calling on readers to help with these questions: giving up a career dream, and billable hours

I recently got a few questions that I could use some help from readers with, so I’m hoping you guys will share your ideas in the comments.

#1 The first question is from someone who wants to be a librarian. I know we’ve got a couple of library people who comment on here from time to time, so I’m particularly hoping they’ll have some industry-specific insights to share — but comments welcome from everyone:

I have wanted to be a librarian since my senior year of high school, and I recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Library Science. I knew finding a library job would be difficult because of the economy, but my situation is made worse by my lack of geographical mobility and the fact that I live next to one of the largest library schools in the county. I’ve only been looking for a library job for 4 months, but in that time I’ve had only one interview.

I was recently volunteering in a place where I got to do what is basically my dream job, but I had to stop so that I could find a second part time job (outside of the library field). Sometimes I feel like I should have kept volunteering. My supervisor said that she wished she could have hired me, but that they simply don’t have the funds. Although I love this work, I feel like I would have to sacrifice so much and put my life on hold to even have a shot at getting a paid position. For example, I could have continued volunteering, but then I wouldn’t have been able to work enough to afford moving out of my parents’ house.

I beginning to think that continuing to look for a library job is hopeless and irresponsible. Right now I am working two part time jobs while looking for a librarian position. Do you think I should look for a more permanent full time job outside of the library field? Should I give up on a profession that I love, but which doesn’t seem to have any room for me?

Read updates to this letter here and here.

#2 Our second question comes from a reader who wants input on his firm’s billable hours practices. This seems unfair to me, but I don’t have much experience with workplaces that use these billable quotas and I’m hoping we’ll hear from people who do:

My firm has a practice that seems disingenuous if not flat-out unethical. Everyone has a billability target, that is, the percentage of our time directly billed to clients. This is usually 80% and upwards for technical personnel, allowing some time for supervision, training, proposals, etc. (Some employees are expected to be 95-100% billable though there has been some leniency on this given the overall slowdown). But it does not allow for paid time off.

Billability is determined by Hours Billed divided by 2,000 hrs. But since by definition I cannot work when I am on vacation, shouldn’t my leave time be subtracted from the denominator in this equation?

For example, one must bill 1,600 hours out of a 2,000 year to reach a target of 80% billable. If I take three weeks vacation I should hit my goal by billing 1,504 hours out of a 1,880 hour year. That is 80% of all hours I was at work. But my firm calculates 1,504 over 2,000 and it looks as though my billability was only 75%. Or stated another way, I actually have to work at 85% billable during the hours I am present in order to hit the 80% goal. I hope that makes sense.

Billability is a key metric used in evaluations and whether or not one gets a raise. The firm makes it harder to hit these benchmarks by using a higher denominator.

I’d be interested to hear your opinion.

So go for it — you have the pulpit. What do you think?

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. Kerry Scott*

    I'm going to obnoxiously swing at both of these pitches.

    First, for the librarian: I'm a genealogist. I'm working on getting to be a professional genealogist. I know a ton of current/former librarians who are also genealogists (that training comes in really handy). Any interest in doing something like that? It's still parallel to librarianship, and it could open the door to more archival-type positions.

    For the billable hours person: I worked at a startup consulting firm. They eventually hired a CFO, and instituting exactly that same setup was one of his first acts. It turned out to be a pattern of ways to avoid paying you for your bonus (because your bonus was tied to your percentage). It sucked. I left. But before I did, I found that there are a fair number of firms that do it that way.

    Yes, I'm a big pile of know-it-all today.

  2. Ask a Manager*

    See, Kerry, you miss giving career advice. I have a guest posting slot for you whenever you want it… You could answer questions, post a rant, or anything else! You know you miss it…

  3. Josh*

    1. You have two decent options, each with tradeoffs and sacrifices. We rarely get to do everything we'd like and there's nothing wrong with supporting yourself, nor is there anything wrong with pursuing a dream. Know that you can't make a *bad* decision, but you may have to make one and live it.

    2. Yes it's unethical but if it's the corporate culture good luck trying to get them to change things to suit the employee's advantage. If you don't like it you're free to find another job…if you can.

  4. Kerry Scott*

    But I like the element of surprise. Like, surprise! I'm hijacking your comments section!

    Also, my desk is covered in old death certificates right now. I'm weird and creepy. No one should take advice from me.

  5. Amy*

    I mostly want to know how to become a professional genealogist now. I would love to have a desk covered with death certificates instead of a desktop covered with budget spreadsheets!

    All (two) of my librarian friends are currently bemoaning the current job market. One works in a library, but doesn't even have the librarian title (she does the technology desk), so that they don't have to pay her a librarian salary (she has an MLS & has been out of school for over 5 years). I would suggest (kind of like what Kerry said), look for a peripheral interest, or a job IN a library that isn't necessarily a librarian job to get that foot in.

  6. Anne*

    I'm a (Children's) librarian and I honestly think this is a question that you can only only answer yourself. I was in a similar situation and was able to stick it out until I got a full-time position. I was not geographically limited, and moved about 2 hours away to a small town for my first FT job. I'm in Michigan, so the economy here is awful. I know a lot of would-be librarians who eventually left the field over the job shortage. Probably if I were still unable to get a full-time library job, I would find a job in another field and volunteer/intern in a library. You've got to eat! (And many librarians working full-time barely make enough to eat off of!)

