for Andy: librarian entrepreneurship

Andy Woodworth has a lively discussion going on about librarian unemployment. (Have I mentioned how much I envy his discussion-starting skills?)

This has me wanting to start a discussion about librarian unemployment over here, what with my being an unemployed librarian, but I can’t think of any way to get that going other than “let’s all complain about long-term unemployment”, and I’m really not interested in hosting that. Like Andy says: it’s boring. Important topic; boring (negative, soul-sucking) discussion.

But I am interested in what Andy has to say about entrepreneurship. A lot of his commenters have seized on that point, speculating on the impossibility of starting a business as a librarian, but to me, entrepreneurship is a continuum. At one end, zero, are people with no initiative, who want their employers to tell them what to do. On the other end are people who support themselves entirely with profitable, dynamic businesses they’ve started.

But there’s this whole spectrum in between! We see part of it in the apparently awesome Kent Barnard, who saw an opportunity for a children’s storytime at his job as a bookseller and made it happen. I’m not interested in starting a business as my full-time gig — I want to have a more traditional type of job — but part of the way I’m trying to convince people to hire me is the projects I work on, like writing and making a virtual book fair for a school library (which I might develop into a sideline business) and helping to Buy India a Library. All of these are things that, yes, use my library degree, and involve money. In two of them, the money’s even for me. (Enough to live on? No. The job hunting continues.)

What I’m getting at here is a definition of entrepreneurship that — yes, at its extreme, is about money, maybe even enough to support oneself — but is more of an attitude. Where are the unfilled needs, that can be met with information skills, energy, tenacity? Where can we create something where there was nothing?

Maybe that’s the basis of a full-time business. Maybe that’s a sideline. Maybe that’s a route to working for someone else (I cherish the hope!).

I agree with the unemployed librarians of the world that the in-between times are no fun, and there’s a lot of barriers to employment these days. But I agree with Andy that carping about barriers is dull and, ideally, the intense pressures on our field will be Darwinian:

Personally, I want the tougher librarians to make it. I want them because we have some serious fights on the way and I don’t want people who will give up at the first sign of resistance or wait for someone to take charge of them. I want fighters, I want people with initiative, and I want winners.

I want our response to the crushing horror that is the job market to be kicking ass. I want my future coworkers to be the Kent Barnards of the world.

If I’m going to sponsor a conversation about unemployment on this blog (I realize just now) I want it to be the one where I hear what you are doing to kick ass: I want to glory in your accomplishments for a while! And if you’ve got some entrepreneurial idea that needs a librarian superhero teamup, I want to hear that too. I want you to find one another in the comments and build a something from the nothing.

Make it happen. There is no spoon.

16 thoughts on “for Andy: librarian entrepreneurship

      1. @ThatAndromeda that was kind of a rhetorical flourish, but I may have to cook up a blog post on just that.


  1. I would love to start a career consulting service for the information professions. Not every school is going to be a large iSchool (i.e. UW, UMD-College Park) and have strong resources for their MLS students. My school had one career counselor for the entire school, a mostly undergraduate school with fine arts concentrations. I heard horror stories from friends who sought advice there. This leads to apathy among students who don’t realize the importance of student business cards, a professional portfolio, attending networking events, etc. My experience is limited, but shows schools aren’t doing enough.


    1. !!! That would be awesome!

      Simmons had a career resource library staffed by an MLS, so that was cool, but when I actually talked to the career counseling center they didn’t have the depth of knowledge about information professions that I was wanting. Yes, they had lots of high-level information, but, hello, librarian — I’d already found that and I was really wanting an expert guide who could help me see more. So I think even students at the big schools could benefit from that sort of thing. (And I guess the silver lining of a recession is that there would be tons of clients interested in that kind of service, even if most of them can’t pay very much…)

      You should totally do it! Why not?


      1. One of the first jobs I interviewed for was at a recruiter for the info professions – InfoCurrent. It didn’t work out, but it gave me the idea that I would be a good recruiter. The more I think about it, and the more time I spend at JSTOR, I realize I want to work with libraries, not for libraries.


  2. I’ve been specializing in digitization and web design as a MLIS student. So I’ve been thinking about the possibility of starting my own business to do digitization on a small, local scale for people. You know, those prices in India might be cheap, but who wants to risk their precious photos and documents to be shipped around the globe?!

    I’ve also got two small businesses that are interested in hiring me to redesign their websites as well.


      1. 🙂

        My mom always wanted to be an entrepreneur but the internet crushed her ideas. Meanwhile, her daughter might be taking the challenge up!


  3. I’m about to get my MSLS and am thinking of finding a way to provide virtual school librarian services to homeschoolers & students of virtual charter schools.


      1. Kimberly, homeschooling would be a great idea! I have a good friend I met at my internship who just started homeschooling her daughters this year (she blogs about it over at While she works PT in the public library, not every homeschooling parent is lucky. There is that need for sure.


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