As higher education generally starts making it’s way “theoretically towards the end of the pandemic despite the numbers reality” I am privy to a number of colleagues planning or executing career changes. Some have graduated or are graduating from various advanced degrees undertaken just before or some even during times of lockdown. Others are examining the expectations of their institutions and recognizing the need for a change — growing into new roles, shifting out of the academy entirely, retiring, wanting to be in a geographically different space nearer or farther to family.
The job market has re-opened in many ways — tracking the DataJobs as I slowly continue to do — I see more things appearing. Not sure that I’m seeing people take the library jobs that are on offer but they are starting to be there. For academic libraries, science librarians, electronic resources and/or collection strategy positions, and a fair number of Associate Dean positions are pretty consistently coming through the job boards.
A couple of colleagues have asked me to read cover letters. Truthfully it’s been a couple of years since I was on a search committee. After quite a few searches my first years at MPOW, we had hired enough people to spread out the responsibility / filled enough positions / didn’t have people leaving. But I continue to mentor and I certainly have read enough that I know some of the things that are really frustrating to see on the receiving end.
Other colleagues have done me the honor of asking me to be a reference. That’s a different and – depending – a harder task. Oh I always love to brag about my professional colleagues. Look at their accomplishments! Don’t you want them to work with you at your institution! Won’t they be amazing in this new role! But at times it means having someone you care about go far away from you — and that can be very hard.
With all of this comes change and disruption — a word I’ve come to loathe. It’s taken on such an unhealthy “We’re going to modify in a way that means we extract money and the people performing the labor will get more obligations and less support. Behold our shiny logo!” tone in the past decade.
At their core change and disruption are normal, healthy parts of cycles. People should change jobs and find new opportunities, and grow. They should pursue adventures in their lives that see them move across the country, take on new roles and growth, find the positions that serve their professional goals. Institutions should disrupt their status quo when said quo isn’t meeting their true mission and values.
And yet for those of us not on the verge of a new job adventure — there is also change and disruption but it can feel less invigorating. Perhaps most prominent, we now get to see whether our institutions will fill those jobs or if the expectations are that the work that was being done by X people will now be expected from X-1-10 people. How long will a position be vacant? After nearly two years of continuous change, will there be a resetting of expectations or a continued belief that overnight things will return to what was normal in Fall 2019. Do we, having needed to come face to face with the social justice questions which exploded on the local and national scenes, want to make significant changes or go back to the familiar?
What will these disruptions, brought on partially by colleagues leaving, warrant those of us who have not moved? It can feel very left behind and left out to see “everyone” making these transitions, even when I have a robust plate of neat things going on, new opportunities that I’m tackling, and work I sincerely enjoy and care about. And truth be told, the idea of getting to commit email bankruptcy is Dreadfully Appealing. Additionally, I am curious if we will see search committees in 2-3 years asking why *didn’t* someone make a big change in 2021. It echoes the “did you come out of the pandemic with six new skills” question and I have a similar unpleasant reaction.
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions for me or any of us. But I’ll suggest Trever Owen’s new piece A Good Jobs Strategy for Libraries for consideration of the jobs we hope to build both at our own libraries and beyond.