Today’s post by the Annoyed Librarian, “Leaving the Profession,” was a response to recent posts by other bloggers (here, here, and here) who had earned their ALA-accredited master’s degree (the “union card” for working as a librarian in the U.S. & Canada) but had either left libraries or were considering doing so.
I left the profession pretty much as soon as I finished my master’s degree, since my first job offer out of school was from my current (non-library) employer. At the time it seemed more important to have full-time work and health insurance than to wait around anxiously hoping that eventually a library would hire me. I’d figured I could always maintain my ties to, and contribute to, the profession.
Unfortunately that isn’t really how it works. I’ve realized over the past few years that my professional organization, the Medical Library Association, is exactly what it sounds like: dedicated toward the interests of libraries, not people with library degrees, and if you don’t work in a library, you are going to be an outsider. And that’s fine. MLA has chosen to focus its mission and in a lot of ways that makes sense for its incumbent membership, though in the long run I think they are going to increasingly going to have problems sustaining their membership levels, as the numbers of ALA-credentialed librarians dwindled, hospital libraries continue to vanish, and the few who remain earn too little to afford membership. The prospect of a fiscal death spiral is more real, I think, than some would care to admit.
Reading both the posts and the comments, plus anecdotal experience based on conversations with various former classmates and other colleagues throughout the years, reminded me there is a vast diaspora of us exiled from the work of librarianship who have the skills librarians have, but who for various reasons (mostly economic) have given up on working in libraries. The leadership of the big library associations (MLA and ALA are the ones that come first to mind) don’t really have any interest in us, and consequently the organizations have little to offer us. I feel need our own strong professional organization, organized around our own sub-specialties (health sciences, IT, design, subject expertise, community services) and focused on OUR needs rather than the needs of libraries, library schools, and library directors. (I’d like to call the health sciences group “Association for Health Information Professionals” just to cause some mischief — if you’re in medical librarianship, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)