It’s almost election time! ALA presidential candidate Joseph Janes has graciously agreed answer a few questions about his thoughts on ALA’s role in library hiring. Voting instructions for ALA members will be sent out starting March 24. Visit this page for more details.
Joseph Janes, Associate Professor and Chair of the MLIS program at the University of Washington Information School
In broad strokes, what do you think the ALA’s role is in library hiring and employment?
I remember when there was a large placement center at the Annual and Midwinter conferences, and those were important centers for recruitment and job seeking. Now that environment has changed; it’s considerably more decentralized and much more happens at a local, regional and specialized level, not to mention online, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. So ALA’s role is likely to be a venue more broadly for networking, professional development, and advocating for the value of our work in the wider world and to increase support for libraries, something I intend to emphasize if I become president.
How can ALA serve unemployed (or underemployed) librarians?
There are a couple of important aspects to this: the reduced membership rate for those not fully employed helps, as can the range of continuing education and professional development programs the association offers, plus more targeted initiatives in a number of the divisions. (By the way, I just did a quick check of the American Bar Association to see what they offer, and other than a slicker web site, it looks pretty similar.)
LIS job hunters are increasingly urged to look outside of libraries to careers in other aspects of information work. Why do you think this is, and should this be an impetus for any particular changes in ALA?
Why? That’s simple. Because it increases the range of options for jobs, and to be blunt, many of those jobs are higher paying and more satisfying than some jobs in libraries. We all know why that’s often the case, and we also know that nobody ever got into library work for the money. There are great opportunities to be innovative and creative within libraries, and also great opportunities for people to do quite similar work in lots of other contexts. And if ALA could woo more of those people to join and be members, as many already are, that would broaden our reach and scope and further make the case that the work we do is valuable and critical in a wide variety of venues and settings, which would be a win all around.
How can ALA support library students in order to help them be best situated for future employment?
There are a number of good programs here as well; the reduced membership rate for students, of course, as well as the student chapters in many programs across North America. NMRT and their programs can be a great stepping stone for students and those new to the profession to make their way into ALA and into the larger professional community. ALA also offers a number of scholarship programs, including Spectrum, and the student-to-staff program at the conferences, all of which have been really beneficial to a number of my students over the years. There’s also all the informal mentoring and networking that happens in the conferences: Annual and Midwinter, the state chapters, the divisions, and so on.
In general, are library schools adequately preparing students for work in today’s libraries? What are they doing right, and what could be improved on?
There’s no one good answer to this, because no two programs are the same…which is how we’d all want it to be. There’s a wide diversity of programs with varying goals and intents, in institutions ranging from small teaching schools to large research universities and everywhere in between, from a few dozen students to over 2,000, so it’s next to impossible to generalize in any meaningful way. I always encourage potential students to shop around, to find the one that meets their needs and will help to prepare them for the kind of career they see for themselves. Who has the right faculty, the right curriculum, the right support mechanisms, the right special features or strengths for you? What kinds of work do their alumni do? How well are they connected to their local professional community? I want all our programs, of all kinds, to be strong, vibrant, well supported, and looking forward to best prepare leaders and visionaries for what is to come.
What do you think is the secret to a successful career as a librarian?
Always be learning, trying new things, challenging yourself. Find institutions and organizations that value you, and mentors who will help you to the next step along the way (and become one yourself). Make professional connections and networks. Like what you do, have fun, and a sense of humor, particularly about yourself, never hurts!
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about ALA or your candidacy? Any advice specifically for library job hunters?
I want to do two things as president: make the case in the wider world for the importance of libraries and librarians in as many ways as I can, and to help us all think through how we can move forward to thrive and grow as the information environment continues to evolve. I think each of those will ultimately benefit us all, generating support for libraries and helping to raise our profile.
As for job hunters, I’ve always found that flexibility is important – in geography, type of work, type of institution – the more open you’re willing or able to be, the more opportunities are available and the more success you can have. Be your own best advocate. And remember, the first job is rarely the last job, so getting a foot in somebody’s door, even a position or place you’re not entirely thrilled with, can often be the first step that leads to the next and the next and the next. As our environment and institutions change, so will our profession and necessarily our professional positions, so being nimble, thoughtful, and creative in how you view your career will always help in continuing to find the right, best position for you. All the best to everybody reading this for a great career, and I’d appreciate your support and your vote.
I’d like to thank Mr. Janes for taking the time to answer my questions! I encourage you to visit his website, or to use the comments section to ask any questions you might have. Most of all though, I encourage you to make your voice heard and VOTE!