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In defense of the MLS (Sort of)

November 28, 2011
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So, officially this was supposed to be a Point-Counterpoint type collaboration between me and Terry—he giving the argument for alternative paths towards a professional archives position, including the kind of introductory-level training that he describes, and me arguing for the traditional value of the MLS/MLIS/MARA as a professional qualification. Unfortunately, having read Terry’s excellent post, I am having a hard time disagreeing with his vision of an alternate path to professionalism. Awkward.

Perhaps some discussion of my career trajectory thus far can serve as a jumping-off point for discussion of the value of the MLS. I came to the archives field the way a lot of archivists end up finding their way here—I had been planning to pursue a Ph.D. in History, but was fortunate enough to learn from my undergraduate advisor about the dismal prospects in History academia BEFORE I spent the 6+ years working on a dissertation which would be read by 4 people, and so decided to change course a bit. Another person might have been left adrift, but I was fortunate to be working at about the same time at an archival internship at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, and even more fortunate to discover that I enjoyed the work immensely (seeing it as “basically history without the pesky “writing about what you’re researching” bit). I applied to a few archives programs, got into the University of Maryland History/Library Science dual degree program, and 3 years later had the great fortune of getting an archives/RM job that I actually like straight out of school. So there’s me, from High School to Archivist in 7 years. Not too shabby!

Now, backing up a bit into the library school experience itself, here’s a few thoughts about the value of the MLS from my own perspective as a straight-from-undergrad archivist (which, according to A*CENSUS, is a path less than 40% of archivists take to their first professional position):

  • I supplemented my formal archives education with a LOT of practical experience. Maryland’s program, at the time I attended, included a practicum component in the Intro to Archives class (there was also the option to write a paper if you didn’t have time for a 50-hour practicum), but beyond that I supplemented my income and experience with a number of jobs in archives and libraries around the DC area. Even after I got my teaching assistantship with the UMD History Department, I worked full-time during summers in archives/records management settings and tried to work at least a few hours a week in archives during the year so I would continue to develop professional experience. I am reasonably certain that the amount and quality of these opportunities was a major factor in my relatively quick employment after graduation. So there is certainly an argument to be made for positions performing more basic archives work early on.
  • I learned as much or more about archives from my work as I did from my classes. (Maybe.) For a while, I held as an article of faith the idea that my practical work was more useful than my library school coursework in terms of giving me the skills I needed to do the work of a professional archivist (I learned more about implementing MARC cataloging and performing records surveys during fieldwork than I ever did in the related classes, e.g.) Even with the benefit of hindsight, I think at least a few of the courses I took in library school were wastes of my time, and probably most people could name some courses about which they felt the same way. This too would seem to argue in favor of the more practical approach towards archival training. However, my view on this has changed somewhat since I have had to supervise students of my own as a professional. Some students we get are brand new to the archives field and require a lot of hand-holding to get their work to where it needs to be; students who are further along in the program are often more sophisticated in their thinking about issues of arrangement, description, lateral thinking about reference questions, etc., and so require less supervision. To be sure, some of these students have had experience elsewhere to draw upon, but I am still less certain than I was even 4 years ago that practicum vincit omnia. (Please excuse my Dog Latin.) Particularly in light of the next thing that I’ve noticed:
  • My student work, particularly my early student work, was laughably bad. There are still some finding aids I wrote as an undergraduate available for perusal online; I won’t provide the link because I’m pretty embarrassed about their quality. Yes, these were written 8 years ago, but I had no real idea what I was doing and it shows—there’s little integration with the overall description system, my appraisal of what is and is not important is just awful, and I emphasize all the wrong things in my scope/content note and other narrative description data. I wouldn’t expect any more from a fledgling archivist, and certainly a lot of these problems would fix themselves through experience, but the theoretical basis I obtained in my archives course has helped me to be more efficient and effective in a way that just dealing with the idiosyncrasies of particular institutions would not. And remember, my embarrassment is just at the relatively simple task of processing a collection; I shudder to think of the struggles I would have had had I been dropped into a situation where I had to do program or strategic planning.

