Is the United States Training Too Many Librarians or Too Few? (Part 1)
For new library school graduates, or for more seasoned librarians ready for a change, entering the job market can be an intimidating, frustrating experience. We hear that there are no jobs available, and that the few libraries that do advertise new openings are inundated with applications.
Perhaps less publicly, we also hear administrators express concerns about a lack of good candidates for important positions, and we notice some jobs being advertised for months or being re-posted, sometimes more than once. We notice ALA’s estimate of over 122,000 libraries in the United States, as well as its estimate that academic, public, and school libraries employ over 150,000 librarians (ALA does not estimate the number of librarians who work for special libraries, vendors, or other employers). It may also be worth noting that, although U.S. unemployment as a whole remains relatively high, employment rates appear to be stratified by education level: in 2010, the average unemployment rate among people with Master’s degrees was 4%.
Because we do not yet have access to reliable, real-time data, we are left with imperfect, occasionally confusing information. No one knows the actual employment rate among librarians or how satisfied librarians are with their jobs. Nor do we know how satisfied administrators are with the librarians they employ or the applicant pools for positions they hope to fill.
By looking at the past and the near future, and by studying the process of conferring Master’s degrees on prospective librarians, we can begin to think about strategies for ensuring that we, both individually and as a profession, are taking an efficient approach to matching libraries’ needs with the supply of library workers.
Should library schools admit fewer students? Is the admissions process sufficiently selective? Are library school curricula and graduation requirements too similar or too distinct? Are they providing their students with the skills they need in order to get hired and do useful work? Should there be licensing exams for librarians? What data would we need to collect in order to come up with useful answers to these questions?
I hope this essay makes a contribution to that discussion. My original idea for it was to build on existing analyses of ALA-accredited library programs, adding my own observations based, in part, on my status as a somewhat recent library school graduate (Drexel University, September 2007), first-time adjunct professor (I taught a course at Drexel’s library school this past summer), and potential faculty member (I am a Ph.D. student at Rutgers University’s library school).
That will have to wait for the second part of this essay. Before discussing how library schools might better serve public interests and their students’ needs, we need to make sure we have reliable data about current library programs. The rest of part one is devoted to the story of that data.
The Librarian Job Market: Projections
According to the latest data (2008) from the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 159,900 librarians and in 2018 there will be 172,400, a projected growth rate of 7.8% (between 7% and 13% is considered average). The anticipated number of job openings due to growth and replacement needs is 54,500, with 12,500 openings attributable to new jobs being created and 42,000 due to attrition.1
We have been hearing about the graying of the profession for a long time, a factor that will contribute significantly to roughly one quarter of all current librarians leaving the profession by 2018. Who will be hired to fill those positions? What qualifications will they be expected to possess?
Right now, 84% of librarian jobs require a Master’s degree, 13% require a Bachelor’s, and 2% an Associate’s, and new job postings appear to indicate an increasing expectation that applicants will have earned a graduate degree in a library-related field. According to Nazi Torabi’s review of research by Robert K. Reeves and Trudi Bellardo Hahn, most current employers are requiring an MLS or MLIS, though even a Master’s degree is not sufficient. In addition, writes Torabi, “experience, either through internships, co-op programs, or part-time or full-time employment, is essential for new graduates seeking employment.”
As mentioned above, the BLS expects employers to need 54,500 new librarians in the ten years spanning 2008 to 2018. We can represent that need as requiring 5,450 new Master’s-level graduates per year (54,500 divided by 10).
If library schools were to continue conferring 5,478 degrees per academic year, which is the average number of MLS and MLIS degrees they awarded from 1997-98 through 2006-07, there would be roughly as many new librarians as new jobs for librarians.2 Based on the years the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) makes available for comparison, 5,478 Master’s-level library degrees per year would be near the midpoint given library schools’ relatively recent history:
- 1970-71: 7,001
- 1975-76: 8,037
- 1980-81: 4,859
- 1985-86: 3,564
One concern, at least for recent and future library school students, is that library schools have already begun conferring more Master’s-level degrees. The number of degrees conferred increased every year between 1999-2000 and 2007-08. In addition, in the two academic years following the ten years included in the average above (1997-98 through 2006-07), Master’s-level graduates from library schools numbered 7,162 (2007-08) and 7,091 (2008-09). That not only makes the job market especially competitive for recent graduates, it also means, if the number 54,500 was correct, that library schools should aim to graduate roughly 40,320 for the eight years remaining in the BLS ten-year projection, an average of 5,040 for the academic years 2009-10 through 2016-17.
