(See? I can make a link-baiting title too.)
LIBRARIANS AND STRESS: AN ANECDOTAL STUDY
(a.k.a Not cool, CNBC. Not cool.)
I've been working on this blog post all day, sneaking it in where I could during my breaks, trying to get my thoughts into coherent order (instead of anger-fueled order). Subsequently, I'm sure you guys have seen this mess by now: CNBC.com, with the help of something called CareerCast.com, created a list of the "Least Stressful Jobs of 2013." Naturally, librarians made the list. Why wouldn't we? Aren't we all just floating on clouds made of sugar, leisurely reading books while basking in the glow of constant patron compliments?
Nope. But this guy Tony Lee from CareerCast seems to think so! First, some context. Now, I don't really want to link to the illogical, asinine, poorly-written article again because then CNBC WINS, so below is the text on which I am focusing. (I tweeted the link around 9am today, so look for it there if you are desperate to read the whole thing.)
From the introduction:
"So what makes a job 'least' stressful? 'If you look at the list, the key that you see there is these are jobs where people are in control of their day – working as fast as they feel they need to be effective,' said Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com. 'You don't have somebody kind of breathing over your shoulder. There's no physical risk at all, and no one is depending on you in your job to make their life expectancy last longer!' 'These are jobs that that keep your blood pressure nice and low,' Lee said. And while you won't hear a lot of 'thank yous' for the most stressful jobs, these least stressful jobs are loaded with them! 'Most people tend to be thankful for what they do,' Lee said. "They get a lot of 'thank yous' and smiles and warm fuzzies!"
Um. Yeah. Just keep that in mind when you think about what you as a librarian go through every day. Here's what Lee had to say about our job:
"You're working in a comfortable environment. Your job is to help people use services as best as possible. Given that environment, stress levels are low," Lee said. "What's the most stressful thing a librarian faces? Teenagers with a paper due and you don't have the books. It's not really your stress," Lee said. Plus, there are mandatory "quiet" rules in libraries and you're surrounded by books. Books don't talk back or criticize the job you're doing!"
(They even repeat this point LATER when talking about a tailor's job, saying "And, like the librarian with the books, you have an added bonus – clothes don't talk back!"
UM, PEOPLE TALK BACK, YOU SILLY, MISINFORMED MAN!
Oh, Tony Lee of Careercast.com. Looks like you need a librarian on staff to help you with accuracy! Was this article researched at ALL? Have you even stepped foot inside a library within the past two decades?
So, yeah, this is all ridiculous. I wanted to respond, and this morning I decided to blog about it (and posted my intentions on Twitter and Facebook ). I knew my rant wouldn't be enough on its own, however, so I asked my Twitter librarian friends to help out. So many of them were just as baffled and frustrated by the article as I was.
Around 9:30am today I tweeted:
"Hey librarians, tweet me a reason that your job is stressful and I'll put it in my blog post. I'm so tired of the media getting us wrong."
Well, I got about a BILLION responses. Seriously, like, hundreds. I couldn't keep up. (Thanks, everyone!) Librarians be MAD, and we're not going to take it sitting down.
Based on the responses and on my own experiences, I've broken down the big librarian stressors into 5 categories. These are not exhaustive, and they totally blend into one another, and really I just wanted to capitalize on the list format that is so popular with the media these days. Forgive me for being sloppy and derivative. Also forgive me, Twitter friends, for not including every response yet. There were SO many of them, and they were all relevant (and some were downright disturbing and/or hilarious). Five hours later, I am STILL getting them, and still trying to sift through them, so I will try to add more as the day goes on. However, there were a lot of common themes that were repeated, so it's my hope that I've covered the basic idea. Feel free to add yours in the comments! (And if you're really curious, take a look at the Tweets I've "favorited" on Twitter, it shows them all.)
