Monday, October 16, 2006

Librarian Shortage Redux

I haven't brought the librarian shortage up in a while, but an attentive reader alerted me to some ALA job placement statistics that I couldn't pass by without comment.

Before I begin looking at those, though, I should note I've also been alerted to watch out for a study on the Future of Librarians in the Workforce. It's not out yet, but it's being sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is the group that gave the University of Missouri $600K of our tax money for LIS doctoral students, so I'm not too hopeful about their judgment. But we'll see.

The ALA propaganda I've criticized before is still going strong. I'm expecting that librarian shortage to hit any day now. Really. It's going to be a shortage in the future, though, since apparently there isn't one right now. The great thing about this future forecasting is that it lets you ignore the unemployed library school graduates lured into library school with the promise of librarian shortages, and by the time the future arrives and you're wrong everyone will forget how foolish you were.

Let's take a look at the facts produced by the ALA. Here's the statistical breakdown of job seekers to job postings at ALA. It's the ALA Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment Placement Service Statistics for the 2006 Annual Conference held in New Orleans, LA. They sure know titles there at ALA, that's for sure.

But if we look at this document, what do we find? Well, that the "Total Count of Registered Job Seekers = 361" and that the "Total Count of Registered Job Postings = 181." Looks more like a job shortage, not a librarian shortage, but then I was never very strong on statistics. However, I'm pretty sure that 361 is about two times 181. That's about 180 people who had no chance of a job whatsoever with the placement service in New Orleans. Obviously many factors could explain this, and the Placement Service isn't the only way to find a job, nor even the best place, but I consider it an interesting indicator of the job situation.

Also, obviously, there could be many factors involved here. Perhaps everyone who used the Placement Service is a complete loser who doesn't deserve a job. Maybe ALA could put that in their recruitment literature: If you get an MLS and can't find a job, it's because you're a complete loser, and not because there aren't enough jobs. It could also be that the kinds of jobs available aren't entry level jobs, which Leslie Burger is now admitting.

Buried in the ALA Announcement about their "Diversity" initiative, Burger comments on the retirement of librarians: "Rather than a crisis of attraction to the profession, the research suggests a potential crisis of leadership. We need to provide meaningful professional growth if we are to retain new librarians." That's right, she's realizing that new MLS graduates who've been bombarded with the "librarian shortage" propaganda aren't going to be able to fill those library director jobs. So now she has her new solution: "I hope the first Emerging Leaders Institute in January 2007 will be only one of many efforts on behalf of the ALA and the profession." Apparently getting more new librarians involved with ALA committee work is somehow going to turn them into library directors. I'm sure the intention is good.

But back to the job placement statistics. There are several categories and candidates could register in multiple categories, so the 2 to 1 candidate to job ratio is worse in some areas.

The best category to be in is "Administration (Academic)" or "Administration (Public)" because then the ratio of Job Seekers/Jobs is 75/21 and 68/19 respectively. That means you have a 1 in 3 or so chance to get hired. That's not too bad, actually. Still puts the lie to the candidate shortage for administrative jobs, unless the candidates are all just awful. I suppose that's possible, but then how good do we think these jobs are?

If you're a general reference librarian, forget about it. Reference librarians are a dime a dozen, literally. 208/27 is the ratio. That's about 1 in 8, and still isn't too bad a ratio. I know for a fact my last two jobs had about 50 applicants each. A lot of humanties professor jobs might have 400 applicants or more for a single job, though there they acknowledge the job shortage, or rather the candidate glut. Still, 1 in 8 doesn't seem like a librarian shortage to me. In this instance that's still about 175 people without hope for a job. And I haven't seen the ads, but I doubt many of those reference jobs are much to write home about.

Even less of a chance if your looking for a job in "Subject Reference." 153/14, or less than a 1 in 10 chance. It makes sense that these are sought after jobs, because I can tell you from experience they're the cushiest library jobs around.

School Libraries/Media Centers: 33/2, or a 1 in 16 chance. I had no idea so many people wanted to work in school media centers. I guess the summers off would be a perk, but then you have to be surrounded by all those school children. Some people like that, I suppose.

The worst would have to be Library School programs. 27 applicants, no jobs. I think that works out to a 1 in infinity chance of landing a job.

