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A week ago, I did a poll on Twitter for library staff using the tool Twtpoll.  Please respond to the poll if you have not yet done so.

I asked one simple question: “Why do you continue to work in libraries?”  Here are the results.  We had 92 respondents as of today and the poll is still open so it may go up and the results may change.  But here’s what it looks like today.  People could select more than once choice, so the total is over 100%.

  • 67% – Belief in the library’s mission in society
  • 64% – Love the work itself
  • 32% – Good work environment
  • 26% – Love the customers
  • 23% – Love my co-workers
  • 15% – Good pay/benefits
  • 9% – Fear that I’m not qualified for anything else
  • 9% – Other
  • 7% – Convenience (e.g. job close to home)
  • 4% – Laziness (changing jobs is too hard)
  • 3% – Holding on a little longer to get vested/get better retirement benefits


  • 68% – Belief in the library’s mission in society
  • 62% – Love the work itself
  • 32% – Good work environment
  • 26% – Love the customers
  • 24% – Love my co-workers
  • 15% – Good pay/benefits
  • 9% – Fear that I’m not qualified for anything else
  • 8% – Other
  • 7% – Convenience (e.g. job close to home)
  • 7% – Laziness (changing jobs is too hard)
  • 6% – Holding on a little longer to get vested/get better retirement benefits

While I had sincerely hoped that belief in the library’s mission would rank first, it’s interesting to me that love for customers (which is the library’s mission) only came in with 26%. And we apparently love the customers more than we love our co-workers ;)

I wasn’t surprised by the low ranking of the ‘good pay & benefits’ option, but I did think that the ‘fear’ and ‘holding on til I’m retired’ questions would have come in higher.  Then again, this was a poll on Twitter (& I sent it out via Facebook as well).  I don’t think that a representative sampling of our near-retirement-age library staff are on Twitter & Facebook.

In all honesty, for me personally, I still work in libraries due to a combination of ‘belief in the library’s mission in society’ and ‘fear that I’m not qualified for anything else’ (which may be why I thought that would come in higher).

The thought of moving out of libraries after my impending probable lay-off in July is both exhilarating and scary.  Exhilarating at the possibility of making much better wages and benefits in private industry or non-profits with my skill set and willingness to work long hours.  Scary because I really like libraries and I want to work in them longer.  I want to contribute to the great equalizer in our society.   I want to better people’s lives in a non-profit environment.  And also scary because maybe private industry doesn’t have a role for a tech-savvy project manager, information architect, and writer.  In some ways, I think about moving into consulting full time — speaking and writing my days away, but the thought of not having stable income or health insurance scares the devil out of me.  But in the end, I just like libraries too much to leave.  And maybe that’s the case for most of us.  What we do is admirable in my book.  We make differences in people’s lives, and that’s something that I think we should all be proud of at the end of the day.

Talking with co-workers my age, there seems to be a common thread — we feel that we deserve/want better pay & benefits, but don’t want to leave libraries for ethical and security reasons.  So, what’s a librarian to do?  Hang tight and hope to goodness that we don’t keep bleeding jobs in our field?  Pray that in five years we don’t have a critical librarian shortage as those who left the field today aren’t willing to come back to replace all the soon-to-be-retirees?  Hope that we make up some of the concessions and losses in our salaries and benefits over the last few years (our management union is losing 7 1/2% + no wage increases for 3 years).  That’s a 20% reduction in standard of living between now (which isn’t so hot to begin with) and 2013.  Plead with lawmakers to reinstate library hours and funding?  Rebuild the “new library” in a different way to accommodate the far smaller staff and make the library what we want it to be, instead of what it has been?  Or do we jump ship?  Do we flee the sinking vessel in favor of better financial and lifestyle rewards?

I sincerely hope that most of us will stay.  But realistically, I think that libraries will be losing many quality library employees to other industries better positioned to reward them.  If we do have a comeback as a field, we’re going to have to figure out what we can offer these ex-patriots to motivate them to come back when we need them.

