February 26, 2017

The Recession's Toll

“Jobs…what jobs?” asked many of the 2009 LIS graduating class following another year of stagnating salaries and rising unemployment. There was strong participation in the annual survey, with 1,996 respondents representing 38.7% of the approximately 5160 LIS graduates. Interestingly, the LIS programs reported a 7% decrease in the total number of graduates between 2008 and 2009. Participants relayed many tales of triumph and travail, illustrating another struggling job market with a few glimmers of hope and achievement.

The job search for LIS graduates followed the laws of physics: for every positive gain there was an equally negative reversal. While the average starting salary recovered the ground lost in 2008, improving 1.5% to $42,215 (up from $41,579), reports of unemployment continued to rise to a rate of 7.8% among the respondents. The length of the search to find a position of any kind inched up to more than five months. Those who graduated in the first half of 2009 had a slightly easier time (four-and-half-month job search) compared to those in the second half, who averaged well over five and half months to secure a position.

Much like the graduates themselves, the LIS programs have their own stories to tell. In 2009, there appeared to be an overall decrease in the number of students graduating, with an average reduction of approximately 7% reported by the LIS programs. This suggests that students may be taking longer to complete their studies given the current economic environment; there may be a decrease in overall enrollment in the LIS programs; or students might not be completing programs owing to a lack of available financial assistance through employer tuition reimbursement or student loans.

The trends hinted at by the 2008 graduating class last year (see “Jobs & Pay Take a Hit,” LJ 10/15/2009, p. 21) came to fruition in 2009. Too many applicants for too few jobs, continued hiring freezes, and mandated furloughs without pay continue to impact successful career placement, forcing LIS graduates to seek positions outside of the library and information science professions or to take on part-time and nonprofessional work. “I’m working in a job that requires the educational equivalent of a GED,” said one graduate, while others reported that they stayed on as pages or shelvers or took on jobs in bookstores as cashiers and children’s specialists.

In search of stability
Unlike the previous two years, when approximately 87% of graduates reported employment, in 2009 the employment status slid backward to 83.3%, compounded by an overall 7.8% unemployment rate. That full-time placements improved slightly to 72.9% from a low of 69.8% in 2008, though not reaching the levels of 2007 (89.2%), remains bittersweet because permanent, professional placements continue to decline, from 75.8% of the number in 2007 to 61% in 2009, while temporary placements increased once again (from 7.8% in 2008 to 10.6% in 2009) as did nonprofessional jobs (from 13.5% of placements in 2008 to 19.4% in 2009).

Similar trends appear in the number of jobs reported in many types of library and information agencies, with academic librarians seeing a staggering drop in placements from 31% of all jobs in 2008 to 20% in 2009. Agencies outside of libraries, on the other hand, experienced an increase in reported placements from just over 15% in the previous year to over 27% this year, though salaries in these same agencies did not follow suit, remaining flat with less than 1% growth. Not surprisingly, public libraries, which were hit again by severely restricted public funding, hired fewer new librarians, dropping 8.4%, though the average public librarian salary held steady at $37,308 (less than 1% growth over last year’s $37,556). Government libraries, while overall numbers continue to be low, displayed more positive growth in placements (increasing another 13% from 2008) and in salaries (edging up 4.4% to $43,904 to recover losses experienced between 2007 and 2008).

Many graduates indicated a reluctance to relinquish their current jobs when they received their master’s degree even when it meant remaining in a nonprofessional position as a library assistant or clerk. Several graduates pointed out that they could not afford to give up their current income in order to risk finding a professional position elsewhere, particularly in light of a national recession and high national unemployment. More respondents remained with their current employer after graduation (44.6% compared to 42.3% in 2008 and 43.8% in 2007), and of these graduates, a full 25% (a significant increase from 20.1% in 2008 and 16.7% in 2007) accepted or stayed in nonprofessional positions rather than entering the ranks of the jobless. For some, this meant lower wages, fewer professional responsibilities, and minimal benefits (health insurance, paid vacation/sick days, etc.).

The part-time compromise
The graduating class of 2009 made numerous compromises to find jobs. Further representative of the need for stability and income, approximately 41% accepted placement in an agency other than that for which they had originally trained. For example, graduates accepted positions in government agencies and corporations though they had prepared for positions in archives or academic libraries. This was a mixed bag. Some grads noted disappointment and frustration in not being able to find the right environment, while others said, “It’s not what I planned, but I love what I’m doing now.”

Part-time employment has become a way of life for many LIS graduates, and it has steadily risen from 16.3% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2009. For some graduates, this is a deliberate choice, but more than 34% of the part-timers in 2009 accepted multiple jobs (two or more) to create a semblance of a full-time salary, often without benefits. Common combinations were academic librarian by day/public librarian by night, part-time retail or office work meshed with jobs at local libraries, and children’s programming at the public library mixed with school media assistant or substitute teaching. The Northeast and the Midwest had the highest rates of part-time employment in 2009 (37.5% and 26.5%, respectively). As anticipated, public libraries offered the highest level of part-time employment at 32.7%, but surprisingly jobs considered “other,” falling outside of library and information agencies, experienced higher than average rates as well, with these being 23.3% of the part-time jobs.

Stephanie L. Maatta About Stephanie L. Maatta

Stephanie Maatta, Ph.D. (es7746@wayne.edu), is an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University School of Library Information Science, Detroit