So, do these ramblings have a point? Surprisingly, yes!  I see my archival education experience as a sort of apprenticeship—I worked for little pay and for long hours on projects of limited scope—describing collections, say, or helping to create a database of photographs taken by campus photographic services—while at the same time getting at least some of the kind of theoretical knowledge I would need to take my skills to the next level and look holistically at an Archives program (figuring out how to set priorities, select and implement standards, develop outreach plans, etc.). At the end of said apprenticeship, I even get to call myself a Master!

(IMPORTANT NOTE: If your significant other is ABD and you try to insist upon this terminology, he/she will laugh at you. At some length. Trust me on this one.)

My guess is that a lot of the work that archives currently give to volunteers or students in MLIS programs probably could fit into the kind of graduated professional structure that Terry describes. Come to that, a lot of project archivist positions, where people are working on a particular collection or laying the groundwork for a specific program such as a CMS, would probably also fit into this niche. So I do think that Terry’s alternative plan of experience plus certification is a very viable one—provided that the experience is extensive enough, and the certification process is robust enough (though he does address both of those points).

As soon as you start to do the kind of broad-based, management-level work you find in posts like the one I wrote about last time, though, you really should have—and employers should require—an MLIS or equivalent. Sure, the degree can be, and often is, used as a gatekeeper requirement for a position, but ideally it is evidence that you have committed to the profession and to learning more about higher levels of administering that profession, and are capable of the kinds of responsibilities that you would expect to find at Master-level work. When you put someone with just a BA into a position like that, you devalue the professional degree, you run the very real risk of overwhelming your new employee, and you waste a lot of time, money, and energy on bringing said employee up to speed on the skills and theory he/she needs to not just do the job, but to do the job well.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Here’s Arlene in the comments of my last post:

The reason you demand a masters degree in archival studies for an entry level position including those without a management component is so that you get pre-prepared employees who have already read the major texts in the field. So you don’t have to spend time explaining things like appraisal theory. And, if they’ve come out of a good school, they already have some hands-on experience through practicums or internships. I know of no bachelor’s degree that is offering archival education at a level that would suffice. I’d much rather spend my time training the new employee to do things my way than to have them spend three months reading Posner, Boles, Danielson, etc, just to get the concepts.

So, yeah, she just said in 100 words what took me 1400. Apparently just because I have an MLS doesn’t mean that I have a handle on the whole “Brevity” thing.

How to become an archivist in ten short years: take one.

November 28, 2011
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Oh, Terry, when will you learn? I dropped into a twitter conversation last week and ended up leaving wih a promise to provide a point of view post for this blog on “how I got from graduation to archivist in ten years.” Kids are sneaky and have little respect for their befuddled elders. But more on that another time and place.

The conversation that got this started centered on a Drexel University job post for an archives technician. The announcement’s requirements looked like Drexel was trying to hire an archivist on the cheap. Whether or not that’s the case, the larger question here was articulated by Brad Houston (@herdotusjr for the twiterati): “As noted, I don’t think not having a Masters-level degree should DISQUALIFY you, but having the degree shd mean something”.

True enough. And we’ll get back to that question, kids. But first let’s imagine a different path to becoming an archivist. A path that was once available to youngsters back in the fog of history (like when yours truly was misguided youth).

Say a young, starry-eyed high school graduate gets into a nice university. We won’t name name names here — no need stirring up rivalries — but our unamed youngster wants to be a historian (and didn’t bother to read Larry Cebula’s stark “Open Letter to my students: no you cannot be a professor”).

While slogging through an undergraduate program (one that will cost an average of $60K and leave said undergrad nearly $25k in debt if they are one of the lucky 38% to finish in four years) our little history Candide gets a job or an internship or something in a local archives and gets hooked. Upon graduation, with a freshly pressed BA in hand, our aspiring archivist starts looking for a job.

This is where a little suspension of disbelief is in order, gentle readers. No one in 2011 looks for an archives job with a BA. While some might be available, the competition with MLIS’s (over 50,000 awarded from 2000-2008) and other masters degree holders is pretty steep.

