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At Least the Library Schools Thrive

To pick up where we left off, there’s something of a recession going on, and even if things in the library world aren’t as bad as they might be, the dire recklessness in the air might still prompt some people to perform bold actions they might not normally perform, like cutting library staffs the bone so we can all be "leaner and meaner."

If we’re looking at places to cut to the bone, I wonder if anyone has considered library schools. These are schools that exist to train librarians, and yet over the years they’ve morphed into departments of professors working on just about anything but librarianship. There are certainly some professors who still actively engage with the profession, but even many of them devote themselves purely to technology or video games or whatnot. From what I can tell, the meat and potatoes classes necessary to succeed as a librarian are just as often taught by adjuncts or part time instructors who are also librarians as they are by the professors of "library science." So we have an entire field of scholars who survive because they’re attached to schools that generate money from people who have the mundane goal of working as librarians and who will never, ever have to consider most of the theoretical abstractions tangential to librarianship that bemuse so many library school professors.

This of course assumes that the goal of library schools is to produce librarians, but that goal doesn’t seem to be the primary one anymore. If it was, schools wouldn’t be rushing to remove "library" from their name. What is the goal these days? To scholasticize about "information"? To train "information professionals"? Probably not. The goal of university departments since there were university departments is the same goal of every group or bureaucracy: to thrive and expand regardless of usefulness.

There’s another possible reason to shift the focus away from training librarians. I’d be curious to see what percentage of people graduating from library school who actually want to be librarians find sufficient work in the field, and how many move to something else not because they want to, but because they can’t find adequate employment. There are stories about library school graduates remaining unemployed for very long times. It’s absolutely clear that there isn’t a librarian shortage, but what do the statistics say about employment? If the numbers are high, what are the reasons for this? Do they all just suck? Did they believe the hype about librarian shortages? Do they refuse to leave their home town? Or are there just too many library school graduates for the few jobs around?

Those jobs seem to be getting fewer, too. I follow some job lists in Bloglines to monitor for library jobs that suck. I’ve noticed fewer job postings over the last few months, and I predict it will stay that way. So, was it the case before the recession that there were too many library school students? And if it was the case then, isn’t it more the case now?

If library jobs are disappearing, shouldn’t library schools also be disappearing, or at least shrinking? Is there anything in ALA accreditation that examines whether the little librarians being produced by all these library schools get jobs? If a library school exists because it’s supposedly a professional school offering a professional degree, but increasingly people aren’t entering the profession associated with the degree, mightn’t it be time to reconsider that school’s ALA accreditation? The department of information studies or whatever might still have a rationale to exist, but it’s a different question if it should exist as a department accredited to produce people to work in American libraries. And if a department of information studies lost its ALA accreditation and the hordes of pragmatic students stopped paying top dollar for professional degrees, how long would that department survive? Not very long, I’d say. Schools that don’t have anything significant to offer to undergraduates or a clear pedigree of scholarship would be likely targets for elimination.

I seem to be full of predictions this week (or full of something as my many frothing detractors might say), but I have more. I predict even fewer library jobs in the future. I also predict even more people going to library school in future hoping to get a library job. The reason for this paradox? A further prediction, that library schools will continue to promote themselves as the necessary training ground for librarians even as their faculties move on to more interesting topics and fewer of their graduates get library jobs. It might not be good for libraries, but think of all the library school professors who will be supported. After all, they need jobs, too.

On the other hand, maybe this will inadvertently be good for the profession.  Think about how much the quality of librarians will rise as we have more people competing for even fewer jobs. Only the exceptional and the connected will survive. Libraries can all become like some academic humanities departments, with hundreds of people applying for one crappy job amidst an atmosphere of malaise, despair, and gloom.

Good times.

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Comments

  1. SATXLibrarian says:

    Great post. The local rag had a blurb this morning about a function at our Central Library. Faculty from the three accredited library schools in Texas will be holding forth on “how to become a librarian.” I’m sure most of the suckers who attend this presentation will sign on for classes at UNT and get their degrees online, wasting their money because no one I know has been hiring their graduates.

  2. OGM says:

    Sadly, if this were truly a profession then there would be an organization of librarians who monitored these things, like the AMA does for doctors and the ABA does for lawyers. Sadly we have the ALA and they are more concerned with things happening in other countries that they have zero influence over.

    Have a nice day.