    P.S. Kerry–I loved your blog before when it was about HR issues, and I love it even more that it is about genealogy (which is the one area of librarianship that I am completely clueless about, and I'm working on that!)

  7. Jamie*

    First, it would help to know what type of library you were working in/want to work in… there's SO many types, it's hard to narrow down advice. I'm in the same boat as the librarian — I'm from a town with a very large library school and graduated in '09 from there. I applied for quite a few jobs (not blanketing places with resumes, either!) and despite that, only got two interviews in one week after 10 months (up to April '10). I too was volunteering while I was still looking, but ended up taking a temp job as a registrar from July to this November.

    Everyone seems to be under the impression that volunteering will get you a job somewhere down the line, but so far I obviously haven't found it to help! Honestly, looking at the job boards… there seem to be TONS of library jobs open, just… there must be many more people applying for them.

    I agree with the other posters — you should try looking for jobs that use related skills to library-type jobs in the meantime. I really want to be an archivist working with historical records and artifacts, but right now I'm settling in well as the registrar here working with student records. It's still records management and I'm getting good skills. See if you can't try looking for information/research/computer/whatever jobs. Just me, I think it's worth it to look for a full time job with related skills so that you can hopefully move into your dream area afterwards.

  8. dbkliv*

    @#1: Have you considered working for a library software company? I used to work for one- they were always looking for people with a MLS/MLIS. Check out for companies that make such software.

    There are some advantages to working for an ILS: your degree keeps working for you; you can attend trade shows and meet potential future employers; you learn the software that your future employer is using (or used to use, or will be using).

    Former colleagues of mine went on to work for customers that used our company's software: having familiarity with the software, the company, and the people within is a big stand-out on a resume.

  9. Cory B*

    I am also a recent graduate of library school and understand the difficulty in finding work in the field right now. I think I was fortunate to find a job where I actually use my LIS skills about 25% of the time (even though the rest of the job has nothing to do with library or information science).

    I wasn't able to gather which was more important to the OP: using the MLIS skill set or actually going to work every day in a library. If it is the former, I suggest you pick up a copy of "What's the Alternative: Career Options for Librarians and Info Pros" by Rachel Singer Gordon. This book is reasonably up-to-date and has a wealth of information on non-traditional career paths that utilize the MLS/MLIS/MSIS degree. She covers records management, grant writing, and some newer, hotter fields like competitive intelligence.

    I started to notice in my second year of library school the steady drumbeat from our career services office: there simply are not enough "traditional" library jobs to accommodate the huge numbers of students that are coming out of library school right now. We were actively encouraged by this office, and most of the faculty, to consider other options.

    I hope I didn't burst the OP's bubble, and I certainly did not mean to if I did. I have often envied people that were possessed by a singular dream, and if you are one of those people, I sincerely wish you the best. However, if you are willing to consider alternative paths, I hope you will check out the book.

    Ps. I often thought it was pretty telling to listen to my library school classmates (who actually had jobs in libraries) complain about how few "traditional" positions were really left even within libraries. The field has changed radically with the rise of the internet…

  10. Kimberlee Stiens*

    Aside from this Kerry person's hilarious and creepy advice, I, as a complete non-expert, have this to say:

    1. Since you live near a big library science school, is it possible for you to either a) get a higher credential to make you more competitive for positions or b) teach library science there? You could also consider teaching library science at an online school part-time, just so you're still building credentials in the field you really want to be in.

    And I would highly recommend both continuing to volunteer, even if only once a week, and looking for a sorta-related full time job. Both will help you immensely when that full-time position opens up one day. When someone you volunteer for says they would love to hire you but don't have the budget, interpret it as "I'll hire you as soon as I have the budget!" People will eventually move on, or maybe you could join the library board (if they have one) and start fundraising yourself a position!

    2. That seems like a crappy practice. But, it also seems common. The only alternatives I see:
    a. Get another job (lame).
    b. Complain (in a good way), start a petition in the workplace, etc, to try to change the company culture (difficult).
    c.Look for other solutions that may or may not be worse. For instance, maybe if you take one week of paid vacation and one week unpaid, you can increase your eligibility for bonuses and advancement without taking too bad a hit and making a change the company is almost sure to support? Just an idea, and probably not a good one I know. But maybe there is some "outside the box" solution here, and you just have to find it!

    Sorry I'm not much help. But I love thinking about tough questions like these!

  11. stebu*

    Having worked in multiple salaried consulting roles, not having vacation factored in your billable hours is (sadly) very common.

    The _REAL_ trap comes in the form of BILLABLE hours, and not hours worked, as part of the factor.. A couple weeks without billable work, because of no fault of your own, and your target can effectively be out of reach (especially if you are on a project that has a weekly billable hour ceiling).

  12. GeekChic*

    To OP#1: I've worked in libraries in some capacity (from public service to senior management to IT) since 1995. When I first got my MLS I had to send out 150 resumes before I got my first serious interview – 25 more to get hired (took around 18 months). And I was not geographically limited!

    I think that you have to look really hard at why you're geographically limited to see if that can change at all (is it really "can't move" or "don't want to"). Also, like everyone else said, look at parallel careers since there are so many of them. Finally, be willing to work outside of your comfort zone for a bit (ex. Don't like cataloguing but did OK at the classes? Apply. Really want to work at a public but you a see a job at a corporate library? Apply.)

    For OP#2: At the one job I held that had a quota system for work they counted actual worked time. That said, we couldn't carry over vacation from year-to-year so that made things easier on payroll.

