Would you recommend librarianship? The results!

10 Jan

So, would you?

Most people have an automatic response to this question – many people will say ‘yes’ straightaway because they love librarianship and know it is largely misunderstood, while others will say ‘no’ straightaway because they’ve had a rough time of it.

What I’m interested in is, would you ACTUALLY recommend it to someone, who might then act on your recommendation? I was asked about entering the profession in an email recently, and my reply sounded, I realised as I re-read it, quite negative. That’s because I think you have a responsibility when someone wants your advice to actually think about what you’re saying! And there’s a lot to be said for not-entering librarianship (by the end of the decade who knows how many worthwhile jobs there will actually be, for example) just as there is a lot to be said for entering it (it’s ace). I sometimes worry that we’re so busy promoting our value and the value of the profession, that we blindly tell everyone to become librarians even though they might not thank us later if they become one.

So I asked Twitter, a brief and unscientific 24hr poll. 133 responses. It started off more or less equal, with recommending just about edging ahead of not doing so – when I tweeted something to this effect, the vast majority of the subsequent votes were in favour of recommending it. So I don’t know if that’s because people who hadn’t previously voted felt moved to ‘defend’ the profession, or just a coincidence.

So of the 133 respondents, 72% would recommend this profession of ours.

Pie chart showing 72% voted in favour of recommending librarianship, 28% against

Here’s the split by country. This started off VERY interesting because the US had 100% of voting no, but then every single other vote from that country was yes so it ended up being a landslide in favour of recommendation… Ireland, from this miniscule sample-size, doesn’t look much fun.

Chart showing that with a couple of exceptions, regional breakdown just follows the main results

Swedes: when it comes to Librarianship, they can take it or leave it


So would you recommend librarianship to a friend? I’d like to hear what you think in a comment.

Some reasons I can think of why I wouldn’t recommend it:

  • you can’t avoid starting at the bottom (can’t do the MA until you’ve had a year of experience, can’t get a higher graded job without the MA);
  • some career paths hit the buffers very early on unless the right person happens to retire / move etc;
  • the long-term future of the profession is far from certain;
  • constantly fighting peoples’ misconceptions of what we do and how valuable it is (I think the need to do this may fade over time because I’m far less fussed about it than I used to be);
  • there are far more capable librarians than there are decent posts;
  • the money isn’t amazing for the first few years (I know it’s very cool to not care about money but when you’re having to buy new shoes for your toddler every 3 months, you do);
  • you have to fork out a fortune to do the MA but, if you think about it, the difference between librarians with the Masters and those without it is very rarely the Masters. It’s a qualification that is both essential and of questionable value.

Some reasons why I would recommend it (heavily academic-librarianship bias here):

  • it’s fantastically engaging;
  • the community (if you chose to be part of it) is kind, fun, and unremittingly helpful and happy to share information and advice;
  • you get to work in a role that helps people, which is genuinely fulfilling even for a partial-cynic like me;
  • unless you’re unlucky you won’t be expected to work longer than the hours of your contract (so many non-librarians I know work all the hours God sends, and are incredibly jealous of the flexitime scheme I’m on);
  • libraries are supportive employers, generally;
  • you get to investigate, write about and train people on stuff you’re interested in anyway, in my case;
  •  you can do academicy stuff like presenting at conferences and writing papers, without having to actually BE an academic;
  • once you get up the ladder a bit you get a lot of freedom and your time is self-directed as well as self-managed;
  • the people you work with are NICE.

For me, my day to day environment is the most important thing. I’d rather live in a smaller house in a nicer area than a grand house further away from town. I’d rather work in a nice room with nice people who will understand if I need to go home and pick up my daughter from nursery, than have a high status job with a company car a career trajectory ending in a six-figure salary. My job is challenging but fun, it suits ME better than any profession I could imagine.

But everyone is different, and I’m already entrenched in this profession, whilst at the same time developing the skills to keep working if this profession ceases to exist – that’s a very different situation from advising someone to just now start applying for entry-level library posts with a view to doing their Masters in October 2014 and maybe, just maybe, getting a job they really want in 2017ish.

Where do you stand on this? What would you add?


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  • John Kirriemuir January 10, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    Yes. For the reasons you mentioned. And also because it opens up your options for future employment. Just because you’re a librarian doesn’t mean you can only find work in a university or public library. There’s many a librarian working in business, private and personal libraries, game development companies, internet tech companies, media organisations and so forth.