  3. Dr. Pepper says:

    Nice one – as is proven once again – it’s all about Das Capital :-)

  4. Dances With Books says:

    Definitely a good post AL. I do like your point of having someone, hell, anyone at this point, actually do some research on:

    “I’d be curious to see what percentage of people graduating from library school who actually want to be librarians find sufficient work in the field, and how many move to something else not because they want to, but because they can’t find adequate employment. There are stories about library school graduates remaining unemployed for very long times. It’s absolutely clear that there isn’t a librarian shortage, but what do the statistics say about employment? If the numbers are high, what are the reasons for this? Do they all just suck? Did they believe the hype about librarian shortages? Do they refuse to leave their home town? Or are there just too many library school graduates for the few jobs around?”

    Really, we have a lot anecdotal evidence. Many listservs are full of stories of the unemployed and underemployed, and I am sure it is not just them, i.e. it has to be the glut and other factors ALA does not acknowledge. Someone should have the balls (or the ovaries depending on gender) to actually investigate it, write it up, and dispel once and for all the stupid myths that we already know. Oh wait, why would ALA acknowledge said negative factors? What was I thinking? Whew, I snapped out of that one, never mind.

  5. VNT says:

    Thanks for stating the obvious.

    Why would I want help from a librarian in my research? They didn’t research their own profession before they got into it and started their b!tch!ng.

    Just how effective could they be in helping me find answers to my questions?

  6. TwoQatz says:

    Well, VNT, it depends who you ask. Don’t know where you work, but we’re right busy answering student and faculty questions. New students are flummoxed by the variety of resources, many faculty haven’t transitioned to non-print research methods. Sounds like you’re in the wrong library and probably the wrong profession.

  7. sameallover says:

    The exceptional always rise regardless of field and the mediocre float around in unrelated jobs indefinitely. The reason why I chose to get an MLIS is that I wanted a bit of a career change. I’d been working as a well paid programmer for the past ten years, and I enjoy programming and technology but I was working for an investment bank and I was tired of that. I’m not really interested in being a librarian (less public to deal with the better!), but I am interested in research and archives. Digitalization topics interest me, too. To get a foot in the kinds of institutions that require that work having an MLIS is helpful. Though, I probably could have gotten a job without the MLIS given my qualifications and experience, I had the time and the financial capability to get the degree. I wanted to occupy my time while I stayed home with my new baby. Not everyone goes into the field blindly. I do feel for the younger students who don’t have any real world experience. When I got my undergraduate degree times were tough, too.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I would go farther and suggest adding a rating for all colleges and universities by this standard. College is often sold to high school students as an instant ticket to high-paying jobs, and some of them fall for it and then end up working at Burger King with the rest of us, only with student loans to pay back. I would love to see each program rated by the number of graduates who were able to find a full-time paying job in their major/degree within 24 months of graduation. Sure would throw a new light on the US News rankings…

  9. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    It’s a tough market for just about everyone … unless you happen to have an in. One of my favorite students confided his backup plan: although he wants a career in his field, he is willing to take his abilities to the military and try for a slot in OCS. His background would be ideal for logistics or the quartermaster, but my heart froze at the thought of that dear young man possibly in harm’s way.

  10. SATXLibrarian says:

    But would ALA pay attention, Anonymous? I just shake my head at the number of people giving their money to UNT who have little chance of reaping any benefit from their degree.

  11. anon says:

    If the MLIS doesn’t prepare students for working in libraries, what does? Who should libraries be hiring? What should we be telling all those unemployed graduates they should have done to be more marketable?

  12. SysLib says:

    If you go into an MLIS without some significant experience in a library, or without a realization that you will have to hustle, apply like crazy, network and take a job in Nowhere, Wyoming after graduation you’re an idiot.

    That’s with a traditional MLIS at one of the top library schools in North America.

    Sameallover has it right, the exceptional rise, the mediocre end up in unrelated fields.

  13. SATXLibrarian says:

    Anon, I think the people who get hired are those with library experience of one sort or another. I was looking for my first job in the mid-80s and the graduates who had library experience were the first in my class to get jobs in libraries. All of us moved, too. Someone with a BA/BS with paraprofessional experience + the MLIS is just more employable. In library school I had deep reservations about my fellow students who had never worked in a library but were getting an MLIS. They were the oddballs who really thought the degree “important” while those of us with lots of library experience saw the MLIS as what it is: a union card. And if you’ve ever worked in a BIG library system, it isn’t the librarians who make it hum. It’s the paraprofessionals/clerks/whatever you care to call them.