There are several problems with the information presented so far in this essay. Before continuing, it seems worth discussing three primary issues.
1. Unlike medical schools, which faced pressure not to produce an oversupply of physicians, there appears to be no pressure on library schools to graduate only as many librarians as will be needed to fill vacancies
As with the job market as a whole, a limited level of unemployment among degreed librarians increases employers’ ability to hire selectively among the most qualified candidates while simultaneously decreasing salaries. When they produce more librarians than are needed, library schools make libraries happy by vetting, and providing initial training for, a more highly skilled, cheaper work force.
The key for library schools is to avoid granting so many degrees that the entry-level market for librarians becomes significantly more competitive than comparable job markets. If a disproportionate number of potential applicants perceive librarianship as offering worse prospects than comparable alternatives, then it becomes increasingly likely that the overall number of library school applicants will decrease and that library schools will have to compete with each other more aggressively for the most highly qualified applicants.
Although library school students are already graduating into a difficult job market, it seems at this point to be no worse than the job market facing law school graduates. While the salary potential for the most highly qualified new librarians is nowhere close to the salary potential for the most highly qualified new lawyers, the risk is nowhere near as great in terms of the amount of debt encumbered by the average student or the time commitment required to complete school. On a risk-adjusted basis, it is entirely possible that library school is a safer decision.
2. Economic projections are notoriously difficult
Projecting what will happen tomorrow is incredibly difficult, let alone what will happen next year or over the next decade. But selecting 2008 as the initial year for a projection may have been especially inauspicious given what happened that year: a decline in U.S. gross domestic product, along with the start of an unemployment spike and a stock market crash. Projections are worthwhile in that they help to provide some direction, and there is no reason to believe the Department of Labor projections were based on anything but the best available information. But, as librarians well know, sometimes the best available information will only get you so far.
3. Figuring out how many people graduate each year from an American Library Association-accredited program with a Master’s degree in a library-related field is surprisingly difficult
I thought this would be the easy part of this essay. With the help of a Presidential Task Force on Library Education, ALA’s Committee on Accreditation updated its Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies in 2008 and released a statement of Core Competencies in Librarianship in 2009; it also released a revised second edition of its Accreditation Process, Policies, and Procedures in 2011. As is demonstrated in a Library Journal article by Norman Oder on the Presidential Task Force on Library Education and in the Committee on Accreditation’s own Standards Review blog, many within the information professions take the accreditation process seriously, and there can be significant debates surrounding accreditation policy.
ALA’s Office of Accreditation helps to vet applicants for the External Review Panelist pool, and also supports the accreditation process by maintaining a directory of currently accredited programs, as well as a list of all programs accredited since 1925. However, no one at ALA officially knows how many students graduate each year from the programs it accredits. When I asked for this information, I was directed to ALISE, the Association for Library and Information Science Education, which produces an annual Statistical Report.
The ALISE reports, which are compiled from questionnaires submitted annually by each accredited program, provide a great deal of data and analysis. However, I discovered a few problems when I tried to make use of ALISE data for this project:
- It is proprietary and accessible only to ALISE members. Though the University of North Carolina provides public access to the Statistical Reports for 1997-2004, several of ALISE’s more recent reports are inaccessible to me, despite my connections to Rutgers and Drexel. Fair use seems sufficient for me to share the data I most care about—the number of graduates from each of the accredited library programs for each of the past ten years—but there is no reason to assume most readers would be able to verify any claims I make about the data.
- It appears to be inaccurate. The individual number of graduates for each accredited program, when summed, does not equal the number given as the overall total for reports covering the 1999-2000 (off by 8), 2000-2001 (off by 13), 2001-2002 (off by 19), or 2002-2003 academic years (off by 9).
- It is incomplete. The 2007 report, covering the 2005-2006 academic year, is unedited and unreleased, while the data for the 2008 report has not yet been compiled from that year’s questionnaires. The ALISE web page for its Statistical Reports lists both as being “for future release.”
- It does not match the data the schools reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. Moreover, in some years it is higher and other years it is lower, so it does not seem to be differing in a predictable way (such as NCES including data from non-accredited programs).