“Why people continue to work in libraries (survey results)”

  1. Tweets that mention Why people continue to work in libraries (survey results) | Librarian in Black Blog – Sarah Houghton-Jan -- Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Worcester Public Lib. Worcester Public Lib said: Why people continue to work in libraries (survey results): A week ago, I did a poll on Twitter for library staff u… [...]

  2. Naomi Mellendorf Says:

    Try cutting your personal budget by 52%. I’ve lost my job as a certified teacher librarian in a public school. The job I’ve accepted as a school librarian in another public school district involves a 52% cut in pay. I love being a school librarian, but I don’t know if I’ll make it in schools or school libraries for much longer. I, too, am fearful that I’m not qualified for anything else. Just trying to survive.

  3. Sarah Says:

    I’m so sorry Naomi. You are exactly the type of library staff person that I’m afraid we’re going to lose forever. You love the job, but you might have to leave libraries, as you say, just to survive. It’s a sad statement about our communities’ support of libraries and education, but equally sad is the fact that this has been going on to some degree for decades — the slow erosion of educational support.

  4. Wyman Brent Says:

    I am starting the Vilnius Jewish Library with the idea to promote tolerance and understanding. So I guess I fall into the 67% category.

  5. Zahid Hossain Shoeb Says:

    Very good initiative, but I think the % of #1 statement “Belief in the library’s mission in society” does not really representing the real scenario and why a professional joins a library? It is hard to believe. Truly speaking, I do not think that in any country librarianship is categorized as top ranked job rather than lower rank by both economically and socially. However, I think the statements should be categorized as ordinal data to rank which is better for any statistical analysis and significance.

  6. anrake Says:

    I’ve worked in a corporate library for 9 years now. I actually wouldn’t mind moving out of the library and into other roles in the same organization, but it’s not because I’m disgruntled with the library. I would like to see how I can apply myself to new challenges. Every job I look at around me is based to a high degree on information and a lot of the problems people have are information related. Organizing the info they have, communicating it to people who need it and most importantly realizing when they don’t have enough info and knowing how to go get it. If you have an open mind and great info skills I think you can apply them to many jobs. The key is selling them in a way that employers will see how you can fit into their organization. If you want to better people’s lives then that just comes down to the kind of organization you work in, not necessarily the role. I don’t think library skills has to equate to working in a traditional library. Be a tech savvy info worker evangelist in any organization and people will flock to you if you can help them do their job better. It will also improve the organization in the big picture.

  7. zaineb Says:

    I’m a librarian student , i’ll worek in Library field ” God Willing” coz i love libraries , and i love help people
    zaineb from morocco

  8. Shander Says:

    I’m a library student too, and fear for my job prospects when I graduate next spring. I agree with the comment by anrake, that the key is selling your skills to other types of organizations beyond libraries, but I also hope, as you said, Sarah, that libraries can rebuild and be made new again, It’s an interesting time to be entering the field, at any rate.

  9. Doug K Says:

    as far as the pay/benefits are concerned, I don’t know of any careers that are doing any better. You could replace ‘librarian’ with ‘software engineer’ and not change anything else – most of my peers are laid off, or have taken 20% pay cuts with an increase in hours, etc. Salaries and hiring are frozen in my company but the workload is increasing. So if you’re getting paid and have job satisfaction, you’re well ahead of the game as played today in corporate America.

    My first professional project in IT was a library catalog/circulation system. I’ve loved libraries ever since I was a child. Please don’t go ;-)

    I’d add that most of the librarians I’ve known should have no trouble at all doing jobs in IT/project management. The trick is in selling yourself to get past the Human Resources gatekeepers who screen resumes by keyword.

  10. Digliberry Says:

    Well you’ll always be a librarian no matter where you work. Info professional is more appropriate. I am late 40s in my first semesters of library school. I have high hopes to be marketable anywhere.