  14. Dr. Pepper says:

    What prepares people to work in libraries? Many, many things, they just don’t come in an ALA-accredited format. As far as what to tell those unemployed grads about what they should have done: tell them that they shouldn’t have gone to library school. It’s like feeding time in a fish bowl with only a few scraps of food for the fish. Making yourself more marketable means (1) moving to where the jobs are (2) more education (3) accepting a smaller pay – IF you want to work in a library. There are other jobs out there. Sadly, what I know of UNT grads (from second degree experience) is that if they think that UNT was a “hard, challenging and enriching” program, they have more problems with work than they think :-)

  15. Drew says:

    The aim of library students is to become librarians in public, academic, or special libraries, and not information professionals outside of libraries. I’ve read and hear from many library schools that there are positions for librarians in the corporate world. I even read a library school recruitment flyer saying that new information jobs are being created as technology proliferates our society; really? These library schools are such liars! These schools are just empire building their programs! I currently work in the private sector, so take it from me, companies don’t see any value in a MLIS degree (to them: a perceived degree on how to circulate & shelve books), the majority of information type jobs that are available are usually clerical and don’t pay high enough to warrant of a graduate degree. There certainly are data or records management positions out there, yet companies hire IT professionals rather than librarians to do those information management jobs because companies want individuals to manage the IT systems along with the data on those systems. So if one wants an information job, don’t get a MLIS, get a MS in IT or computer engineering.

  16. TLR says:

    With an MLS and $10 you can get a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

    Drop the MLS and you can have the coffee for $5.95

  17. another f-ing librarian says:

    the like — classes they’d be interested in — and more of them would graduate.

    i guess i think that education is a good thing because it teaches one how to learn things.

    i still can’t figure out where the he!! library school fits in. it’s like a technical-vocational thing that has the prerequisite that one have an undergraduate degree. i don’t know. i don’t really get it completely. librarianship is so meta-, it’s hard to fit into the existing educational structure.

  18. another f-ing librarian - annoyed, this says:

    the first part of my post cut off and i haven’t the heart to re-build it.

    how can the ‘prove you’re a human’-thingy be ‘case-sensitive’ when the characters it gives you are all different sizes regardless of ‘case’, and some of them are, like, ‘w’?

  19. TwoQatz says:

    I worked in the private sector for 18 years in a corporate library. The MLIS was a job requirement, but as far back as 1994 I could see that the corporate library’s days were numbered. I jumped ship and moved to the communications area where my BA in the liberal arts came into play. I fact-checked, copy-edited, edited and wrote for the company’s publications, internal and external. I’m in academia now, earning less but liking it more. Whether your degree is in library science, business, English, comm arts, etc. I think the key to getting a job is being an adult and realizing that it’s a hard job market out there. What might that mean? Get rid of your sense of entitlement, put on some real clothes for your interviews, make sure your resume and cover letter are letter perfect, listen carefully for verbal cues in your telephone interviews (yes, we’d like you to shut up now) and, finally make sure you performed in the not-so-swell jobs that got you through college. A lot of our students ask me to be a reference or write a letter fo recommendation – I refuse to do it for our slackers.

  20. TwoQatz says:

    I worked in the private sector for 18 years in a corporate library. The MLIS was a job requirement, but as far back as 1994 I could see that the corporate library’s days were numbered. I jumped ship and moved to the communications area where my BA in the liberal arts came into play. I fact-checked, copy-edited, edited and wrote for the company’s publications, internal and external. I’m in academia now, earning less but liking it more. Whether your degree is in library science, business, English, comm arts, etc. I think the key to getting a job is being an adult and realizing that it’s a hard job market out there. What might that mean? Get rid of your sense of entitlement, put on some real clothes for your interviews, make sure your resume and cover letter are letter perfect, listen carefully for verbal cues in your telephone interviews (yes, we’d like you to shut up now) and, finally make sure you performed in the not-so-swell jobs that got you through college. A lot of our students ask me to be a reference or write a letter fo recommendation – I refuse to do it for our slackers.

  21. decent-looking straight guy says:

    Have an MLS? Want a job?

    Competence and Persistence.

  22. RL says:

    I’m the one who posted one of the last comments under the “Librarianship: the Best Career” post about not attending a MILS program after all. Although not a librarian and never will be one, I like to read this blog because I am becoming more concerned about the waste I see in American K-12 and higher education. After reading this blog’s posts and comments and the May 1, 2005 and Oct. 1, 2007 articles about the so-called librarian shortage, I think the MILS programs are one example of that waste in higher education. By waste, of course, I mean taxpayers’ money. Those critical of the existence/number of programs or at least the focus of MILS programs will want to read it a recent NYT op-ed calling for essentially the re-organization of higher education. It was published 04/27/2009 by Mark Taylor titled End the University as We Know It.

