Who wants to be a librarian? 54% of Brits, apparently

A recent YouGov poll found that the three ‘most desirable’ jobs in Britain are author, librarian, and academic.

As a librarian currently working on a PhD, I naturally found these results very interesting. And if we equate blogging with being an author (just go with it) then I am 3 for 3, and  it looks like I just might have the very best job in Britain! So, since I am apparently living the dream, I will take it upon myself to analyse the results in this post.

I was initially surprised that librarian came in at #2 in the poll. Not entirely, mind you, considering the high level of competition for library jobs,  but it did strike me as a somewhat obscure choice. Then again, so did some of the other occupations listed – Formula 1 driver? Hollywood star? Oddly these were listed, but more mainstream occupations like nurse or computer programmer were not.

Eager to understand how the poll was conducted, I downloaded the full data set. It appears that participants (sample size 14,294 GB adults) were given a random sample of 8 jobs from the total 31 listed in the study. Participants were asked to say whether they would or would not like to do each of the listed jobs. “Don’t Know” was also an option. Therefore, the results reflect the limited possibilities of the survey and do not necessarily mean that these are the most desirable jobs, as another interpretation is that they are simply the least objectionable.

It is difficult to draw many conclusions from these results as it is impossible to know why respondents chose these options. That is, are people more inclined to say that librarian is something they would like to do because they perceive it as a nice, low-stress job that would allow them to read all day? Alternatively, they might have said yes because they think it would be great to have the chance to get involved in community engagement, research, reader development, instruction, open access promotion, and all the other wide-ranging activities that librarians perform, depending on sector and specialisation.

What we do know is that a far greater percentage of women than men say that they would like to be librarians. Results showed that only 44% of men would like to librarians, compared with 47% who reported that this is not a job they would like to do. 10% of men did not know. Among the women, responses were 64% yes, 29% no, and 7% didn’t know. As the majority of librarians are women, this is not surprising, but it is interesting that the gender imbalance remains even in a hypothetical scenario.

Also significant are the class differences among respondents who indicated an interest in an academic career. Careful data analysis (i.e. scrolling through the PDF whilst drinking a glass of pinot noir) showed that respondents from social grade ABC1 (professional, middle class workers) found academia far more appealing than respondents from social grade C2DE (manual, working class workers). 58% of ABC1 respondents indicated that they would like to be academics, compared with only 42% of respondents from C2DE. Of all the occupations listed, it appears that this is the largest discrepancy between social grades. Whilst this particular survey has its limits, these results are revealing and are certainly something that I would like to follow up by reading more in-depth research.

The way the survey was reported is also notable. The title ‘Bookish Britain’ seems to be a play on the ‘broken Britain’ trope and since the title was chosen to describe all of the top 3 positions, I won’t fault the author for this choice of words (not too much anyway). But although the author’s belief that  ‘an aura of prestige still surrounds the quiet, intellectual life enjoyed by authors, librarians, and academics,’ reflects positive stereotypes, they are stereotypes nonetheless.

I will be among the first to agree that librarianship is an extremely rewarding career. Having students tell me that my assistance helped them to improve their essays or listening to teens share their poetry with me is a great feeling. I also find PhD research very stimulating, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to think, write, and talk about a topic that I would have been researching in my free time anyway. There are worse ways to earn a living (although likely many more secure ways!).

I do, however, wonder whether the romanticised view of librarianship and academia contributes to misunderstandings of the very real challenges facing libraries and higher education. Libraries of all types are facing cuts, with public and school libraries appearing to bear the brunt of austerity measures. Within academia, the pressures of the REF and casualisation are cause for concern. These are just a few examples, and I of course appreciate that librarians and academics are unfortunately not alone. Still, I think the characterisation of these positions as bookish dream jobs erases the reality and potentially makes it more difficult for workers to resist the assault on their professions. And an ‘aura of prestige’ won’t pay the rent.


Final note: Completely shocked that only 27% of respondents want to be astronauts. What is wrong with people?!

2 thoughts on “Who wants to be a librarian? 54% of Brits, apparently

  1. Pingback: Librarian: second most desirable job in the UK? | Hazel Hall

  2. Pingback: Librarian: second most desirable job in Britain? | Hazel Hall

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