Librarians are failed writers

Image by vicki4net from Pixabay

I’m not sure at what point in your college career you’re supposed to start seriously thinking about what you want to do for a living after you graduate. I suspect if I asked my students now, they would tell me that this is something they were expected to figure out in high school. That they’ve entered college with an eye toward earning whatever degree is most marketable in whatever field is currently experiencing a lot of growth.

For me, there was never any question about what I wanted to study. I’d known I wanted to be an English major since approximately the sixth grade. But it took until my junior year of college for me to realize that I needed to figure out what, exactly, I wanted to do with that degree once I graduated. So I left it kinda late.

Knowing this, I went to a writing professor of mine for advice. I told him I had looked at a number of possible career paths, including librarianship.

“Don’t become a librarian,” he said. “Librarians are losers. They’re all just failed writers.”

To be fair, at the time, this was pretty much exactly what I wanted to hear. I didn’t want to be a librarian. My mother wanted me to be a librarian. Actually, my mother wanted me to be a teacher but I had already decided against that because a favorite teacher of mine in high school had warned me against it for reasons related to a poor job market and also burnout.

Now I’m a librarian who teaches. Go figure.

But I think I made the right decision.

Still, the “librarians are losers” story haunts me. It’s not even the “librarians are losers” part of the story that bothers me. The only thing that’s shocking about that to me now is that the professor stated so bluntly what most people prefer to imply, usually when saying things like, “Isn’t everything on the internet now?” (Don’t get me started.)

It’s the part about librarians being failed writers that really itches my brain. I can’t figure it out. Did he mean that librarians aren’t good enough writers to get published themselves so they spend their days worshiping at the altar of books written by others instead? Like some bizarre version of “those who can, do and those who can’t, teach”? Or maybe he saw librarians as some equivalent of the water boy on a high school football team, only there to service the real stars. I have no idea.

I think what bothers me about it is that there’s an underlying assumption that librarianship is only something you choose to do if you failed at something else rather than because you enjoy something about the profession for its own sake. And it doesn’t have to be reading, by the way. A lot of librarians do love reading. Some don’t.* Some like the aspects of the job that are about naming and organizing knowledge. Others like providing research-related guidance. Or helping to meet the information needs of a particular community. Or creating fun and educational programs for library users. Or preserving information for future generations. There are a lot of reasons librarians (and archivists) love what they do.

For what it’s worth, there are actually some librarians out there who are quite successful fiction writers. And there are also probably some who are failed fiction writers. I might be considered one of them, since though I enjoy fiction writing, I’m not, like, a famous or even published fiction author.

But I didn’t choose to become a librarian because as a writer I didn’t make the team. To me, my choice to become a librarian and my status as a “failed writer” are not really related. In fact, my interest in writing has enhanced my work because it’s led me to an area of inquiry that marries both of my passions, fiction writing and research.

So there.


*Either way, reading is not actually part of a librarian’s job, generally speaking. Just for the record.

2 thoughts on “Librarians are failed writers

  1. What a bonehead! It shows he had no grasp of what librarians really do. For starters, they don’t all work around books. I managed research projects in a nonprofit and am now pursuing a consulting business for grad students – to coach them on research and writing! And I’ve never published. I just have 30 plus years experience in the business world to know how to write, plus an English teacher mom. I actually went back to pursue my library degree 25 years after my undergrad in German of all things.

    I also work part time as a community college reference librarian, which I love.

    I love that librarians/info pros come from all backgrounds and fields of study.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! I think one of the best things about this field is how varied everyone’s backgrounds/interests are and their stories about how they came to the library profession in the first place.


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