“Challenges have been plentiful!” was the common refrain across the 2011 graduating class. As the general economy continues its slow climb out of recession, this past year offered ongoing unemployment and stiff competition for jobs, especially for school library media specialists and reference librarians. However, despite erroneous media reports that library and information science (LIS) is a dying field, there were numerous bright spots and unprecedented gains, ranging from positive salary growth to increased numbers of placements in agencies outside of library environments, and an exciting array of descriptors available to students seeking work inside the LIS field and elsewhere. This year more than 2100 LIS graduates responded to LJ’s annual Placements & Salaries survey, representing 34.7% of the 2011 graduating class from the 41 participating programs.
Overall, the good news is supported by a healthy average starting salary increase of 5% to $44,565, uplifted by several reports of annual salaries upwards of $100,000. This is good news for a profession that has been battered in recent years by abysmal salary growth and a recessed economy. Graduates reporting minority status experienced the greatest impact in wage growth, increasing 8.7% over the previous year’s averages, while graduates landing in the West lost 2% during the same period.
Other signs of progress: a decrease in the number of temporary placements and a slight decrease in the number of part-time jobs reported. This good news was augmented by improved numbers of placements in public libraries—which have suffered significantly in salary and placement over the last several years—and by growth in academic library placements. Jobs in academic libraries in particular offered unique opportunities to work with emerging technologies, digital repositories, and instructional design. The average length of time to land a job also decreased slightly, dropping to just under five months, with the most frequently cited length being three months after graduation; however, some graduates are still searching more than a year and half later.
Nevertheless, finding and landing a job entail challenges and frustrations. Participants once again reported there were too few entry-level jobs, with many available jobs requiring three to five years of professional experience. For graduates this presents an age-old bind: “It’s hard to get a job without experience; it’s hard to get professional experience when potential employers don’t recognize volunteer activities or internships as professional enough.” Once again graduates spoke of competing with other information professionals in the job market owing to choice or circumstance, with their newly minted degrees often trumped by the availability of greater experience in the applicant pool. On the plus side, the unemployment rate among LIS graduates held steady at 6.8%, suggesting that jobs are largely available even if they require full-time effort to find.
Table 1 Status of 2011 Graduates
Number of Schools Reporting
Number of Graduates Responding
Graduates Outside of Profession
Unemployed or Status Unreported
Emerging jobs, new titles
While the numbers tell the full story, the shifts in job nomenclature and description give their own high-level view of trends in employment for new library and information professionals. In 2011, LIS programs and graduates alike reported an increase in the number of emerging job titles, including emerging technologies librarian, data assets manager, digital initiatives librarian, and digital curator. Other unique titles that appeared included market insights analyst, repository librarian/manager, and impact evaluation specialist. Among the new responsibilities the graduates described, they cited an emphasis on developing the agency’s online presence through mobile and social media and web accessibility, managing digitization initiatives and workflow, and gathering data and analytics. They were engaged in the development of digital research projects and services in academic institutions as well as in other types of research libraries and information agencies. The new titles appeared in a variety of places, particularly in academic institutions (inside the university library as well as in other academic units) and in corporate entities, the difference between the two coming down largely to semantics—e.g., digital initiatives librarian or digital assets manager.
Graduates also emphasized the dual nature of many of their jobs: reference and digital services; adult services and community outreach librarian, for example; they frequently used the term blended to describe this duality. They also focused on the highly collaborative nature of their positions, working across departments, such as with the IT staff and management, and as members of highly complex teams. Graduates added the ability to serve as a liaison among the multiple units of an institution to the list of job responsibilities. Even those few who described themselves as solo librarians indicated the necessity of working with other people outside of the library.
While not a new or emerging responsibility, an emphasis on instruction and information literacy continues to appear throughout the job titles, but the role is changing in how the responsibilities are fulfilled. LIS graduates are using emerging technologies to develop and design instructional resources, including interactive tutorials and virtual knowledge centers that can be accessed through mobile devices. They are coordinating and managing learning resource centers for K–12 schools and in higher education. And they are working with a variety of learning management systems to integrate digital resources and services into the learning environment.
Full-time placements remained stable for current graduates, holding at 75.4% of the reported jobs (nearly equivalent to the 2010 level of 75.8% and improved over previous years’ lows of 72.9% and 69.8%). In a similar vein, 88.8% of the participants reported a job of any sort, both within and outside of the LIS professions, slightly improved from 2010 when 86.5% reported employment. Positive reports of dream job finds were equalized by others who joined the ranks of substitute teachers and retail clerks to fill the employment gap until a professional job materialized.
Full-time employment was also colored by another year of decline in permanent professional positions within LIS with a slim 56.8% of all surveyed describing their jobs as such, dropping from 59.2% in 2010 and 61% in 2009. However, this was also counterbalanced by an increase in the number of jobs described as permanent and professional outside of LIS such as software engineering and user interface design, replete with higher starting salaries. Jobs falling outside of LIS rose from 10.1% in 2010 to 18.3% of the placements in 2011.