5 Reasons Being a Librarian Is Stressful (a.k.a. Shut up, CNBC!)
1) JOB SECURITY
I can't think of a bigger stressor than that one this these days. As budgets shrink, librarianship is becoming more and more unstable. My own job is threatened every six months or so, and every six months I panic and do (unpaid) grassroots advocacy to fight the cuts. This should not be, and it does not contribute to a stress-free work environment.
@olinj: How about the ever present spectre of budget cuts & possible layoffs?
How about that? That's fun, right? Moving on.
2) DEPLETING RESOURCES
Budget cuts don't just threaten the existence of our jobs - they decrease our ability to do our jobs as effectively as possible. This includes but is not limited to a lack of materials (books, office supplies, desks, even paper is scarce) and cancelled programs, like storytimes and RIF. And if you think these kinds of programs are not important, I'm going to send you a dictionary because you obviously need to re-learn the definition of important. I mean, the children who come into the library today are going to be running the world soon. Do we really want them to not be as educated as they possibly can be?
@pnkrcklibrarian: If the ILS breaks, I'm only one who can fix it. Broken OPAC shuts down public, cataloging, tech services, acquisitions, etc
@XineGirl: Watching the library building be worn down because there's no budget for maintenance. Not even carpet cleaning. UGH.
@XineGirl: Watching the digital divide get deeper and wider as people w/out computer skills are told "Go online!" for EVERYTHING
@aswatki1: constantly asked to do more more more for my patrons....but with less money than ever before.
@AnnieSeiler: Stretching an already super thin budget to last for all of your programs for the entire year, and justifying every penny.
@wylie_alan: dealing with the digital divide and ever increasing push towards e-government with a lack of ICT resources
@vcmcguire: Having to constantly justify our existence, provide more and better services with fewer hours, smaller budget, etc.
@MrsFridayNext: Also, I'd love to be able to convince an MBA who needs a checked-out reserve book RIGHT NOW that their stress is not mine.
That last one resonated with me a lot. Tony Lee doesn't really understand what it means to be a librarian. People MAKE their stress your stress. And if you're a good librarian, it will be your stress anyway. I actually DO care if that teenager finishes his research paper, Tony. Otherwise, what the hell am I here for? If we don't have the right resources, we cannot help people the way we want to. THAT IS STRESSFUL.
3) BEING SHORT-STAFFED
This comes along with the resources being hacked, but it's a big one. It's exhausting being on the desk all day. It's hard to feel like you're accomplishing anything when your time is stretched very thinly and you have to juggle various projects and there's a line of patrons and "MISS! MISS! THE BATHROOM KEY FELL IN THE TOILET!" Public librarians, for the most part, like to be part of a community. When there aren't enough librarians to get the job done, the job is much more stressful than it should be.
@katerzina: budget! trying to get ahead & plan summer reading but with no idea of a budget sucks. also, really bad under staffing.
@j13rexy: Im head of the teen depart, only part time. Sometimes I have to work alone, help patrons, plan programs, weed, update the...
@LibraryElfReads: sometimes, I'm the only librarian to answer questions and the line is often 3-5 pple long. Last time someone left the line.
@aswatki1: I'm janitor, mom, teacher, IT guy, nurse, cop, shrink, cheerleader, fireman, event planner. I make as much as a waiter.
@small_fox: I'm responsible for EVERYTHING for patrons 0-18 BY MYSELF unless I can find some volunteers to help
(To that point, volunteers are GREAT and extremely helpful, but it's not the same as having enough full-time librarians on staff.)
4) DEALING WITH PEOPLE
This one is the most obvious to me. I think we can all agree that any job dealing with the public, whether you're slinging burgers or books, is going to be stressful.
This category in can be broken down into various subcategories. We have sexual harassment, we have mentally ill patrons, we have fights and drunk people and screaming kids. And it's not just "problem" patrons that make it stressful, either. Librarians often act as a sounding board for people who just need to talk, and sometimes that can be stressful on us. It's not easy hearing about a woman who has lost her home or how a kid's father is in jail, etc. We are there for people, as we should be, but we are human too and it all takes an emotional toll.
@SarahNicholas: Most librarians have a story about being called a 'fucking bitch' or being spat at because a book was overdue or missing.