- 1999-2000: 4,877 (ALISE “total”) or 4,885 (ALISE sum) vs. 4,577 (NCES)
- 2000-2001: 4,953 (ALISE “total”) or 4,940 (ALISE sum) vs. 4,727 (NCES)
- 2001-2002: 4,923 (ALISE “total”) or 4,904 (ALISE sum) vs. 5,113 (NCES)
- 2002-2003: 5,175 (ALISE “total”) or 5,184 (ALISE sum) vs. 5,295 (NCES)
IPEDS Data: Annual number of graduates from each ALA-accredited program, 2000-01 through 2009-10
For these reasons, it does not currently make sense to use ALISE data as the basis for answering questions about the relationship between library schools and the library job market. Fortunately, an alternative to the ALISE data is available through the NCES Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Data Center.3 IPEDS uses Classification of Instruction Programs (CIP) codes, which for the most part are extraordinarily useful in figuring out how many people graduated from each of the ALA-accredited library programs in each of the last several years. The last three CIP code revisions—1990, 2000, and 2010—have the same code number for Library Science, 25.
Among accredited programs, all report graduates for the Library Science classification except the University at Albany-SUNY, the University of Michigan, the University of Missouri, and the University of Puerto Rico. I have written to each of these schools and included their information in the following table.
Some Observations About the Data
My goal for this essay was not to engage in detailed statistical analysis. Rather, I wanted to verify that useful data is available for free from a readily accessible source, a necessary step before progressing to part two of this essay. However, before discussing part two, it seems useful to make a few observations about the data and ask a few questions that may eventually lead to useful information.
- If you rank the largest classes for each school by size, the top ten graduating classes between 2000-01 and 2009-10 are:
- 465 (San Jose State University, 2009-10)
- 456 (San Jose State University, 2006-07)
- 448 (San Jose State University, 2007-08)
- 437 (San Jose State University, 2008-09)
- 359 (University of North Texas, 2006-07)
- 356 (University of North Texas, 2009-10)
- 338 (San Jose State University, 2005-06)
- 315 (University of North Texas, 2008-09)
- (tie) 308 (San Jose State University, 2004-05)
- (tie) 308 (University of North Texas, 2007-08)
All ten classes appear to be primarily attributable to two administrators. Ken Haycock was director of the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University from 2005 until 2010, and Herman L. Totten has been dean of the University of North Texas School of Library and Information Science since 2005.
This raises two questions: Is it a good thing for the profession for administrators to be able to position their schools as outliers in the production of ALA-accredited Master’s degree recipients? And if it is not, are there remedies that would avoid creating even greater issues than the problem they would be intended to address?
- It may be interesting to see if the number of graduates from a program relates to its perceived quality, a measure readily available through U.S. News:
U.S. News ranked 50 master’s degree programs in the United States that are accredited by the American Library Association. The rankings are based solely on the results of a fall 2008 survey sent to the dean of each program, the program director, and a senior faculty member in each program.
The questionnaires asked individuals to rate the academic quality of programs at each institution as outstanding (5), strong (4), good (3), adequate (2), or marginal (1). Individuals who were unfamiliar with a particular school’s programs were asked to select “don’t know.” Scores for each school were totaled and divided by the number of respondents who rated that school.
- Does the recent increase in the number of library school graduates seem to correlate more closely with endogenous factors, such as the iSchool movement or the increasing emphasis on online education, or with exogenous factors, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics study or broad economic trends?
Looking ahead to part two
The significant variation in the number of students in accredited library programs, along with the rapid increase in the number of students who receive their library training without ever meeting one of their professors in person, harks back to library education at this point in the last century. Melvil Dewey’s personal influence began to wane after the first few years of the 20th century and Andrew Carnegie was already very actively funding libraries, leaving something of a void in library education just as demand was increasing. There were few training programs we would think of today as library schools, so many of the people hired to work as librarians received their education through correspondence-based programs.
In 1919, the Carnegie Corporation hired Charles C. Williamson to assess library education and make recommendations for how it might best support libraries and their users. In 1923, he published what is generally known as the Williamson Report, though its official title is Training For Library Service A Report Prepared For The Carnegie Corporation Of New York.4 Williamson’s findings and suggestions led to the Carnegie Corporation funding the Graduate Library School at the University of Chicago, which conferred the first Ph.D. in Library Science, and played a pivotal role in establishing the standards for library education that arguably remain in place today.5 As noted above, ALA began accrediting library schools in 1925.
