Of Course I'll Be Fine: A Response

- 5 mins

I am very grateful to Meredith Farkas who took on my library burnout story and was gracious enough to write a full response that is great in many ways. Since I initially read it, comments have appeared and the whole post is worth a response to certain points.

The short answer to Meredith’s title question: absolutely not. That’s why I am trying to bring things to light by speaking and encouraging others who have the ability and desire to speak as well. I don’t know how much emotional outrage will actually change hiring and employment practices, but people noticing is a start. Nor, I should mention, is this a problem unique to LIS, academia, or much American employment practice broadly. The first job search is brutal for anyone who isn’t a unicorn in their field (insert subrant about millenial bashing here). This goes more for people whose jobs are pink collar (nursing, education, librarianship), not supported by capitalism (humanities graduates), and/or generated as a result of hypercapitalism (fast food, service industries). What happens in our little LIS domain is a microcosm for the broader practice of capitalistic employment. That said, we can change. We can pound away at the cracks in the wall.

But more importantly to this and other informal writings surrounding my situation: this is not my problem. It’s all of ours. I can only steer the direction of this conversation to where it needs to be if people get it in their minds that this is not an isolated incident and it is not an incident of personal failures. “It will be okay” ; “It gets better” ; “Something will work out” ; “I went through that too” – offering these platitudes to job searchers, students, and young professionals isn’t just tone deaf, it’s exactly the problem I am speaking out against. I know that all of those platitudes apply to me. I’m a white man with a technically-foucsed Master’s degree and (now) a middle class support system. Of course I am going to be fine. In fact, I may be employed in academic librarianship by the first of the year due to a recent turn of events. That is just so not the point.

The first point of Meredith’s that I want to address is the final one: “In the big picture, we should advocate to decrease the number of people going into LIS programs.” Absolutely. Not. Dear friend of this blog Sveta and I put this pretty simply in a recent informal conversation: there is more than enough work for LIS grads. There isn’t monetary support to hire people to do this work at a living wage. If I’m being blunt, that’s not actually library school’s problem. Sure, I have concerns over sending new librarians to school–the abuse of young professionals, the lack of funding, societal views of librarians as secondary and/or useless, student debt control–but I do not think that library schools have the ethical imperative to turn young professionals-in-training away. Charge less or nothing? Provide financial aid? Fight back against administrations? Yes. Enrollment scruitny? Not quite. More often than not the exclusionary tactics used in these kinds of admissions decisions are decidedly in service to white supremacy and against actual diversity. Literally everyone but the unicorn loses when we go this route. Instead, we must consider an organized resistance to oppressive funding structures. Or, as my friend Myron stresses:

This does not provide a short term fix to what many see as an LIS graduate oversupply, but I am not concerned with fixing a short-term problem for the reasons listed above. The damage done in the interim as a whole is just too great for me to fathom. I want you to direct your energy to something that works for good instead of making certain individuals feel good.

Now, the second assertion I want to take on is one in the beginning paragraphs: I am not rare. I’m privileged, sure. I am by far not rare. Holding me up as a model example and asserting that I am somehow different than people who haven’t received acolades as traditional as mine is just flat out wrong. Many highly trained, extremely diversely experienced, extremely intelligent and resourceful people come out of LIS programs and do not get jobs. Stacie Williams writes excellently about this. I have the privilege to speak up; I have the privilege to still eat and have a roof over my head with income only coming from an unsteady, “sharing economy” service job with a company I seriously loathe from an ethics, labor, and capitalist standpoint. Many have confided in me about similar situations, various abuses as a young and/or para- professional and library student without the ability to speak up. But to call me rare because I “did it right” again backs up the very white supremacist, structural issues I want to destroy. You’re not helping by individuating and making it about my story rather than the structural issue.

All this said, I think some of the points Meredith makes are worthwhile and achievable points for LIS practitioners to work on while still fighting the long-range fight. Read it, scrutinize it, take it to heart. We can disagree and still work towards good together.

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