Librarianship and For-Profit Schools

Erica Watson by Erica Watson

I don’t know why people don’t talk about for-profit librarianship. This is silly. Wherever you are a librarian, the credo is the same: to provide the best service to your patrons.

Much has been written about how academic libraries have a rough time negotiating their budgets. Try working as a librarian at a for-profit school (one that only offers certificates), where every other department is expected to make their numbers. I am Jar Jar Binks in the eyes of the CEO and other corporate players, irritating and around for no apparent reason. I say Jar Jar Binks also because that is how I feel my job is received when I tell people that I work at a for-profit school. I would like to clarify here that I am actively pursuing my MLIS degree and my title at work, therefore, is not librarian, but rather a coordinator. I have not found a lot of literature written about for-profit librarianship. When I have reached out to other for-profit librarians to discuss these issues, I have been given cold shoulders. I find this unsettling. A day in the life of a for-profit librarian is probably the same as it is for a librarian at a very small branch.

Though the corporate office views my role as marginal, at my campus I am a bit more valued. Many of the students I encounter are from the lower economic status and, for many, the campus library is their only access to a computer. In addition, most are digital natives or older, returning students who are technologically disadvantaged. On more than one occasion, I have given a crash course on how to open an email attachment, request a password from a website, fill-out an online job application, and, of course, how to print. I also do presentations for some classes on how to evaluate information found on the internet.

The challenges for me as an educator and librarian are having to negotiate our online library, which was designed for a more typical undergraduate curriculum, and figuring out the best databases for students to use. The head librarian of the colleges (yes, we are a chain) has provided a page for each discipline, but they are still “more academic” than some of the students are patient enough to use. A few instructors have provided me with websites they think are helpful, and those are ones I most commonly recommend. Unfortunately, not all of the instructors are big advocates of the library, and therefore tell me nothing that will help me assist the students. Especially in these cases, when students ask for my help, I get to flex my research skills.

I hold resume workshops, help students with their research projects, support information literacy, maintain the physical collection, and assist the student body with filling out various forms, from FAFSA to GAIN. I am also involved in the graduation committee, ambassador program, orientation, technology training, open houses, and job fairs. I have a shelf of books that needs to be cataloged and my plan is to get to them next week, or maybe the next.

I really like the students. Many are here to change their lives, whether reforming from their criminal activity, trying to provide a better future for their children, or recovering from drug addiction. Whatever the case, the school is an opportunity for them to be something more. Some seniors came up to me the last day of their classes and told me that I had been a huge help to them, and that they could not have done it without me. I write this because of them, to let people know that even though an institution may be for-profit, the library is still the library.



Erica Watson received her master’s degree in music from California State University, Long Beach in 2010. Currently, she is finishing her MLIS through the distance learning program at San Jose State University. She has also been playing music in various bands for 20 years.