And still it comes. Apparently the job propaganda from the ALA will never cease. It seems to be on a mission to make sure there are too many librarians on the market and drive down salaries and working conditions for us all. Abetted by the library schools, of course, which can be cash cows for universities.
Some of you might have seen this article in American Libraries. It’s a puff piece about how distance education is the best education ever (!) written by (surprise, surprise) an administrator of online learning at a university with an online LIS program. The tone sounds like an infomercial. The number of people getting online degrees is "remarkable." We get a brief profile of a Drexel online LIS graduate who is "amazing." Everything is cheery and perky in the world of online library schools! Yay!
And how about this bit:
"Interest in the MLS degree will no doubt continue, as employment opportunities in the library and information science job sector are projected to experience positive growth in coming years, according to data reported by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (sector analyses for 2006 to 2016), United States Bureau of Labor Occupational Employment Statistics, and reports from the American Library Association."
Uh huh. "Positive growth." We’ve been hearing that for years as propaganda to entice people into library school, and it just hasn’t happened. The only change in the propaganda is the dates keep getting moved back. We were going to have waves of retirees and new jobs in the future, except that future never came and is unlikely to. Even before the recent recession, there weren’t enough library jobs to go around, and since then libraries have been closing, firing librarians, not filling openings, and everything else they can do to save money.
Does anyone really think that after the recession, librarian positions are going to be rising dramatically? Oh, yeah, we know it to be true because the government and the ALA told us so. Oh, and those librarians that have been graduating the past ten years? They need jobs now, not in the future.
But there’s more:
"Eduventures, a higher-education research and consulting firm, estimated in a January report prepared for Drexel University Online that more than 21,400 graduate students will be enrolled in a fully or blended online MLS program in 2009, and that nearly 7,300 MLS degrees will be awarded this year.Eduventures projects a 3% annual growth in MLS enrollment between now and 2011."
Hmm. An online university hires a consultant who tells them that online student enrollment will keep growing. Yeah, let’s trust that data, because we know consultants never just tell clients what they want to hear. Regardless, if the current numbers are true, then we’re looking at over 7,000 new librarians every year, potentially for decades. According to this article, that’s a good thing, no, a great thing! And it is a great thing, if you’re in the market of selling online MLS degrees.
But what about the rest of us?
Let’s take a quick break from the propaganda and step back toto the real world, in the form of the LJ Placements and Salaries 2009 report, which came out last week. Generally, the news is bad, especially if you’re looking for a job as a public librarian. Fewer jobs. Lower starting salaries. Lower salaries in general. It’s a bleak picture, and this is a study of conditions in 2008. It’s only going to be worse this year.
According to that study, how many new librarians got jobs last year? 1,817. That’s it. 1,817 jobs for new librarians last year. 7,300 new librarians this year. If the numbers hold, that’s about four times as many new librarians as jobs. And that ratio will only increase if enrollments grow and jobs shrink.
And forget full time employment. The percentage of full time positions shrank for 89.2% in 2007 to 69.8% in 2008. Someone in the comments to a recent post argued that part-time employment is great, because it gives librarians "flexibility." Let’s see how flexible they are on $20K a year and no health benefits. As long as we think of librarian as a job for housewives who just want a little pin money, then everything’s hunky-dory. If we think of librarianship as a serious profession, this is bad news.
Someone who peddles online MLS degrees would obviously be happy that more and more people are getting online degrees. That’s great for business, and Drexel is all about business. It’s a different question about whether it’s good for librarians, libraries, or librarianship. Too much supply lessens demands which lowers salaries. In some sectors it means lots of librarians are battling each other over crappy, low-paying jobs. Is this the kind of profession we want? Do we want the stereotype of librarians to go from bun-wearing shushers to people stupid enough to pay thousands of dollars for graduate school to get low-paying jobs?
Who’s going to suffer the most? I have a pretty good idea about that. The dull and incompetent. Some of us might cheer and say, sure, that’s not so bad. But while the large percentage of them in the profession always improved my job prospects, I don’t want dull and incompetent people to suffer. Library school was already a breeze, and distance education is just making it easier. Everyone who can fill out a loan application or fork over a few thousand dollars every year can get a library degree.
I took a look at the list of programs that offer an online-only option, and I find it very hard to believe all of them have high academic standards. If anyone can get in, the dull and incompetent can get in, and they get through because the programs are easier than ever, and then they won’t get jobs. Online library education might be great for a lot of people, but for others it’s going to function as a tax on stupidity. Library schools might as well just hold lotteries or install slot machines.
The top of that bottom is still functional enough to keep salaries low and conditions poor for a lot of people. Plenty of libraries are already out of the running for the best candidates because they pay so poorly. Bright people desperate to get jobs will be competing with dull people lucky to get jobs. The brightest will probably just give up and go work in some less fulfilling but more remunerative sector, while the dulls hang around and give the rest of us a bad name and lower the quality of library service. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone but the library schools.
If we were interested in the working conditions of librarians and the quality of library service, more and easier job training for librarians isn’t what we’d want. Instead of letting in anyone who wants a degree and can get the money together, library schools should be toughening their standards. Not more, but fewer and better students. Raise the GPA requirement. Raise the GRE requirement (or institute one). Make the students take more rigorous classes. Make everyone write a thesis. In other words, make it hard to get into and through library school. Make it a serious accomplishment.
This would improve the profession. It would improve the standards of librarianship. It would improve the service to library patrons. The only thing it wouldn’t improve is the bottom line of library schools.