The Personal and the Professional

This is sort of a follow up to But What If I Don’t Want it All, except I’ve decided to bring the personal to the professional, not because I like to expose myself, so to speak, but just to show what I think about when I think about moving up to another job. I don’t know how typical I am, but we’ll see. The discussion in that post was a presentation of arguments about why bright people might not want to be library directors. Here I’m talking mostly about myself and about a good job I didn’t apply for and some of the reasons why. The deadline for applications ended last week, so I feel safe talking about it. The temptation is over.

First, I should say that like a lot of librarians I’m somewhat geographically limited. My wife has a good and somewhat unusual job at ETS and we (sort of) own a house in New Jersey that we most likely couldn’t sell in this market. (But make me a good offer and we’ll talk!) Because of spousal and housing issues, debt, an uncertain economy, and my own risk averseness, the only way I could afford to just pick up and move out of the region would be a library job that essentially doubled my salary, an unlikely circumstance for a job one step up.

Which is why I paid particular attention to an ad for a job in the area. Very few jobs I see are even remotely tempting for me, but I came very close to applying for the job of Assistant Director of Research and Instructional Services at Penn. However, I didn’t apply. Believe me, it wasn’t them. It was me. I’m certainly not saying I would have been an ideal or even attractive candidate for this job, only that were I interested in moving up this would be the sort of job I’d apply for. Those are very different propositions.

For all I know it looks like a great job. I heard very nice things about both the department and the person this position would report to, and this from someone who actually works there. It’s also a large private research university, which is where I feel most comfortable. The job would be a natural next step in a career toward a directorship someday if that were my goal. In addition, a new job with more responsibility would bring new challenges and experiences, and that would be good for me professionally. Plus, I live two miles from a station with a train that would drop me off right in front of campus. Looking good so far.

I looked very closely at the job requirements, and thought I looked pretty good for everything except “effective supervisory experience.” I could possibly make a case that based on other experience and abilities I have the talent and capacity to be an effective supervisor, but that’s definitely missing from my resume and definitely a requirement, and possibly the most important one. The lack might have just gotten me tossed from the pile, but it’s possible that I’d have gotten a second look. Never hurts to try.

So why didn’t I apply? The possibility of getting thrown out of the pile because I haven’t supervised librarians was part of it, certainly. Nobody likes rejection, and why waste everyone’s time. In addition, there was the tally I did of the pros and cons of getting the job versus staying in my own.

I’ve listed the pros, but then I thought of the cons. First and foremost, I like my job. I like the library, I like the students, I like the departments, and I like a lot of my colleagues. I like collection development. I also like the fact that I get to teach a class each year. All this brings a variety to my work that I enjoy. I also have a lot of flexibility and autonomy in my work, which could disappear in an administrative job. And just in general I feel like my work and opinions are respected. Variety, flexibility, autonomy, respect. These are not job attributes to be dismissed lightly. I calculated how high an offer would have to be to make it worth my while to give up known goods and compensate for unknown burdens, and it seemed to me highly unlikely based on the statistics that Penn or anyplace else would pay that much for this particular position, especially for someone without “effective supervisory experience.”

About the only things I don’t like are my commute (which would actually be a bit longer to Penn) and the fact that my office has no window. When you think about it, this isn’t much to dislike, and both things are tangential to the job itself. I never dread work. I never get that Sunday evening panic some people get, though that’s possibly because I do chat reference most Sunday evenings. I won’t say it’s stress free, because it is sometimes stressful, but it’s never stress in that bad way where one sinks into a severe work-related depression and contemplates killing oneself or others.

Why am I writing about this? Because I see the questions come up. Why aren’t more people applying for what look like good jobs? Why is it so hard to find librarians for management jobs, especially AUL and director positions? Are there just too few people experienced enough? Have libraries not been grooming managers? This is probably part of the case. Or are our standards unreasonable? This could also be. I do think libraries are going to have to take chances on talent in the future, and realize that being younger than the average librarian doesn’t necessarily mean one can’t effectively supervise other librarians.

