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Financial Benefits of Lots of Library School Students

Last week a commenter questioned my claim that having as many library school students as possible isn’t just in the financial interests of library schools, but of the ALA as well.

As a side-note, I never understand the argument, like you made, that it’s to ALA’s financial benefit (or any other sort of benefit) to have lots of library school graduates, ESPECIALLY if they aren’t able to get library-field jobs. I hear the unemployed and disenchanted spend notoriously little on memberships, books, conferences, etc.

It’s obvious how having lots of students is good for the library schools. If they don’t get jobs, the only people who are harmed are the students themselves and possibly us taxpayers when they default on their student loans because they can’t find gainful employment.

So, basically, it harms everyone in the country except the library schools. Thanks, library schools!

However, it does make sense that the ALA would prefer gainfully employed librarians, because they’re the ones most likely to join the organization and go to conferences.

And, frankly, I don’t doubt that everyone at the ALA would like there to be full employment among library school graduates. That would mean its duplicitous advertising about the “librarian shortage” for the past decade wasn’t, well, duplicitous.

But it still makes financial sense for the ALA to have as many people going to library school as possible, and here are a few reasons.

Student members

A lot of people join ALA during library school. The dues are cheap, and the students can add “American Library Association” to their resume thinking that it will matter. The same students who were impressed enough by the claim that there’s a librarian shortage will want to join up.

Even if the ALA doesn’t make a lot of money from the reduced student dues, it makes a little bit, and by offering such low dues for students, it hooks at least some of them for a long time, like junkies.

Jobs

It’s likely that most unemployed library school graduates aren’t spending gobs of money on organization dues or conference fees, but some of them are. Why? The promise of jobs through ALA’s much publicized job placement service. Neither I nor any librarians I’ve ever met have gotten a job through the job placement service, but maybe some people do.

There are probably no job placement statistics from the job placement service, but it really doesn’t matter. If people don’t get jobs through the job placement service, they’ve still ponied up a couple hundred dollars to the ALA at a minimum. What matters is that they paid.

Networking

These same un- or underemployed librarians also pay their own way to conferences to meet other librarians and network. While I’ve never met anyone who has gotten a job through the ALA placement service, I’ve met numerous new library school graduates who pay their way to conferences in order to network, though not any who have gotten jobs that way.

And believe me, when they find they’ve met the Annoyed Librarian, they think they’ve arrived in networking heaven, which of course they have.

Continuing Education

Despite the fact that you can learn just about anything regarding librarianship online and for free, a lot of librarians go to ALA conferences for continuing education opportunities. Maybe they take a preconference on a special topic or attend every session on new stuff they can.

A percentage of these people are most likely unemployed librarians, and any number of people attending is better than no number attending.

Let’s crunch some numbers. I’ll make them imaginary numbers so they’ll be easier to crunch, but the point is the same.

Let’s say 10,000 people graduate from library school every year, which is probably 1,000 from traditional programs and another 9,000 from online programs.

Of those 10,000 fresh-faced library school graduates, 1,000 get jobs within the year.

Of the 9,000 graduates remaining, how many would be likely to pay to join ALA and go to a conference? The correct answer is, it doesn’t really matter as long as a single one does.

Even the single unemployed librarian paying money to ALA offers a financial incentive, but the chances are likely that considerably more than one will.

And it doesn’t matter if you switch the numbers. 9,000 get jobs and 1,000 don’t. Of those thousand, some percentage is going to pay in the hopes of getting a job. The more unemployed librarians there are, the greater the possibility that some of them will give money to the ALA.

This argument isn’t unique to the ALA. Any professional organization that depends on member dues benefits by having as many potential members as possible.

If that organization also accredited the schools that produce those potential members, you would expect it to tout the benefits of getting a degree to join a profession and fail to mention the drawbacks, like the ALA does here.

