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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Librarians As Freelancers

Titles like "What's the Alternative: Career Options for Librarians and Info Pros" by Rachel Singer Gordon signals a very important trend for librarians and library science students. The security of full-time employment for a talented, energetic librarian is hard to come by, no matter where you live in the U.S. It seems more libraries are either closing, cutting staff down to paraprofessionals and part-time librarians or worse volunteer only. All of this bad news piling up may make a friendly, cheerful librarian into a grumpy depressed librarian. Usually, it's the stockbrokers who are considered over stressed, depressed and suicidal. Librarianship as a profession, is known to be secure, safe and provide good pay. However, this is not the case at the moment for librarians or recent grads. In stead of stability there is chaos. There must be a solution to keep talented librarians in the profession and lure new talent in.

Freelancing seems to be the word of the day for gaining employment in almost every field. In books similar to Ms. Gordon, writers have described various ways of creating an income as a information professional. This is a great idea but knowing down the doors of opportunities in this area is difficult at best. It takes a lot of selling and educating your clients that the best person to gather information on key projects are professionals who know where to look. The biggest competition information pros face is the Internet. The myth stills is out there that everything can be found with a simple search on Google. This will remain the biggest hurdle for all librarians making a go on their own. This is not to say it can't be done. It just may take a little more effort.

Along the lines of freelancing, other options to explore is story telling. Many libraries have had to cut professional staffs, especially in the children's area. Children's services is unique in that they not only provide reference assistance, but programs such as lap sit and preschool story time, or after-school activities with crafts. When these programs are no longer available due to budget problems, children are the first to feel the effects. Children librarians who are energetic and willing to travel can provide affordable story hours or after school programs to libraries who can't afford a permanent librarian on staff but still want to provide something for their youngest residents. A librarian does not need to limit themselves to just libraries but branch out into daycare, preschool or elementary schools.

Not to overlook the elephant in the room, but librarians who want to continue to work as a "traditional" librarian have got to face an important fact. Privatization of libraries, in some form or another, will become the reality. The current economic crisis in America has proven that libraries are needed now more than ever but local, state and national funds are dwindling. The profession is about to be blown away with the current conditions. The main argument against privatization is that control of the library's policy-making and operations would be turned over to an outside firm. This is assuming that the outside firm has no idea on how to manage a library or the community in which it serves. What's the alternative? Outsourcing? Perhaps because this makes way for freelancing to become a reality. However, the problem of who controls how much the library receives in their budget and access to it still remains a problem. Any library director will verify that libraries' budgets have been cut in order to provide other "services" to the community. Libraries need to be financially independent from government, local, state and national. If librarians are seeking stability, this may be where to find the solution.

Librarians as a profession have faced hard times such as these before. As history has shown, libraries come out stronger then before. Having said that, it is important to watch the trends on how the profession is evolving in order to maintain and find a new niche. Librarians play an important role in the culture, education and information sharing. It would be a shame if that role were dismissed due to the lack of ingenuity of librarians today to find other ways to serve share their talents. if there were ever a time, to let the buns down, kick off the sensible shoes, and throw away the glasses it would be now. The world needs librarians. They just don't know how much.... yet!
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