August 19, 2017

Library Science Without the Library | Backtalk

By Jane Greenstein

Librarian or Google employee?

Library schools keep churning out graduates, but it’s the private sector that is laying out the welcome mat to MLIS graduates.

Now library schools should become more aggressive about preparing students for positions outside the library.

Why? Studies, including one conducted by Library Journal, point to the fact that library jobs are being cut due to a perfect storm of decreased funding and technological advancement.

According to Library Journal’s Annual Placements & Salaries Survey posted October 15, 2011: “Jobs in private industry continued to be lucrative for new LIS graduates, comprising 9.4% of all reported placements, up slightly from 2009. Graduates from an array of LIS programs identified their new employers as companies such as Google, Wolfram Alpha, and AT&T.”

I’m part of the next generation of library students who work outside the library.

This fall I enrolled in the Los Angeles cohort of the University of North Texas (UNT)’s Masters in Library Science program, but I’m not planning on becoming a librarian.

I’m a Los Angeles-based website project manager for Genex, an interactive marketing agency. Project managers (often referred to as producers) manage a project’s budget and schedule as well as shepherd it through business and technical requirements, information and creative design, and development. Project managers play a variety of roles, including writing Statements of Work (contracts) and making sure our client’s needs are met.

I’ve also worked as a journalist and web content strategist. I’m in graduate school to explore other facets of my industry that deal with digital archiving, information architecture, taxonomy and content categorization.

Recent MLIS graduates are gravitating to different fields than their predecessors. According to the Library Journal survey, respondents are working at “software and Internet companies, practicing information architecture, user interface analysis and design, and software engineering…and in medical centers and pharmaceutical companies, law firms and corporations.”

But the survey also states that graduates are accepting “lower salaries and part-time hours as retail clerks, baristas, and office assistants in order to pay the bills.”

While my motives for entering library school may be anathema to many librarians, students with my background are becoming hard to ignore.

It’s safe to say that library students are beginning to branch out—by force or by choice.

But my impression is that library and information schools don’t know how to properly court prospective “information”-oriented candidates or appeal to my colleagues in the interactive field.

How can this situation be remedied? If a library school were to consult a marketing agency such as the one I work for, we’d undoubtedly recommend a media campaign to “re-position” their message and “re-brand” their image.

Many (including myself) have discovered multimedia careers by way of graphic design, copywriting, business strategy and computer programming–without formal training as “information professionals.”

Something has to change to keep library schools successfully recruiting students-and for students to remain hopeful about their future. If students think there aren’t any jobs waiting for them on the other side of their academic trek, MLIS programs face extinction.

While no one becomes a librarian for the money, no one thinks they’re going to end up without any long-term job prospects when they graduate either.

At this critical juncture in both library science and information technology, it’s incumbent on MLIS programs to not only offer classes, but also develop a solid curriculum (and encourage a non-traditional career path) for the next class of graduating librarians.

My fellow students possess the same traits that my co-workers impress me with-intelligence and digital dexterity. And my profession needs them.

Most high tech firms are waging an uphill battle to fill their positions, and often go overseas to recruit the skilled workers they need-and it’s not just because the labor is cheaper. It’s because they’re well educated and anxious to work.

Earlier this year, staffing agency Manpower Group released its annual Talent Shortage Survey, stating, “52 percent of U.S. employers are experiencing difficulty filling mission-critical positions within their organizations, up from 14 percent in 2010.”

According to Manpower’s website, these “mission-critical” positions include “skilled trades, sales representatives and engineers.”

While not all of us have the interest (or requisite left brain orientation) to become engineers, there are other options that MLIS programs should educate their students about.

And some are. Along with UNT, San Jose State, the University of Indiana and the University of Texas at Austin offer either certificates, “career pathways” or Masters in Information Science degrees that emphasize information design.

Library (or information) schools should continue to offer more nuts-and-bolts classes in information theory and design, but also keep their students aware of the rapid changes in the library profession. Curriculum should incorporate a good dose of “current events,” and insist students not only learn but also take a position on them.

Whether students choose a traditional or so-called alternative path, MLIS programs should acknowledge-and embrace-that the library profession is changing. They should expand their focus by offering more degrees and creating a more fluid curriculum that keeps students aware of the evolution that is occurring in front of their eyes.

Librarian or Google employee?

This may be a question more and more library students ask themselves—and universities should prepare them for whichever choice they make.

Author Information
Jane Greenstein is a Los Angeles-based website project manager for Genex, an interactive marketing agency that works with Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at Jane@JaneGreenstein.com. Submissions for Backtalk should be 850 to 900 words and sent to Michael Kelley at mkelley@mediasourceinc.com
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