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.