Working together, ALA and the Carnegie Corporation were increasing demand through advocacy for libraries—specifically, by funding new libraries—and also through advocacy for librarians by investing in their educational resources: new schools: dedicated, better trained faculty; modern textbooks; and updated, evidence-based curricula. Meanwhile, they were decreasing supply by adding de facto regulation in the form of library school accreditation, a limitation on supply that continues today. From the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition entry for librarians:
A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is necessary for librarian positions in most public, academic, and special libraries. School librarians may not need an MLS but must meet State teaching license requirements…. States generally have certification requirements for librarians in public schools and local libraries, though there are wide variations among States. School librarians in 20 States need a master’s degree, either an MLS or a master’s in education with a specialization in library media. In addition, over half of all States require that school librarians hold teacher certifications, although not all require teaching experience. Some States may also require librarians to pass a comprehensive assessment. Most States also have developed certification standards for local public libraries, although in some States these guidelines are voluntary.
These are not the only conditions minimizing competition and protecting working librarians from termination. Librarians may also belong to a union, earn tenure (or quasi-tenure), or hold Civil Service commissioned positions. While occupational licensing among librarians is not as organized as it is in fields like medicine or law or the financial industry, it may be worth investigating if librarianship could benefit from more licensing or less, and, if any licensing at all is beneficial (either to the public, to librarians, or both), how it might best be organized.6
Finally, it seems worth investigating who is educating librarians and how the educators have themselves been taught. Library science is part humanities, part social science, and, at times in the past, and perhaps in the near future as well, part information science, and even computer science. Figuring out how these tensions might be balanced has everything to do not only with the producing an appropriate supply of new librarians, but also ensuring these new librarians have the requisite skills to meet the demands of the marketplace.
Thanks to Nicole Cooke, and to my Lead Pipe colleagues, Emily Ford and Leigh Anne Vrabel, for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay. And thanks to Emily for helping me with the final draft as well.
- To find this data on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, go to Selected Occupational Projections Data: Search by Occupation, enter Librarians as the keyword and choose “Job openings due to growth and replacement needs, 2008-2018” as the variable. [↩]
- These figures are derived from data found in the National Center of Education Statistics Digest of Education Statistics for 2010 and for 2009, “Master’s degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by field of study: Selected years.” For 2010, the source data is found in Table 283, and for 2009, it is in Table 272. [↩]
- From the IPEDS Data Center home page:
- Select Compare Individual Institutions.
- On the resulting page, select Publicly Released Data, then select Continue.
- The field labeled Institution Name on the next page also accepts either individual UnitIDs for schools or a comma separated list of UnitIDs. Download this list of UnitIDs for all schools that had ALA-accredited programs between 2001 and 2010, enter its values into the Institution Name field, and chose Select. If you choose, review the list for accuracy against the earlier linked current directory and historical list of ALA-accredited programs, then choose either Check All or check the box next to individual institutions and select Continue.
- You will be presented with a list labeled My Institutions. Select Continue.
- On the resulting page, select the plus sign next to Completions to see a list of variables, and under it select the plus sign next to Awards/degrees conferred by program (2000 CIP classification), award level, race/ethnicity, and gender – includes new race/ethnicity and award level categories, and under it select the plus sign next to Gender – 2002-03 to 2008-09. For Step 1, select the check box next to any or all years between 2002-2003 and 2008-2009. For Step 2, select both First Major and Second Major and choose Save; select Library science (option 25) under CIP Code – 2000 Classification and choose Save; and choose Master’s degree under Award Level code and choose Save. For Step 3, choose Grand total. Then choose Continue near the top of the screen.
- You will be presented with a list labeled My Variables. Select Continue.
- Decide if you want Institution name only or if you also want the UnitID (I recommend the former), if you want short or long variable names (I recommend the former), if you want to view your report on screen or download it (I recommend the former first, followed by the latter), and if you want imputation and status flags. There is also an option to include a name for the table. Select Continue.
- Adjust accordingly. Data earlier than 2002-2003 is available, but uses 1990 Classifications for its CIP code and is listed under a different variable. There is also early release data available for 2009-2010, but it requires a free login, which can be obtained by contacting IPEDS through its help desk.
- See also:
- Vann, S. K. (1971). The Williamson reports: A study. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press.
- Williamson, C. C. (1971). The Williamson reports of 1921 and 1923: Including Training for library work (1921) and Training for library service (1923). Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press.
- Richardson, J. V. (1982). The spirit of inquiry: The Graduate Library School at Chicago, 1921-51. Chicago: American Library Association. [↩]
- Kleiner, Morris M. (2006). Licensing occupations: Ensuring quality or restricting competition? Kalamazoo, Mich: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
- Kleiner, Morris M. and Krueger, Alan B. 2010 “The Prevalence and Effects of Occupational Licensing.” British Journal of Industrial Relations. 48(4), 676–687.