Or are people just unwilling to make certain sacrifices, as Steven’s post hinted? Though there are librarians who have a contempt for management as such or think particular jobs would be too much work, I suspect that a lot of the reasons have more to do with an inability to make sacrifices rather than an unwillingness. Sometimes it’s a work/life balance issue, but also people are entrenched for various reasons, and the longer one stays the harder it becomes to leave. Spouses have jobs. Children are in school. Parents are in retirement homes. People like their jobs. Friends of 10, 20, 30 years live in the area. Moving is disruptive and stressful. Starting a new job is stressful. For some librarians it’s probably not that they’d mind working later or taking the responsibility, it’s just that they don’t want to totally disrupt their lives and those of their families for such jobs. Or it could be that libraries in general don’t pay enough to make many librarians consider uprooting their families. How much might it take to uproot the rooted? Companies paying their salespeople $250K/year never seem to have trouble relocating those people.

Other than economics, it seems to me the other motivating factors are desperation and desire. If I hated my job or were very dissatisfied, I’d be constantly on the market and be more willing to relocate or move on. The other factor is desire. If I really, really, really wanted to move up into administration, then perhaps other issues wouldn’t have as important a place in calculation. Spouse has a job? She can find another one! Salary not that much better than my current one, all things considered? Think of the satisfactions of having more responsibility and a more exalted job title and being a step further up the ladder! Reduced flexibility and added responsibility would be a big burden on the family? Hey, what’s more important, my family or my career! But would the benefits of this overcome the burdens and offset the loss of current goods? It’s hard to say. With every change comes loss of something, and sometimes we just don’t want to lose those things.

3 thoughts on “The Personal and the Professional

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue that each and every one of us face at various points in our career. I completely agree with your assessment. Some people think that every ambitious person should be focused on moving up in our career over all else. Well, my husband and I love where we live. We have a mortgage. We feel connected to the place and people. When we make these decisions to move up and move on, they affect our families as much (if not more) than they affect us. I have a friend who took an amazing job recently, but it meant that his wife and kids had to leave the friends they’d had for almost a decade. His wife is really unhappy now. Was it worth it? Probably since the job was really important and offered a huge salary bump. But still, there were a lot of consequences to a decision that looked like a “no brainer” when you’re just looking at his career.
    I’m more ambitious to be happy and make my family happy than to move up in my career. Career contributes to my happiness, but it’s not the only thing in life.
    I’ve actually been wondering how the economic downturn is going to affect the number of people applying for management positions like that. People out of library school will always be looking for entry-level positions, but I bet people will be less likely to look for new management jobs if they own a home and know if would be hard (or impossible) to sell.

  2. “I’ve actually been wondering how the economic downturn is going to affect the number of people applying for management positions like that.”
    There was an article in the NYT a few weeks ago about the mortgage crisis and economic downturn being slightly worsened by the inability of labor to move where it was needed, because people couldn’t sell their houses even when they wanted to.
    Thanks for commenting. I almost didn’t post this because it might seem too personal with no professional point, and in fact tinkered with it for days and cut it down considerably. But I do think that some of these discussions don’t address the sorts of issues that actually effect me. I have no particular fondness for NJ (though it’s a lot nicer than it’s reputation), and would much rather return to the midwest, but as 1/2 of a working couple with a house and a child, I can’t make decisions just based on what I might want as I did fresh out of school and then trying to move out of a place I wasn’t that happy with.
    And I don’t know why you got the error message and why your comment didn’t post immediately as it should have.

  3. “Variety, flexibility, autonomy, respect.” Those are the reasons I love my job as a reference and instruction librarian and don’t currently, have never and never will have an interest in a position as library director. I agree with pretty much everything you said in both posts, (this one and “but what if I don’t want it all”)and you said it all well; however, for me the bottom line is simply: I really love what I do, so why should I change it? Why does there have to be something wrong with me if I have no interest in “moving up” to a position of manager or library director? I believe that “moving up” is becoming better in one’s profession, taking opportunities for professional growth & development and using those to be a better resource for the students and faculty whom I serve. I have seen wonderful library directors, some of whom are true leaders, indeed, but I have no interest in that for myself. I appreciate you sharing your take on this issue – it has certainly helped me to reflect on my choice to stay where I am and keep doing what I’m doing!

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