Breaking Up with Libraries
I'm excited to announce that beginning June 10th, I'll be working as a web developer at Aten Design Group. Aten (rhymes with Manhattan) is a small Drupal shop in downtown Denver that works largely with non-profits.
Why am I leaving libraries? Sadly, it comes down to the family bottom line. David works for the feds, and the threat of sequestration this spring really scared us. He makes more than twice what I do. Could we live on his salary, without making major changes to the family shelter, food, transportation, hobbies, and life in general? Yes. Mine? Not so much. My skills and knowledge have increased exponentially in the past 8 years while working at two different kinds of libraries, and my salary has not changed to reflect this. The Occupational Outlook Handbook (which I know about because of my librarian skillz) informs me that my salary level for those past 8 years is 77% of the median salary for a web developer. The median. What's worse, I've seen many library web jobs going for much less than what I've been paid by my last two employers. I knew going into my MSLS that I wasn't going to get rich working in libraries, but accepting less than I'm worth puts undue strain on our family finances. I'm not willing to be a martyr for my profession if it means compromising what I want out of life for myself, my husband, and our kids.
Also in the mix is my general frustration with library technology. We pay BILLIONS to ILS and other vendors each year, and for what? Substandard products with interfaces that a mother would kick to the curb. We throw cash at databases because they have the periodical content our clients need locked up inside them, and over a decade after the failure that was federated searching, we STILL do not have an acceptable product that provides a user-friendly interface and makes managing the data behind the scenes as easy as it needs to be for library staff. Go to a LITA Forum session on this topic, and you'll find one of our talented colleagues discussing how they implemented one of these tools, followed by all of the ways it disappointed them and their users. EVERY. YEAR. that I've gone to Forum, these sessions are on the schedule; I've even given a couple. Library systems are chicken wire and duct tape on top of chicken wire and duct tape, and unless and until we stop simply throwing money at vendors and DEMAND changes, that will not change. And eBooks? We can't even GET the content, and when we can, we're price gouged. Sure, it's opening up a bit--there are some open source options for discovery tools out there, and Overdrive is no longer the only show in town--but not all libraries can afford, in terms of money and human resources, to piece together these solutions. And remember federated searching? It was easy enough to integrate two databases into a library web interface twelve years ago. What's going to happen when each publisher has their own (likely awful) platform? Have you walked a patron through trying to get an eBook onto a reader in the existing platforms?! I'm tired of fighting this battle, and truth be told, working on kludging these tools together has hampered our own personal and professional growth and development. We can't provide a modern web experience, which does irreparable harm to public perception of libraries.
While these two issues are my own personal reasons for this immediate employment change in my life, these are have been significant crises in librarianship for a very long time. Regarding pay, if we don't value ourselves by accepting substandard pay, why should our constituents fund us? This is made worse by our collective passion; we are so eager to please that we kill ourselves helping people for compensation that's all too often below the country's median salary. If we don't declare our value and our worth, how can we declare value and worth to our MLS degrees (which many of us are still paying off) and the services we provide? If we don't grab the vendors by the lapels and demand that they retool, rebrand, and remake the pieces of our systems to reflect something that even comes close to the ecommerce experience our users expect, what's the point?
I love librarians and libraries, and I believe in a future for them. I hope that in five years, the person next to one of us on a flight won't say, "Do we need libraries, since everything is online?" They'll get, instinctively, the inherent value of not just libraries, but LIBRARIANS to society. They'll pull out a mobile device and say, "Hey, cool, I got the eBook I'm reading on this flight from my library's AWESOME web site! They have ALL of my favorite authors!" Maybe after immersing myself in a non-library web development for a good long, I'll have the skills and experience to come back and help solve some of these issues. And if y'all think I'm missing ALA in Vegas next year just because I won't be working in a library any more, you're sorely mistaken. Love you guys.