The pitfalls of generalism

Coming into the field, one of the things that attracted me most to librarianship was the chance to be involved with and an asset to the research community without having to hyperspecialize to the point required by PhD programs in subject fields. My interests have always been wide, and ever since my (probably foolhardy) decision at the age of 12 not to pursue neuropharmacology, I’ve enjoyed studying a wide variety of subjects that catch my attention. From music to medicine to languages to history to law, my interests are varied and I try to keep up with newsworthy and scholarly developments in as many of them as possible. Yet I wonder if this actually makes me less attractive as a job candidate.

Librarianship in the academic world, however, more and more seems to require subject specialization in addition to the masters in theory and practice of library science. As I apply to jobs, I see reference positions that prefer a subject masters. I see systems positions that prefer significant undergraduate work in computer science. I see outreach positions that prefer training in business.

I know that all of these are jobs I could do. I enjoy learning on the job; I enjoy learning on the job in order to meet a deadline even more. I have confidence that eventually I will find the fit that I’m looking for. But does academic librarianship in the modern academy run the risk of hyperspecializing as much as the PhD/faculty track does? What are the consequences if the profession moves to smaller niches just as we’re being asked to take on more and more responsibility for the information literacy and technology end of the information world?

I don’t know the answer, obviously, but it’s something I’m definitely going to keep an eye on as I venture (back) into the working world.

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