But consider an alternative pathway for our 22 year old beamish graduate. Suppose that rather than taking on an additional two years of college (and another pile of debt), there was a “beginning archivist” career path. Leave the naming of such a job to human resources — just consider it a position that allows an educated person to perform basic archives functions, with training and under supervision, at a lower salary than an archivist with a graduate education.

Suppose further that the Academy of Certified Archivists revamped its requirements for certification by strengthening the exam and allowing anyone who had either five years experience at the “beginning archivist” level or had a masters degree and some short period of experience to sit for it. This would allow motivated beginning archivists to use continuing education and on the job training to become “real” archivists through a different pathway than graduate education. This would let our hypothetical high school student start an archival career at age 28, ten years after leaving high school.

Now I’m not dogging the MLIS. It’s a benefit to programs to have the deeper theoretical understanding and broader professional knowledge that a graduate degree provides. But is it really the only way for  person to become an archivist? There are other issues at play here — graduate education in general, value related to debt, ratio of graduates to available jobs, diversity and economics, reduced institutional budgets and equitable compensation — but this is supposed to be a conversation between me and Brad. So I’d like to come back to his tweet as a launching space for his initial salvo: “As noted, I don’t think not having a Masters-level degree should DISQUALIFY you, but having the degree shd mean something”

OK, Brad. What does having the degree mean? What should it mean? What could it mean?

Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself

November 23, 2011
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ETA: It has come to my attention that as of 11:00 or so on November 23, this post has been removed from Drexel’s iSchool job site. I have no idea what, if any, effect this post may have had on that decision, but if the two events are related I am very appreciative towards the Drexel folks for at least taking these points into consideration.

Today’s doozy of a job posting is brought to you by Drexel University. Let’s take a look, shall we:

Title: Archives Technician
Employer: Drexel University Libraries
Location(s):
Philadelphia, PA — USA

Hours: Full-time
Salary: Commensurate with experience

Duties:
The Archives Technician supports the work of the University Archives and Special Collections by providing patron assistance; accessioning, arranging, describing and preserving print and electronic collections; and coordinating outreach efforts.

– Provide patron assistance to onsite and remote patrons, including maintaining the reference database, performing research, providing and scheduling reading room service
– Accession, arrange and describe archival collections, including creating finding aids
– Maintain the Archives’ desc-riptive tools, including its website, finding aids, style-sheets, web archive, and digital collections. Add content to iDEA, Drexel’s institutional repository.
– Plan and promote exhibitions, open houses, and other educational outreach events. Coordinate these outreach efforts and Archives’ social media (Web 2.0) activities with the Libraries’ Marketing & Events Associate
– Assist the Records Management Archivist in acquiring and accessioning electronic and print records generated by University offices and scholarly work created by faculty and students
– Train and supervise scanning technicians
– Other duties as assigned

Qualifications:
– Bachelor’s degree required
– Familiarity with the functions of an archives, library or information organization
– Superior organizational and communication skills and demonstrated service orientation
– Eager engagement in an environment of organizational change with a commitment to growth in skills and responsibilities
– Experience working in a collaborative environment, including working with people with diverse backgrounds.
– Sound judgment and the ability to handle responsibilities with both discretion and independence.
– Demonstrated appropriate initiative with the highest degree of integrity.

Ahh, the infamous “Archives Technician” position title. Back when I was a wee archivling, still in Library School but at the point where I began to think “Oh hay, I should start looking for that ‘job’ thing”, I would see “Archives Technician” positions all the time on USAJobs and other similar, bureaucracy-based job sites. I quickly learned that “archives technician” was code for “We don’t have to pay you as much money as we would if we called you an archivist, even though we’re going to make you do as much work as an archivist.” The above posting doesn’t disappoint on that front! It is a full-time job, for which the archives technician is expected to perform all of the traditional archivist duties: not just collections management and processing, but outreach and digital assets management, including responsibility for management of the archives’ web presence. (Is this full responsibility? Partial responsibility, e.g. for their particular unit? The ad doesn’t say.)  But I digress; expecting a technician to do an archivist’s work is so common it’s almost routine at this point.

