by Natalie Kahn
Why I Turned Down my First Professional Library Job Offer
They offered me the job. I haven’t even received my MLIS in the mail yet, but a small college has offered me the HEAD Librarian position. They offer a little more money, fine benefits, and the seemingly limitless opportunity to explore every and any aspect of librarianship my newly-graduated heart desires: creating information literacy classes, cataloging, collection development policy drafting, and perhaps even starting a volunteer program to give student patrons real work experience.
I’ll tell you why I didn’t accept their offer.
When I hung up the phone, I wanted badly to take the position for all of the reasons listed above, but I needed to consider a couple things first. Well, really I had to consider a million things, but it boiled down to two things: risk and regret. There are countless studies that explore if, why, and how men take more risks and rise professional ranks faster than women. Leadership and strategy analyst Doug Sundheim writes in the Harvard Business Review that this is problem of perception, in that female professionals are perceived as risk-averse compared with their male counterparts. This perception is more than anecdotal, there is clinical evidence that women are less risky when debating a new job. Some psychologists have identified that risk-taking is similar in males and females until stress levels increase, in which cases women take fewer risks- link to an article with that study here.
Business and psychology research notes that women take fewer risks professionally than men, but librarianship is dominated by women, so is this true in our field? Yes. The ALA (American Library Association) notes that the percentage of male library directors salary is larger than that of female directors despite the fact that women largely outnumber men in the field. In order to climb out of the paraprofessional realm into professional librarianship, would I have to risk my current happiness and stability in order to climb the ladder?
Regret was easier to consider than risk. It is that “gut feeling” folks talk about… If I did not accept the job offer, would I regret that decision? In my case, I wasn’t taking a risk for a great reward- money had to be taken off of the table for this decision. I am lucky in that I have a financially stable current job and you know the saying about money buying happiness (it doesn’t). I felt accepting the position would be running, not risk taking, and I do not want to run a race where there is no reward at the finish line. And regret. My first thought was not the “what if” of not accepting an offer, but rather the opportunities, professional and personal, I would regret missing by leaving my current paraprofessional job. It is also worth noting that there existed things I would not regret passing on with the professional gig, like a significantly longer commute.
There is power in saying “No.” I had a real choice. A hiring committee did not choose me, I chose to be loyal to my workplace and myself. Interviews should not be a judge and jury situation, but rather a mutual selection process to reveal how the interviewee can improve an organization and how the organization can benefit the interviewee. They could not offer me more than I have and will have at my current position, so I said “No.” “No, thank you,” actually, but still “No.” Do I worry that my loyalty is a crutch that keeps me in the paraprofessional realm? A bit. Would a male counterpart have taken the risk despite the professional and personal development opportunities he’d be leaving behind? Perhaps. But will I regret not taking a job that offers little more than a title? No.
Natalie Kahn, MLIS, is the circulation manager at a community college library in Hawaii and recent graduate of San Jose State’s MLIS program. Though her days at work are mostly spent clearing paper jams, stuffing ILL bags with books, and directing patrons to the testing center, Natalie is passionate about uniting and strengthening academic services, promoting diversity in academic libraries, library management, intellectual freedom, open access, and staff training and development. She believes in the importance of upholding the tenets of the United States Constitution to ensure all patrons who seek information will find it freely and easily. When she is not working toward this goal, Natalie enjoys hiking, running, and eating in beautiful Hawaii.