    If you’ve got the right mix of skills and experience in organising and finding “knowledge” then that’s a good and useful thing. So, if you have a practical choice when picking a librarian masters course, it’s worth considering ones which are relevant to opportunities outside the “traditional” narrow view of libraries and librarians.

  • lmrlib January 10, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    I recently had contact from student thinking about doing the MA, her reason being “she loved books”. I’m afraid I may have been quite negative in my response to her, highlighting the bad things in librarianship – poor pay, the terrifying rate at which public libraries are closing etc. I did also take time to explain many of the newer jobs librarians find themselves moving into and which mainly don’t include books. I did this because I felt she had no realistic idea of what librarianship really is and was imagining herself in a nice easy job reading lots of books and had partly chosen the profession because she had no idea what else to do with a degree in philosophy. I don’t know whether she applied for the MA or whether I scared her off!

  • thewikiman January 10, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Lmrlib – EXACTLY! It is for these types of people, who really have an expectation of librarianship as a relaxing and quite arty profession, that the recommendation can surely legitimately be ‘no, don’t do it’…

    The whole love of books thing has become a red flag for a lot of interviewers these days – every post gets SO many applications, so expressing love of books (which is, of course, not a problem in itself!) is just the kind of easy excuse people need to move an applicant to the ‘probably doesn’t really know what they’d be getting themselves into’ pile.

  • thewikiman January 10, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    John, yes I agree – it would be interesting to do a proper survey about this and see if the results differed between public, academic and special sectors.

    Very good point about factoring in that sort of thing when picking the Masters course too, yeah.

  • Ian January 10, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    I think this all depends on what you are asking here. Are you talking about specifically becoming a librarian, or getting the librarian qualification and following a relevant career path? I thought it was purely librarian but some of the reasons why you wouldn’t recommend it muddied the waters a little (the bit about the qualifications). If the focus is solely on becoming a librarian, then I can see that the MA would be something to consider in terms of cost. If, however, you are looking beyond a traditional librarian role, perhaps it is not so significant. I think it is important to remember that the world for those that do the MA doesn’t begin and end with a traditional librarian role.

    With that in mind, not sure that asking if we would recommend librarianship is the right question (or at least the “reasons not to” I wouldn’t wholly subscribe to). I would certainly recommend the qualification and this particular field of work (it’s growing all the time and will continue to expand for some time to come), I possibly wouldn’t recommend individuals to strive towards a particularly narrow element of a much broader profession.

    Funnily enough, I keep thinking of writing a post listing all the jobs you can do with an MA that aren’t a ‘librarian’ post in the traditional sense. Maybe I should get on and do it :)

  • Ian January 10, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Ah, John’s comment wasn’t here when I started…I could have just +1′d his comment :)

  • thewikiman January 10, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    It was just ‘would you recommend being a librarian’, no specific career path in mind. For many career paths, the Masters qualification or ‘significant experience’ is required to apply for all jobs after the first two levels, so it has to be factored in to the discussion.

    I can’t quite work out from your comment what you’re actually saying, but I think ‘would you recommend librarianship’ is a perfectly fair enough question, because a lot of us do, all the time, and I suspect this done reflexively rather than with the proper empathy of imagining someone going into it now. This may not be the case at all, of course – but I don’t see why posing the question is wrong, it makes us all think about it.

  • Richard Hawkins January 10, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    Personally I’d like to think I would take into account who it was I was talking to when deciding whether to recommend or not. I would however have to know the person quite well to be able to do this, and if this was not the case I think I would try and offer a balanced view of the profession and let them decide. So in answer to your survey I suppose my answer would be yes and no :-)

    Generally though I am very positive about the profession – I’ve certainly enjoyed my career so far and while I don’t hide this from others, I know that it’s not for everyone.

  • Dan January 10, 2013 at 2:25 PM

    It’s not really answering your question, but I decided to join the profession a couple of years ago for many of the “would” reasons you list. Fortunately my circumstances allowed me the calculated risk of flying in the face of the “wouldn’ts” a bit , but I’m aware that I was very lucky in that regard.

    I’d echo John and Ian’s point about options. I was, and still am, optimistic about the variety of jobs it could lead to, but my starting point with people when discussing what the hell I was thinking of doing, was always ‘I’m going to be a librarian’. I’m doing the Masters, primarily because a major factor in my decision to switch career was wanting to learn a profession in a structured way, but also in terms of getting jobs in future it seemed the risks of not having it outweighed the time/money cost of doing it. I haven’t once regretted it.

    I instinctively answered Yes to your survey and that still stands having read the post and comments, but would only do so knowing we were both talking about the same thing.

