R.I. Library Report
KINGSTON, R.I. (MARCH 23, 2013) – Libraries need a new breed of workers who are assertive, outspoken and passionate about the work of libraries and able to adapt to a pace of change never experienced.
That was the message to a career conference organized by University of Rhode Island library students who already are – or soon will be – looking for scarce jobs.
“The world needs libraries, and libraries need you – they need your best stuff,” said Peter Bromberg, keynote speaker at “Catapult Your Career in 2013,” organized by students in the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at URI.
Associate director of the Princeton Public Library in New Jersey, and named one of the national library field’s “Movers and Shakers” by the Library Journal in 2008, Bromberg was encouraging to job seekers, but didn’t minimize the difficulties they face.
One of the biggest challenges, he said, is confronting both the sweeping changes, particularly technological, that are transforming libraries, and then bringing to bear a forceful style of leadership that libraries may not be accustomed to.
“If you are getting out of library school and getting a job,” he said, “I’m telling you that your library needs you to come in with good ideas and a willingness to say: ‘I don’t think that’s a great way to do it.’ Or: ‘I have an idea – would you be willing to try this?’”
Bromberg said that assertiveness is needed because technological change is coming so fast that we no longer have chance to adapt to new conditions before the next development occurs.
“For libraries to thrive in this world where there’s a lot of disruptive technology, disruptive change, we are required to come up with a new playbook,” Bromberg said. “We need to be agile; we need to be nimble. That requires a new type of employee, a new organizational member. That’s you.”
Metko is one of 35 students who will be graduating from the URI program this year. A count by the Rhode Island Library Report of job listings, both by the state Office of Library and Information Services and the ALA, found seven advertised positions in Rhode Island, three of which are temporary or part-time.
In an interview after his keynote speech at URI’s Swan Hall, Bromberg said that be believes nationally there are more library school graduates than jobs. He’s read it’s taking between six months and a year for graduate students to land a job, although that was also how long it took him when he graduated from the master’s program at Rutgers University in 1992, when the jobs picture seemed brighter.
But one difference between then and now is the Internet and the digital revolution, which have made it easier for outstanding students to make their voices heard by asserting their views on blogs, Facebook and YouTube.
An example, he said is Andromeda Yelton, who was recently named to the Library Journal’s “Movers and Shakers” list. She caught the notice of the library world when she was still in graduate school because of her “blog posts,” Bromberg said.
(According to the Library Journal, she is a graduate of the Simmons College library program in 2010, and a founder and staff member of “Unglue.it,” in Somerville, Mass., an organization that raises money to pay authors and publishers to allow unlimited e-book distribution of books).
“If someone is smart and motivated and energetic,” Bromberg said, “it has never been easier for someone coming out of library school to make a name for themselves, and to have an impact on the profession."
When he’s considering job candidates at the Princeton library, he said some jobs require specialized skills, such as those involving library collections, children’s literature and sophisticated reference work.
However, he thinks generally that skills can be taught to people who have other qualities adaptable to the technological and social changes.
Bromberg said one of his own important learning experiences was when he worked selling clothes for Nordstrom department stores, a company that he said “empowers” its workers to use their initiative to foster better customer service.
During his formal talk, Bromberg said that the new culture of constant change has required libraries, as well as businesses, to adopt new “flatter” management systems, in which workers contribute ideas regardless of formal job titles.
But the culture of libraries too often has been for library staffers to avoid frank discussions, he said, because they are inclined to be “too nice” to talk frankly about important issues, a process that results in short-term avoidance of discomfort, at the expense of long-term problem solving.
Difficult conversations can be handled compassionately and thoughtfully, he said, and learning to exert influence is “not a natural skill,” but one which has to be developed.
Libraries used to be storehouses of books and other materials when access to information was difficult, and librarians guided patrons to the right sources.
What’s more, Bromberg said, libraries increasingly are centers of community activity. In Princeton, in addition to traditional lectures by scholars and authors, the library sponsors events such as showing the World Cup soccer matches on its large-screen TV, putting on all-age Friday night dances and sponsoring election night voting return watches.
The Princeton library works closely with the town’s merchants’ association, and was instrumental in the town converting a parking lot next to the library into Hinds Plaza, which hosts a farmers’ market and other activities.
He said the library has become what sometimes is referred to as the “Third Place,” beyond home and work, where people can come together on common ground.
“So the library is that neutral place where people can come, and we can engage each other as citizens and as community members,” Bromberg said, “and it’s there for everybody. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what color you are, how much money you have in your bank account.”