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 On the ALA website, you can still see (outdated) vestiges of this thinking: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.

Advice: Being a Librarian…10 Years On

As of today, I’ve logged 10 years as a librarian. I started my first professional library job as a reference librarian at Sam Houston State University in Texas in February 2003. A couple months prior, I was getting ready to graduate with my MLS from Indiana University in December 2002 when I managed to snag three librarian interviews in Texas, South Carolina, and New Mexico. I was geographically free to move anywhere, and in the post-9/11 economic slump, I was grateful for what I had. The Texas job matched my skills and interests and I took it! Since TX, I’ve logged time in IL, NH, and WI.

In the 10 years since I became a librarian, much has changed. I was actually taught command line searching in library school because it was thought that I might encounter it. Never did. We also put together a lot of paper bibliographies on various topics–but of course that’s what today’s Libguides do. An ebook was an annoying thing you *had* to read on your computer via the NetLibrary database – not a device you could take anywhere! A cell phone was not “smart” – just a device to take/make calls. Facebook and Twitter did not exist, which is funny since social media has evolved into a major component of my job.

I’ve enjoyed being a librarian. I don’t say I *love* it–that’s reserved for family, friends, and free-time. But it’s so nice to have a job where you *enjoy* coming into work (or at the very least, don’t *hate* it). A lot of people can’t say that. For me, being a librarian has always been about connecting people with information. This is what I like. It’s not the books. It’s not the technology. It’s People + Information.

So, for 10 years, here’s 10 quick bits of advice on being a librarian:

  1. You’re not going to please everybody
    Don’t try. Do your job. Do it well. Some people are not going to like you no matter what you do. Get over it.
  2. Say yes to new opportunities
    Don’t be afraid. Yes, it can be overwhelming, but ultimately worthwhile. If I hadn’t said “yes” I would have missed out on side opportunities like teaching some fun credit classes (“Podcasting 101″, “College Life Through Film”)  and the chance to work as an instructional technologist.   
  3. Attitude Matters
    Be positive. Sometimes just being “nice” works–but make sure it’s genuine. I guess a more formal term is “collegiality” – you need to do it, otherwise you’re in the wrong field.
  4. You don’t have to be the expert at everything
    We all have our strengths. It’s OK to ask someone else if YOU don’t know the answer. “But wait, we’re librarians…we’re supposed to know EVERYTHING.” No! But we know WHERE to find the answer.
  5. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are not a professional
    You know what you’re doing. You have the skills. Speak up for yourself, because sometimes no one else will.
  6. The patron (customer) is not always right
    Many business ideas are applicable to libraries. But this one bugs me. The patron is NOT always right. Be clear, concise, courteous, and reasoned in disagreements. However, bad behavior from patrons should not be rewarded. See #5.
  7. You never stop learning
    I like reading blog posts and discussion postings from “newbie” librarians. But then I think: Hey, I feel like that too! Because libraryland changes so much, I still feel like a newbie. That’s what I love about being a librarian.
  8. Sometimes getting a job is just luck
    I know this bothers some people, but it just is. Maybe the preferred candidate turned down the job and you as the 2nd choice got it? Maybe you made an outstanding presentation when compared to other candidates? Maybe it was a Friday and the hiring committee was just ready to get the job offered to…someone. Unfortunately, some things are just beyond your control.
  9. Trust your instincts
    Does something not sound/look quite right? It probably is! Creepy patron, weird job interview, strange chat reference questions?…yep.
  10. Work/Life Balance
    Take your vacation time. Be passionate about something non-library related. Disconnect from email/voicemail in your free time. Give yourself a chance to re-charge, and return to the library feeling energized.

What advice would you give?

What They Didn’t Tell You About Being a Librarian

First off, I enjoy my job as a librarian. That hasn’t changed in the 10 years that I’ve been a librarian. So, please excuse some of my snarkiness below. It’s the Friday before Spring Break (but we all know that most librarians don’t get a Spring Break) and I needed a little fun! Here’s a list of 10 things they didn’t tell you about being a librarian. These have all happened to me, or at a library I have worked at:

  1. Asking a patron to stop licking the computer monitor when viewing images of French figure skater Surya Bonaly.
  2. You should probably memorize all of the books by their color because that’s what patrons will ask for. “Do you have that green book? You know…the big one!”
  3. How to get the following animals OUT of the library: bats, snakes, robins, frogs, and yes–a roadrunner.
  4. How to ID a peeping tom in the book stacks. And making him leave when the security officer doesn’t do his/her job.
  5. That someone ALWAYS wants to photocopy something the minute before closing.
  6. When a patron is asking for books on “poultry,” he may actually mean “poetry.”
  7. That senior citizens sometimes just call the library because they’re lonely. This makes me sad.
  8. You need to de-lice the library headphones.
  9. The Robert Mapplethorpe books always ends up in the men’s restroom and you will sometimes need plastic gloves to retrieve them.
  10. Are you allowed to keep the alcohol you find in the library? Kidding! Seriously, I’ve found everything from beer cans to Jack Daniels, and even vermouth! But I suspected the vermouth to be from a library co-worker (what college kid drinks vermouth?).

Have something to add to the list? Please share!

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!