Wednesday, February 08, 2006

librarian "shortage"

CNN just published another article about labor shortages and includes librarians as one of the top five unpopular jobs. They cite no real data to support the idea of a shortage, besides this, "The American Library Association Website quotes statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau indicating that more than one-quarter of all librarians will reach the age of 65 by 2009." (Here's the original source from ALA.) I think most people would agree that many librarians--many people in general--don't want to or can't afford to retire at 65. For an excellent response to the "shortage" rhetoric, see "The Entry Level Gap," (Holt and Strock, 2005), if you haven't already.

The shortage debate gets pretty heated. The NexGen list is just one place people are talking about it. While I don't agree that there will be an unmanageable wave of retirements in the next couple of years, I also think that we need to continue to recruit new librarians. Say what? Hear me out. I'm from Seattle, home to the UW Information School and many, many unemployed and underemployed librarians. I imagine the situation is similar in other cities hosting MLIS/MLS programs. This will not change. Libraries of all types in the Pacific Northwest know they can be choosy about who they hire, and it's not uncommon for jobs, especially in academic libraries, to require lots of experience that new grads usually don't have. This won't change.

I knew that I needed to look out of state if I wanted a stable, permanent reference/instruction position. It's possible to cobble together enough adjunct hours to make a living--I'm doing it now and have friends who will continue to do so because they don't want to move--but that's not the lifestyle I wanted. I'm not saying it was easy to get my job, but my applications generated far more interest out of state than they did around here. It's supply and demand, I'm afraid. Slowly but surely, my MLIS classmates who want to work in libraries are finding jobs out of state. Jobs are competative, but they're out there. In some geographic areas, there is a genuine need for more librarians.

Why do I think we need to continue recruitment? I can think of several reasons. First, we can't let the profession stagnate. We need new people and new ideas continually cycling into libraries and other information centers. We can't just stop training new librarians for a while and then start back up later. Universities don't put graduate programs on hiatus; once they're closed, they're usually gone for good. Professors would be out of work and research in the field would slow, and in some areas, might even cease.

I'm leaving out some reasons for the sake of brevity, and to get to my most important reason. For all our good intentions, our profession is not nearly as diverse as the communities we serve. It sounds trite, but it's true--we need to do a better job of showing people--especially kids--what we do so a wider cross-section of people will consider librarianship as a career.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What will happen to all the people who have MLIS degrees, spend years in an unsuccessful search for their first professional position, then are passed over for younger more recent graduates?

People who earn this degree don't just find jobs in other fields you know. If we're unemployed, we stick around. For years. Reminding you all that we're still here and you can't just write us off.