No, the sticking point in my craw for this particular ad is the following:

Qualifications:

-Bachelor’s degree required

Sorry, I think I read that wrong. WHAT kind of degree?

-Bachelor’s degree required

Oh, for the love of Buddha.

So, let me qualify my impending rant thusly: I do not think that the MLS ipso facto qualifies or disqualifies any particular person for any particular position. It is to a certain extent a “gatekeeper” qualification– you want to be able to see, at a glance, that your applicant has put in the time and training for a professional position– but its absence does not necessarily mean that the person is unqualified for the job (think of the library paraprofessionals who are more familiar with database searching than the “full” librarians). So I really am not trying to be elitist here.

Having said that.

It is incredible to me that this position only requires a B.A. as its educational qualification. The job description is, as noted, a description that would fit a “regular” archivist for all but a few job duties (mostly administrative in nature), and most institutions would want their candidates to have a M.L.S. Come to that, Drexel may also want their “ideal” candidate to have a M.L.S. But by making the B.A. the minimum qualification, the hiring authorities there have cleverly set themselves up for one of the two following scenarios:

a) The position is filled by someone without an M.L.S. Because the candidate does not have “full” qualifications as an archivist, it is deemed “reasonable” to pay them less than they would be paid in a comparable position elsewhere.

b) The position is filled by someone WITH an M.L.S. Because the minimum qualification for this job is a B.A., it is deemed “reasonable” to pay them less than they would be paid in a comparable position elsewhere, because they are “overqualified”– nobody made them get that graduate degree. They will probably be paid more than person a), but not much more.

Now, I admit that this is just one institution that is shortchanging one archives position. Hell, on the Records Management side, the M.L.S. is USUALLY seen as an added bonus, rather than as a requirement for the job. The thing is…I paid a lot of money for my M.L.S. (Probably too much money, but that’s another story.) The M.L.S.’s return on investment is not wonderful to begin with, but the one expectation that one DOES have from this degree is that it qualifies one to do the kind of archival management jobs that pay a wage you can at least live on. The message being sent by this ad is that “we don’t value the M.L.S. as an indicator of professional training and experience.” And the more institutions that post jobs like this, the less that the degree is going to be worth. What’s more, this is from an institution WITH an archives program–you would expect the institutional archives to work to INCREASE the value of a degree from said program.

Yes, this is an entry-level position, and so you don’t expect to see “Ph.D. and 15 years of experience” and all of that stuff. But it would be nice of them to at least pretend that you need to have at least a minimal professional training qualification before you can jump right in to a professional-level position.

so, how much can you make as an archivist, really?

August 23, 2011

I completed my grad degree in library and information studies over five years ago. I do not have a permanent, full-time job as an archivist, and I am about to be unemployed self-employed again in two weeks, when my current (part-time!) contract ends. It wasn’t my intention to do a whole lot of freelance copy-editing, proofreading — and some writing — while looking for a full-time job for half a decade, but life has a way of making things kind of wild and random. Predictability is boring, right?

Hunting for a job is all about smoke and mirrors: isn’t that what all this job searching crap teaches you, anyway? Play the game the employers want you to: we’re all a bunch of multi-tasking team players who also work well independently, right?

I’m re-posting something I wrote long before I was invited to contribute to this collective blog. It’s still relevant:  after half a decade of scanning job ads, composing cover letters and reconfiguring resumes, I’m feeling a whole lot of righteous anger whenever a ridiculous job posting appears on a job board or listserv.

The original post can be found here, but I’m re-posting in its entirety, so no need to aggravate any pre-existing repetitive stress injuries you may have developed by endless clicking, clicking, clicking….

Originally posted on Thursday, April 14, 2011:

It’s spring, so it’s time for a shitload of employers to post their Young Canada Works jobs: jobs that are partially funded by the government for students between the ages of 15 and 30. The employer pays half, the government pays half, and a student gets a job that is related to his or her career goals. The pay varies wildly, depending on how much money the institution has.

