The ALA has been going on about the so-called librarian shortage for so long even politicians are starting to believe it, so now there's yet another government act designed to subsidize a group not in heavy demand. Yes, I'm talking about the LIBRARIAN Act of 2007, which has been introduced into both houses of Congress by a bipartisan collection of dupes. Here's one senator speaking straight from the ALA Talking Points Memo: “With a shortage of librarians across the country and with many more set to retire, we must urgently encourage more people to enter the library science field and work to retain valuable librarians who are already serving our communities.”
"Shortage of librarians." Who believes this stuff anymore? Politicians, apparently. You can be sure that I'll be contacting my senator, who I think is either a Republican or a Democrat, to let him or her know that the ALA is full of something or other and that this is one of the stupider pieces of legislation I've seen in a while.
The Act would allow for forgiveness of student loans for people who "become and remain librarians in low-income schools and public libraries." At least it acknowledges in a backhanded way that the shortage is not one of librarians, but of decent paying library jobs. The ALA is ecstatic about this, of course, because it seems to address a problem without considering the over-recruitment of library students and the total ineffectiveness of ALA when it comes to addressing questions of salary. It fits in with the ALA ideology that librarians just want to make the world a better place, not work at a mere career for filthy lucre.
As anyone familiar with economics can tell you, if the demand is really there, then it will create its own supply. The ALA gets this backwards, naturally, and thinks that if library schools generate a big supply of library school graduates, then the supply will create a demand. I guess if librarians were any good at economics, they wouldn't be librarians.
If the pay for librarians isn't enough to attract people to the jobs, then there really isn't significant enough demand. If communities really needed librarians, then they'd get together and pony up for some. The "low income area" argument is just a dodge. You don't see "low income" areas looking to the Federal government to subsidize their garbage services. They pay for what they value, and they don't value librarians.
So instead of trying to show the value of librarians, limiting the recruitment of library school students, and increasing the rigor of library education to weed out the dullards--all of which would help the job market for library students--librarianship can be treated as charity work, like the Peace Corps or Teach for America.
On a side note, I find it a little irritating that just school and public libraries are eligible. What, aren't there any academic libraries in "low paying areas" around the country? Do they not count? I guess the assumption is that academic librarians aren't engaged in charity work. It doesn't surprise me. When the ALA talks about librarians, they always mean public librarians; why should this act be any different?
The sad thing is that all this legislation is totally unnecessary. Now that the ALA Council has passed the salary resolution calling for a minimum $40K salary for librarians, the problem is bound to solve itself. Some people may believe in that silly system of supply and demand, but we know better. We know that when the ALA Council speaks, people listen.
So, potential public and school librarians, now is your chance to make the world a better place and engage in a little charity work. Build up a big student loan debt, then go to work for $20K a year in some poor area and have your debt erased! You'd probably be better off making more money and paying off your loans yourself, but then you wouldn't be doing your part to make the world a better place.