  • ellyob January 10, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    This is an interesting snapshot of opinion and I would echo Twitter conversations where people have suggested a wider, more systematic survey could be interesting.

    I would recommend the profession. I started off in rare books but have ended up in an information team using exclusively online materials (not even in a library – shock horror!) It is precisely this variety that recommends the profession, in terms of roles and the different sectors you can work in (by this I mean subject areas, as well as public/private etc).

    I agree that there is – without sounding too grandiose – a moral compulsion to temper any recommendation with the reality of the current situation. When recently advising a trainee about different MA courses, we discussed at length different funding options, modular study to spread cost etc. Employees paying for courses seems to be a rarity now and the reality is that you may not immediately find a professional role nor see the pay rise one might reasonably have once expected when moving to a qualified post.

  • Jill January 10, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    The most important thing I was told in library school was “You don’t become a librarian because you love books. You become a librarian because you love information.” This was huge for me since I’m not an avid book reader in a traditional “librarian” sense but information, finding it and self-education is what matters to me.

  • thewikiman January 10, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    Rich, yeah it has to be ‘yes and no’ really doesn’t it? Boring but true. :)

    I’m very positive about the profession too, I just wanted to check I’d given it some proper thought…

  • thewikiman January 10, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Dan thanks for the comment, really glad it is working out! Definitely the Masters if worth doing (whatever its intrinsic worth, as it were) and can lead to a lot of other things, and not having it can block some avenues off, and no one wants that…

  • thewikiman January 10, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    Jill, that sounds very sensible – I’m not an avid book reader either (especially since writing mine – that really put me off them…) and I think lots of information professionals aren’t, just as lots are.

    It’s all about information, which is why keeping up with the new and changing formats information comes in is so important.

  • thewikiman January 10, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    Elly, yes these are exactly the realities which should at least, as you say, temper any recommendation, that’s a good way of putting it.

    If you take the fact that we’re all IN this profession and leave that aside for a moment, if someone described a profession to you where there are many more people qualified for ‘professional’ posts than there are professional posts available, you’d certainly have to think long and hard about it. And librarianship is not exactly flooded with dead-wood either, especially at the entry level – almost everyone looking for jobs is bright, passionate and committed.

  • Lesley Martin January 10, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    Its a hard question to answer without qualifying it. I love my job as a school librarian but I would not recommend it to someone starting out. I’m well qualified and have loads of experience but earn around £10K less than a teacher with equivalent qualifications, experience and seniority. I have only been able to continue being a school librarian because for most of the time my husband has earned a decent salary. I am fighting harder and harder to get kids to understand the value of books and information literacy when they get what (they think) they need from wikipedia and get credit from the teacher. I am fighting against the viewpoint that the internet has made/is making/will make libraries and therefore librarians redundant. And I’m in a school that values and supports their librarian! So no, I’m afraid I would not recommend librarianship as a profession any more.

  • Jo Tate January 10, 2013 at 3:39 PM

    I switched to librarianship 6 years ago after 10 years in a much more lucrative (and much easier to progress in) career – accountancy. Whilst I have not regretted it for a second (much more fulfilling, rapidly changing, lots of opportunities to get involved in projects outside your day to day work), I am frustrated at how difficult it is to progress beyond a certain level. My last move was sideways rather than up and I think that unless you are either lucky or willing to work incredibly hard (and even then it doesn’t always pay off in terms of progression!) you can get stuck at this level (subject librarian, say) for a long time. My initial honeymoon period with the profession has worn off for that reason. Accountancy jobs were much easier to come by, and once qualified, climbing the ladder is very quick. The job itself is deathly dull and somewhat at odds with my values however. Anyway, in conclusion, I think I would give a qualified yes to recommending librarianship as a career.

  • thewikiman January 10, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    Hi Lesley, thanks for the comment – that’s a harsh reality. I nearly put on my list of cons that the idea that ‘people need good quality information’ as opposed to just making do with Wikipedia etc is possibly getting less and less true.

  • thewikiman January 10, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    Hi Jo, I know what you mean – this is less of an issue for me because subject librarian was the level I was always aiming for, and I don’t much fancy any of the jobs above it! But it’s true there aren’t many, so perhaps I’ll feel a bit more frustrated in 10 years’ time…

    In a way though, the fact that you’d give a qualified yes to recommending librarianship despite this and despite having actually experienced a more financially rewarding career, is testament to librarianship’s good qualities!

