By Meredith Farkas | January 21, 2005
There are a few bloggers who have spent a lot of time questioning the library shortage due to their own experiences in library school and on the job hunt. Dorothea Salo at Caveat Lector seems passionate about librarianship, but has become disillusioned by much of what she’s been told by library schools and the ALA. She commented that the research about the coming librarian shortage has echoes of the 1989 erroneous study that predicted a shortage of university professors (which sadly, many people also believed). Not only does Dorothea doubt there is a shortage, but she also doubts that the MLS is any sort of ticket to a job. Dorothea stresses the importance of technology skills, experience, and education in her post advising new and prospective librarians.
Dorothea also criticized the ALA’s recruitment campaign, questioning the ALA’s commitment to librarians considering that “a group of laborers is valuable and powerful in inverse proportion to its size.” She raises an excellent point. If the ALA supports librarians, why would they want to bring more people to library schools when so many of us can’t find work? And if the ALA is fighting for higher pay, wouldn’t a librarian shortage actually force the issue? She points out many instances of a disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality.
Michael McGrorty will soon be a library school graduate, but he has been very active in the field with his work as an ALA Councilor. Being a student, Michael actually recognizes the fact that many students and job seekers are ALA members, and that perhaps it would be nice if someone stood up for them. This past June, Michael wrote about the job market in his blog, Library Dust. He blamed many of the problems new librarians are having finding jobs on the fact that library recruitment doesn’t actually match the economic situation:
A significant part of the problem is that there is no coordination or adjustment between the number of students library schools enroll and the needs of the marketplace. The schools have been content to avoid responsibility, letting matters go as they would; the result has been the creation of an idiot machine whose production of librarians bears no relation to the realities of the market.
I don’t think those at the ALA are stupid. I can’t imagine that they’re completely clueless about what is really going on in the job market. So my question is: who does the recruitment of even more librarians serve? Certainly not librarians who will be facing increased competition for jobs. If the ALA is more interested in serving library schools and libraries (who will be able to get us for even cheaper since we’ll be so desperate for jobs), how can we have any confidence that the ALA is going to serve our best interests as well? And can they?
Christine Borne is one of the fabulous founders of Nexgenlib-l and has had a lot of job searching experience over the past few years. In fact, she claims to have gotten 200 rejection letters over the past year before getting her current job at a public library in New Jersey. While she is now employed, she still doubts the existence of any shortage that can be fixed by more recruitment:
the librarian shortage isn’t happening at the entry level, it’s happening at the mid-career, mid-management level. A cursory glance at the Cleveland Area Metropolitan Library System’s public library job page suggests this is the case: a whopping 20 out of 21 posted jobs require an MLS plus some degree of library experience, and 14 of these 21 are managerial positions.
I’m also not quite sure how having more inexperienced librarians fighting for the small number of entry-level librarian jobs is going to help to fix a shortage that is happening at the upper levels of management. Maybe if they want candidates with experience, libraries should make it more attractive for paraprofessionals already working for them to go to library school.
Christine had to leave her beloved Cleveland in order to get a job, but some people aren’t willing or able to leave home. Andrea at Library Techtonics seems to have done all the right things to get a good job upon graduation. However, she’s been looking for a job for the past 8 months, and seeing the ALA put forth a recruitment initiative leaves a bad taste in her mouth:
I just think ALA needs to sit down and have a long, honest talk with itself about whether it’s really providing the leadership necessary to promote and improve conditions for current librarians, 20 years or 8 months into the profession, by continuing to aggressively recruit based on the damned lies that are the statistics. Besides, there are enough unemployed new librarian bloggers out there that are refuting the ALA statistics that it just doesn’t look good.
Andrea reported for the PLA blog and on Library Techtonics during ALA Midwinter. She attended an ACRL meeting where recruitment and the librarian shortage were discussed. This meeting highlighted for Andrea the lack of any empirical studies on the subject of the shortage. On both sides we have anecdotal evidence, but no one has done an empirical study about what is going on with library jobs today and how the economy is affecting the market.
I found many posts and comments from people looking for jobs and frustrated that the promises they’d heard about ample jobs in the profession did not materialize.
I know you’re probably thinking that those who dispute the library shortage are only those who are looking for jobs, but we job seekers aren’t the only ones who are seeing this. Jessamyn West has held a variety of jobs in the library field and is a frequent speaker at library-related events. In her blog, librarian.net, Jessamyn looked at possible reasons why we aren’t currently seeing the predicted shortage:
•As librarians retire their jobs are eliminated due to funding crunches.
•As librarians retire, senior librarians take their positions and open paraprofessional positions for the librarians who moved up.
•Retiring librarians’ positions aren’t always available to newer librarians with less experience, so jobs requiring experience stay open as library students look for entry level jobs.
•Professional organizations misrepresent the true state of library employment due to optimistic outlooks and in order to stay relevant and keep their own doors open.
•As populations move around, some libraries are serving smaller populations with the same staff. Other libraries are serving larger populations with the same staff. Increases in population do not always reflect increases in staffing due to tight money situations and the false belief that automation has reduced our staffing needs.
•It is not in library schools’ best financial interests to tell you that there are not many jobs available, or to take on fewer students to meet a reduced demand. There are many ways to interpret statistics, they choose ones that are most favorable.
She also criticized ALA president Carol Brey-Casiano’s Boston Globe editorial that discussed the librarian shortage “at a time when hundreds of library students can’t find work.” Another happily employed librarian who thinks the shortage has been overblown is the Librarian in Black.
Maybe a librarian shortage will materialize at some point in the future, but there is no empirical data to suggest this. I think the ALA owes it to all of us to do some real research on the subject before engaging in more irresponsible recruitment into an impossibly tight job market. As a dues-paying member of the ALA, I’d love to be able to feel that the ALA actually represents people like me and my fellow recent and soon-to-be library school graduates.