The Librarian Shortage Myth & Blaming Library School

Don’t blame library school if you cannot find a professional job. You are an information professional. Did you not research the state of the job market?

I made that very blunt point in a 2011 blog post: “I graduated from a top library school.” Yeah, so what? – It’s generated a lot of comments since then and struck a nerve with some readers.

One person commented:

I do not agree about NOT blaming the ALA and the school. There is a lot of false information put out by the ALA ..remember all those retiring librarians. Also as a male you are at an advantage. I have seen some really dopey male librarians hired at our library I asked one about a book I was looking for and he googled and turned the screen and told me read this stuff. When I persisted he pointed to an elderly female librarian and told me to ask her because she’s really good at that stuff. This after being told that library only hires the creme de la creme. Guess that creme got stale googling. You can be all positive because you got a job. People have done all you suggested and still have no job in a library or have a part time job in a para professional area. There is an article in the Library Journal called that lucky few – referring to people like you who got a library job.

Blaming Library School

Looking back at my original “blunt” advice, I stand behind my underlying principle: You are responsible for the usefulness of your education and the decisions you make. Putting aside the reader’s baseless “male librarian” comment, I DO agree with the reader on this point: some library schools and the American Library Association have marketed this “myth” of a librarian shortage.

I graduated from library school in 2002 when this “myth” was being pushed. Take a look at this 2000 press release from the University of North Texas on the nationwide librarian shortage. Here’s a similar story from SUNY Buffalo from 2002. Even the Bush administration was involved with this 2003 news release from “first librarian” Laura Bush. On the ALA website, you can still see (outdated) vestiges of this thinking:

…these sources indicate that there is a need for sustained effort to recruit new people into the LIS professions and to retain those who are working in libraries today. As large numbers of LIS professionals reach retirement age, there is a corresponding need for new people to replace them.

However, as information professionals, we should know not to take things at face value. Looking back at all of the stories about a “librarian shortage” from the early 2000’s, I decided to pull my library’s print (read: dusty) copy of the 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook. The outlook for librarians is as follows:

Applicants for librarian jobs in large cities or suburban areas will face competition, while those willing to work in rural areas should have better job prospects.

and…

Employment of librarians is expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations over the 2000-2010 period. The increasing use of computerized information storage and retrieval systems continues to contribute to slow growth in demand for librarians.

[Source: 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook (pgs. 188, 190)]

I’d call this a pretty measured response from an authoritative source. Don’t you think?

More current, the 2012-2013 Occupational Outlook Handout certainly isn’t promoting a shortage of librarians:

Employment of librarians is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations.

and…

Jobseekers may face strong competition for jobs, especially early in the decade, as many people with master’s degrees in library science compete for a limited number of available positions. Later in the decade, prospects should be better as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings.

[Note: bold emphasis is mine. Source: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm#tab-6]

Overabundance of MLSs

So, are library schools churning out too many MLSs? – probably. Take a look at this insightful analysis by Brett Bonfield from In the Library with the Lead Pipe. The one thing to remember: If you throw out the noble goals of education and focus on the bottom line, it’s the library school’s job to get butts in the seats (tuition). Nothing more. Nothing less. Other disciplines have focused more attention on this. For example, news of job woes among law school graduates have resulted in law schools capping admissions. Should library schools do the same?

The librarian job crisis – both unemployment and UNDERemployment – isn’t about library schools. In the words of political strategist James Carville: it’s the economy, stupid. I’m not just talking about the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, either. I graduated library school during the post 9/11 economic slump. In my mind, much of the 2000s was a general economic malaise that contributed to library budget cuts, unfilled openings, and senior librarians who have deferred retirement (and I don’t blame them for that).

This is compounded by the fact that some librarian positions have been re-classified from MLS positions to paraprofessional positions (yes, I know the debate about the term paraprofessional–spare me here, please!), further de-professionalizing the workforce. In addition to this, what might have been one full-time MLS position has been converted into two part-time positions. Also, as experienced librarians have moved up, those entry-level positions have often been unfilled or converted to something else entirely different.