    Also, the two lawyers that I know have both worked at places with billable hours quotas and they said they were based on actual hours worked. Good luck.

  13. Abby*

    It is also not uncommon for attorneys to not have vacation included within billable hours targets. I don't think it is unethical-I think it is a fact of life when you work in a field where there are billable hours to account for. Many attorneys work 60-70 hours just to be able to bill 8 hours a day which is usually considered the acceptable minimum and some firms have higher targets.

    I really don't think this is a bait and switch as employees should be asking these questions before accepting an offer if you know you are going to be evaluated on billable.

    For many (including many attorneys) the payoff is the higher salary. If there isn't a payoff then you might not want the job.

  14. Wahlee*

    The first question is relevant to me because I've long considered getting an MLS/MLIS, but have recently nearly-decided to forego it because of the dismal job outlook. I already have two almost-useless degrees (BA and MA in English), do I really need to fork over oodles of cash for another one? :P This really makes me glad I've decided to pursue other opportunities (or at least put it off until that mythical time when all the librarians retire en masse).

    Of course, now I have to decide what in the heck to do with my life instead. *sigh*

  15. Anonymous*

    From letter 2 –

    Billability is determined by Hours Billed divided by 2,000 hrs.

    But since by definition I cannot work when I am on vacation, shouldn't my leave time be subtracted from the denominator in this equation?

    I feel like I've missed something – but doesn't using 2,000 hours take two weeks of vacation into account?

    ie 40 hours per week x 52 weeks =2,080 hours per year.

  16. Benjamin McCall*

    For question #1
    Dear Librarian-In-Waiting. You have a few options. B/c of the economy you will probably be looking for a while longer. Your situation gets worse with the decreased funding in state and local municpalities and with the hours of many libraries getting shorter and shorter it may be even tougher to find the hours even if you gain a role. You could continue to look in the area but since you are near the main library school for librarians your prospects will not look so good. You may have to make the tough choices and suck up moving out of the area. You could expand your search into corporate and private firms looking for those in corporate records. Many non-profits could be an option. Ones that are historical in nature. Hope you are able to get that dream job though but it may not be looking great. Regardless shoot for your dreams. So many of us put it off and then go years before we finally realize we should have sucked up the tough time and gone for the gusto.

    For Question # 2
    So you have a bunch of numkbers and you smash them together to get the gobildy goup that you just said. Most people, unless they are accountants or comptroller's may not even have the slightest idea how to handle this.
    What much of the ethics ties into it the actual contract that is stated between the client and your firm.

    Virtually all ethics can be thrown out the window (with exceptions to federal, state and municipal law for business entities) as long as it is explained clearly within a contract and agreement of payment. That means that everything from the type of work, hours, benefits, vacations and billable hours can be ok as long as it is a signed and certified contract. Now I am not a lawyer but judging that you asked for advice from a blog you would rather not pay for the advice :).
    It does seem a little shady but if you are a larger company there may not be an ethical issue. But then again Enron and AIG got a way with a lot too.
    Good luck!

  17. Mike*

    1. I'd also look into larger research laboratories or think tanks that need to deal with and organize a great deal of data, peer reviewed studies and other reports. They often have someone who is in charge of keeping everything straight to strengthen released reports.

    @Abby – I'm not really sure what to say.

    First of all, just because a practice is common does not make it ethical. I could list tons of things that are or were common but are terribly abusive practices. This is one of them.

    Secondly, paid vacation time is part of your compensation. Should you be punished for using your health insurance or cashing your pay check?

    Finally, the attitude that "you should have known beforehand" is an absolute joke! An employer can change the terms of employment at anytime for any reason. So sure, ask all the questions you want, it doesn't mean a thing.

    That even assumes they would tell a recruit the truth in the first place.

    This idea that, "if you don't like it, leave" is not helpful when your choice is employer abuse or not having a home.

  18. Anonymous*

    I can only answer #1 since I truthfully didn't understand #2.

    #1 – I truly understand your position for I am in the same boat you are, albeit not as a librarian. I cannot find a full time job in my field whatsoever, and I cannot move too far away at the present moment. Many entry level positions in my field have been either done away with or turned into volunteer/intern positions.

    So what have I been doing? I am volunteering and working part-time in a completely unrelated field. The volunteering is in my field, and the people there are of the understanding that my part-time work comes first. They are very understanding, and perhaps you should see if that can be arranged as well. My part-time job, while there are plenty in this world who have made it their careers, is something I cannot see doing for the rest of my life. It's mundane and extremely repititious. While it has taught a great deal of something that we all deal with in life, I still prefer what I went to school for.

    People in my life, and now from what I have seen on some posts, tell me that just because a degree in something, doesn't mean you are going to have that sort of job or field to work in life. While it's true for some, I don't want it to be true for me. I want that job in my field. I paid how many thousands of dollars for a degree that I love and I want the job to complement it (go ahead and tell me I sound entitled, but it's how I thought life would turn out!). While I sit here in this part-time job, I know I don't want to give up right now or maybe never, and I will keep looking. I'm too proud of my degree to give up.

    I say hold on to your dreams if it means that much to you like it does me. Use your part-time jobs to show what kind of a worker you are and references for when you do get the job. Remember as well, we are in a bad economy right now, but when times are well again, you and I might have a better chance in getting a job we studied for.

