i dream of being possible

on (failing) to break into libtech

When I got into work this morning, I caught the tail end of a discussion started by @waharnum about whether or not tech-oriented mlis grads are leaving the field:

Library hivemind, is my impression that many new tech-oriented MIST/MLS are leaving the field for better prospects matched by yours?

Part of the ensuing discussion was about whether or not there were entry level positions available. However, this addition question has given me a lot of feels to process:

@adr I suppose related question: do we see new grads with tech interest/aptitude (if not a lot of experience) retraining and leaving field?

In many ways, I am this person. I’m not sure I count as a ‘recent’ grad anymore, but I suppose that I am (I think I convocated in Nov 2012?).

I was/am one of the recent-ish mlis grads with an interest in tech. When I graduated, I didn’t have that much experience. I had some, via a wonderful co-op experience with Islandora, but not a lot. At that point, I mainly had enthusiasm going for me, with some familiarity surrounding the workflows for digital preservation (and the architecture of at least one increasingly important open source software). My program didn’t have very many tech-oriented courses and I took what I could.

But, hey, I would consider the job I’m currently working in to be ‘entry-level’ in the truest sense of the word. I’m in a part-time, contract position. The tech skills needed when I started this job definitely required me to learn and grow – which is awesome, btw. But I’m not sure how many other entry-level tech positions I’ve seen. Or how many of positions I’ve applied at which might be considered ‘early’ career.

There are many problems/issues at work here:

  1. There aren’t a lot of jobs. End of story.

    We all know this by now. The job market sucks. One might think that the job market for libtech could be better than, say children’s librarians (and I think it might be), but it still sucks any way you look at it.

  2. The ambiguity over ‘entry-level’.

    What is entry level? Yes, I mentioned that my job is… but it is only entry level to the field generally not to my organization. There is zero room for growth in this position (I mean organizationally. I’m growing plenty re: knowledge and skills).

    Some of the jobs I’ve applied at appear entry-level… but only, it would seem, if you already have computer science degree (or some comparable educational background). Yup, I’m talking about the unicorn job postings. “We want someone knowledgeable in metadata standards, digital scholarly communication, experience in the org’s ILS, ability to code in PHP, XML, HTML, CSS, Java, JavaScript, Ruby, Python, etc and so on, is an experienced sysadmin, blah blah blah”. So, if this is entry level, then it precludes people like me. I don’t currently have all these skills, but some I’m trying to get, others I’d love the chance to learn, and all of them are interesting to me.

    The problem here, of course, is that most institutions are simply too poor these days to actually invest in a new grad who is interested, but may not have all the required skills. And, given the market, why would they bother when they aren’t having any problems filling their positions?

  3. ‘Entry-level’ positions aren’t going to new/recent grads.

    I know that academic libraries are kind of a different sort of labour market, but the reality is also that pretty much every ‘entry-level’ position I’ve applied for has gone to someone who usually has 3+ years of experience in the field already. On top of being able to (mostly, I assume) meet the unicorn requirements. Don’t get me wrong: the people who’ve usually ended up in the positions I’ve applied for are fucking fantastic.

    But that is also the problem. I can’t compete with that. I don’t blame the institutions I’ve applied at for hiring them. I would hire them instead of me. It is literally the best decision they could have made. But this also doesn’t, you know, end up with me getting a FT job.

Um… so these are the biggest factors, I think. So long as we are also controlling for race/gender/etc. Like, my experience at Access and other libtech related conferences has mostly been positive. The culture, while it does inherit some of the issues of tech and library cultures, isn’t especially awful. It doesn’t turn me away.

What will (most likely) end up turning me away is realizing that I most likely will never get a FT position unless I retrain (go back to school, do a bootcamp thing, something). And while I’d like to think that if I do something like that, I’d come back… I’m not sure. Because, if I did something like that, I’d probably have to take out more student loans. And I’m already over thirty. And I’ve been too poor since graduating to actually start paying my loans back. This might mean just doing private sector tech jobs for a while and then trying to get back into libtech, but who knows?