Riot Headline COVID-19 Updates from the Bookish World

Hello Sunshine Clarifies Call for Librarian: “This is a Paid, Part-Time Position”

Editor’s Note, Update #2, 1/25/2020: A spokesperson for Hello Sunshine provided Book Riot with the following statement:

“Hello Sunshine always intended for the Librarian-in-Residence to be a paid position. The claim that there would be no ‘financial or material exchange’ for performing work for our company is entirely incorrect and based on false assumptions. We are excited about all the incredible applications we are receiving and look forward to welcoming the new Librarian-in-Residence to the Hello Sunshine team soon.”

The editors note that at the time the below article was posted, there was no mention of compensation anywhere in the announcement, save for item #17 in the Terms and Conditions, which require entrants to acknowledge: “Under no circumstances shall the submission of a Video into the Contest, the awarding of a prize or anything in these Rules be construed as an offer or contract of employment with either Hello Sunshine, or the Contest Entities.”

Editor’s Note, Update #1, 1/23/2020: Hello Sunshine’s librarian-in-residence announcement now (after the writing of this piece) includes a note, under “A few must-knows,” that “this is a paid, part-time position with room to grow.”

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It’s been making the rounds in every single library publication and social media outlet: Reese Witherspoon is looking for a librarian-in-residence and as long as you’ve worked in a library, that could be you!

Sounds great, right? How fun to work with Reese and her team at Hello Sunshine to talk about and promote books and stories by and about women. And the application is easy! You just need to submit a 90-second video explaining why you’d make the perfect librarian-in-residence.

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As librarians, we’re trained to suss out the full story of things and to understand the context to which information falls. To say it’s surprising how quickly this story spread without any critical examination is an understatement.

This is a contest, not any sort of job, internship, or position that comes with any agreement whatsoever for the winner. There’s no application. It’s a contest submission.

There is no cash prize nor other prize, other than the title of Hello Sunshine Librarian-in-Residence. 

In other words, the potential winner for the contest will receive nothing financial or material in exchange. The winner receives the chance to “talk about our book picks with Reese,” speak directly with authors, and have fun and entertaining conversations with the Hello Sunshine community. There’s no guarantee of any direct communication with Reese herself, given the expressed clarification that the winner will have direct contact with the authors of selected books and not with Reese. The Resident Librarian will, however, be communicating with the community.

Though standard in most contest contracts, the terms and conditions here also make the video submitted available for use in any and all commercial purposes by Hello Sunshine. Entrants do keep their intellectual rights to it, but the company can use it to promote the book club or anything related to it in any way and for however long they wish.

It’s disappointing that a company like this can’t pony up money to pay a librarian for this position. And it’s equally disappointing to see such enthusiasm from library-affiliated organizations and librarians themselves about this.

As has been seen time and time again, libraries face intense criticism when it comes to being resources to their communities. They can close or lose funding, brush against censorship and protest, and see their work outsourced to private companies who see the bottom line—not community engagement and service—as priority. The short history of libraries in the last decade and a half since the Great Recession has seen headline after headline suggesting that rather than employing well-educated people as librarians, cities could save money by laying off those experts and bringing in volunteers to do the same jobs.

Likewise, librarian salaries are not in any way commensurate with the education expected. The average starting salary of an entry-level librarian in New York City’s system, for example, is somewhere between $44,000 and $48,000; the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, which would require a commute to get to the job, is over $2300 a month, often significantly higher. Add to that the cost of the required master’s degree to get the job, and librarians at one of the most recognizable—and, indeed, most beloved—systems in the U.S. are not going to be making much, if any, money.

Academic librarian Fobazi Ettarh has written widely about the notion of vocational awe as it relates to librarians. The public loves to praise the work done by librarians, but they don’t love to pay for the services. There are myths and lores and romantic notions of librarians, but there aren’t salaries to match, nor is there respect for the actual work done on the ground in working for the general public.

Librarian-in-Residence for Hello Sunshine plays directly into this. It doesn’t bring about an amazing opportunity. It capitalizes on expensive education and expensive experience to continue making a profit for the company.

And in a far less generous view, it allows for a company to seek out someone who would add a good angle to the company’s story—sure, a video helps the contest organizers the chance to see how someone does on film. But it also allows them to see the things about a person that can lead to unfair hiring practices and discrimination…or choosing to announce a winner of someone whose marginalization bolsters the company’s external perception as inclusive, while expecting those contemporary and generational challenges, discriminations, and traumas to be shared freely and openly.

This is a volunteer position, not a job.

It plays into the belief that librarians will do things for free, out of the goodness of their hearts.

And it encourages women and people of color to continue believing that in order to prove themselves worthy—in order to have their jobs and education and skills seen in a light other than awe—they need to be willing to do it for free while another company profits from it.

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