I recently heard a random statistic on the radio that a living wage in Vancouver is determined to be around the $18/hr mark. That’s $10 more an hour than the current minimum wage in British Columbia, and $8 more than what the minimum wage will be around this time next year. A living wage is what you need to cover basic expenses. The average hourly wage in BC is $23.16.

Here is one full-time position, posted to a listserv. They are paying $13 an hour.

Job Posting: Archive Digitizaion Assistant/Library Assistant
Vancouver

Position: Archive Digitization Assistant/Library Assistant
Duration: 14 weeks, 35 hours per week, Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM, $13/hr
Eligibility: Full-time post-secondary student returning to full-time studies in the Fall, aged 15-30
Start date: To be arranged no later than May 30th, 2011

http://www.musiccentre.ca/apps/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.FA_dsp_details&newsid=1575

And here is another full-time position, for $23.96 an hour:

That second job posting? It pays more than my current job. I make less than the average hourly wage in BC. I’m also throwing 63% of what I earn towards rent right now — financial experts say you shouldn’t be paying more than 30-35% of your income towards rent/mortgage.

My current job requires a graduate degree in library and/or archives studies. That job listed above — no graduate degree necessary, but they still pay $1.00 + more an hour than what I am getting right now, with my fancy degrees. The City of Vancouver is currently advertising a position for a Parking Enforcement Officer: $23.96 per hour, and a high school diploma is the only educational requirement.

In 2005/06, I had a student job at McGill University that paid $9/hr.

The job wasn’t bad and at times it was really awesome, but the pay was terrible. I was 31 years old (too old to apply for any Young Canada Works jobs) and making $9 an hour, which was 50 cents more an hour than I had made 12 years previous, just out of high school, working in a chocolate store.

But I figured it was all temporary. $9 was a terrible wage, considering my education and skills, but it was in the field I wanted to be in, and hey! It’s just a student job! I’ll be making craploads in no time! [by “craploads” I figured I would be in the $45,000 to $55,000 range by year 5 of my life as an archivist — entry level positions at Library and Archives Canada were being offered at $50,000 in 2006.] I will get a good job and pay back those loans, go on regular vacations, have a social life … I certainly didn’t anticipate developing an electrifying case of burnout during my first job out of grad school, or my brother-in-law killing himself and thereby shattering my family, or what all of the aforementioned would do to my world-view.

I have a job right now, and I am very, very grateful for it. But sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and make a different decision, one that didn’t include grad school. If I had stayed at the convenience store I was working at when I decided I needed to get more education, I would be earning more than what I am earning now (good union).

Or I would be in jail, because that job made me want to kill people. Or….. it doesn’t matter. I don’t have the money to get the supplies to build the time machine. But when my contract is done at the end of the summer, I’ll probably have the time to pursue a little physics research. We’ll see.

Dear Dr. Schellenberg

August 22, 2011
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Dear Dr. Schellenberg,

I understand you are somewhat of an expert in the archival field. Let’s talk job etiquette.

Obviously this is a terrible job market. I’m really not picky. I’m willing to move almost anywhere that has at least one decent restaurant and to be able to live the lifestyle I’ve grown accustomed to (i.e., eating regular meals). So imagine my surprise when I see the perfect job opening only a few weeks after graduation. Never mind that this town doesn’t even get its own craigslist; there is at least one Thai restaurant and I could probably live in a mansion with a few acres of arable land for what I pay in rent now. A few weeks later I’m having a phone interview, being told that prospective candidates are being brought in within the next few weeks and I’m on my way to my mansion! After sending off some lovely thank-you notes, I waited. For four weeks.

At this point, I’ve slogged through a summer of part time jobs and freelance work. So one day I’m sitting at one of my desks/cubicles/workstations and I realize that I actually did interview for a real job and what ever happened to that Thai restaurant? So I send an e-mail to check in. A few days later I get the response that the position had been filled and there were many qualified applicants. It was pretty clear that if I hadn’t “checked in,” I probably would have never heard from them again.

