Will you vote? JP Porcaro Talks about Hiring Librarians

It’s almost election time!  ALA presidential candidate JP Porcaro 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.

In broad strokes, what do you think the ALA’s role is in library hiring and employment?

In broad strokes, I’ll say that if there’s anything the ALA (and, as an extension, ALA-accredited LIS programs) has done a poor job of, it’s supporting librarians in their transition from degree-to-career. This created a gigantic vacuum in our field that was almost completely filled by INALJ; for many LIS students, recent graduates, and job seekers, the ALA is an expensive after-thought while INALJ is a way of life.

ALA shouldn’t be an organization only for the privileged in our field, but in many cases that is what the ALA represents. ALA should play some, ANY, role in influencing best practices in library hiring and employment, and this is one of my professional concerns when I am president.

How can ALA serve unemployed (or underemployed) librarians? 

The ALA can first begin to solve this problem for future students by imposing new standards on LIS programs similar to what we see in other academic disciplines. At the very least, every program should be required to collect & report accurate placement information. The fact that the most talked about & relevant data we have about this comes not out of LIS programs, or the ALA, but rather the Library Journal employment survey, is a clear indication that this issue isn’t taken as seriously as it should be.

If ALA wants to serve the unemployed and underemployed, it first needs to recognize that this is a real issue. Only after that recognition can we answer “what next?”

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?

I have what I think is a pragmatic view: it’s a tactic employed by LIS programs to justify the amount of graduates that they are churning out vs. the actual rate of employment in libraries for those graduates. I do know lots of recent (last ten years) graduates who are doing information work outside of libraries, but I can also say this about the ones that I know personally: they ALL wish they were working in a library, but would rather have a job than be unemployed. Of course that does not apply to everyone in information work, but it’s an unfortunate reality rather than this “cool new twist on LIS education!” that the programs seem to be putting out there.

I’d have to have this dialogue with a lot of people, though, professors/students/new librarians/hiring librarian, in order to work out an impetus for particular changes. This conversation shouldn’t be relegated to a few blogs and tweets (which it seems like is the only place it happens), but should be started and opened to the entire ALA.

How can ALA support library students in order to help them be best situated for future employment?

NMRT is a good place to meet new folks, get matched up for mentoring, and be generally supported by the ALA. Our current ALA president was once a president of NMRT. One of the best ways for ALA to support students it to let them know the NMRT 1) exists, and is 2) there for everyone!

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?

As a whole, LIS programs are doing an extremely poor job of recruiting diverse students, as well as an arguably poorer job of educating students on diversity issues. This needs to change.

LIS programs have been doing a great job at preparing librarians for changes in technology. This needs to continue.

What do you think is the secret to a successful career as a librarian?

To make it happen, you need to keep your spirits up – that is very important. The other secret is to do it with friends; the whole reason we started ALA Think Tank was just to have a space to talk about librarianship with a few friends…and then our friend list grew to over 11k people.

I’d suggest checking out this presentation by Peter Bromberg titled Influence (when you have no power or authority). It’s a great outline for the future for new librarians and a just-as-great reminder on recentering for those already established in the field.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about ALA or your candidacy? Any advice specifically for library job hunters?

Libraries have a bright present and a brighter future, but we need to work together to attain it. On many of my issues & concerns, the profession and the ALA is at a do-or-die moment, so my advice is to be involved in building that future if at all possible. Let’s fix these problems together, because library job hunters are the ones most vested in the future of libraries.

I’d like to thank Mr. Porcaro 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!

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