More and more librarians are finding their work inspiring, but most still love what they do, as the latest LJ/SLJ survey shows.
School and youth services librarians are passionate about their jobs, but disrespect is hurting their job satisfaction and morale, according to the 2022 LJ/SLJ Job Satisfaction Survey.
Having said that, respondents greatly appreciate working with young readers. Public library youth services librarians and school librarians of all grades listed “working with youth/students” as the most satisfying aspect of their job.
The 862 responses (from 336 youth service workers in public libraries and 526 school librarians/paralibrarians) showed a marked decline in job satisfaction. In a 2013 survey, job satisfaction was 71% among respondents in public libraries and 70% in school libraries. This year, job satisfaction levels are 57 and 62 percent, respectively. The greatest decrease was among those who work with adolescents in public libraries, from 81 to 49%.
Librarians offered several reasons, including lack of time and additional work duties, lack of respect or recognition, low salaries and operating budgets, and the stress of book challenges.
The biggest shared concern was “the lack of time to do everything”. School librarians worked 42.9 hours a week, the highest figure, while middle school librarians worked an average of 44.6 hours. Over the past year, 46% of youth services respondents and 23% of school librarians voluntarily took on additional duties, while 35% of youth services respondents and 30% of school librarians were given increased responsibilities due to staff cuts.
“I will have to manage both a middle school library (1,100+ students) and textbook distribution for only 19.5 hours a week with no budget,” said Sara Lyness of Newark (CA) Junior High Library. “Any book fair, fundraiser, or grant program to get additional books/money must be done on my own time or limited hours.”
“The children’s department [is] by far the busiest and most popular space in the library. It’s almost unmanageable during the summer,” said youth services librarian Sara Meldrum of the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library. “Other departments haven’t stepped up to help with my department’s caseload.”
“I run five children’s programs a week and I’m still unable to serve all the needs and interests of the youth in this community,” wrote Celeste Bocchicchio-Chaudhri, children’s services librarian at the Roslindale branch of the Boston Public Library. . “We don’t have a full-time teen librarian, so I’m trying to handle scheduling for birth to 18.”
“The time I spend working with students and building my collection feels like an afterthought,” said Heather Rhone, school librarian in Vancouver, WA. “I spend a lot of time troubleshooting digital devices, managing my resume, etc.”
A Connecticut high school librarian agreed. “I’m often called upon to fill in when a teacher is absent, provide lunch coverage, supervisor testing, and manage the help desk. I am constantly being pulled away from actual library work.
Looking for more respect, money
Lack of respect or recognition was the primary concern of school librarians. Sixty-six percent felt they didn’t get enough respect from their superintendents; 40 percent felt the same way about their parents.
“While the kids understand what I do, the adults in my school don’t always,” wrote Clare Nolan at Bard High School Early College–Manhattan. “My colleagues who don’t work closely with me see me more as a glorious babysitter sitting in the library rather than a professional with a master’s degree.”
District leadership appreciates the recognition its library has received, said Ro Menendez of the Cannaday Elementary Library in Mesquite, Texas. But “when they impose tasks on me that limit my time with students and aren’t related to my location, it sends a message that they don’t appreciate the impact I have on student lives.”
Librarians also cited the low pay. Among all, the median salary was highest in school libraries, nearly $69,000, and lowest in public libraries, $58,000. 76% of youth services librarians and 71% of school librarians felt underpaid compared to positions in other fields requiring similar education and experience.
“The money I make is not enough to live independently,” Elna McIntosh said at Challenger Middle School in Colorado Springs, CO. “I want to get a master’s degree but I can’t afford it while doing this job. There’s no budget for another member of staff, so I’m working unpaid hours.”
“As a librarian with my MLIS, I think it’s disrespectful that in order to survive as a single adult I have to sell my plasma twice a week,” wrote Amber R. Morgan-Opitz, youth services librarian at the Community Library of Castle Shannon, PA, citing inflation as a greater cause of “burnout” than COVID-19.
Budget constraints and cuts have also been a cause for concern. “Our library staff has been reduced from four full-time staff to two in the past two years. It’s impossible to do this job now and even after shutting down services, it remains unsustainable,” said Abby Cornelius of Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, KS.
According to Dawna Hansen-Murray of Yelm (WA) Middle School, “My budget has stayed the same since 1999.”
Book Challenges: Chilling
Others mentioned the growing problem of censorship efforts. “The book’s challenges … will have a chilling effect on free speech and a cost in student lives,” wrote Gavin Downing of Kentridge High School Library in Kent, WA. “The book challenge I received last year came from my principal. I’m at a new school with a new principal, but I’m still worried [about] the admins are mad at me for taking a stand last year.
“It is so frustrating that a small group of parents in our district are causing so much disruption,” wrote a Missouri high school librarian. “I don’t distribute porn. I do not encourage students to disobey their parents. I work really hard to find books that ALL types of readers will enjoy. I’m proud of the book collection in the library.”
Several also noted a deterioration in student behavior, some citing the pandemic. “We have two classes who were at home during class [when] we really learn and reinforce good behavior in the library and in the classroom. They are wild,” wrote Carrie Munroe of Sylvan STEAM Academy in Modesto, California.
However, they love the job
Despite the challenges, many respondents love their job. “Finding that book that turns a non-reader into a reader or having the exact book a child wants is so emotionally satisfying. It makes me feel like a superhero!” said Mara Alpert, children’s services librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library.
“Nearly every school I know of has some level of dysfunction right now,” said Rochelle Garfinkel of Northampton (MA) High School. “But I like my job because of the teenagers/students I see every day.”
Logan Adams, youth services librarian at the Lincoln County Public Library in Stanford, KY, said, “Watching the little ones times in my history develop and reach milestones, and doing the same with my kids is fascinating.” … I’m making a difference in my home community, and I wouldn’t change for a thing.
“My greatest joy is interacting with young people,” wrote Kimberly Kelley Johnson, of Vestavia Hills (AL) High School. “I love talking to them, helping them find books they love, and teaching skills to help them evolve into lifelong learners.”
A second career
Seventy-eight percent of school librarians came to librarianship as a second career (mostly from teaching) and have never looked back. In fact, 81% would choose librarianship again. But only 36 percent of school librarians would enthusiastically recommend the field; 49 percent would do so with reservations.
The comments reflected that mixed view. “I love being a librarian and highly recommend it; however, I would share the lower pay and current trend of book challenges,” wrote a North Carolina high school librarian.
Respondents named things they wish they had learned in library school, including more tech skills, such as leading social justice discussions, answering book challenges, and having difficult conversations with administrators. Several noted the importance of book repair skills and hands-on experience.
“I strongly believe that children’s librarians need to receive some sort of drama/performance training to serve as better entertainers and educators while programming,” said Becca Worthington, children’s services librarian at ImaginOn/Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in Charlotte, NC .
There was a lot of advice for recent graduates including: Be flexible and open to new things. Join library associations and social media groups. Working in public education has become more difficult, some have noted, suggesting private schools instead.
Joyce Souva, YA/Teen Services Librarian at the Toledo (OH) Lucas County Public Library, said, “I have a lot of young people who say they would like to enter the library world one day. I tell them it can be difficult to walk in and not make it your first choice.
Many still offered an optimistic view of the industry. “The library is a place of innovation, ideas and initiatives, spanning all academic subjects and requiring thoughtful collaboration with faculty,” said Elodie Sutton Domenge of Rochambeau, French International School of Bethesda, MD. “It’s a place where kids get interested in reading, writing, creating, technology, and it’s never boring!”
Marlaina Cockcroft is a writer and editor with a passion for children’s books.