Another measure of stabilization comes in the form of temporary positions and part-time positions. Reverting to levels closer to those experienced in 2009, just over 12% of the graduating class of 2011 described their jobs as being temporary. This is a significant drop from 2010 when 22.8% held temporary jobs. Part-time jobs mirrored a similar decline, though less dramatic, decreasing from 25% in 2010 to 23.6% in 2011. Graduates finding jobs in the Northeast reported the highest levels of part-time placements at 34.4%, which is also an increase from 31.1% in the same region in 2010. Graduates broadly shared the strategy of accepting temporary placements and part-time jobs in agencies in the hopes of full-time employment. For some the strategy paid off well as they moved from student assistant positions during graduate studies to part-time professional employment just prior or upon graduation and ultimately to a permanent, professional job.
For a second year, reports of nonprofessional full-time and part-time positions declined, dropping from 17.5% in 2010 to 15.4% in 2011, which is well below the high of 19.4% in 2009. Jobs designated as nonprofessional fell into two distinct categories in 2011: an estimated 80% within LIS and 20% outside. On one hand the graduates accepted nonprofessional jobs in LIS agencies, including positions such as circulation clerks and media aides, and this created similar challenges as those experienced by temporary positions, including few fringe benefits and fears that they would be the first let go if there were additional budget cuts. Meanwhile, other nonprofessional jobs fall outside of the realm of library and information science into areas such as banking, retail, and food service; grads in these positions expressed frustration that the master’s degree was only a piece of high-quality paper that came with a high tuition price tag.
Nonprofessional full-time positions tended toward lower salaries, averaging $32,072 compared to $44,565 for all placements, with fewer employment benefits like paid time off and health-care options. Some graduates in nonprofessional positions said they felt their coworkers, especially fellow librarians, did not recognize them as professionals owing to the nature of the job despite having the same credentials. Not surprisingly, public libraries held the highest proportion of nonprofessional placements at 21.9% of the new hires.
Approximately 37% of the participants remained with an employer while completing their studies for the master’s degree. This is somewhat below the high of 47% in 2010. For some, a master’s was required for career advancement or continuation of an existing job; in fact their jobs were dependent upon earning the professional degree, which was particularly evident among those entering school libraries. Approximately 12.6% of the graduates who remained with their employer did not realize any benefits from the granting of the master’s degree, staying in the same job classification with no salary or benefits increases. Others did not see immediate changes in status, though the degree granted them eligibility for higher positions if and when these became available, and made it possible to move to other departments within the agency. The fortunate ones (13.7%) received a promotion or salary increase commensurate with the new position and advanced degree. Similarly to the previous year’s participants, academic libraries were hardest hit by their inability to provide either a promotion or salary increase to newly degreed librarians, while public libraries were more successful in granting promotions or salary increases despite cutbacks and layoffs.
Experience & advice
LIS is a profession of people, and the real stories of the graduates can only be conveyed in their words; numbers can only show trends. For the graduating class of 2011, there were exceptional highs and discouraging lows.
The job search was lengthy, and for many was a full-time job itself. For the lucky few, jobs were waiting when they graduated, but for the majority of the 2011 graduates there were several months of nerve-wracking periods waiting to find and secure a permanent position. The most frustrating part was the lack of response from potential employers and discovering that “entry level” could still require years of experience.
On the positive side, graduates spoke of being fortunate in finding a job to love. Some were able to parlay an internship or practicum into a permanent position, capitalizing upon being in the right place when a position opened and letting the people in the position to hire know that they were interested in staying. They also took time to get to know staffers at the institutions where they were interning.
As a group, the graduating class of 2011 advised their upcoming colleagues to seek out experience wherever possible. Internships, practicum, and volunteering are critical in developing on-the-job skills; they also advised that the internship site supervisors are in the position to provide job references related to practical experience. Numerous graduates relayed that they sought part-time jobs while in school not only to supplement their income but to help build the requisite experience.
Networking with fellow students, professional colleagues, and faculty was another key to increasing the odds of finding employment. One graduate suggested that students need to “work your connections because it may lead to something upon graduation.” Others said that personal connections and networks could reap big rewards and “you might find a job where you expected not to.” Attending conferences and participating in professional activities were additional strategies that new grads strongly recommended in order to connect with the people and agencies that have the jobs. They also commented that not all of the jobs are publicly advertised, and students need to be insiders to hear about some of those opportunities.
The graduating class of 2011 recommended that their future colleagues need to be strategic in the job search. Tailor cover letters and résumés to the specific job and make them “meaningful.” Learn about the possible retirements in the area and arrange to complete an internship at the site in order to be in the right place when the agency is ready to hire—a known entity. And the best piece of advice the grads offered: “the best thing to keep in mind during the job search process is that library and information/knowledge skills can transfer to so many different fields.”
For all the Placements & Salaries Survey tables,
see “Explore the Data“
Table 5 Average Salary Index Starting Library Positions 1990-2011
Avg. Starting Salary ($)
Increase in Avg. Salary ($)
Table 6 Salaries of Reporting Professionals* by Area of Job Assignment
% of Total
Low Salary ($)
High Salary ($)
Average Salary ($)
Median Salary ($)
|Cataloging & Classification||74||4.10%||19,000||70,000||39,303||39,500|
|Electronic or Digital Services||65||3.60%||13,000||88,000||44,366||45,000|
|Interlibrary Loans/Document Delivery||20||1.10%||22,000||48,000||35,597||39,250|
|School Library Media Specialist||178||9.90%||12,000||71,000||45,221||44,350|