  • Jo Tate January 10, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    Oh yes, definitely! It’s much more rewarding in pretty much every other way (and the pay for professional jobs in academic libraries is perfectly fine in most cases). I think if I hadn’t had the contrast I wouldn’t feel frustrated at all – I’m not wildly ambitious but I also had to move south to get into the profession so a little extra money would be a help!

  • Fran January 10, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    i think i’m with everyone else when i say that it depends on the person that asks. i do think we have a wider problem within the profession of a lack of career progresssion opportunities as other people have mentioned., and that’s something i’d feel obliged to point out to anyone that asked. this would be an excellent dissertation topic though!

  • Amy Holvey January 10, 2013 at 7:32 PM

    This is a really interesting and relevant topic and I’m glad you have posted about it. I’m currently a graduate trainee and have had to really think about many of the pros and cons that you have mentioned. I’ve been lucky enough to have had the advice and guidance from established information professionals who have been incredibly honest and fair in their representations of the profession, hence I’m entering with a broad view of what the information profession is about and the roles that are available. The conversations I have had around this subject have really encouraged me to ensure I develop well-rounded and transferable skills in order to make sure that the investment that I’m planning to make (the MA) is worthwhile and the right path for me. Of course, I worry about the cost of another qualification and the potential job security but I’m hoping that I get the opportunity to be part of a profession I’m enthusiastic about and do a job I really enjoy; and that the pros outweigh the cons!

  • Sarah January 10, 2013 at 7:59 PM

    This question and posting really made me think. I didn’t answer your original poll as I felt, like with so many things in life, that I couldn’t answer with a simple yes/no answer. My answer is “Yes, but…” Some of the buts would include: be realistic about the job opportunities available to you, particularly if you want to stay in the same geographical area, and to be aware of the huge changes going on in wider society/your sector etc. which will have an impact on the number and type of jobs available.

    One thing I’d also like to pick up on is your comment: “unless you’re unlucky you won’t be expected to work longer than the hours of your contract (so many non-librarians I know work all the hours God sends, and are incredibly jealous of the flexitime scheme I’m on).” From my knowledge (which is partially gained through the resources I deal with every day in my job – on the subject of management, and encompassing broader workplace issues), the amount of hours people work is partially based on the field they work in, but it is more usually based on the kind of organisation they work for and the level of seniority they have. This is a generalisation but I think in the public sector working more hours than your contract is a choice some individuals make, but it is not encouraged by management or part of the workplace culture. I would also say that in more senior roles it is usually in your contract that you are expected to work more hours than 9-5 where necessary and I’m sure many Chief Librarians etc work significantly more than 8 hour days on a regular basis. Having said that, I do think that you are right that some professions, such as publishing, have expectations of people working long hours from quite a junior level and it’s unusual to find that within the lower ranks of information roles.

  • Michelle January 10, 2013 at 9:12 PM

    Hi Ned
    Interesting poll! Coming from Ireland (though I did not vote in the poll) I think the reason for the no > yes vote may be because the employment opportunities here are so bad relative to the number of grads per year. There has been a public sector recruitment ban since 2008 so very few posts comes up and those that do are generally not very secure e.g. 6 month contracts which may or may not be renewed etc.

  • thewikiman January 11, 2013 at 9:30 AM

    Amy, it sounds like you have it sorted out! In my view the pros definitely outweigh the cons depending, as Fran and others have said, on who you’re talking to…

  • thewikiman January 11, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Sarah, I completely agree about the seniority / hours thing. I’ve heard it said that until £35k you work the hours, and thereafter you work the job… I know a lot of senior people work longer hours (which is partly why I’ve no wish to move up the ladder from where I am) but I also know non-librarians on roughly the same hours as me who, when work is manic and has a big project on or whatever, just have to stay at work until it’s DONE. This happens to me sometimes (although always by my choice, no one ever says ‘you WILL stay!’…) but then I can take the time back, which isn’t always the case in other sectors.

  • thewikiman January 11, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    Hey Michelle, yeah the Ireland thing I think is primarily because there were only 3 votes! My comment in the piece about was me being flippant rather than serious… :)

  • woodsiegirl January 11, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    Really interesting discussion! Personally, I wouldn’t recommend “librarianship” per se, but I would recommend working in information. That’s mainly because while librarian jobs are getting fewer and further between, there are plenty of interesting roles out there that involve the same skillset – much like the job I just moved into! Since qualifying, the jobs I’ve taken have moved further and further away from traditional librarianship (my new job wasn’t advertised as a librarian role, or in the librarianship press/agencies) but I’m still making good use of the skills I learned in my Masters.