The statistics work out about the same in most of the job categories. But for these job seekers, the ALA has some good advice. A lot of librarians will be retiring in ten years, and then we'll need plenty of people. So keep coming to ALA, join the Emerging Leaders Institute, and when the time comes you'll be ready for those good jobs! And keep paying your dues!


Bob H. said...

It reminds me of The Grapes of Wrath...come to California; we have enough jobs in California!

I was lucky enough to find a pretty good job, that pays well, right after finishing my MLIS, but I'm pretty sure my minority status - as a young male librarian - had something to do with the hire.

A few years ago, before I even considered libraries as an occupation, I was looking at jobs as a Literature professor, and let me tell you: that is a hard field to find work in. 1 in 8 are damn good odds by comparison.

Anonymous said...

Odds are bad for entry level jobs, but if you're actually qualified, they are very good for middle-managment positions. Trust me, I've sat on many an academic library search committee for department chair, unit head, branch head, etc., and while there may be *applicants*, not many are actually qualified.

Bunny Watson said...

I'll take my odds in librarianship over a professorship in the humanities any day. And like Bob, I was lucky and got a job quickly (actually, before I finished library school). I did hear, however, that over 100 people applied for the job I have, so I suspect that AL's take on the shortage is relatively accurate.

Anonymous said...

I've been curious about what would make me qualified for a administrative job. I'm pretty good at my own job as a reference librarian, but a lot of the ads I see want several years of supervisory experience to be a head of reference, experience which I can't get except as a head of reference. I think I'd make a good one and so do some other people, but without already doing the job i'm not qualified to do the job.

Anonymous said...

mkfkeIn full disclosure, I am perhaps even more annoying than our beloved AL in terms of job shortages (I find in the searches I've run or participated in that there are distinct qualified candidate shortages). I really do think the ALA stats are wonky--the placement center is probably the last place many academic institutions would think to go to interview candidates, so to figure ratios on those numbers, well, at least there *are* numbers, so I grant you that, but they are very weird numbers. And I agree--1 in 8, heck, 1 in 50 are damn good odds. A degree is not a guarantee of a job, is qualifies one for a job. There's a difference. Ok, so I'm a grumpy, cynical, heard-it-all librarian. What can I say. If you're really good, you'll get a job. I've seen it time and time again.

Anonymous said...

Interesting on the school librarianship bit... I expected that one to be slightly better, since I knew several people in my MLS program who got hired before they ever finished the program (and thats not counting all the teachers who had become librarians and now were having to get their MLS...but who hated teaching and the problems with schools so much that I didn't anticipate seeing them stay as librarians too long to tell the truth - I figured they'd run from it too) - all of which would have led me to believe that perhaps that would have been the one and only area with a shortage...

Anonymous said...

And in the end, AL shouts to the people boarding the spacecraft "To Serve Man" is a COOKBOOK!

--Taupey, who lives in a world whose boundaries are that of imagination.

Anonymous said...

What about jobs in the Technical Services area (cataloging, acquisitions, collection development)? I had a professor whose mantra was "metadata, metadata, metadata." The more you know about cataloging web sources and electronic resources, the better off you'll be in finding a job.

Jan said...

From personal experience, I also feel like there are waaayyyy more candidates than jobs. But I also think the LOCATION issue is often overlooked. When I lived in Colorado, there were over 150 highly-qualified candidates for a part-time, weekend librarian position. However, when I lived in Texas, there were only 5 barely-qualified candidates for a highly-paid, full-time librarian position. So where do most students right out of library school want to find a job? Well, in a vibrant, attractive community, of course--or in the same town as their library school (which is usually that attractive place)! So maybe we're seeing the glut of candidates in desirable areas, and maybe the job shortages predicted will be in the less desirable locations.

Anonymous said...

Location could be the problem. I know there are plenty of jobs open in places that I wouldn't work unless I was very desparate. I also know from experience on search committees and informal conversations that some jobs, especially higher level jobs, often get very few qualified applicants. This could be because there aren't enough librarians to fill the job. But it could also be that by the time librarians are experienced enough to be qualified for these jobs, they're also established in a particular location with their families and friends and aren't willing to move for the relatively low pay library jobs offer. If more libraries looking for directors and department heads started offering $250K+ with incentive packages and signing bonuses, I doubt there would be many libraries that couldn't find a director. But libraries seem to expect experienced people to pack up and move across the country without the financial incentive to do so.

