July 28, 2014

Tight Competition

ljx111002websalaryStat1red Tight CompetitionFor 2010 graduates, the past year presented challenges in finding professional jobs with adequate living wages; however, it also offered unexpected opportunities and sounded positive notes despite a battered economy. A total 1,789 LIS graduates responded to LJ’s annual Placements & Salaries Survey, down from last year but still representing a solid 37.3% of the approximately 4790 2010 graduates from the 38 participating schools. In another sign of the times, fewer LIS schools participated, and the ones that did once again reported that graduation rates are down (8.4% below 2009), ranging from 2% to almost 50% lower.

Average starting salaries were basically flat, improving by less than 1% to $42,556—which could be seen as good news, given the economy, but is nonetheless bad news for a profession that is already widely considered to be underpaid. On the upside, the gender gap narrowed significantly to a 3.7% difference (from 8.3%) between wages for women and men. And the new graduate unemployment rate went down slightly, with 6.7% reporting they were still unemployed compared to 7.8% in 2009.

On the downside, finding employment in a distressed economy was very challenging. Fewer jobs were reported in public libraries, which have been among the hardest hit, with branch closures, hiring freezes, and layoffs. The struggles to find public library placements was borne out by reports from the LIS programs, with 34% indicating there was less demand for talent to fill positions than previous years. Despite the downturn in public library placements, children’s librarians experienced healthy growth (31.6% more placements compared to 2009 levels) as did public librarians entering reference and information services (improving by 22.8% over 2009). The job search remained lengthy, averaging more than five months, and some graduates are still searching more than 18 months after receiving their degrees.

Participants once again cited too many applicants for too few entry-level positions, and employers described getting 200 or more applications for one available spot. Several graduates pointed out that they were competing for jobs with other new graduates as well as with applicants with many years of professional experience who had lost jobs owing to library closures and staff reductions. On the flip side, some graduates also reported landing the perfect job after exercising perseverance and patience and with a whole lot of luck.

ljx111002websalaryStat3red Tight CompetitionJobs, but fewer professional ones

A moderate level of stability began to surface in the job market for the current graduates; for the second year running, full-time placements improved slightly, rising to 75.8% of the reported jobs (up from 72.9% in 2009 and a depressing 69.8% in 2008). Also, unlike in 2009 when 83.3% reported a job of any sort, approximately 86.5% of the participating graduates reported finding a job either within or outside of LIS professions. Some graduates who identified terrific full-time permanent positions with benefits were counterbalanced by others who took on jobs in restaurants and retail while questing for those elusive professional jobs.

The challenge for many was finding a permanent professional position. Of the 1,547 graduates reporting a job of any type, a mere 59.2% described those jobs as being both permanent and professional. This was another year of decline in permanent positions, dropping from 61% in 2009 and a high of 75.8% in 2007.

Temporary placements, however, held steady in 2010 at levels equal to those in 2009 (10.1% of the jobs in 2010; 10.6% in 2009), hinting at stabilization even though other indications suggest a leaner and tighter job market. Graduates spoke of accepting temporary positions with the hope these positions would grow into permanent placements, explaining that it provided one way to get in front of those making the hiring decisions.

Nonprofessional positions in library and information agencies provided similar challenges for graduates as did the accepting of temporary positions. On a positive note, reports of nonprofessional positions dropped from 19.4% of the placements in 2009 to 17.5% in 2010, though they are still high compared to reports prior to 2008. Nonprofessional positions historically have lower pay scales, carry fewer benefits (such as health care, paid sick/vacation leave, etc.), and are among the first to be eliminated during periods of budget constraints. Graduates expressed concern about these roles. “I’m worried that being in a nonprofessional job will hinder my ability to be considered for professional positions later,” noted one, due to accruing the “wrong experiences and no responsibilities matching my graduate degree.” They also worried about being laid off or furloughed when tough budget decisions had to be made.

Approximately 43% of the respondents remained with an employer while working toward the master’s. This has been consistent for the last several years. For some it meant ongoing employment in an economic recession despite having to continue in a support staff role. Others expected a promotion and a salary bump once the diploma was in hand, and some are still waiting. Libraries most profoundly impacted by the inability to provide promotion or salary increases were academics; 44.7% of new academic librarians remained with their current employer, but only 22.1% reported receiving any positive change in status or rank upon completion of the master’s degree. Surprisingly, graduates in public libraries fared much better in this regard, with 48.8% remaining with the same employer, and 46.1% of those achieving a change in status, either to professional staff from support positions, a salary increase, or a promotion within the system.

Practiced at part-time

Taking part-time positions continues to be a compromise made by LIS graduates, either by choice or by circumstance. The number of reported part-time placements rose for another year, with a full quarter of the reported jobs described as part-time (compared to a low of 16.3% in 2007, upward to 22.8% in 2009). Of those with part-time jobs, 32.9% held multiple positions (two or more), slightly down from 34% in 2009. Part-timers worked as few as ten to 15 hours per week to as many as 32 hours, or nearly full-time. For some, the wages were “dismal,” just above minimum wage.

Others, though far fewer, were successful in achieving above-average salaries ($45,000–$60,000) and full-time hours by combining two part-time jobs, including part-time consulting. The challenge for them was the nature of part-time jobs: few benefits (health insurance or sick/vacation leave accrual) and less stability. One positive note came from recent graduates who discussed how part-time employment presented the opportunity to explore different environments while seeking out the perfect job and gaining valuable experience in different types of libraries or information agencies. This developed more flexible skills, applicable to multiple types of library and information agencies and, they believed, broadening their chances at professional employment.

Public library positions continued to feel the deepest cuts with approximately 33% of the reported jobs being part-time (equivalent to 2009 levels of 32.7%); among those, circulation (46.7%) and adult services (36.9%) had the highest part-time rates. Even jobs within private industry—noted for high salaries and strong benefits packages—were not immune to the trend to part-time roles (31.6% of the reported placements in private industry). Surprisingly, placements in the West (California, Washington State, Oregon, etc.) had the highest levels of part-time jobs in 2010, when historically the jobs out West have been the most lucrative opportunities. Rates of part-time placements in the Northeast fell from 37.5% in 2009 to 26.8%, and even more encouraging was the overall increase in available positions in the same region (up 22.3% compared to 2009).

It was not unusual for graduates to report multiple combinations of part-time jobs. Some worked as booksellers during the day and catalogers on the weekend; others pulled duty at the reference desk part of the week and in archives the rest. Others worked outside of LIS professions as waitstaff or office workers and then moved onto shifts in public or community college libraries. Jobs as substitute teachers and substitute librarians were also common among the class of 2010.

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

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  1. [...] simply talking to other people in my cohort, or pretty much any library world person with a pulse, placement is still a nightmare for new MLIS students.  I will admit that I am surprised to see that the growth seems to be in areas like archives and [...]