- Kleiner, Morris M. 2011. “Occupational Licensing: Protecting the Public Interest or Protectionism?” Policy Paper No. 2011-009. Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
- Winston, C., Crandall, R. W., & Maheshri, V. (2011). First thing we do, let’s deregulate all the lawyers. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press.
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Wow, thanks for puling all this information together, Brett. I look forward to reading Part 2.
I had long suspected that Library Science programs were producing more graduates than the job market could support. Accordingly, I’ve always encouraged classmates and new students in my program to pursue non-traditional careers and information professionals, especially since many SJSU students live in California where there is a market for just those types of jobs (advertising, media, corporate and tech worlds).
As to academic rigor, I can say from personal experience that my MLIS program was a cakewalk compared to my other masters in the humanities. I’ve certainly had stress, but not the life-threatening, existential strife that I would have expected from a graduate program, one that seeks to condition the best and (sad but IMO necessary) weed out the rest. The thought that some schools see online programs as profit-generating models of education worries me (I do not know if they do, but I suspect as much).
Actually John, online ALA accredited degrees count the same as any other (though other schools obviously have better reputations than other). But it’s the way of the future. Why spend the money on room & board, food, etc., if you can sit at your computer at home and get the same degree. Why do I need to actually be at class at 9 a.m., when my work schedule dictates I have to be at work then. There are undoubtedly online programs that are simply meant to make money (Phoenix, etc.), but accredited degrees used to mean you could find a job.
One thing that you do not mention is the profitability of library master’s degree programs. When you think about it, it costs the school very little to teach a library school student; very little specialized equipment is needed compared to programs in medicine or the sciences. As a result, universities see library students as giant dollar signs that contribute just as many tuition dollars as students in more expensive to teach fields, and as a result, they increase their numbers in order to increase revenue. Once they graduate, the university does not care what happens to them. Online programs only propagate this problem because there are no limitations as to how many students can squeeze into a physical classroom.
Higher education is increasingly about making money. And universities can make money off of library school students, so they keep admitting them, leading to a surplus. As a result, only the top few get jobs, leaving a huge number of degreed librarians without a future within the field.
Both the facts and the reasoning in this post are specious at best.
Library schools are suffering financially, due to the facts that a.) library school alumni are notoriously poor contributors and donors; b.) library schools have a disproportionate number of students that are attending grad school on assistantships; c.) library programs are comparatively small so lack the economies of scale from which schools with undergraduates benefit.
On the other ill-conceived point, in fact, library schools care a great deal about their graduates’ success, as this is directly related to those graduates’ liklihood to donate back to the school. The school’s financial fortunes are largely tied up with those of its graduates.
At a large midwestern university with a prominent library school, the university actually loses money on each student (this is also true of its other professional programs like social work and journalism).
It’s getting rather tiresome listening to recent grads vilifying their library schools, when in fact the grads themselves did little or nothing in the way of career planning and job market investigation on their own. In my previous role, I spoke to many recent library grads that were closed to any but the “perfect” job (usually related to some outdated version of what a librarian is). One told me that he only wanted to manage a large academic library. (He was entry-level!) Another was waiting for the perfect academic job cataloging serials.
Roger, your arguments are not true across the board. Simmons, for example, has been experiencing significant financial difficulties as an institution over the last few years; the library program is actually one of the only ones at the school turning a profit. I also disagree that library school students have a disproportionate number of students on assistantships; nearly every student who enters a PhD program in the humanities or sciences is going to be fully funded, which is definitely not the case in MLS programs.
Rarely is anything true “across the board.” I”m speaking from the perspective of one who has interacted with the deans of many library school programs. The fact that you know of one exception isn’t really important, is it?
I don’t even know what to make of your other comment. Most library students are masters students — on the whole, they are more likely than candidates of most other masters programs to have assistantships. This clearly affects the revenues at library schools negatively.
If you are angry because you don’t have a job, I’m sorry — but it simply makes no sense to blame it on the greediness of library schools! Seriously, the original post to which I responded was one of the most irresponsible things I’ve seen, devoid of facts or logic. And the author supposes she would make a good librarian???
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Please try to keep it civil.
Thanks again for reading!
