Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Stress Watch

The BBC has an interesting counterpoint to Sunday's New York Times article on librarian hipness. According to the Beeb, UK librarians are the polar opposite of the happy young hipsters taking over the field here in the US:

Fighting fires may sound taxing, chasing criminals demanding, but a new study says that working in a library is the most stressful job of all.

Librarians are the most unhappy with their workplace, often finding their job repetitive and unchallenging, according to psychologist Saqib Saddiq.

He will tell the British Psychological Society that one in three workers suffer from poor psychological health.

The study surveyed nearly 300 people drawn from five occupations.

They were firefighters, police officers, train operators, teachers and librarians and were intended to cover the spectrum, with the librarians first-thought to be the least stressful occupation.

Basically, the study defines librarians as "stressed" because they're underpaid, hate their jobs, and have high absenteeism. I'm sorry, that situation sucks, but it's not real stress. Dealing with IEDs and sniper attacks is stressful; having two BI sessions in a day isn't. Even during the new, toned-down Basic Training, I found myself pining for the days when my big worry was being swamped at the reference desk by students working on some of our least favorite assignments. Unfortunately, most of us in the West live such spoiled, sheltered lives, that we have little idea what real hardship looks like.

Update (7-11-07): Thanks to The Library Guy for pointing out that this item dates from January 2006, and to the other commenters for some good points. Somehow, I just happened to come across it a couple days ago. Still, an interesting juxtaposition after reading the Times piece.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stress isn't necessarily about danger, though. I think librarians are stressed because it's boring and repetitive, and because it never seems to get anywhere. If you fight fires, you see that the fire goes out, people get saved. If you're a police officer, you have a lot of stress and crime never ends, but you do get to make some arrests and solve some problems. Libraries are plagued by lack of closure. We don't even know, most of the time, if a patron we've helped has in fact found us helpful for whatever he's doing.

Of course, there's also the question of whether the library is the cause of hte stress, or attractive to stressed people because it seems relatively peaceful.

12:09 PM  
Blogger The Topiary Cow said...

Interesting point by anon---people may be drawn to librarianship because they want a quiet environment filled with books and readers.

Instead they get homeless, crazy people, often smelly and demanding, who may come in every single day.

What this study points to me is that it's all about control. The soldier can't control what happens to him but he does have a weapon and rules of engagement with which to use it, permission, if you will.

The librarian is expected to passively be a victim of any "patron" who walks in the door no matter how crazy or rude.

And no, there's no closure because librarians are seen as only a small part of the process.

2:59 PM  
Blogger The Library Guy said...

As you've noticed, the BBC piece's dated a year and a half ago. I first read about it on Jessamyn West's site and briefly blogged about it a couple days later.

That aside, people unfamiliar with the profession expect there to be no stress at all. There is more stress than expected, but obviously less than that experienced by soldiers to use your example.

There's always stress whether it's ensuring that people are helped, interacting with co-workers and officials as well as what Cow mentioned in the second paragraph-- just to give a few examples.

What I think is not that librarians are especially stressed, it's that the ratio of librarians' stress to their expectation of stress when initially introduced to the profession is very high... if that makes sense. I'm trying to make sense out of it myself.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Art Deco said...

I thing they are confounding 'stress' with 'demoralization'. Library administration suffers from a deficit of operational measures of competence, a preference for credentials over skills, status consciousness, decision-making driven by office politics rather than goals, and a competitive dynamic that promotes people who have skills at self presentation in interviews but generally have little capacity for leadership and are at best indifferent administrators (manifest in over-staffing, labor discipline problems, maldeployment of labor, and intramural feuding).

8:12 AM  
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