  19. Jeff Hunter*

    #2, obviously they're telling you it's not a 40 hour/week position. the last time I worked 40 hours in a week was when I took two vacation days.

  20. Christine*

    On question #2, there aren't enough details to answer it. We don't know if they work 40 hours a week, how much vacation they accrue, whether they get any holidays, etc. If they do work 40 hrs/wk, then as has already been pointed out, that would work out to 2080 hrs a year. Maybe they are supposed to work 60 hrs a week, and vacation/holidays are deducted from the number of hours. Maybe there's some other mathematically interesting combination of facts. Impossible to answer as is.

    In my previous job, which involved multi-year budget forecasting for positions funded by grants, we actually did not assume that everyone would use all of their vacation. This was based on historical data and a policy that allowed people to roll over PTO from one year to the next. We instead used a standard percentage of time we thought people would work, which included all holidays and a slightly weighted average of number of vacation days used across the organization. It worked pretty accurately. That is simply to say that employers may use all kinds of formulas and assumptions to project how much someone may be in the office. In a work culture where people are highly competitive workaholics, 2000 hours might in fact be a researched average.

    Or the firm could be run by jerks.

    Either is plausible, as are many answers between those two extremes.

  21. Anonymous*

    To the librarian in a bind: there's another parallel career that you may not have heard of: Prospect Research.

    Check out and see if you think any of it appeals to you. You'd be surprised how much of the work overlaps with librarianship.


  22. Anonymous*

    I'm the OP for the librarian question. Thank you so much for all of your helpful comments and suggestions. I am interested in ways to use librarian skills outside of the library, and you've offered so many great suggestions and resources that I never would have thought of. (Especially a career as a genealogist. That sounds fascinating!)This makes me really hopeful that I may be able to find something eventually, if I look at less traditional jobs.

    A few people wondered about why I was geographically limited. All of my family and friends are in the area I currently live in, and my partner has a really good job here. It wouldn't be impossible for me to move, but I've decided that being around my loved ones means more to me than getting my dream job. I've heard that the best way to break into the library field is to get a job in a less competitive area, so for everyone who suggested I widen the geographical area of my search, I think that is really good advice which I unfortunately cannot follow.

    I've decided I'm going to keep trying to find a job in librarianship (or a less traditional job using librarian skills) for at least another year. I figure after wanting to work in this field for so long, I should at least give myself a year to see if I can make my dream career a reality. All of your comments have given me great ideas for my search. Thanks again for your help!

  23. Anonymous*

    For the librarian – it is really a tough economy right now, but eventually things will get better and a lot of people will retire (who now can't afford to). For example, we have 2 lines we can't fill now and about 4 people who can't retire yet and that is not unusual around here.

    That said, you need a job now. I'd try to think of these intermediary jobs as steps to get you the skills that would make you the most marketable.

    As a librarian who has been part of hiring decisions, my sense is that there are more and more skills that are not library specific but if you can combine that with a library way of thinking about information and its users that will make yourself marketable. For example, someone who can use their technological skills to make our e-resources more user friendly. But that is not a library specific skill. Or teaching about resources – not a library specific skill (sorry my examples are from an academic library).

    I think others have made great suggestions of other places and types of work that would work, but perhaps thinking about it this way can also make you look at potential jobs differently.

    And take advantage of the library school nearby! If that's where you went, go to alumni gatherings, keep in touch with professors, they may have 1 day conferences and things like that.

    About the "traditional" library jobs comment – there aren't enough because frankly they are going away, sometimes just waiting for someone to retire. I think libraries are not really sure where we're going to end up but it's a different world and the new traditional jobs are going to be brand new jobs. Most of the skills that I look for are skills that were basically nonexistent 5-10 years ago – and I'd want someone new to the profession to have many more of those skills than the ones I have gathered because frankly I can't teach them to you because I don't have them – I can teach you to do all sorts of other things however so don't write me out or dismiss me, but what can you offer me? How can you complement some of us who have been at it longer for the good of the library?

    Sorry this has been long, but those are the kinds of things we are going to be looking at as soon as we can hire again.

  24. Anonymous*

    #2 makes more sense than it seems.

    Think about it: The company will be more profitable if they have fewer employees, each of who produce more. Even if they pay more, they'll save on all the extraneous costs.

    So they are acting to discourage employees from taking vacation.

    You can look at it in a few ways, then.

    One way is to avoid taking vacation, and figure out that you're basically getting OVERPAID for those weeks. After all, doing your "normal" work for those extra two weeks will get you paid an additional raise. If the value of the raise/bonus is a lot more than the value of "not working for two weeks," then you should be working.

    This is easier if you can roll it over. If you're presented with a system, learn to game it.

    Rather than taking vacation every year and coming in just below bonus, do the math. Can you roll over your vacation? Do you have a contract which would make it difficult for them to fire you as a result of taking paid vacation? If so, you may be better off taking 4 weeks of vacation in alternate years. And so on.

    You might also want to just ask your boss. Don't whine, but ask: "The bonus system you have now is set up to discourage vacation use. Here is why. (explain why.) Is that intentional?"

  25. Anonymous*

    The billable hours depends on the setting. I'd say either you were in an accounting or (most likely) consulting firm. The number is too low for most law firms that I know of. My experience is you are given a billable target for the year. And yes, it could be >100% for a week given holidays, mandatory PD, etc… The implicit expectation is that you will be working overtime, likely lots of it, during the busy season.

    I'd check with anyone else in the same field since it might be an industry practice.