No one should be sugar-coating the job market for librarians. It’s tough. I’ve been lucky and I know that. At the same time, I like what I do and I don’t feel “guilty” about having a job. Nor has being male held an advantage. I’ve been successful because I’m good at what I do.

For anyone thinking of going to library school: do your research, be aware of the employability issues, network with working librarians, investigate alternatives to “traditional” library work, and see whether you would be a good fit.

Introducing: Librarian Job Ad Drinking Bingo!

A little end-of-the-day humor for my job-hunting librarian friends: here’s Librarian Job Ad Drinking Bingo!

It’s easy to play: just scroll through the postings on the ALA JobList site. Every time you see one these items below: a buzzword, a litany of preferred advanced qualifications, or one of those bullet points that just makes you think “WTF!” – take a drink!

If you get five in a row, shout out “Bingo!” You’ll be sloshed in no time!  (…but as those ads say, my friends–please drink responsibly).

Click the image for a larger view.

Librarian Job Ad Drinking Bingo!

 

Image credit:
Shit Outta Luck” – a Creative Commons Flickr photo by user “C-Monster.”

How Ranking Library Schools is Like Ranking the Socks in Your Drawer

U.S. News & World Report just released new rankings of graduate schools in library science. Isn’t ranking library schools sort of like ranking the socks in your drawer? It does not matter.

I hope that prospective MLS students don’t read the rankings and think, “Gee, I need to go to THAT library school!”

These rankings have repeatedly been called into question. The prime reason is the methodology:

The rankings are based solely on the results of a fall 2012 survey sent to the dean of each program, the program director, and a senior faculty member in each program.

And this:

The library and information studies specialty ratings are based solely on the nominations of program deans, program directors, and a senior faculty member at each program. They were asked to choose up to 10 programs noted for excellence in each specialty area. Those with the most votes are listed.

Not a good research methodology, is it?–something that I suspect any MLS student could tell you. The issue of college rankings (both undergraduate and graduate programs) and the data that is gathered has been scrutinized by higher ed periodicals and websites. Just take a look at:

So what should a prospective MLS student do? I’ve written about this before, but when it comes to library school, just pick the cheapest (in state vs. out of state) or most convenient (online vs. on-campus) option that’s available to you. The coursework provides the base and the theory, but it’s experience that will get you a job. If you’re just taking the classes, you’re doing it wrong.

I remember students in my program complaining that the MLS coursework wasn’t “academic” enough, but I think it’s important to remember that you are in a professional program. You are training for a career, not writing a dissertation. It’s up to you to turn the coursework into something worthwhile. Work as a paraprofessional or library assistant during library school. Do an internship, practicum, or volunteer. These experiences will help you land a job better than any course you take.

I’ve never looked at anyone’s résumé and thought, “Wow, they graduated from a top ranked library school! Let’s hire him/her.” So ignore the rankings. Focus on gaining some relevant experience instead.

Search & Screen, or Search & SCREAM? Cover Letters and Resumes

After being on the interviewing side of things last year, it was nice to be on the hiring side this year. I recently reviewed cover letters and resumes for a search and screen committee at my academic library. At times, I wanted to do a “cover letter intervention” (perhaps, a new reality TV show?)!

This spring, I blogged about cover letters, resumes, and interviews. Also, Jenica Rogers on her Attempting Elegance blog had a must-read post on The Torment of Terrible Cover Letters. I would also encourage anyone applying for librarian positions to look at Stephen X. Flynn’s Open Cover Letters website for ideas.

Throughout the process of reading cover letters and resumes, here is the most disconcerting thing I observed:

You write well. I can tell you are intelligent. You may even have an advanced degree beyond the MLS. But your cover letter does not address the points highlighted in the job ad. Therefore, you will not make the cut.

It’s a simple as that. For all the advice out there on tailoring your cover letter, there are plenty of applicants that do not. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Tailor your cover letter!