  11. Adam Says:

    I’m a corporate librarian and while the pay is great we have been told to disolving our library as a cost saving measure. I’m the “lucky” staff member who got to stay to oversee it. I love what I do and, like everyone else, really believe that libraries and librarians make business/communicties/educational institutions BETTER. But I’m being confronted with so many others that don’t think that that I’m really starting to wonder if I’m on a sinking ship. And while I’d love to go to another library, the reality is that I’m going to take at least a 10k paycut to do so. Its not a practical option when I’m geographically bound and have three kids.

    The upshot is that, as Digliberry says, I’ll always be a librarian. There are several spots within my corporation and community that are non-Library positions that still allow me to use my skills to help people find information, train people to find information, and organize information.

  12. Floating Clouds Says:

    I am trying to break away from the Public Library syndrome by utilizing all of my librarian skills and talents within a different form of work…stretching and broadening my horizons so to speak. I am very disillusioned with most (not all) public libraries as we now know them. Most refused to see the glaring writing on the wall, refused to be open to change and new paradigms, refused to advocate for and support their librarian staff (both management and union), maintain top heavy, bureaucratic and corporate modeled organization, reward mediocrity, manifest fear, mistrust, job insecurity and low morale, provide unclean, unsafe work environments, do not put the customer first, and sometimes engage in unethical practices. I still believe in the mission of libraries and absolutely love the work…but entered the profession with great naivete. I am now trying to find a way to creatively bow out and find more rewarding work or a more progressive and accommodating library system.

  13. Meg Says:

    Retire? What is this retirement and replacing of positions of which you speak? No one retires at my library. They either fill that position until they drop dead in it, or they resign 1) because the whole family is moving, 2) for a much better position elsewhere. For the past four years as this has happened, the positions have only occasionally been filled. The rest of the time the work is simply doled out for those who remain to absorb. And that was before the hiring freeze went into effect. I keep seeing that predicted need for librarians when all those aging librarians retire, and I don’t believe it for a minute. They’ll hang in there as long as they can, and when they go, management won’t replace them. Good luck, job hunters. :/

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  15. andrea Says:

    i was one of the last hired at my last library job, and so would have been the first fired. i left voluntarily a few months earlier (i’d rather leave then be told to leave..) but it was clear as can be that i was going to be laid off in july. there were about a half a dozen other librarians hired around when i was, most of us fairly young with good to very good tech skills, a ton of enthusiasm and we were, as i was told repeatedly, a great jolt of ‘new blood’ into the library system. as far as i know, the vast majority of those hired around when i was are getting their pink slips next week. ah well.

    the library situation looks bleak right now in the u.s. but i’m hoping things change. i took a chance and moved to south america, bolivia to be exact. ;) – who knows, maybe i’ll start a little library here!

    thanks for the post, and good luck sarah.

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  20. bba Says:

    Good post. I really like the way that you explained.

  21. 梦溪 Says:

    i adore your enthusiasm for the librarian mission. The values of BOOKs need to be refound and cherished. They deserve better persons to care for them,

    I love BOOKs and I hope I can be a librarian and own my own circle of friends who share the same dream with me.

  22. Zuz Says:

    I don’t know if you are still monitoring this.
    I connected with your original post. By the end of this week I will know if I have a chance at staying in my job in a branch public library. My only real choice is to take a pay cut and keep my full time hours. My position at present will disappear. The hours will remain, job description will change. I won’t move to the main library because I fear it is too unstable to risk changing jobs. I am the sole breadwinner in the family.I have 5 classes left to finish a Bachelors of Arts in Information & Library studies which I have been doing by distance study for quite a few years.
    I love working in the library, and have always wanted to work in a library since I was young. I am fed up with staff who come in for the money (ha) and socializing. They do nothing to educate themselves about library work. I work hard to keep up with the latest technology to help our customers.
    thanks for letting me rant!

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