  26. lorrwill*

    That billabliity policy sucks out loud. I would look for another position. Your billable hours should be calculated against vacation, PTO, sick leave, etc. That is not fair on any level. It sounds like your firm's profit margin is partially at the employee's expense.

    I wonder what kind of a gray area makes this legal. Because it means you can not take vacations or use your sick leave without potentially risking your job if your billable hours drops below whatever the threshold is for unacceptable (usually under 70 or 75%)

  27. lorrwill*

    Typo. I meant "should not" be calculated against time you are not working.

    The previous engineering firm I worked for did their calculations taking vacation time into account. In other words, they did not penalize people for it.

  28. Jennifer*

    Like one of the later anonymous commenters mentioned, think creatively about what skills you'd need for the job you want and find ways to get them now. As a library manager, I would be very interested in a candidate who had experience at a high-end hotel. Because 90% of working in a public library these days is customer-service based and I want people who can find creative ways to solve problems. Also, teaching or programming experience can be easy to get in other places than libraries.

    Unless you're doing professional-level work while volunteering, I wouldn't find it any more impressive than volunteering at a blood bank.

  29. snikta*

    It seems to me that two weeks of vacation are built in to the calculation. Since a full year is 2080 hours…

  30. Jamie*

    Question #2 all comes down to bad practices – it appears as if they are using optimization formulas to calculate your billable hours rather than the efficiency formula they should be using.

    They need to understand the concept of capacity.

    Optimization is used for equipment and efficiency is used for people. I.E. – a machine in a manufacturing facility will have the capacity of the total of hours the plant is open.

    Efficiency is used for people – results/hours worked.

    The way they are doing it creates a punitive situation for taking earned time off. What's the point in accruing time off if by using it you will lower your metrics – this affects you both by performance stats and by lowering bonuses? Not cool.

    The formulas for the above are in common use – companies don't need to reinvent the wheel unless a little swagger from accounting will mean they can cheat their employees.

    The only thing worse than employees trying to game the system by being lazy is companies trying to deny pay people performing at their job.

  31. Susan*

    What about working as a corporate librarian? I worked for a large regional magazine that had a small library–the librarians (among other things) were in charge of the photo and magazine archives, buying books/subscriptions for employee research, setting up author readings . . .probably lots of other things that I wasn't aware of.

  32. Jamie*

    Correction to my previous post – I meant to say results/hours scheduled.

    Coming in late, leaving early, long lunches do count against the percentage – scheduled time off does not.

  33. Anonymous*

    Another possible librarian-related field is maintaining documents for large attorney firms. Two MS librarians I know are gainfully employed right out of college, and in a town that has a University churning out MS Libs.

    My own experience was this: I'm at the end of the baby boom, they used to call us the baby bust generation. By the time I graduated with my doctorate, literally all the jobs were taken. Friends with Master's in Molecular Biology were taking jobs driving buses.

    I was lucky enough to find a part-time job at the ocean (best job I ever had, I think!). No one in the lab wanted to deal with the computer. It was a big old mainframe, and this was in 1983. I volunteered. This set me on a career path to my 6 figure web developer job with pension that I have today.

    My advice to those just starting out is this: take any job. Work hard and give your employer good value. You'll only have to job hunt once. After that, they will hunt you.

  34. Anonymous*

    I am a librarian who was also geographically limited: I knew I wanted to find a job in my hometown, so I knew I would probably have to take whatever was available, not necessarily in my preferred field. So for you, I would focus on gaining skills that would apply to a variety of jobs – and most especially I would look into technology-related skills: coding, database management, software development, web management. I know there are some some people who would prefer to work only with books or only with children, but more and more technology-related skills are invaluable in the workplace.

    Also, I'm surprised that you don't mention asking around at your library school for jobs that are not just "library" related but "information management" related. It's a professional school after all, and your teachers and staff should be working hard to get recent grads into jobs. I'd ask around.

    Finally, keep in mind that although you love librarian work, there are LOADS of jobs that you can do related to information management. Have you considered working at a local company managing their records or archives? How about legal or government archives or libraries? Film archives? Historical society records or libraries? Basically any place that accumulates records of any kind could use someone to organize them.

    There is also web work to be done: look into "taxonomist" jobs online. I have a classmate who is now working with Amazon as an information specialist.

    Good luck!

  35. Jamie*

    Anonymous 11:09 has it exactly right – just get in the door and it's much easier to move up from there.

    Long story-short I married right out of college and was a sahm with my kids for 15 years. I entered the workforce for the first time at 37 by temping. I finally accepted one of the offers to stay on permanently as an office manager. I interested myself into areas I found more interesting (IT, analytics, accounting) as I could.

    I was promoted but not happy there – however I took everything I learned there and landed my current job as director of IT – it's a perfect fit, but the only reason I was considered is I got my foot in the door somewhere else first and used that experience as training ground.

    Be a knowledge hoarder.

    Just get in at any level and the passion you have for the field will propel you forward.

  36. Anonymous*

    I'm a librarian who has worked in both the public libraries and the private sector for over 12 years. I am currently in the process of evaluting my career path as well.
    There are just too many students coming out with the MLS and not enough jobs to go around.

