Myths of the Underemployed Librarian #3: You have A job, so you don’t understand what it’s like to NOT have a job in this economy.

My new friend over at Books, Dogs, and Frogs prompted this one with her comment on yesterdays Myths of the Underemployed Librarian #1 & #2: Working Part Time ‘Must Be Nice’.  The sentance from her comment that inspired me was “I’m a Youth Services Librarian, but at a branch that is so small that I also get to do most stuff most of the time. That includes helping people look for a job, which is hard. The library is full most days with people job hunting, even though I work in a state where the economy is not terrible.”

and with that, this next Myth goes out to Patrons, Customers, and (some) of the strangers I meet in this crazy, mixed-up world.

Myths of the Underemployed Librarian #3: You have A job, so you don’t understand what it’s like to NOT have a job in this economy.

Two Christmas’ ago, I decided to pick up some extra work at Borders.  I had just graduated in June, was still working part-time as a Library Aide at Lomita Library, and wanted to be able to buy our (Christian and my) families Christmas presents.  Now, going back to Borders is a big deal for me.  Borders is where Christian and I met and fell in love all those years ago (I know, gag me), but that’s about all the wonderful things Borders has done in our history working for the company.  Christian worked for them for much longer than I did and got screwed much more than I did.  I bounced around stores, being an awesome employee until I went to UCLA and realized that people were not only using me, they were kind of assholes and I don’t have to be nice to them anymore, so I quit to pursue my library career.  I’ve actually quit Borders about 3 times, but I keep going back because I know I can do the job and I know they’ll hire me because occasionally they don’t want to hire a 19 year old with no life experience or book experience (which is what I was when they first hired me).  Anyways, to sum up this part of the story, I last 2 weeks before I realized that I CANNOT, unless under diresse (or desperation), work for $8.25 at Borders as a CASHIER (they didn’t even give me my old title, Bookseller!) without killing myself or someone else.

So, what happened one day while I was working at this fabulous bookstore?  A customer brought up her items to the counter and started telling me she was a teacher out of work.  She wasn’t laid off – she had quit when her child was born and now that he was old enough for Pre-K, she wanted a job, but, this being 2009, there were no jobs to be had.  I tried to empathize with her, and say, “I know! The job market totally sucks.  I graduated 6 months ago, but have been looking for a job for closer to a year and can’t find anything”.  I told her I was an aspiring Children’s Librarian because what grade-school teacher doesn’t also love a librarian?  Well, apparently this one.  She basically told me that my job at Borders constituted a job (even though I was Christmas temp so even if I hadn’t quit, I would’ve been fired in just a few short weeks), and that Librarians didn’t have it nearly as hard as teachers to find jobs.  She looked like she wanted to punch me in the face.  Being the good public service employee I am, I kindly gave her her total, swiped her debit card (smugly thought in my head, I wonder what your husband does that you can spend so much money if you’re so desperate to have a job), told her good luck with her job hunt, and sent her on her merry way.

Now, to me, when I meet someone with a degree working at Borders (which, let me tell you, is about half the staff!), I usually anticipate that they are having trouble finding work.  That shelving books at Borders or swiping credit cards is not actually what they studied to do with their lives, and they are here biding their time out of desperation.  That’s what I was doing.  And when that woman left, I kind of wanted to cry – after the anger subsided.

She was right about one thing.  I am lucky.  And being underemployed is not quite the same as being unemployed.  But as a new graduate, who everyone thought would get hired in a snap, who had never had a full-time job, and Borders still hadn’t sucked all of the optimism out of her (that would come 2 weeks later), and was still working as a Library Clerk, checking patrons in and out 20 hours a week and then driving to Borders 12 hours a week, I didn’t feel lucky.  I felt screwed.  I felt cheated.  Like something had been taken from me.  Something that had never been mine in the first place, but it was upsetting none the less.  When I found out that I got the Sunday Librarian job at PVLD just a few days later, I was elated.  It was like the heavens opened and finally decided to throw me a bone.

So, back to the original comment which got this post going.  Helping patrons find jobs is a great thing to do.  Resume workshops are important, as many libraries have demonstrated over these last few years.  Libraries are a haven for the unemployed and the underemployed because our resources are FREE.  People can entertain their families and continue their educations for FREE.  What a concept in a world where, as Christian’s grandma says, “Everytime you walk out that front door you spend $20.  So take a $20 bill with you and kiss it goodbye”, Free seems surreal.  When I help these patrons though, I am careful of what I say and mindful of their situation.  These patrons don’t know that I’m part-time.  They see me on the desk just like all the full-time librarians.  They even see me occasionally doing storytime.  For all they know, I make $45,000/year with benefits, and I’m lapping up the luxury of a full and steady pay-check.  So, I let them think that.  I don’t empathize with them the same way I tried to empathize with that woman.  I try to keep it strictly business – resume books are here.  resume writing websites are here.  job searching websites are here.  I tell them good luck and I hope they find a job soon.  I don’t tell them that I know these resources because I look at them everyday.  Because friends and I recommend them to each other.  Because, like them, I don’t know whether they’re unemployed or underemployed.  I just hope for the best for all of us and continue plugging along.  And, hopefully soon, we’ll all be employed the way we want to be in the jobs we want to be and we can look back and laugh on these days when we struggled with our self-worth, the worth of our jobs, and the worth of this nation that we live in which is trying to get back on its feet.

7 thoughts on “Myths of the Underemployed Librarian #3: You have A job, so you don’t understand what it’s like to NOT have a job in this economy.

  1. What you are saying in these posts really resonates. I recently went and spoke with a director at a nearby library system, and was told that even though I had done a co-op, I would still have to sit on Sunday contracts a while (or “floater” jobs) before being taken on full-time (contract or other-wise). I have gone corporate in the meantime, as it was actually easier than finding public library work. There is a part of me that hopes that this economy will be over soon so that I too can become a full-time Children’s Librarian.

  2. Like you said to me, keep your chin up! We will all be (FT) Children’s Librarians soon… I hope 🙂 How do you like being a contract librarian? I was interested in becoming one, but the agency I signed up with never contacted me. I’ve heard that often, once the contract is up, the system will keep you. It doesn’t sound like thats the case with you, though, if you’ve had multiple contracts? Have you been a filler for things like maternity leave and such? And what’s the corporate sector like?

  3. I think whether or not the library system keeps you after your contract depends on a few things: size, budget and the type of professionals that they are looking into hiring. One system was really into hiring library techs, the other funded a position through a grant, and the third was a specific research project. Contract life is interesting: you can compare systems and sectors to see how each does things differently. You also learn A LOT in a lot of different areas. To be honest, if I could be guaranteed a short wait between contracts, I don’t think I would mind the constant change of projects. There’s always something new.

    • thanks for the insight! Having worked in 3 different library systems and at too many libraries to count, I agree that its definitely interesting the stuff you pick up. And its always fun to compare the library systems… although sometimes its really sad, too.

  4. I actually don’t think that you can work in a public library and NOT know what it is like to not have a job. There are so many many people looking… and chances are, everyone knows at least one person who is out of work, underemployed, or whose job is unsecure.

  5. I was going to give a long comment but my keyboard is giving me fits. Anyways, I think the job market for librarians is different in depending on where you are in the country, not better, just different. I’ve lived in two states, one where I went to library school that had a glut of people for every position, the other where there aren’t a lot of people nearby for the positions, but there aren’t as many positions.

    Good luck!

  6. Pingback: Students Taking Back the Conversation: The 2015 LIS Symposium on Education | ACRLog

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