So Schelly. Give it to me straight. In the archives world, is this even within the realm of appropriate employer behavior? I realize that I shouldn’t expect a response from every job that I apply to – that most of my lovingly crafted cover letters go into some void somewhere and get eaten – but to get no response after a phone interview? For a month? Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Aggravated in the Archives

Dear Aggravated Archivist,

There is much informational value in your inquiry. I am unsure what you mean by “craigslist” – is this a new method of appraisal?

Regarding your inquiry, this is quite rude. They put you in a real pickle! I am assuming this organization has a terrible handle on its own records management and may in fact still be using Jenkinson’s manual. You are likely better off not working for an institution such as this. Make sure to thoroughly appraise each job opportunity and avoid putting too much sentimental value on ethnic restaurants.

The Choo-Choo Archives

June 30, 2011

I’m going to tell a story from my latest round of job searching, and the most important thing to say at the beginning is that I firmly believe that in most cases, we’re all doing the best we can. In fact, I’m telling this story so that, maybe, people involved in smaller institutions can see what it looks like when you’re offering a raw deal to young professionals because, as I’ve discovered, sometimes they don’t know the difference.

I also want to tell a story from the position of someone who isn’t just out of grad school and who doesn’t feel as though she’s drowning in a sea of other candidates (although, trust me, I’ve been there). I suppose the message to new graduates is that the bad deals from employers won’t stop coming — the only thing that can change is your acceptance of them.

Also, I’m calling the institution the Choo-Choo Archives because I really don’t want to hurt anyone, and there are just too few institutions that match the true profile.

Director of Choo-Choo Library and Archives Requirements:

  • Reference
  • Library processing
  • Archival processing
  • Exhibits
  • Object accessioning
  • Rights and reproductions
  • Come up with cool projects and get grants to get them funded
  • Manage budgets
  • Participate in consortial projects
  • Collection development
  • Create policies
  • Presentations to donors and VIPs

Must have

  • MLS
  • 3-5 years experience
  • Tech skills
  • Library/archives standards
  • Management abilities

So, let me say off the bat that I BARELY had the skills  required to do this job. I had been supervising a team of six, working with budgets, and basically being the head of a department, so I was fairly confident that I could do that bit. My rad Michigan Archives education, internships, and first job in an archives had left me comfortable with the archives/library work. And I was ready to be a firecracker, a leader, and give a lot of energy to this pretty-rad institution. But I was just barely peeking into that 3-5 year requirement, and HOLY GOD look at that list of responsibilities up there!

Interviews

Long story short, the interviews went reasonably well. Everyone was honest about the institution’s needs and shortcomings. We discussed the fact that… there’s no repository management software to speak of (no ILS, no digital asset management), no true IT support, not nearly as much hardware or software as would be needed, and a somewhat-broken organizational culture. But we also talked about how exciting it would be, how committed they are to interacting with the active Choo-Choo community, collecting Choo-Choo oral histories and making sure that the Choo-Choo archives is a true community space. In some ways, the job was everything I wanted professionally — autonomy, community engagement, adventure.

But, they warned me, the institution’s finances are stretched, and if you got this job, would you be able to do it for $40k/year?

If you’re not gasping right now, you should be.

Negotiation

But, the interviewer said something which I found hopeful, which was that getting the institution’s finances under control was an active project, and after that was figured out, creating more reasonable salaries is among the highest priorities.

And before accepting, I asked if I could see a copy of the business plan that had this all worked out — income generation, spending priorities, etc.

But, unfortunately, they told me, no plan actually exists. Just discussions and hopes. I knew then and there that this probably wasn’t an institution that could implement the changes that I would want to be a part of.