  37. jenny bento*

    Re #1–I'm a librarian and I agree with other commenters that it depends what field of librarianship you are in, but…

    didn't she know beforehand that if she couldn't move and lived in the worst place to get a gig, getting a job would suck? I feel like it's one thing to be like, "wow I graduated at the worst time possible, it's going to be much harder to get a gig." and another to be like, "wow i spent years and money getting a degree for something I knew that I'd have to make major sacrifices to get a gig in and I've chosen not to make those sacrifices. So it's the economy's fault."

    Most new librarians–hell EVERYONE new to any field–takes a non-ideal job. It is a sacrifice to live with your parents. Is it worth it to get an ideal job? I dunno, maybe not. Other people get over this sucky first job hump by moving somewhere no one wants to go–which you can't do. So yeah, you have to take a sucky, low paying job to get your foot in the door. If you don't want to spend the next few years getting experience at a job that isn't PERFECT, then yes, maybe you should move on to another career. But then wouldn't you end up getting a non-library job that isn't perfect either? Why not build experience in your chosen field.

    Also, as someone who hires, volunteer work is nice, but an actual job in anything related, even if it's not exactly the right thing, counts WAY more.

  38. Anonymous*

    I feel your pain in searching for a library job. It is a shame you had to give up the volunteer position 1) because it is valuable experience that might get you the job you want and 2) it is obviously something you truly enjoy doing.

    I received my MLS May '09 and am still actively seeking employment in the library field. Since then I have gone to about 75 interviews and was called back on at least ten of them. I have been the second best on several but never first, except for a few where the pay was just insulting and I could not accept but now wish I did. I am working a fulltime job not in the library field that I truly hate which does not make me a very pleasant person at times.

    So my search has gone on for over a year and I am still persistent. I had an interview last week which was 100 miles from my home which I did not get. I have one today a little closer, but still a commute. I also reside in an area with a large library school. Due to my husband's business he will not relocate. So I am a bit limited but have expanded my search. I guess I am the eternal optimist and will keep plugging away. You can still accept a full time position and elsewhere and keep applying for the perfect job. I do all the time. Best of luck to all of us seeking a position in our chosen career.

  39. Pam*

    To the person who said 2 weeks is built in the 2,000 hrs, I would disagree. A full year is 2,080 hours. Most companies have 10 holidays that are separate from paid time off. 10 holidays * 8 hrs = 80 hours. I don't think vacation time is taken out of the total billed hours.

  40. Molly*

    I have worked in a library for 10 years, starting out as a library technician and now as a Circulation Supervisor. I chose not to pursue the MLS, but went for a graduate degree in management. From what I have seen, it's better if you specialize or go for an additional master's degree. I work in an academic library, so it might be different than a public library system.

    The other ideas mentioned here are also great: corporate librarian, working for a vendor or law firm. I would recommend being persistant though. The economy will eventually pick up again. Libraries are great places to work!

  41. Anonymous*

    To 2) the billable hours thing fortech people doesn't actually sound that non-standard. Consulting companies in IT are almost always known as burn-brighter-burn-out places. They usually expect you are working way above and beyond a standard 40/week — and that some of those hours might be UNbillable because they go over what a client agreed on. I've had lots of friends get started at these places — they are great experience and usually pay really well (by the way – anytime a job pays more than the industry standard there is PROBABLY A REASON!)

    So i mean, does it suck? Yeah. Do they care and is it 'unethical'? PRobably not. Very few people can "cut it" in consulting long term, they expect pretty high turnover (there are a few people that flat out love and thrive in that environment but not many.)

  42. Aileen*

    I am a librarian and almost done with library school.
    What helps is to look for jobs that do not specifically say "Librarian" but still need our skills. Information analyst, information professional, data analyst etc.
    It also depends on what type of librarian you are. If you are a school media specialist, then getting a job as information analyst should be hard. Plus there are TONS of school librarians out there …
    A great way to find library jobs is libgig_jobs on Twitter, and of course ALA and your regional Library Association.
    Also start volunteering for committees (I am on 4) and try to get something on your resume that makes you stand out. I got two scholarships recently, and I will present a poster at a conference in October. These are things that will distinguish you from someone who "just went to library school".
    Good luck!


  43. Ask a Manager*

    Wow, this has been an incredible success — we should do this "ask the readers" thing regularly. (And then I can do no work at all, which is my goal.) Also, is it possible that 100% of my readers are librarians? I am excited about how many have weighed in here.

    On the billable hours question, I think the people who pointed out that clearly the firm expects you to be working way more than 40 hours/week nailed it. Sounds correct to me.

  44. Anonymous*

    To Question 1:
    It's been my dream since I was a little kid to be a librarian. After getting my BA, I applied for jobs as a paraprofessional in my local system, which is highly ranked nationally, with no luck. Life happened, I got a job in another field for 10 years, and finally, when life settled down, attended library school. I graduated last year with a high GPA, impressive internships and practicum, and I'm still at my old job. (I do have to eat!) I volunteer once a month in a historical society/genealogy library to keep a foot in the profession, but it's not a field that is lucrative. I've decided to keep networking through the professional library associations and personal library contacts, and I apply whenever anything I'm interested in is advertised. The economic situation is throwing my 5-year plan off track a bit, but I'm willing to continue to pursue it. I truly believe that I will find my dream job soon. Just hang in there. Do what you need to do to get by and do everything you can to get your dream.

  45. Anonymous*

    OP for question #2 here, I should have been more clear. Those 80 hours are company holidays. Also, as one increases their seniority with the firm one accrues more days. Some people are now entitled to 4 weeks vacation, plus about a week of sick/personal time.
    80hours of vacation time can be rolled over. Other time cannot be.