Anonymous said...

Librarianship is a horrible profession to be in if you want to have a family; jobs are insecure and low-paying, you have to be very mobile, you won't be able to live in a neighborhood with a good school, and you'll have to train your chld for a career someplace besides a library as there will be very few librarians in 20 years. I'll probably be single forever so I'm happy to be a librarian.

Anonymous said...

Librarian positions are not "low-paying" to everyone. I was raised on an income of under $24 000 Canadian per-year, so a field where academic positions start in the $30-40 000 Canadian range is more than adequate for me. I don't put a high value on money and material goods though..

Steve said...

Not a very encouraging blog for a current library studies student :(

AL said...

Anon @ 7:38, Librarian positions are indeed not low paying for everyone. However, compared to some other professions requiring advanced degrees, librarians aren't that well paid. It's lovely that you don't want to make much money and aren't motivated by materialism. The field of librarianship wants more people like you.

And Steve, sorry to be so discouraging. But look at the bright side, it took years of being a librarian before I got this annoyed. You, too, can have several years of bliss in your chosen profession. And maybe I'm just a crank who doesn't know what I'm talking about, in which case you can ignore me.

Thanks for reading!

Dances With Books said...

It is a Catch-22, but what else is new? You can't get a job for head of reference or other middle management without the experience, and you can't get the experience without getting one of those jobs. Anyway you write it, there is still a library job shortage, not a librarian shortage no matter what the national wahoos keep promoting. I am one of the lucky few who has gotten a job. Not the greatest (I am actually on the lookout), but it keeps me off the streets, so to speak.

sassymoll said...

I keep being puzzled by this. ALA alternates between touting the librarian shortage and scaring everyone by announcing there are no jobs for upcoming graduates.

When I graduated, most of my co-graduates had little trouble finding jobs unless they wanted archives positions, which seem to be more scarce, or wanted to live in the vibrant, attractive communites someone else mentioned. I had a job before I graduated and I wasn't the only one. I think part of the problem is the fact that the library science grads don't want to move to where the jobs are, not that there aren't enough jobs. But of course I could be wrong.

There's no question that, while the pay is great for some library jobs, on the whole it is not nearly what it should be for a job requiring an advanced degree. Maybe it's because most of the jobs don't actually require an advanced degree to do them?

sassymoll said...

Oh, I forgot to mention I graduated in 2003.

Anonymous said...

There really is a shortage of professors for school library media. Several universities are having great difficulties filling those positions.

David said...

There are some who have posted comments that read like the propaganda that is so prevalent in ALA circles and academia. Putting aside who to blame, we have the nasty and shocking proof that there is a terrible shortage. I applied to my program and about halfway through started hearing of the shortages. That’s how well accepted the propaganda is. When I asked instructors they mainly sought the fastest way to change the topic of our discussion.

I graduated this summer out of a class of 15 (that is just for the summer) and most of the few jobs available are for paraprofessional jobs and upper level librarian positions that require years of professional library experience.

I live in Chicago. That is a large market. Well, large unless you go into librarianship.

The other matter to consider is that the jobs being vacated are often phased out. Remember, library budgets tend to get smaller. Again the ALA has misled hundreds of graduates annually.

When one considers the dearth of available positions, and qualifications, it should not be surprising that resent graduates are bitter. Of course my teachers would try and cast blame on the older generation that doesn't seem to want to retire. What kind of reasoning is that? If a professional cannot afford to retire, that is not evidence of some conspiracy of greedy trolls who won't budge.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree in Chicago there are a lot of para professionals in all types of libraries as well as in the variety of departments. You will see in reference-reference assistants, copy catalogers etc. The only librarians that are being hired are part-timers. It seems like that is the trend in Illinois and it will continue.
With many years experience you are not going to get compensated for your experience. The salary will be the same. Not too many librarians are trained in the techie side of the library where the salaries are in the 50's. But, then you don't need an MLS.