There are many blogs about being unemployed. One that I've been reading is the Tasmanian dolebludger blog. I found it interesting that there are no “unemployed librarian” themed blogs. Maybe I’m getting sloppy in my searching, but I couldn’t find any – please let me know if I’ve missed anything. I have found some blogs (librarian.net, Open Stacks, Tour Guide of Coffeehouses) which were written by librarians who were once unemployed, but unemployment did not seem to be the main focus of these blogs and they each found work.
Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised at the scarcity of unemployed librarian blogs. Having just been through over two months of unemployment myself, I did not seriously consider making unemployment one of the major themes of the exploded library, despite the fact that it would be a great niche for readership. Even if there are very good reasons why somebody happens to be unemployed, he or she feels usually ashamed of this diminished status. Speaking for myself, I was reluctant to advertise the fact of my unemployment to the world unless I really had to. I was also worried that I would come across as self-pitying.
Even now, I only feel able to write about this now because I have just been offered a job. But I want to write about my experience of being unemployed while it is still painfully fresh in my mind.
Oh, and my new job isn’t in a library. So I guess in a way, that I am still an unemployed librarian, because I am not working in the profession. Although I am glad to say that librarians do usually have a variety of skills which are marketable in the event they ever need to work in a different field. I’ll continue to keep my eyes open for library jobs, but I do so relieved at having any job that I may give Vodafone at least a year out of gratitude.
I find it interesting how people drift in and out of librarianship. No doubt there is somebody who always wanted to be a librarian, but all of my former co-workers as well as my fellow students at library school had an indirect path to library work. Librarianship seems to be an accidental profession. People enter the profession accidentally, and sometimes they leave the profession in a similar way.
Libraries in Australia are less funded and have fewer employees than their American counterparts. At least that has been my experience. I worked for a time, on a temporary basis at the University of New South Wales law library, which is one of Australia’s best academic law libraries. It is amazing that the UNSW law library has fewer staff and fewer volumes than my previous employer, the Hamline University law library. As much I really liked working at Hamline, it was a small private law school in the fourth tier of American law schools. Yet its law library was better equipped than one of Australia’s best academic law libraries! And my own law school, the University of Tasmania, has an even more meagre library. Just one professional librarian, yet it is certainly within the top ten of Australian law schools.
Of course, education is a lot more expensive for students in the USA, notwithstanding the changes in the Australian tertiary education system. I’m not saying that the American system is better overall, just that it seems to result in better funded and staffed academic libraries.
Maybe I’m not comparing apples with apples, because in Australian universities, the law library is usually just a branch of the main campus library system. Technical services is often centralized. Whereas in the US, the ABA rules require that the law library be separately administered. I think it is these ABA standards for academic law libraries which cause this disparity between Australian and American law libraries. The standards are fairly detailed and actually have teeth. If a law school’s library is not up to scratch, that law school will not be accredited – it’s as simple as that. That sort of external pressure helps the American university administrators from neglecting their law libraries too seriously.
Then in Tasmania, there are very few law libraries and special libraries (the two areas where I have the most experience). Most of the library jobs are in the public library system, the University of Tasmania or in the school system. I would be happy to work in a public library or non-legal academic library, if they would have me. Never in a school. I think that school librarians have a very important calling, but the way things are, the library is usually the least-valued and supported part of a school system which itself is already underfunded – nothing could entice me to work under such difficult and depressing circumstances.
It is a very small job market for librarians in Tasmania, and once somebody gets a library job here, they generally stay in it for a long time. Especially for law librarians, openings only happen when somebody dies or retires – and that’s if the employer doesn’t see this event as opportunity to replace the librarian position with a library assistant or technician.
I knew it would be more difficult to find library work in Tasmania, although to be honest, I did not think it would be this hard. I had forgotten that networking is of such crucial importance for finding work amongst this small close-knit group of librarians here. I do not have much of a network here and am not very good at using networking as a job-seeking method.
I know that if I moved to somewhere on the Mainland like Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, I would eventually be able to find a good library job there. I may end up doing that, but not right now. If moving up the ladder as a law librarian was the most important thing for me, I would have stayed in the USA. But I decided that the quality of life in Tasmania was more important, even if moving back would involve downshifting my career. I was prepared to be unemployed after my arrival – which happened. I was also prepared to be underemployed – which is happening now.
How much value does one put on natural beauty, the proximity of family, and a slower pace of life and friendlier strangers? What sort of sacrifice is appropriate to obtain such a thing?
Before I finish, I’ll talk about how my work changes may affect this blog. I still feel as if I am a librarian, and I still think like one, especially in my approach to blogging (lawyers make much of the ability to “think like a lawyer”, but I think that “thinking like a librarian” is just as real a concept). Only at the very beginning did this blog try to be a law library blog. I found that approach too constrictive and changed my focus to a librarian’s perspective on particular issues – some of which were at the heart of the profession, while others had little or nothing to do with librarians. For the time being, I think I’ll be able to continue this. After all, I hope to return to the profession within a year or two, and blogging will be one of the best ways of keeping in touch with the changes in the library world.