  46. Natalie*

    Hi hopeful librarian…I feel like I am in the exact same boat. I am currently in library school and will graduate in the spring. I have worked in a law library for 2 years part-time, and I don't think there's any chance of getting full-time work there after I graduate. My options are limited also by the fact that I am not mobile (boyfriend is an attorney and wants to stay in our state.) Also, my region is a desirable one to live in and is flooded with seasoned librarians who are all competing for jobs.

    I have done a few things to take my mind of these realities. First, I have realized that the only realistic expectation to have right now is that everyone is struggling, even in other fields, and it's going to take some creativity to 1. stay in this field and 2. pay off loans while doing it. I have resigned myself to probably having to work retail, food service, etc. in the beginning to simply pay my loans, and volunteer on the side in a library.

    I do think volunteering is valuable, and it helps keep you current and also helps you maintain contacts in this highly networked, people-centered profession. One of my volunteer gigs recently turned into a 4 hour per week job offer, which is certainly better than nothing, and who knows…you may be surprised what the future may hold after you have volunteered in a place for so long.

    I know it is discouraging right now. It is hard to find a balance between pursuing your dreams and feeding yourself. Please don't give up. Things will turn around; the economy will eventually kick into gear and jobs will improve.

  47. Anonymous*


    From the details here, my take is that it is NOT unethical and NOT unfair.

    The firm makes a margin on each billable hour — say they bill the client $200/hour and pay the employee $50/hour. That $150/hour difference is how the firm makes a profit and can afford to hire employees in the first place.

    When you're doing non-billable work, what margin does the firm make? $0. They ABSORB the margin they would normally make on each hour…but at least the majority of work is intended to enable billable work in the future (that absorbed margin is a type of investment the firm makes in the employee).

    When you're sipping Mai-Tais on the beach, what margin does the firm make? $0.

    What you're essentially saying is you deserve to have the firm pay you to do absolutely nothing and that it's unethical for them to determine your profitability to the company based on, er, how much profit you produce for the company. Sounds fair to me.

    My only quibble here is the company should phrase the requirement as "Each XYZ role in our company is targeted to bill X number of hours in a year" instead of X percentage — then it's black and white — and you know if you take time off, you're giving yourself fewer hours you can bill from.

    There are 14 million unemployed Americans. I'm sure one of them would be willing to sign up for this "unethical," "unfair" "injustice."

  48. Anonymous*

    Q2 OP again. I understand the logic posted by Anonymous 5:36pm but the fact that someone gets paid time off should be built into the firm's overhead. In your example a 4x multiplier should do that nicely.
    It is disingenuous to award an employee extra paid time off (you get 1 additional day each year beginning with your 2rd year) but then taking that time makes it more difficult to reach your goal.

  49. Anonymous*

    Op #2, a better question might what is a typical work week while on an engagement. If you are told 50, 60, 70 hours is normal, then the 1,600 hours target will be met easily IF you are consistently on engagements. You also know you will really need that time off as well and need to decide if the money is worth all of the time commitment.

  50. Anonymous*

    I think the word 'unethical' is completely misused in our American vocabulary today. It is not 'unethical' that OP doesn't like the measurements their employer uses to evaluate their performance.

    I've worked in the billable-hour world for more than a decade and I've never encountered a business that calculated rates or performance in the way OP thinks they 'should'.

  51. Kendra K.*

    Q1: You are not alone. I don't know if that's much comfort, but it's not you, it's the market.

    I think there has been some really valuable information in the comments here. I second the idea of looking for non-traditional positions. There are lots of positions that are for librarians in all but name. These aren't always posted on the LIS sites though.

    The other two bits of advice I have are related and haven't really been touched upon – get involved with professional associations, especially local ones. They often have resources to help you with job hunting, like postings and leads. They are also a great way to network, which is my second bit of advice. Network, network, network! Internships in library school are sort of the beginning of this, but it can't stop when you graduate. As I said before, local organizations can really help with job hunting if you get involved, but there are also many online communities ready and willing to help.

    If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

  52. Christine*

    To OP #2:

    It does on the surface seem unfair to 1) award a high performer more vacation, thereby 2) decreasing the number of hours one would assume they could be in the office and toiling toward that minimum % of billable hours to be considered for a raise.


    I work in IT. I on average work 110% of my billable time (if you think of it as 40 hrs/week) for the clients, and another 30% for the company that employs me. A 2000 hour year, let alone 80% of a 2000 hour year, would be like being on semi-vacation. For the record, I love what I do.

    My best people (yes, I am also a manager), get their pick of interesting projects. They are busy, 100% of the time. I force them to take vacations.

    So, assuming someone is penalized in your situation because of seniority is not, in abstract, necessarily the case. I would assume that star performers get more work because they turn out high quality products. Thus, you would have less down time to count against your 2000 hour minimum.

    The reality of IT, as I have experienced it, is that as you become more senior, you are essential for more things. Sure, you can delegate tasks, but your knowledge and experience make you a good resource on every project. That translates into more billable hours.

    If I were you, I would be wondering what to do to carve out a larger slice of work for myself rather than worrying I was so close to not billing enough hours that I might not get a raise.

  53. Anonymous*

    Dear Librarian – it's not the economy and I wish people would stop using that term because it locks them into a mindset of "woe is me."

    You need a game plan and that means going to association meetings and networking. What type of librarianship are you considering.

