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January 28, 2016 - Ask Jan!
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Ask Jan is the advice column of the CLA Chronicle, featuring the sage advice of Pasadena Library Director Jan Sanders.  Jan loves to answer even the stickiest questions, so keep ‘em coming!  Please send questions in care of the editorial team…


Dear Jan,

I’m a newly minted librarian, fresh out of library school.  I was lucky enough to get a job in a great library system as a library aide.  I’m hoping to jump on the first available librarian job.  My frustration is that management is changing the positions in our system so that there are only 1-2 librarians in each branch, and the rest are library assistants—sort of a demi-librarian position, and paid much less.  Should I look for a job in another system or should I just hope that I am able to get one of the dwindling number of librarian positions.  Please help; this seems so unfair.

MLIS in a Muddle

Dear MLIS in a Muddle,

I think it is always good to keep your options open.  While many of your colleagues likely have worked within your system for YEARS, that practice may no longer be viable.  As a library director, I value the opinions and outlooks that come from folks who are new to the system, so I’m always eager for folks who have new experiences and opinions to offer.  You may find that more and more libraries are going to “demi-librarians”.   If so, you may have to look at a broader geographic range or be ready to do your search over again in 2-3 years!  The key to success lies in your own diversity of experience.  Be ready to take on new duties and roles (or even suggest some of your own) and keep looking around for ways to make your library (and thus your job) better.  Just avoid painting yourself in a corner. 

While I realize this may seem unfair-- just when you are ready to join the ranks of the employed professional, the sands are shifting under your feet—knowing that you have the variety of skills and the positive experience to face challenges will put you in good shape for the job market.  Remember, in any interview, you are selling yourself, so be positive and upbeat.  Meantime, use your position as library aide to learn, learn, learn.  Watch the professionals and be willing to step up to help with projects so you gain the experience they already have. 


Dear Jan,

My supervisor, who has been head of reference for years, is going back to school to get her MLIS.  This is having a big impact on my workload, since she has management’s approval to do some of the class work on library time.  How do I talk to her about this without upsetting her?  Should I even try?

Suffering in Silence

Dear Suffering,

The decision to allow staff to do this work on “library time” is obviously one that your system finds acceptable.  We all know that academic work can expand to fill any time allotted, so it may be that you have the larger public service workload for a while!  You might try this:  1) Congratulate her for going back to school.  Having been in her position for a while, it can’t be easy to do that.  Let her know that you are proud of her.  2) Ask her advice on setting your schedule and workload to meet the needs of your public.  She knows quite well what the service demands are and the timing of those demands.  Maybe you can work on finding times that would give her quiet study time and still not make it impossible for you to handle the desk.  I think you have to make this conversation NOT about you, and NOT even about her, but about the customer.  Let her know you want to meet their needs and you need her help in setting the path.  And yes, you should try to approach the conversation.  Suffering in silence never gets anyone ahead and usually just ends up building resentment and frustration.

Hope these tips are helpful to each of you.  I don’t have all the answers, but I can give you past practices that worked for me.  Good luck!