  • thewikiman January 11, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    Hey Woodsie! About the Masters, really glad to hear you say that (still making use of the skills) cos as you may know it’s something I worry about, with that qualification…

    Information is the key part of what we do, and what we do can be applied very useful outside the confines of what is normally determined to be ‘librarianship,’ certainly.

  • [...] Potter (aka thewikiman) recently wrote on his blog about a quick, unscientific Twitter poll he conducted on his own to determine if other librarians [...]

  • Michele Vassar January 12, 2013 at 7:53 AM

    I was a qualified architect and began working in libraries when my youngest son started school and I needed a job that fitted in with school hours. I have never regretted making that change.

    BUT I was given a chance – I got my first school library job with no qualifications or experience and took my Diploma part time whilst working. I doubt that would happen today. I’ve had 13 years as a school librarian and 7 as a prison librarian in 4 jobs. All have been poorly paid but incredibly enjoyable. I’m not an ambitious person and like being ‘at the coalface’ plus I like the independence all my jobs have given me. I wouldn’t want to work as part of a large team in a structured organisation, say an academic or public library. I think one of the good things about librarianship is that it accommodates such a wide range of people. I have never been asked by any prisoner about becoming a librarian but if I were I would certainly recommend it whilst pointing out Ned’s downsides.

  • Sham January 12, 2013 at 5:01 PM

    Interesting! Ned I agree with your recommendations keeping in mind the downsides of librarianship listed by you. If I had got admission to Masters in Commerce, I would not have become Librarian, but there are no regrets as I have achieved much being in the profession. It is surprising I did not see any votes from the developing world.

  • thewikiman January 14, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    Michele, that’s a really interesting insight, thanks for the comment.

    Sham, I think it was because it was only open for such a short time! And it was only on Twitter, so it’s not exactly a perfect and rounded sample…

  • Viridianarcher January 14, 2013 at 10:17 PM

    If I were to say “no,” it would be purely for selfish motives of making sure there are 149, not 150 exceedingly well-qualified applicants for every job I try to get ;)

    I accidentally did encourage a friend of mine into library work. Even though I spend my social hours complaining about my awful job, and the part-time degree that’s been dragging on for the last 5 years, he still quit his job to start at the bottom of the university library and begin his degree – terrifying to think I might have had that much influence over someone!!

  • thewikiman January 18, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    Haha, well keep us posted as to whether he ultimately thanks you or not! :)

  • ladyinladywell January 19, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    This is a really interesting poll and discussion. I am so lucky because love my job and the profession, but when it comes to recommending it to others I find it hard to because the MA is so expensive these days.

  • Bina January 22, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    Noooooooooo. Librarianship – or for most, what passes for it, is a service ‘profession’ these days. You want to go into service do you? No No No No No. Take a degree in IT, Physics anything that will give you real understanding, then if you want to play at serving people…that’s your decision. Librarianship….no.

  • Zaddyman January 23, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    A very interesting post and discussion. I ticked ‘yes’ but as others have said I would have liked to qualify this and there are certainly some days where I would happily tick ‘no’.

    My biggest gripe regards the point “constantly fighting peoples’ misconceptions of what we do and how valuable it is”. Although, as you suggest, I’m less bothered of what individuals think about what I do I find it exhausting constantly having to challenge outdated perceptions amongst fellow professionals within the institutions I’ve worked in. It’s particular difficult where I work in a distance university because people cannot divorce the idea that a library is a building with books in. Even though they would readily use the term to describe their i-tunes ‘library’ for example.

    I am also concerned about the profession’s future – and this is linked into the last point. A lot of people think we just do books and that if you want something online just use Google. My career choices so far have partly reflected this concern where I’ve opted for technical/metadata roles which I perceive to be more resilient to external forces.

    I still picked yes though and that’s because I had a previous profession and this is infinitely more rewarding and less competitive.

  • Ruby August 14, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    An interesting post and discussion. Having worked in academic librarianship for over a decade and completed the Masters, I would recommend that people think seriously about their aspirations and expectations before starting on a career in librarianship. The reality is that there are many qualified, motivated and capable folk stuck in entry level positions with very little chance of progression. In the institution I work in, paraprofessionals are carrying out roles that previously would have required a librarianship qualification and assistant subject librarian roles are not being replaced. The opportunities available to new graduate entrants are limited. I know this stance probably appears very negative, however, for people who are not geographically mobile or not in a position to consider part time and/or temporary roles to kick start their career, I would strongly advise looking at alternative career paths before embarking on librarianship.

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