Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In Hiring, Is Your Library the New York Yankees or the Minnesota Twins?

My way of thinking about hiring reference librarians has been challenged. I had not even realized that I had an assumption about practices regarding large and small libraries and the individuals that they add to their teams. Now I see there is another viewpoint, which has some merit. Of course, reality falls between the philosophies.

It has been said that to understand America, you must understand baseball. I think baseball modeling can apply to libraries, too. So, I ask this question:

Is your library the New York Yankees or the Minnesota Twins?

I have always thought that smaller public libraries take a more Minnesota Twins approach to hiring librarians. Not able to offer the highest salaries, smaller libraries tend to choose recent library school graduates (fresh from their farm teams) and put them in the lineup. They then field questions at the reference desk and go to bat for the libraries to order books, plan events, and design websites. These rookies bring a lot of excitement into the smaller libraries and develop a strong fan following.

After a few years, these librarians elect to become free agents and hire themselves to new teams at higher salaries. Larger libraries, like the New York Yankees, are always looking for veteran players who excel in the game. These institutions accumulate the stars, the heavy hitters, the gold glove librarians who will make few errors.

It was suggested to me recently that this thinking is all wrong and that new librarians should start with the big libraries and that the smaller libraries need the veterans. New librarians need the mentors and the greater resources available in the big libraries. In small libraries, where a librarian may often be alone without another professional on deck, a veteran will know what to do in difficult situations and need few reference tools because she will know how to get the answers from what she has on hand.

This challenge has made me look around, and I see that both philosophies are in practice. Recent graduates go to both small and large libraries. They learn a lot when they are the only players on the field, or they benefit from being with vets in a full lineup. Veteran librarians are sometimes moving to smaller libraries where they may be more comfortable than in large organizations. Sadly, no one is throwing money around like the Yankees.

Ironically, when I think about my career, I realize that I actually started at a fairly large library and then moved to a small library. Subsequently I worked for a big organization and then a small one again. I will take my bat and glove wherever I am needed.

Few of us are like Craig Biggio, Kirby Puckett, or Robin Yount, staying with one team. Most of us aspire to be Don Baylor or Nolan Ryan, starring for several libraries.

Put me in coach! Let's play two!


Anonymous said...

It seems like this can all depend. If there is a veteran at a small library who is willing to take a new librarian under his/her wing, a smaller place could be very beneficial. You wouldn't necessarily get lost in the shuffle and your ideas are more likely to be accepted if you are willing to do the work to realize them.

Before I started library school, I was at a small library. Considering how I was treated there and how the "professional" librarians acted, it's actually a wonder that I stuck with the program. After graduating, I ended up at a large university library where I was so far down on the totem pole my job title might as well have been peon. Then I moved to a mid-sized university and find that there are more opportunities although I'm still having to fight a fair bit to be able to try new things. However, I think I'll reach a point where that won't happen as much. So, I think it's just going to depend on the type of people where you end up and the overall organizational philosophy.

Meredith Farkas said...

I work at a small academic library and definitely find it to be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I get to do a little bit of everything since there are so few staff members. On the other hand, I've had no real mentoring or training because no one has time to focus on that (I see the same happening with my new colleague who is eager to learn more about doing effective instruction, but, here, he's only going to learn it from his own experience and books).

I don't think there is any perfect career route for a new librarian; each one has its positives and negatives. In terms of finding a second job, I'm happy that I have such a diverse array of skills and experience to put on my resume. But I would have loved to have a mentor here when I was just starting out.