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.