Q: I graduated in 2012 with my MLS and landed a wonderful tenure-track academic library position. While I love what my job entails, key coworkers have been difficult to collaborate with and the town the university is in is small. I came from a huge metropolitan city where there were always fantastic cultural arts events going on. This university is focused on engineering and agriculture, and the town is completely based around the university. There are no major cities within 2 hours. While I enjoy my job, I extremely dislike the rural nature of the town. I know the job market is tough…but how do you balance a love of your job with disliking any time outside of working hours? I also have a spouse who will be relocating to my location in a few months, but there aren’t many positions, if any, in this small town in what my spouse is focused on. Do I stay, or move back to my beloved metroplex?
CNW: Congratulations on landing a job you love right out of school – and tenure-track no less! – in a tough economy. Your experience highlights one of the factors that anyone thinking about a career in academia needs to consider carefully: you have to go where the jobs are. Academic employers in urban areas can pick and choose from a large pool of highly qualified candidates. If you are truly committed to academic librarianship, you may find yourself living in a small-town or rural area, at least in the early stages of your career. For someone who prefers that environment, this might be just fine. For others, the trade-offs can be less appealing.
In your case, I would suggest taking a critical view toward what you truly love about your job. From your description, it isn’t your colleagues, and it isn’t the subject focus on agriculture and engineering. There are probably other opportunities in more cosmopolitan locations that include similar responsibilities, unless your role is truly unique.
You may also want to think carefully about your spouse’s earning potential. If he or she stands to earn a higher salary than the typical academic librarian’s over the long term, you might consider following your spouse’s career wherever it may lead. On the other hand, it is also possible that the arrival of your spouse will make the rural town more palatable, in which case you should hang tight and work on your relationships with those key coworkers.
Ultimately, your job is only one factor in your life. You have a solid beginning in an academic library career, which is no small thing. But if you are already feeling constrained by your location, how will you feel in six or seven years when you get tenure? Will you and your spouse still be happy there, if he or she is not able to find meaningful work? If the answers to these questions are both no, start looking for a graceful exit.
SM: To add to Carrie’s excellent advice, I would say that you should give it at least a year, if not two, in order to acquire experience, and so that the length of time worked doesn’t look negative (i.e., job hopping) on your resume. Also, it always takes time to adjust to new environments and to make new friends and to feel comfortable in new places. I’m sure having your spouse around will make things much better and the two of you can explore together. College towns, as small as they can be, typically have more diversity and more cultural offerings than most rural towns, so there may be things you haven’t discovered yet. I suspect that isolation is the real culprit here. And if your library colleagues are not all that exciting, try to seek out faculty or staff in other departments, ones your own age, who can offer suggestions of things to do, places to go, etc. I’m sure you’re not the first person to move to that town and feel the way you do. If you do decide to explore other opportunities, remember that you are interviewing the employer and prospective colleagues as much as they are interviewing you, and you should research and spend as much time in the new town as possible — to make sure that you really want to move there and live there. And one more piece of advice, don’t leave a job (especially a good job) without having a job.
Relocating: the Beginning of a Great Adventure by Thad Dickinson