@unclassifiable_: Academic libraries aren't immune either.We had a patron with multiple personalities&a love of feces painting.
@funktious: I once had a student tell me she hoped I got raped, that was nice. Also many, many grown men shouting at me.
@LibraryElfReads: Books don't critize but people do, unfortunately. (Most are great, but a few really make it tough.)
@MrsFridayNext: Mentally unstable homeless people I deal with alone, no guaranteed quick response police. And I work at a major university.
@popgolibrarians: Students who blame ME for not having the books/articles they need and therefore ruining their academic career and life
@kelly_clever: Someone dropped the f-bomb on me once over a 10-cent fine. Sexual harassment from patrons is no fun, either.
@alextretiak: Patrons who complain to the mayor when your WiFi is a little slower because you have 250 extra patrons in after a hurricane.
People, amiright? Can't be a librarian with 'em, can't be a librarian without 'em.
5) PERCEPTIONS/LACK OF RESPECT
This category is, perhaps, a little more difficult to explain to non-librarians. Basically, we are swimming upstream in a world that doesn't really "get" our job. (Even some library administrators around the globe don't seem to understand our jobs, and it's being reflected in some of the work that librarians are being told to do - or not do.) I even have friends (well, acquaintances) who don't really understand or appreciate what I do, and I know they are probably rolling their eyes at this whole post, thinking "GOD, RITA, IT'S NOT LIKE IT'S BRAIN SURGERY." No, it's not. That doesn't mean there isn't stress. There's really not much we can do about this sort of thinking besides rail against it. So, I apologize for "whining" about this, but if I can get just one person to understand what a librarian really does, I will be satisfied.
@catagator: Librarians are asked to create oxygen everyday, for little pay and with little respect.
@esurientes: Fear of redundancy, budget cuts, tasks that are more administrative without using LIS skills, low morale.& this is Australia!
@coxtl: I constantly have to prove my worth in order to protect the library, budgets are cut but responsibilities are higher
Someone else said: "Librarian's starting salary is 10K LESS than a professor's, both positions require the same level degree."
Although I'm not sure how accurate that is (another Twitter user pointed out that professors need PhDs as well) it's a good point. Remember, people, you have to get a Master's Degree to be a librarian. That's stressful! Then you have to pay back your student loans with your paltry salary. ALSO STRESSFUL. I know, we took it upon ourselves to do a job that we (mostly) love, so we're not complaining. BUT STOP SAYING IT'S NOT STRESSFUL.
I realized that I haven't even scratched the surface of librarian stress, but I have a feeling that this will not be the last time we have this conversation, so I'll save some of my rage...I mean, THOUGHTS for another time.
Twitter friend @TJ800 said: "Also, the temptation of management to assign more tasks to library staff cos of the very perception that cnbc is touting."
And that's the main reason I am writing this post. These incorrect perceptions are not only annoying, they are potentially damaging. Quite frankly, I don't care if my job is respected or deemed impressive. That's not why I got into this career. But if people keep reading misinformation about how libraries aren't being used, or how being a librarian is a stress-free job, etc., they are going to want to stop paying taxes to fund libraries. They will stop donating, they will stop attending, they will stop taking out materials and bringing their kids. And then we will be in real trouble.
Look, Tony Lee. I'm sure you're a nice guy and had good intentions while contributing to this article (I'm not sure what they are, but I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt). But you're wrong. Just plain wrong. I don't want a ticker tape parade for librarians. I don't want accolades. I'm not even asking for higher pay (although that WOULD be nice, because I am not making anywhere near the "median salary" CNBC reported). I just want the media to stop feeding the erroneous assumptions. I just want to do my damn job and stop having to defend it every five minutes. Because if we librarians don't defend it, it's just going to get worse.
(Oh, okay. Throw a ticker tape parade for librarians IF YOU MUST. I won't complain about that.)
I welcome any comments. If I missed your tweet, please feel to share your thoughts below. Thank you for reading.