I’d just like to add that I’m a fully employed librarian at a major university with a library school. The points I brought up were mentioned in an internal review the university did of our library school. And I can say from first hand experience and from the graduate students I work with that assistantships are definitely the exception. We have cut ours significantly over the past several years, and from being part of the hiring process, only the top library students even get a partial assistantship. They’re also the ones that are getting jobs in this economy after library school. There is a huge demand, but little supply of work while in school or after it. That makes me think that library schools have too many students.
It’s easy to blame the graduates. But so many cannot find jobs it cannot be the only reason they cannot find a job. And they need to pay back loans. Why should the library school make more money on the graduate once they have graduated? Especially when they have accepted graduates who are facing the unlikelihood that they will ever be employed as a librarian. It one both several larger libraries shut down accepting applications for a pool because they had too many people employed who were qualified for promotions. Also many jobs shut down accepting applications after a week or less because there are so many applying. If these schools want their own to have success why don’t they hire their own when a job comes up??? Often they don’t. Since when is education is for profit on the student that is produced???
My personal experience has been that an ALA-accredited Masters does not get you a job. I am a published author with a second Masters (this one in History). I also have 9 years experience working in an academic library (one of the top 50 according to U.S. News & World Report) & have excellent references. But, after applying to nearly 400 libraries in 43 states, have basically decided to change careers. These applications, by the way, weren’t blindly sending out resumes, but jobs I found through my RSS feed that fit my abilities. At least 300 I would be perfect for. So it’s very frustrating when you’re either ignored or get a rejection letter stating over 100 qualified candidates applied for the job. So unless students realize that they’re basically going into a diploma mill, they’re simply saddled with debt.
Librarians today need a niche, a specialty. Just like most other professions. My guess would be that you haven’t defined that for yourself if you have replied to 300 postings that you “would be perfect for.” No one these days is “perfect” for 300 different library jobs.
I would agree that we need a specialty. Do you believe that library programs today provide that specialty? I’m not sure they provide it now…
Concentrations were only recently established at Drexel, and were not available when I attended. Of course I spend a lot of time on the job learning new skills and stretching the envelope of my generic job description. Without these skills “on paper” though, I’ve found it to be very difficult to get an interview.
In addition to asking whether the field is becoming oversaturated, maybe there is an element of Library Students’ training not matching up to real-world expectations. Are they being trained in the wrong way? Or are libraries not quite ready for the new skills that are being emphasized in MLIS programs?
Thank you for the summary of data and perspectives. San Jose continues to grow and has reached its capacity for faculty/students, with almost 700 MLIS graduates this year. Classes are small and technology very sophisticated. We believe strongly in access and opportunity. As we grew, our ranking also grew, the highest movement of any School in the country.
The efforts to tie librarian supply to library professional positions is faulty, however, on several levels. First, the Schools create a talent pool, they do not match the number of graduates to the projected number of openings. Second, we must seriously “uncouple” librarians from libraries. Libraries are but one environment where professional librarians work. Librarian is a job title which fewer and fewer librarians hold. The largest employers of professional librarians, e.g., are the vendors. Google and Yahoo regularly hired San Jose graduates, but not for a corporate library. Indeed, one year a highly visible Silicon Valley company closed its corporate information center yet hired San Jose graduates as trainers in HR. Are the former more “real” librarians? They each held the accredited MLIS degree and were applying their knowledge, skills and abilities.
Librarians have a wide array of career choices, far more than ever before. They need not practice only in a building called a library.
I may have misinterpreted the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. Here is the entire text of its “Employment” section: “Librarians held about 159,900 jobs in 2008. About 59 percent were employed by public and private educational institutions and 27 percent were employed by local government.” Which led me to believe that 14% are working in special libraries, for vendors, and in other non-traditional settings. This belief was reinforced by the following paragraph, from the “Job Outlook” section:
There seems to be a good deal of evidence that the percentage of non-traditional jobs for people trained by library schools is increasing faster than the percentage of traditional jobs, but I have not yet seen a report on how fast it is increasing.
Though I wonder if even that trend is likely to continue. I see no reason to question the likelihood that fewer people trained as librarians will be employed in traditional librarian roles at traditional libraries. But I wonder why people who expect to find jobs working for “private corporations, nonprofit organizations, and consulting firms” as “systems analysts, database specialists and trainers, webmasters or Web developers, or local area network (LAN) coordinators” would get an MLIS. At this point, I hear more and more people questioning whether library school is the best way to train people to become professional librarians (some want new hires to have a Ph.D. in another field, others want new hires to possess more developed technical skills than library schools typically emphasize). Is anyone suggesting that the best way to create systems analysts, database specialists, or HR trainers is to put them through library school?