    One thing to keep in mind is that higher education is organized at the state level. This means that if you live in a state that has a publicly-funded librarianship program and do not agree that it should exist or are critical of its focus, you can contact your local elected officials (state senators and representatives and the governor) and ask that the program be cut. Yes, public colleges and universities have a lot of independence (currently) and there is the Board of Trustees or its equivalent, but I do think the pressure couldn’t hurt. In my opinion, after spending $800 applying to MILS programs and deciding not to attend, it makes me resentful of the money I spent applying and wondering how the money spent on funding MILS programs could be better spent. (I’m not questioning private, non-profit colleges’ MILS programs — that’s their funeral). By the way, I was accepted to the University of Illinois’ program, which has the best MILS program in the country – not just according to U.S. News and World Reports’ ratings, either. I researched several MILS programs and I can tell they have a quality, transparent program. The latter definitely indicative of the kind of experience a student will have in the program. So, what I’m saying is that I’m no flake.

    The Seattle Times also ran a post on their marketplace blog titled “Demand for technology-savvy librarians will be on the rise over the next decade”. I posted a response under rl_everywhere if you want to check out the “article” and the comments.

  23. Always Wanted 2B says:

    One of the nice things about being an “old” 50+ librarian is that I do not have to do technology things. I just have to say make it so, and there are people to make it happen.

  24. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org says:

    Here’s a case where a library school’s mission obviously includes using misinformation to hammer down any local opposition to ALA policy in that community’s public library (West Bend, WI):

    “UW-M Library School Misleads West Bend Citizens”

    safelibraries.blogspot.com/2009/04/uw-m-library-school-misleads-west-bend.html

  25. Kim says:

    If the online schools would just stop lying… then not many people would go into the field because they would be told how competitive it would be to find a job (and that in the good times). Or if the schools told prospective students flat out that in order to work in an actual they would need to move after graduation and often have to pay their own moving expenses. Or that getting a job at all would be next to impossible if the student had not obtained significant library experience before graduation. Most of us who do find jobs don’t start at entry level because the employer expects you to hit the ground running. When I finished a couple years ago, the job I found was mid career and in area of the country that most graduates overlook. I had a pretty good experience in school, it wasn’t online, but the notion that the jobs were there easy for the picking was a fairly widespread belief.

  26. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I attended the University of Texas at Austin. UT’s General Libraries are filled with Library Assistant Is and IIs who have an MLIS from UT. They just couldn’t bear to leave Austin. I hated packing the car and moving to Crudville, but I could not see staying in Austin and never getting a professional level position after spending all that $$$. I doubt things have improved in the 25+ years since I left. UT’s program is much better than UNT’s but too many graduates of UT’s program just can’t tear themselves away from Austin. People in Crudville (which has boomed) are attending UNT in droves (online). And few if any will ever get that “professional librarian” job. Because they’re like the Library Assistants in Austin – they don’t want to leave Crudville. (at least I like now – it was like a death sentence 25 years ago)

  27. DVB says:

    Sure there are jobs in fly over country, but they are dead end jobs in towns that you have to be third generation to be considered a resident.

  28. Display Name says:

    http://www.kgb.com/#work/positions

    You don’t even have to have an MLS!!!! Wowser, being an information professional means you only have to be 18.

  29. Dr. Pepper says:

    A few years back when I was getting a lot of lip from liberians for not having an MLIS, I was pushed toward getting one. I thought about it but financialy it made no sense. A few years later I am glad I never went for an MLIS, because even if I had, I would not be able to use what I ‘learned’ in a library position.

    Subsequently, I think my 5 years in a library (working for-and-with various departments) has taught me way more than the 30 credit fluff that you get in libery-schools ;-) (man this commenting system is nuts!)

  30. Dr. Pepper says:

    Odd…as soon as I complain about the commenting system, the post works.

  31. SpongeBob Librarypants says:

    I always enjoy the AL and all the posts. My summary of most AL posts:
    1. The MLS/MLIS degree is overrated, too expensive, and inadequate.
    2. Library schools are failing their students.
    3. ALA is more a political and social organization than a professional library organization and is worthless.
    4. Jobs are available if you are willing to relocate to the middle of nowhere, don’t care what type of work you do, and can live on a meager entry-level salary.
    5.Most of the skills need to be a successful librarian can be learned with some OJT and a 2 year degree.
    6. Paraprofessionals run libraries, like NCOs run the military and administrative assistants run most companies.
    7. There is a definite generational conflict among librarians.
    8. The public still does not understand what librarians do. They think we read all day long. Corporate America wants IT people for library positions.

    My summary of the posts to the AL. I completely agree with them all.

