do know while you’ve stripped this post of your previous employer’s name, it’s in your portfolio?”
    • Yes, yes I do. I figured since the college tried to eff me in a variety of ways, it was open season.
  • “Lisa, but future employers…”
    • Look, let’s be honest. Future employers love my interviews/resume/skills but once they do a Google search and see the #teamharpy case, I’m persona non grata. My skill set is highly desirable, I am, however, not.
  • “Lisa, everyone in nearly every librarian position is expected to handle multiple jobs. You’re not a special snowflake.”
    • I know this. I’m not so smug to think this was only me. But you know what? People who are ladled with this much responsibility are burned out. They work unpaid overtime from home or stay after scheduled hours. Self-care is a joke. They then cut ties and take their skills to other fields, mainly pure IT, to get the money they deserve. About 75% of my librarian friends who are IT nerds do exactly that.

How do we fix this problem? Here are my suggestions:

  • Stop requiring all positions to have “blended” relationships. You’re attempting to get more bang for your buck while your employee is getting burned out. Should they do some of these things? Sure. Have said employees work reference once or twice a week, or maybe be a liaison to a department that fits their background. But for the effing love of god, stop forcing them to do ALL THE THINGS and then start grabbing at your pearls when projects are not getting done.
  • Stop being cheap and break up the unicorn position (which I’ll discuss in another post) into multiple positions. Don’t give me the tap dance your budget cannot allow for it. If the college can pay the president and upper echelon management zillions of dollars, you can find the cash.
    • At a position I interviewed with recently, I was told by the director I could have any kind of computer system I wanted, two if desired; head to any kind of conference I wanted and the college would pay, and continued listing all these great, and costly, perks. But the college was absolutely adamant they couldn’t pay more than extremely low $40Ks. Extremely low. It’s bullshit. If you want me to stay, you want to me do my job and enjoy my job, pay me what I deserve.
    • Speaking of which, use money normally paid to adjuncts (and I’ve seen departments have up to a dozen adjuncts who did full time library work on part-time pay/hours) and funnel that into a second position. You’re wasting money.
  • Be realistic. Ask yourself what is it you really want from the position and the person. Don’t listen to bruhaha from college colleagues, not every library needs a goddamned 3D printer, or from other libraries what you should have as opposed to what you need. Not every library needs the same things. All libraries want to be forward thinking and relevant, which is also totally okay and encouraged. It’s totally okay to have wants, but while it would be great to have someone do geospatial work for your stacks, if you’re a tiny ass library, is that a bit ridiculous? (Yes, yes it is.)
  • Appreciate your employees. True facts: I loved working at my few bucks above minimum wage bookstore job rather than the $62K a year library job because I felt appreciated. I was encouraged to expand my horizons. I was told what a great job I was doing. At the library job? Not so much. I’m not alone in this thinking. Many will accept reasonable pay cuts or work that much harder for their upper management if they feel appreciated. And it doesn’t have to be big! A card, a lunch, a or cheap gift card somewhere, doesn’t matter — as long as the employee is feeling like they are doing a good job, they will stay. (This should be taught in management classes. It would do wonders for moral.)

This is getting ridiculous long so I’ll end here. Let’s give the lowdown on what I covered: Empirical proof of what job descriptions really mean, including examples. Suggestions to make changes in this system.

Tomorrow I’m going to dip my toes into franken jobs, what I mean by unicorn job positions, more thoughts on responsibilities, and pay wage/gap. Well, I hope to at least cover some of it. 🙂

I Want To Be A XXX Librarian, Part I

Dear Internet,

I’ve job hunted in the librarian world three times: first when I graduated with my MLIS in 2010, which took nearly a year and 110 apps before I was offered a job. Second when I was thinking of leaving my last position, applied for two jobs, interviewed at one, rejected by both. Finally, this last job hunt in which I’ve been hunting for a solid year, and half heartedly the six months before that, with 120+ applications in my field as an academic librarian, 40+ in other fields for a total of 160+ applications.

I feel like I’m a damned1 near expert in job titles and descriptions2.

Let’s look at examples of job titles for similar positions I’ve come across in the last year:

  • Online Learning Librarian
  • Digital Learning Librarian
  • Web Services Librarian
  • Community & Digital Services Librarian
  • Emerging Technologies Librarian
  • Technology and Social Media Librarian
  • Systems Librarian
  • Web Content Manager Librarian
  • Learning Commons Librarian
  • Cybrarian (Yes, this really was a job title)
  • Digital Initiatives Librarian
  • Digital Content Librarian
  • Digital Services Librarian
  • Systems & Web Librarian

Stop that. You’re effing confusing everyone.

This is not including positions marked Librarian I/II/III/IV and so on that required or preferred digital/technology/emerging/web job duties. (The notation of position was mainly in public libraries, but the requirements were nearly the same.)

You could weakly argue these positions were completely different. Someone who is a systems librarian is vastly different from a web content librarian which is vastly different than a digital initiatives librarian.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: That’s a bullshit lie and we need to stop kidding ourselves.

Now let’s look at these job descriptions written by our illustrious future employers (or their HR department):

  • Liaison to varying departments
  • Collection development
  • Library / student / staff instruction
  • Develops and updates online materials; knowledge of LibGuides
  • Participates in college and community services
  • Reference responsibilities
  • Participate in various functions for tenure

Now, I’ll concede this is pretty much standard across every academic librarian position regardless of job title. Now lets look at the other responsibilities:

  • Working, but preferred, knowledge of HTML / CSS / Javascript / Python / Django / Ruby / SQL / scripting languages
  • Working, but preferred, knowledge of OSX, Windows, and Linux platforms, including server side software
  • Project management
  • Knowledge of current trends in library and technology services
  • Liaison to IT and related departments
  • Maintains library’s web presence, including but not limited to: social media, website(s), and ILS and discovery layers
  • Pioneers experimental and innovative approaches to emerging technologies (direct cut/paste from a job description currently in another tab)
  • Working knowledge of assistive and accessible technologies
  • Coordinate workflows, set guidelines and ensure that the library’s web presence is accurate, up-to-date, user-centered and accessible (another cut and paste)
  • Manage interface customizations and the integration of commercial and open source library application (another cut and paste)
  • Working, but preferred, knowledge of open source software
  • Working, but preferred, knowledge of digital and physical copyright laws
  • Maintain and administer the library’s intranet
  • Lead and/or participate in processes for usability testing, analytics analysis and assessments of the library’s virtual spaces (another cut and paste)
  • Become resident resources/tools/databases expert (another cut and paste)
  • Maintain currency with web technologies, software, tools and solutions. Participates in training efforts (another cut and paste)

And there is a lot more.

(And I had to grammar and spell check a few of the cut/paste thingies.)

You’re probably thinking, “Holy cow! That cannot be all for one job.”

Yes, yes it is.


Join me tomorrow when I dissect my last position which as the same requirements as above, unicorn librarians, and the asinine pay scale for these jobs.


1. A swears in a professional website post. Yes, I know. Shocking. If you are focusing on the swears and not the content and subject matter for the post, you’re not someone I want to work for. It also shows you pay little attention to detail and a poor understanding of written communication skills.
2. You may wonder if the subject line of this post has to do with porn. The answer is no, but it does have to do with the wildly variating titles for the same or nearly same positions, mainly in academia.