Ken – your comment is spot on – I totally agree. “ALA does not estimate the number of librarians who work for special libraries, vendors, or other employers” And that is a huge problem. Some of us go to work for vendors or in non-traditional roles, and in doing so are shuttled to periphery of the profession. I contribute to libraries and librarianship, but I work for a vendor. In some ways we’ve vilified other options – and it needs to stop. There’s way more out there than just working in libraries – our degrees are immensely rich resources that can benefit a wide array of career paths. I enjoyed this article – very good food for thought, thanks Brett.
I graduated in August, and while I don’t expect to get a job right out of school, I was hoping that I would at least hear back from some of the places I have applied.
I would love to go into some non-traditional libraries, but I have no idea where to start looking.
If you haven’t already, consider joining SLA, or at least exploring their website: http://www.sla.org/. They also have a LinkedIn group that has some interesting discussions you can follow to learn more. You may want to join a local chapter and attend networking events. Finally, there is also a “SLA New York” job hunters group on LinkedIn – see if there might be something similar in your area if you are not in New York. Good luck to you!
That’s a great tip! I’ve found many specialty postings there.
If you’re looking in a particular area I recommend finding a state library directory that lists the locations of all types of libraries. I found lots of corporate and other non-traditional libraries in there. It looks like PA put theirs online: http://www.libdir.ed.state.pa.us/Screens/wfLibrarySearch.aspx
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Good question. I don’t think it’s only about numbers, and I hope you’ll be addressing that in part 2. It’s really about what will libraries and other information centers have evolved into, and what kinds of skills are they going to need, when the graduates of 2014 start looking for their first job?
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I studied over twelve years ago now, at a top school, just at the beginning of the ‘IS movement.’ I got a job right out of library school, but others I know struggled for years with several part time jobs out of state. I think it would be useful to also look at geography in this equation.
At some of the top schools it is assumed that students come out of state and seek employment at institutions out of state. Other students intend to seek employment in their region.
Thank you for looking into this. I am always interested when statistics and the ‘word on the street’ don’t seem to match-up. I run into a lot of younger librarians in my state who are unemployed or underemployed.
In public libraries, we have always been dedicated to helping the unemployed make career transitions, especially in hard times. Perhaps being career ‘doctors,’ makes us the worst patients.
While I am currently unemployed, I don’t blame my alma mater. Librarianship is a noble profession. However, I hesitate to recommend library school to bright young students at this time.
I hope you prove me wrong. Limited professional opportunities for upward mobility and lateral moves at the management level might also be interesting to look at. A very smart and successful librarian once explained to me that if you want to move up in our field (Public Libraries) you have to change jobs every few years to find increasingly challenging management opportunities.
I’d like to point out that your article completely ignores Canadian library schools, all of which are ALA accredited. While I am not Canadian, I completed my MLIS at UBC and am now back in the U.S., working in a library. Over one third of my fellow classmates were also non-Canadians. I wonder how statistics in this article would change with UBC, Alberta, Dalhousie, McGill, Montreal, Toronto, and Western Ontario added to the mix, as it is likely that many of these graduates are also job seeking in the U.S. (Yes, I understand it may be difficult to separate this data in a logical manner, but it still something to consider).
Thanks for making this point. ALISE gathers data for all ALA-accredited library programs, so my original plan was to include Canadian schools as well. Once I realized it made more sense for me to use IPEDS data (which only tracks schools based in the United States), I changed some of the text in the article, including the title. However, I neglected to mention Canadian schools, and the article was worse for that omission.
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Whilst this article’s writer says she is not getting wrapped up in the numbers, she has just critisised differences in reported figures of graduates between two different collectors ALISE vs. NCES. I am sorry to point out that when you are dealing with figures of 4,500 (approx) then differences of 13 or less are negligiable differences and should really be ignored. Indeed, when discussing differences between
eg: 4,885 (ALISE sum) vs. 4,577 (NCES) the difference is 308, which is less than a 10% difference, and then over the 4 years reported in the article, the difference closed, narrowing each year. I would have thought this could have been a difference in definition, collection methodology, or any of those other bug bears which burden the statistician, yet end up being vilified in print when compared.
On a completely different note, perhaps library schools do not receive endowments from their alumni because, quite frankly, we do not on the whole make enough income to endow anything. Those of use who may be fortunate enough to invent, create or discover something new in the library sciences are small, and what happens if you decide to donate your creation to society ie KOHA library management system?