  32. Kim says:

    I have to disagree with the part about by moving to “the middle of nowhere” after graduation means a substandard job for almost nothing. Most new graduates find they have had to move, but it’s not always to an undesirable place. You don’t have to stay where you end up moving to forever, and yes, it’s generally not to the two coasts. But there are (or at there were a year ago) some nice places with good jobs that help advance a new librarian’s career. The pay is not bad in these places when adjusted for the low cost of living, and the idea of a decent place to live is a matter of opinion. Not all schools are horrible, mine was pretty good with a two-year program that did help prepare me. I’d like to add that the majority of the people I went to school with found professional jobs within libraries of various types, including corporate. They weren’t all IT people, but had pretty good IT skills. Problem is that too many students have been given misinformation about finding a job in the field and from what I’ve seen are often unprepared for what they will face in the job market.

  33. xqv says:

    What’s the impression of San Jose State University out there? Our fearless SLIS leader just sent out an email bragging about our rise in the US News & World Report rankings (22).

  34. Need2Know says:

    –But there are (or at there were a year ago) some nice places with good jobs that help advance a new librarian’s career–

    Where are these places? Seriously, I want to know. What does everyone think–top 5 U.S. cities for newbie librarians to get a job?

    Names, not vague references, please! Top cities to get entry-level jobs. Thanks.

  35. Kim says:

    Need2Know, I only know of one person who found an entry level job. She graduated in 2005, had worked in an academic library for several years, and had on top of other things had supervisory experience prior to graduation. Everyone else I went to school with(those who found jobs)had at least some experience either before starting school or gained while they were in school. They started in jobs that were far from entry level. I’m of the opinion that there aren’t entry level jobs, or at least very, very few. Mine wasn’t. I don’t know about cities; I’m thinking of small communities which is where most people don’t want to go. And it depends on what you’re looking for, academic, public, corporate, or something else. The South was a good place before the economy crashed. More rural states like Wyoming, the Dakotas and Idaho are often overlooked. The Midwest was a good place to go at one point. So was Florida, especially southern Florida before that state ran into its fiscal crises. I’ve known people to get their start on Indian Reservations, or in small religious schools. They used these jobs to jump start to the next thing. I understand this answer is frustrating, but I really don’t have a specific answer to your question. I’d like to add though that networking, and going to a large conference (like the ALA one that is made fun of in this blog) has helped at least some people find jobs.

  36. Mr. Kat says:

    I’ve also seen the job hunt help some people incur a second round of loans that match the loans used just to get the degree. And still no job…And these people are definately not just focused on one area, they are focusing on EVERYWHERE in the US…

    It’s a Worthless degree.

  37. Picard says:

    There, there – it’s not that bad.

  38. Picard says:

    There, there – it’s not that bad.

  39. Simply Annoyed says:

    It’s not THAT bad? Library Ed. has become the academic equivalent of a Ponzi scam.

  40. TheCompleatLibrarian says:

    Why Library School? Easy…the hotties

  41. where to look for jobs says:

    I had a good response rate for jobs I found on MPLA (Moutain Plains Library Association) web site. I think I applied to 3 vacancies and got 2 interviews.
    Also any academic library 1 hour or more from an airport or city will have less competition for jobs but still be able to reimburse for travel expenses and pay an average academic librarian salary.

  42. AngelaB says:

    Perhaps it seems the profession is dying. Seriously. Professions don’t last forever.

  43. public librarian says:

    Nope, we are not dying. We are busier than ever.

  44. Pat says:

    The Program in San Jose is likely one of the worst, if not the very worst program in the nation. The program is conducted entirely online without any direct professor contact whatsoever. SJSU-SLIS does NOT make note of this fact in any of their recruiting materials, and it is not displayed on their home page.

  45. Mr. Kat says:

    May 13, 2009; where to look for jobs commented:I had a good response rate for jobs I found on MPLA (Moutain Plains Library Association) web site. I think I applied to 3 vacancies and got 2 interviews.
    Also any academic library 1 hour or more from an airport or city will have less competition for jobs but still be able to reimburse for travel expenses and pay an average academic librarian salary


    How many JOB OFFERS did you recieve?

    Interview Invitations =/= JOBS!!!

  46. Lori says:

    “The Program in San Jose is likely one of the worst, if not the very worst program in the nation. The program is conducted entirely online without any direct professor contact whatsoever. SJSU-SLIS does NOT make note of this fact in any of their recruiting materials, and it is not displayed on their home page.”

    Pat, I don’t know what you’re smoking, but I just finished having direct contact with students, as I do every day. What you state is a crock. My students are working at the Huntington Library, Stanford University, the Guggenheim, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and many other great places.

    If they weren’t well-prepared, they would not have made it to the jobs they have.

    Get over it.