Last night, when I got home from my New Year’s Eve revelry (which consisted of baking cookies with a five-year-old, playing Chutes and Ladders, and drinking sparkling cider), I found a comment on my blog from someone considering entering a library science program:
Hello, I do not know if Iam grateful or scared to have found this site. Is there really that much of a librarian job shortage out there? I am contemplating getting my SLMS degree from SUNY Albany (done in 2007) Now Iam questioning if the trime, effort and cost is worth it. ANY info comments etc is more than appreciated. I am 43 and have 20 years of business experience but no library experience.
I guess some of my posts about the job market have been negative, but I hate to think that I portray librarianship as something people should not pursue. I am absolutely passionate about this field and am just itching to get a library job and really do the best I can for my patrons. I am bursting with ideas for making libraries more welcoming, more connected to technology, more efficient and cost-effective, and better meet the needs of the patrons. I think this is a wonderful field to be in and a truly exciting time to be a part of it, considering how technology is affecting information provision and will in the future. But no, the job market is not great. And for someone like me who doesn’t have much experience, it’s even worse. I wish I could go back in time to before I ever went to library school and do better research on the field and the job prospects. It wouldn’t have changed my mind about becoming a librarian, but it would have changed the way I pursued my MLIS.
This is what I wrote back to my concerned commenter:
I don’t know that you should be scared about the job prospects, but you should certainly be aware of them before you jump into a new career. You should look at job ads and see what skills people are asking for and what experience the jobs require. Then get that experience and those skills. Just having an MLS does not mean you will get a job. Get a lot of actual library experience while you’re in school (and if you don’t know what kind of library work you’re interested, get the experience in a lot of different areas). Become tech-savvy in terms of web programming, searching, etc. Build up the sort of resume that you know people are looking for. I’d recommend not doing an online program, and making sure you make lots of good connections with the faculty and your classmates. Pick everyone’s brains. Find a mentor. Network. My mistake was believing the hype that came out of the ALA (and other outlets) about the librarian shortage and how there would be tons of jobs when I got out of school. My mistake was thinking an online program was comparable to a “bricks and mortar” program. In this economy, there are few professions that are facing real shortages where jobs are guaranteed (nursing is one, I think). But different geographical areas have different employment outlooks for librarians. I see few jobs where I live (Florida), but many in Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota. And by 2007, things could change a great deal in terms of job opportunities. It’s difficult to predict. But I think if you have experience, if you have technology skills, and if you’re willing to relocate, you will have much more luck finding a job than if you come out with just an MLS, little to no experience, and are not willing to move. There are no guarantees, but if you’re really passionate about librarianship and willing to do more than just go to class, you should do just fine.
In spite of my grumblings, I still remain positive about this profession and about my job prospects. I wouldn’t be blogging if I thought librarianship was a waste of time. I hope I portray more hopefulness and passion for the profession than gloom and doom. But I do think people should REALLY know what they’re getting into before entering a library/info studies program.
I would tend to agree. I’ve been plodding through an MLS program since 2001 (I can only go part-time) and I have pretty much accepted that what I have been told by the Professors I’ve studied with is a lie. There aren’really any jobs out there, and more likley than not there won’t be for some time. But many of the skills the profession teaches interest me, so I continue. Since I do have a full-time job and don’t have the luxury of extensive internships, I know that once I graduate my chances at employment are pretty nonexistent. But over time I may be able to cobble together enough experience to get a job if there are any going. It’s the skills that I’m learning that keep me in school, not the promise of limitless career opportunities.
To put the above comment in proper perspective:
In this economy, there are no careers where there are “real jobs out there” just waiting on newly-minted beginning professionals fresh from their degree programs, with the one possible exception being nursing (and even there I know people who have moved cross-country in order to find their “real job”).
The moral of the story is that you should choose your career based upon what types of activities bring you satisfaction, not upon what job can provide you with a secure paycheck. If you are truly passionate about what you do, you (and your family) will have enough to live on. So it is important to examine what professionals actually do in a given field before deciding whether or not a career in that field is for you.