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I don’t know if you saw this, but it’s compelling. When you sort, Library Science is listed as one of the disciplines with the highest unemployment rate of 15%– topped only by United States History (15.1%), Miscellaneous Fine Arts (16.2%), and Clinical Psychology (19.5%).
When you sort this data by Median income, Library Science is the 5th lowest median. That’s a high percentage of people who weren’t earning much in the first place.
What is wrong with this picture?
I feel dismayed. There are so many passionate library professionals out there who are so good at what they do. This data shows that they are undervalued, and the market incredibly overblown. At whose profit and at whose loss?
Thanks for sharing this with me. I hadn’t seen it.
It’s definitely interesting, and more than a bit troubling, though for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure the study only includes people who chose library science as their undergraduate major. To the best of my knowledge ALA does not maintain a list of certificate, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree programs, but the list maintained by the Council On Library/Media Technicians was updated just over two years ago, so it appears to be relatively current.
I think this data is coming from the census, so it might be self-reporting on what people studied. I wonder from what census question the data comes–and if perhaps it reflects a mix of occupations and education….
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In my library system, recent MLS graduates are applying for clerical and library assistant positions that are paying $25,000 per year. Yes, there are too many librarians graduating from college and not enough jobs for them, as they are soaking up the lower paid positions that were never intended for them.
I am in library school and appreciated your column. I am working on a research paper and was wondering where you got the stats for the claim that 84% of jobs require a MLIS degree…it wasn’t clear from your lists of cites. Thanks!
Yes, looking back on it now I could have made the relationship between the link and the data a lot clearer.
The 84% figure comes from the Department of Labor, via a project it sponsors called O*Net. The link is labeled “Department of Labor,” and in the article above it’s a couple of paragraphs before the 84% figure. When you follow the “Department of Labor” link, scroll down to the Education section of the resulting page (the page itself is titled, “Summary Report for: 25-4021.00 – Librarians”).
Thanks so much for getting back to me! Have any idea how to cite it? I’m using MLA style on my paper. I’ll probably figure it out but thought you might know….
Thanks so much for getting back to me! Any idea how to cite the link? I’m using MLA style. I’ll probably figure it out but thought you might know…
I worked for over 6 years in a special library at a state preservation agency, before moving into the whacky and vibrant world of public libraries, where I am managing a serials collection for a library system and also serving as a public services librarian. Although I would like to work in a management capacity at some point, I’m just glad to be working as a professional librarian at all, as many of my former colleagues on the state level were laid off or are working as “super-clerks.” I think this is also contributing to the glut–many MLS holders who worked for state agencies and libraries across the country have lost their jobs because of the economic crisis. Supporting a family of four, relying on state funding was incredibly precarious, and so folks like me with a number of years of experience are applying for entry level and/or non-management type jobs at institutions with more stable funding, and/or the librarians who have lost their jobs are applying to these positions. I applied for an academic post before accepting my current position, that paid just $2000 less than I’m currently making, and the position had apparently 200 applicants. It’s just a hard time for folks in all professions, across the board.
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I think they are struggling to fill jobs because what they want is a person who has qualifications for 5 jobs. They want 5 to 7 years of progressively responsible job growth. Language ability in Spanish, I’ve seen Russian, Parsi, and some dialects that are spoken in a small area of one country. Then there is the bouncy happy personality, a team player, computer skills that would require a computer degree, marketing skills. Often for Librarian 1 jobs they want a year of professional service. Supervisory skills. For children’s librarian they often prefer those who have often been teachers. I have been amazed….and the income does not live up to the list of qualifications. Some places, even public libraries, want two master’s degrees. Never mind the person is still trying to pay for one…It is inflexibility not that they couldn’t find someone close to the description…and for public library work I don’t see that in most positions it’s needed. I have been reading that many new MLs graduates are giving up and entering other professions. I believe the truth needs to be told. They do not need anymore librarians minted for at least 20 year.
joyce, in my limited experience (3.5 years of part-time library jobs while I worked on the MLS, and 2 years of full-time work), when the job description is that specific, there is already someone in line for the position. For whatever reason–civil service rules, union rules, or both–the promotion can’t be called a promotion, but must be opened to outside applicants so that if challenged, the administration can point to a folder of applications to prove that they did due diligence in searching for candidates.
The other thing I learned in my limited experience is that when the first sentence of the job description specifies a particular personality type, it means they want an extrovert. Not just someone who can fake it for 9 hours a day, but a real extrovert. I don’t waste my time and theirs by applying for these.