So, when I had the conversation with the institution about why I had to turn down the job, I made sure to cover the following points:

  • In a lot of ways, this is a dream job. If I could do it, I would. The institution, collections, staff, and community are all amazing. I’m grateful to be asked to join the team, and I wish I could.
  • But the lack of support / lack of compensation double whammy made it so that I wouldn’t actually be able to help them very much — before long, I would have to be burnt out, trying to find something that would actually pay the rent, and somewhere I could commune with others who care about the same professional issues.
  • It sounds like the institution is going through some tumultuous times. It sounds, too, like they need someone who’s a leader to help them get through this. They’re going to need a true professional to do this, and they’re not going to find her at forty thousand dollars a year.
  • I can’t do it to the profession. I can’t send the message that the big long list of skills above is only worth forty thousand dollars a year. I can’t give anyone the wrong idea about that.

The hiring committee understood my position, but was surprised that the salary they were offering was so far out of bounds of what was common within the profession. I think he may have taken my words to heart. We had a collegial conversation about their hopes and the future of Choo-Choos, and I continued my search.

Epilogue

I didn’t end up unemployed and homeless after turning down this offer. I ended up with a really amazing job from which I learn a lot every day, with people whom I value and respect, and at an institution that can give me support and compensation commensurate with my skills and experiences. And I hope that the Choo Choo Archives has had a chance to circle its wagons and understand what it really needs and how it’s going to be able to acquire it.

Non-profit doesn’t make you exempt from shaming

February 22, 2011

While we have been quiet for awhile, the bad job posts still continue. But this one, oh this one. This one takes the cake. A friend of mine who is still in library school brought it to my attention. It starts off by saying that the incumbent in the position has stepped down to further his education; that’s a statement that could be taken a variety of different ways. But the devil of this job ad is in the details.

The job is a zine librarian at the Independent Publishing Resource Center and, at first look, the job duties look like a fairly standard special collections/special libraries position. They include:

* Approx eight to ten hour commitment per week
* Coordination of other library volunteers
* Zine cataloguing and database upkeep
* Withdrawal of lesser-read titles
* Expanding book arts and prose/poetry collection
* Maintaining New Arrival section
* Creating new section for Certificate Program publications
* Planning for possible library expansion and technology updates/digital archiving

Its qualifications look pretty standard:

* Degree in library science
* Knowledge of library database software (including, but not limited to FileMaker Pro)
* Strong written and verbal communication
* Excellent organization skills
* Strong interest and experience with zines, indie lit and/or comics

At first glance, the preferred qualifications look fairly reasonable as well, if typically wide-ranging:

* Advanced degree in library science
* Strong interest in updating/expanding the IPRC’s book arts, prose/poetry, and/or graphic novel collections
* Experience with grant-writing for libraries
* Experience with digital archiving

Wait a minute. What was the first bullet point under the job duties section?

* Approx eight to ten hour commitment per week

Oh, okey. 8-10 hours per week for all of that? That’s not going to happen, but whatever.

Wait, what was the job title again?

Volunteer Zine Librarian

Now, the job title and the (lack of pay) are insulting. To have an MLS as a preferred qualification for a job that pays NOTHING is ridiculous. But what I find most insulting is in the introduction to this job post. The IPRC says that this position “is a special opportunity to gain hands-on experience, and also to help sustain and develop one of the largest zine libraries in the country.” Not only should you have an MLS to get this job, you should be thankful that the IPRC is giving you the opportunity to improve yourself for no money or benefits while working a second job at the same time. This “job” would be a good field experience, for credit, for a library school student. But requiring this level of education and professional responsibilities, while boxing it into a 10 hour a week volunteer position, reflects poorly on the organization and their commitment to actually having a library.

I have sympathy for non-profit organizations who have to run their on a shoestring, who would never have the money to pay a real librarian. But Portland, Oregon, where the IPRC is based, has a library school! Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management has a campus in Portland, Oregon, that is six blocks from IPRC’s office. And that’s not to mention students who live in Portland who are in other online programs. There are staff and volunteers at my library in Williamsburg, Virginia, who are students in online programs; Portland is 42 times larger than Williamsburg. A relationship such as that, with a graduate student in charge who is perhaps under the occasional direction of a consultant or a friend who is a librarian, would be a mutual beneficial relationship that would be encouraging future library professionals instead of insulting them.