I know this advice is pretty mundane common sense, but the blogosphere is rife with stories like those in the above comment from people who sound like they just fell off of the turnip truck (no offence intended, kath). As a second-career librarian, I cannot think of better advice than to sit down and ask yourself, “What do I really like to do? What kinds of careers emphasize the use of those skills? How do I learn more before I take the plunge?” I recommend books like “What Color is Your Parachute?” and the Occupational Outlook Handbook (the latter not for its stats so much as for its descriptions of the work done in various careers).
I would be a little more optimistic. I am located in Seattle, WA and work for a for-profit university with campuses spread across North America. When the librarians for the university meet, I notice that we are pretty much all the same age (50+), and when I go to professional association meetings, it’s much the same thing, altho there are a few 30s and 40s in there. I’m not saying that we will all retire at the same time leaving an enormous, sucking void to be filled, but I think there are jobs now out there, and more to come if –as you have said– the jobseekers are willing to relocate. That said, the dangers of all of the reference positions being filled by outsourcing to India–hmmmm. Could reduce the potential . . .
It’s interesting to see that my comments have made me appear ignorant of the world and my choice of profession. Thanks for sharing, Scott. It’s certainly the last time I will.
In some ways it’s helpful to fall across this post and comments at such a time as my current pre-career path crisis.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason many librarians are nearly twice my age is that it’s going to take that damn long before I ever see myself to the other end of an MLS. Being in a situation where I’ll have to pay money I don’t have to go back to college, I will be relegated to the working class ranks of “vocational school”: a library technology type diploma. Now, as excited as I am about this course because the classes actually do look very interesting and relevent, I am loathe to think I will be determined by my innability to afford a degree.
It’s nice to hear that experience may make up for some of this. I don’t know that I believe it however, and only time will tell. I worry that a diploma will be totally untransferable whereas an MLS probably still weighs in your favour for getting research positions, or anything where “information finding” is relevent.
Anyhow, I do wish sincere luck to all those out there who are finding their path to the library (myself included!).
Kath, I don’t think you sounded ignorant at all! I think you know that there is no guarantee of a job and the reason you continue to study is that you genuinely enjoy learning about librarianship and acquiring skills for the profession. Even now, we are constantly hearing about the “librarian shortage” as if it exists and how libraries can’t find enough librarians to fill their open positions (like the NJ article I blogged about yesterday). After hearing that from the ALA, the media, and one’s library school I don’t think it’s ignorant to believe it. It’s only in the blogosphere where I’ve even seen these myths dispelled. I think Scott pretty much said the same things you did, so don’t let him keep you from speaking your mind.
Thank you. When I took my first course at Open University in 2000, from what I had seen (job postings, etc.) it seemed there was a genuine shortage or at least a growth happening. I was also the very end of the Internet reign in the Bay Area, and it did seem that jobs grew on trees. But over the years, despite the insistence of my professors, the lack of budget support has really left me wondering what will be out there when I do finally have my degree. I will also be one of those people who comes to librarianship as a second career choice, so I’ll have to compete against the NextGen librarians we well (no offence; if I’d have gotten my MLIS long ago if I’d had the $$) and I wonder if I’ll be able to compete with them.
I know I bring a lot to the table (a ton of training and project management experience as well as being the researcher for two non-fiction books), but I am older than the others and I wonder if that will work against me. But as I said, I really love what I’m leaning, so I will be personally fulfilled if not professionally engaged.
The two most important pre-requisites for getting a library job, after the MLS (or equivalent) are:
1) Willingness to relocate, or currently living in a large metropolitan area;
2) Experience working in a library.
#2 is the most important. I’m an academic health sciences librarian. When our search committees review 75 applications for an entry-level position, about a third are discarded for lack of basic qualifications, the next third are discarded for lack of experience, and we pick our pool from the final third.
A qualification to my comment – we don’t pick only those people who have worked 2-3 years in the profession. What we do look for are practicum experiences, job experience as a library assistant, volunteer experience, etc. We like to see something that says “I know more about libraries than I learned in library school.” We also like to see a person’s reference list say “I know a librarian who isn’t a professor in a library school.” That’s not to say that library school faculty aren’t good references, but it’s nice to see that someone knows a working librarian well enough to get a reference.