Cover letter & resume advice:

  • If applying via email, do not write your cover letter in the body of the email. Use attachments. Or more to the point: you should follow the directions stated in the job ad.
  • Am I the only one that doesn’t like cover letters in bullet point format? I need to asses your communication skills through your cover letter. To me, a bullet point cover letter is a cop-out. I want paragraphs!
  • In regards to paragraphs: Your cover letter should not be just one short paragraph.
  • Don’t rattle off your job duties in your cover letter. That’s what the resume is for. Instead, use the cover letter to provide examples and anecdotes that relate to the position that you are applying for:

Case in point: if you’re applying for a  children’s librarian position, your resume might list doing “story times” as one of your responsibilities. However, you could use the cover letter to highlight some sort of innovative program you did with story time. Or if you are an academic instruction librarian, your resume might list “assessment” as one of your activities. You could then use the resume to spotlight a special assessment technique you implemented with students.

  • Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by writing: “I don’t have experience in…” Instead, turn it around and explain how you have transferable or related experience.
  • Appearance: pick a standard font. I would stay away from Courier–it looks like a typewriter–and it’s 2011, folks!
  • It’s OK if the cover letter goes onto a second page (which is sometimes a no-no in the business world). I prefer this over an 9-point font cover letter with half-inch margins! But if you go over 2 pages, I tend to wonder if you have problems “getting to the point.” :)
  • Make sure your cover letter and resume looks “clean” in overall appearance – I’ve seen some that look like they have been scanned in and saved electronically. They can be difficult to read.
  • I know you are wonderful, amazing, etc… But I always appreciate a cover letter that addresses my library and its needs/mission. Do your homework. Look over the library website and any parent website (university, school, local government, etc…).
  • Use common sense: Do not write, “I have experience with personal computers.” You are a librarian; having experience with personal computers is UNDERSTOOD!
  • Use “action” words on your resume (e.g., designed, implemented, initiated, managed). Google it! You’re a librarian.
  • Remember: There’s a fine line between promoting your abilities and overstating your qualifications. Be careful! Overstating your qualifications will become apparent in a subsequent interview.

So what do we do with all of these cover letters and resumes? At my place of work–a state institution (and I’m sure it’s the same with most private institutions, too), we have a strict set of protocols to follow. We use an Application Review Form that lists all of the criteria that were included in the job posting. The search and screen committee then rates each cover letter/resume based on EACH of the criterion using a scale: below average – average – above average – can’t assess.

The applicants who rank the highest are the ones that make it to the next stage of the interview process. This is why it’s so vital to use your cover letter and resume to address the various points highlighted in a job ad. So what other cover letter and resume advice would you suggest? Let me know!

Interview Red Flags

I had the pleasure of writing a guest blog post on interview red flags for Jessica Olin’s Letters to a Young Librarian blog. Check out it and read through the great advice written by Jessica and other librarians!

“I graduated from a top library school.” Yeah, so what?

Interesting discussion on the COLLIB-L discussion list. A librarian posted a link to a survey about: “What makes a professional librarian? Discussion on the list then evolved into the state of the library job market. Several people mentioned that they graduated from highly-ranked library schools and had trouble finding employment. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, nor am I denigrating anyone’s education, but it really does not matter which library school you attend.

I’ve never looked at anyone’s resume/cover letter and thought: “Wow, she graduated from X library school!” Library school is what you make of it. The MLS is just the basic requirement for the job. If all you do is take the required courses, but get no work experience, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

The following is some rather BLUNT advice for those in library school, or thinking of attending:

  1. Library school: if you have the time/money to find a school that “fits” you, then by all means. However, it’s completely OK to just pick the in-state/cheapest option. A library school is a library school is a library school.
  2. If you have not worked in a library before attending  library school, why are you making such as a large financial commitment for a career that you have no experience in? A “love” of books and “I like to read” won’t cut it.
  3. Oh, I keep mentioning experience. Yes, it’s that IMPORTANT! Before you graduate with your MLS, get some experience as a student worker, a grad assistant, paraprofessional, internship, practicum, or volunteer work. Get as much experience as you can.
  4. If you are unable to do the above, you are really limiting your options. You will need to decide whether this is even a viable career for you.
  5. I don’t really care what library school course grades/GPA you have. Just get your degree and focus on getting some experience.
  6. Get a mentor! Someone who is a working librarian. Not a library school professor who hasn’t worked in libraries for 20 years.
  7. Geographic flexibility: I understand that not everyone can (or wants) to move across country for a job. Just be aware that you may be severely limiting your options. Again, you need to decide if the expense of library school is worth it, if you are not geographically mobile.
  8. You need to market yourself. Librarians/librarians-to-be need to stop thinking of marketing as an “icky” term. You need a web presence (website, e-portfolio, Twitter account etc.) to promote your abilities.
  9. Do not wait until graduation to start applying for jobs! Start a few months in advance. Many libraries (especially academic libraries) have a long hiring process. I have worked in libraries where we have hired people in their last month, and even last semester, of library school for professional librarian positions.
  10. Don’t blame library school if you cannot find a professional job. You are an information professional. Did you not research the state of the job market?

Off my soapbox!

Cover Letters, Resumes, and Interviews, Oh My!

Recently I served as a reference for a friend and former co-worker of mine. After extolling the virtues of my friend over the phone with the hiring committee, I thought: “Gee, I’m now a reference! Where did the time go?” After 8 years of being a librarian, serving on hiring committees, and watching countless candidate interviews, I decided to put together a list of some tips for composing cover letters & resumes, as well as preparing for interviews. If you have something you’d like to add, please leave a comment below.

Cover Letters & Resumes:

  • Strategy: Your cover letter & resume should address your experience/knowledge with the requirements/qualifications that are in the job announcement.  Even an “awesome” cover letter & resume that does not address any of the bullet points in the job announcement will NOT get you called in on an interview. When I’m on a hiring committee, this is what I do: I make a spreadsheet listing our various requirements/qualifications and columns with the names of applicants. Then I go down the rows and check off if you have addressed each of the requirements/qualifications based on your cover letter & resume content. The applicants with the most checkmarks are the ones who get called for interviews. Example: I can’t GUESS if you have experience or knowledge working with a diverse group of library users. You need to TELL me in your cover letter & resume!
  • Yes, I know YOU are wonderful. But I want to know HOW your wonderfulness is applicable to this job! Please explain it in the cover letter.
  • Generic cover letters ALWAYS go to the bottom of the pile. Each job is different. Each requires a different cover letter. And yes, I have seen a cover letter mistakenly addressed to the “wrong” library. No one said getting a job is easy. See the “Strategy” section above.
  • I don’t need to see an “objective” listed on your resume. Your objective is to get the job :) and I know and understand that! Don’t waste the precious space.
  • Length of cover letter & resume: People OBSESS about this. For me, it’s not a big deal as long as you are following the instructions/guidelines. For cover letters: I think it’s OK to go over one page–but generally 2 pages tops. Be careful with font size and margins. Once I read a one-page cover letter in 8-point font with quarter-inch margins! It would have been OK to bump up the font size and go onto the second page. As for resumes, you DO NOT have to follow the business standard of a one-page resume. It’s OK to have multiple pages.
  • I prefer a simple chronological resume, but as long as I am able to determine your skills, experience, and knowledge, I’m not too picky.
  • Don’t overwhelm me with too many fonts, please.
  • Include your references on your resume, or on an additional page (see below).
  • Include a website address on your cover letter and/or resume to your online portfolio.
  • Proofread, proofread, and then consider proofreading some more. Read your cover letter and resume aloud! Have a friend, colleague, or mentor read it, too. I have overlooked a small typo on resumes/cover letters (and am guilty of doing it myself at some point), but not everyone is as forgiving. If “good verbal and written communication skills” are a requirement for the job, then you must not mess up here.
  • Job Hunting Tips and Links

Application Process:

  • Follow the instructions explicitly. If the job announcement says to send your materials via “snail” mail, then do it! Yes, I know you can look up our library’s email address and send it in electronically, but that’s not following the directions. Some libraries/institutions have very specific policies on the hiring process and you will want to follow the directions as they are stated. Anyone with an “attention to detail” will follow the directions. Don’t throw yourself out of the running on something small like this.
  • If you are allowed to submit your materials via email, remember this: your email message should not count as your cover letter (e.g., “Please accept my resume in consideration…”). No! We want an actual cover letter and resume attached to your email.
  • Make sure any electronic attachments can easily be opened by your potential employers. PDF is always great (and follow the library’s instructions on file types–if they give you any).
  • Any electronic attachments should have a helpful file name (e.g. “YourLastName_Resume” or “YourLastName_CoverLetter”).
  • Oh and about that email address: use an email handle that sounds professional.
  • References: If the job announcement says to include references, then do it! I’ve served on hiring committees where we asked for references and some applicants didn’t provide them upfront (again, not following directions!). So, it creates more time on our end trying to track applicants down and asking for their references. On most of the hiring searches I’ve been involved with, we only contact your references if you are a serious candidate.
  • Cold-calling: I know some people in “libraryland” encourage you to call and speak with the library director/supervisor about a job opening that has been posted. You’ll want to tread carefully here. Personally, I would avoid calling, but that’s my personality style. Once someone called me after I had posted a job and asked, “I was thinking about applying, but I wanted to know if you’re able to raise the salary amount by $5,000.” Eeeek. I treat all applicants equally and will spend a good deal of time reading your cover letter and resume. For me, a phone call does not place you ahead of the pack.

Preliminary Interview:

  • For preliminary interviews, such as a phone interview: schedule yourself enough time to get where you need to be (e.g., home). If at all possible, do the interview in a quiet place, door shut, pets away, TV off, etc.
  • Confirm the date/time, and if needed, the correct time zone.
  • Before the preliminary interview, think about some questions that might be asked of you. See: Sample interview questions.
  • Generally, you will be given a few minutes to ask the hiring committee questions. Please do! We are excited to be interviewing you, and we hope you are excited in return. See: Sample questions to ask.
  • At the end of a preliminary interview, make sure and ask about the time line and process for any in-person interviews and start date, etc.

In-Person Interview:

  • It’s ALWAYS ok to dress conservatively for an interview. No jeans, no t-shirts, no sneakers. As you probably have seen, librarians as a group, aren’t known for their fashion sense, but please dress professionally. For a male: I’d at least want to see shirt/tie/trousers (I’ll admit, I don’t own a suit!),  for a female (you have more options): business suit, skirt/blouse, trousers/blouse–or throw in a cardigan/sweater w/ the combo. In reality, I only wear a tie at work when I absolutely have to, and jeans on Fridays or in the summer are the norm. But not on an interview day. Dress for success–that’s what they say.
  • Arrive on time, or a few minutes early–especially if it’s a large library and you need to be at a specific office.
  • If the interview day is long, be prepared to answer the same question multiple times by different groups or individuals. Pretend you’re answering it for the first time (with enthusiasm) because the person you are telling it to is hearing it for the first time.
  • Come prepared with a list of questions that you would like to ask your potential supervisor, hiring committee, co-workers, etc. Failure to ask questions is a BIG negative in my book! See: Sample questions to ask.
  • Emphasize the key points as to why you are the BEST person for this job. You will generally be able to emphasize this in your responses to questions asked of you (e.g., “What is it about this job that interests you?”)
  • Remember, even in quieter moments of the interview day, you still need to be “on” – avoid sharing anything that might be considered unprofessional.
  • Presentations: If required to give a presentation make sure you have multiple options if your tech fails (e.g., have presentation on a flash drive and also email it to yourself). If using handouts, bring plenty. Follow any instructions given on presentation topic, etc. Clear up any questions about the presentation before the interview day.
  • A good library will factor in bathroom breaks, etc… If you need to use the restroom or get a drink of water, by all means ask!
  • Don’t forget to smile :) , shake hands, demonstrate good body language, etc…
  • Remember to ask about the time line for the interview process, when a decision will be made, etc…
  • After the interview, sending a thank you card or thank you email to the potential supervisor or hiring committee is always appreciated.
  • See: Interview Pitfalls to Avoid