    If you do volunteer, work on projects where there is a beginning, middle, and end. It shows accomplishment – don't just give away your time.

    And, bring your library skillset into the 21st century – where's your blog, how are your technical skills. In today's technological environment, libraries are looking for specific skill-sets.

    Get yourself out there and network with other librarians.

  54. Anonymous*

    One tack is adjust your ethics to that of the company you work for. If they want to include vacation in the denominator, why not include it in the numerator? Bill clients for the time you spend on vacation!

  55. Reva*

    I am jumping on the Kerry should post career advice again band-wagon. Currently sitting here waiting for someone to call me for a phone interview and he is 5 min late…RUDE!!! I know y'all agree!

  56. Anonymous*

    #1 – I work as a Library Assistant & don't like it. I thought this is what I wanted from my life (I love books, grew up with books, enjoy talking about books…) my job has little to do with books. It's mainly IT/customer service.
    When I interviewed for my position, the managers interviewing said that they were impressed with my voluntary experience – in a chairty bookshop and in the local university's special library & archive. I would suggest doing that or similar.
    Also, over here in the U.K (particulary in Scotland) the library secot is being cut to smithereens in the next few years. Good wage, but libraries (at least as I know them) exist in the future?

  57. Jamie*

    Anonymous at 11:33 asked the OP where her blog was. My understanding is that a blog only helps you professionally if it's relevant to your field.

    Am I mistaken in this?

    I would find it really hard to blog about a field in which I wasn't currently working.

    For years (when I still had free time) I had somewhat of an online presence recapping TV and also had a couple of articles published in the local paper. I never listed these on my resume because they weren't relevant to my field.

    When I was interviewing it's come up because they found them on google (never publish anything online under your real name unless you want to talk about it in a job interview) – but it was always a pleasant aside and didn't help or hurt me in my job hunt.

    I don't know if blogging about a field you aren't in is the best use of time (and it does take time.) But I could be totally wrong about this.

  58. Anonymous*

    Anon@11:33, it sure would be nice if economic reality were imaginary for the rest of us the way it is for you.

  59. Anonymous*

    For the librarian – you should look for other work outside of the field. You should not be poor and have a job you love – you can have a job that is good or pretty okay – and a paycheck. In my opinion, the second lifestyle is better

  60. kristinyc*


    My personal blog helped me get my job. The recruiter I was working with found it and emailed the link to my (now) boss, and he was impressed with my writing. The content in my blog has always been censored enough that it's appropriate for public consumption. The blog's about my goal of moving to NYC, how I made it happen, and what it's like living here, so I guess it shows that I can make goals and accomplish them.

    Most of my readers are friends and family, but it was definitely a valuable writing sample/proof that I am somewhat web-savvy for my social media job. I'm just careful about what I write about in it.

  61. Kate Hutchinson*

    To the dream-career librarian: Your story really rang a bell with me. My husband has known he wanted to work in transportation since he was a kid. He spent a long time trying desperately to find work in a field that is small and has few openings. Meanwhile, he worked for a non-profit consulting agency. He spent his whole savings getting a Master of City Planning, and took advantage of meeting every person he could who worked in the field. He came so close to getting a job twice, but was turned down on technicalities (years of work exp. etc.) And yet, he never gave up. He came to this point where he said to me "If I don't get what I want in a year, I'm going to give up." I told him not to, and you know, it took another three years, but he found his dream job. And all those people he had talked to, who wanted to hire him, have been there to support him, and his boss has actually had offers to poach him.

    If you can, manage to stay volunteering at the dream place. Ask the woman who wanted to hire you for recommendations for informational interviews. See if you can write an article that will get your published. I have a few connections at the Simmons GSLIS, and I would love to put you in touch with someone there if it would help. Please don't give up on your dream.

  62. Anonymous*

    I'm a retired librarian. You MUST be geographically mobile in this profession, unless you're in a job already, and it is where you want to stay, no matter what happens, who a new manager is, and so forth.

    In 40 years I worked in 7 libraries in 7 states. I was in the last one 18 years, though stuck out the last 3 with a "bitch from hell" new boss, as wasn't quite ready to retire. Had I been younger, I would have moved.

    Good luck.

  63. dee p.*

    I have been a Librarian for 6 years. I graduated with my Master's in LIS in 2004. I was very fortunate to go to a library school that strongly emphasized the fact that I MUST have a library job while in school. Having gone into library school with zero library experience, this was crucial. It took me a full year to get a position and once I did, it was only a 3 mos. $10/hr position (but it was at Harvard, fancy that). AFter that one position, the others started rolling in. I am now on my 3rd professional library position and have just had (hopefully) a very successful phone interview for a library professor position at a major university.

    My point is, that after that first big breakthrough, things will change for you. You just have to hang in there long enough to secure that first job. Yes, it's tough. But if you are a competent and ambitious librarian, you will make it. In every position I"m in, I have written papers and presented at various library conferences. I have volunteered to be on various committees and done everything in my power to beef up my resume. Every little thing helps.

    It is not an impossible field to succeed in, trust me. Just hang in there. Librarians are notorious for persistence and we find ourselves constantly having to' prove' that we are valuable to our communities. You must do the same. Don't give up!

  64. Morgane*

    I read this post a week ago and just stumbled upon a job add that wants a person with library science experience. The job title was “Discovery Architect.” I clicked on the job add because I wanted to know what a discovery architect entails and it reminded me of this post. Good luck!

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