Anyway, I think I’ve made my case. Even if just a few suckers finish library school, can’t find jobs, and give money to ALA, the ALA benefits financially. It’s just how the world works.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    “However, it does make sense that the ALA would prefer gainfully employed librarians, because they’re the ones most likely to join the organization and go to conferences.”

    Have you seen what they’re charging for conferences these days? I can’t afford to go as an employed librarian without employer assistance which just isn’t happening what with all the budget issues facing libraries.

    Someone who is unemployed and paying out of pocket for an ALA conference in the hopes of networking their way into a job is proving the old saying about fools and their money.

  2. Arthur Sellers says:

    If there are thousands of people willing to put themselves in debt in order to obtain a degree with dubious value, then I absolutely believe that many of those same people will pony up for a conference if they believe it will improve their job prospects. I am noticing more and more students attending ALA, no doubt because they have been told that just by saying you attended boosts your employability.

  3. Joe says:

    In defense of the chumps, I have been asked in interviews if I’d attended any of the ALA conferences. I hadn’t, because the most recent ALA conference to come near my area had been years earlier, and I wasn’t ponying up for a plane ride and a hotel to go be bored by librarians in another city. When I’ve offered up the attendance at my state association’s conference, it has sometimes been accepted as an acceptable substitute and sometimes been dismissed.

    Granted, the interviewer who was most dismissive was also the worst interviewer that I’ve ever sat with. However, she was also the dean of libraries and a nationally recognized institution.

    So there may be some value in paying your dues to the ALA, but it’s certainly nothing intrinsic.

  4. Carla says:

    Granted, this was back in January of ’07, but I actually did land a job [and a couple of other offers] by going to the ALA career placement center at a conference. I think I was fortunate: I was looking for the type of job they were offering [entry level at a large, urban public library system] and I was willing to relocate.

    That being said, it’s been years since I’ve been an ALA member or gone to a national conference.

  5. me says:

    I think the point of the original blog post (last week about job placement statistics) was to focus on who is fueling this myth that library school is lucrative.

    While AL, pointed out that the ALA may stand to have some minor financial gains I doubt that it is anything worthwhile. In fact it would likely be a detriment for them to facilitate an increase in disaffected and unemployed librarians who would then continue to denounce the ALA and the profession.

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t think that anyone thinks the field is lucrative per se. I went into it with both eyes open knowing that I wasn’t going to get rich. The real problem is the repeated promises of steady employment and lots of job openings that turn into so many farts in the wind for a lot of freshly minted MLSes upon graduation.

    • me says:

      I’m sorry I should have qualified lucrative as quick, gainful employment. I didn’t necessarily mean a high salary.

    • Andrew says:

      In that case we’re pretty much in agreement!

  6. Joneser says:

    So how do they know if they have met the Annoyed Librarian?

    • Development Arrested says:

      They can tell by her annoyed demeanor obviously. Which means every school librarian I met growing up was the Annoyed Librarian.

  7. I think the psychology is better for ALA with more unemployed librarians: I joined ALA as a student, but didn’t renew when I became employed, for two reasons: 1, it became more expensive, 2, I had a job. I think the professional association membership is what an unemployed librarian uses to balance against the lack of professional job, as in, “but I keep up by being a member of ALA.” so the unemployed stay members hoping it will help..

    • Nikki says:

      I was never an ALA member while I was underemployed — the dues were too expensive and their conferences were too far away. Now that I have a full time job, my employer (an academic library) pays the dues for me.

      Although they benefit from unemployed librarians who join in the hopes of getting a job, I can’t help thinking the ALA would benefit more from fewer unemployed librarians. It’s supply and demand — the rarer a skill is, the higher salary an employer has to pay to attract skilled applicants. Bennies like paid memberships, conference reimbursement, etc. are more likely to be given in a tight job market. When people with a given skill set (be it library science or brain surgery) are more plentiful than the jobs available for them, employers can offer less in salaries, perks, and bennies. Producing too many graduates is a short-sighted strategy.

    • Jane says:

      Agreed. I went to one Midwinter conference and now that my employer won’t cover far-off conferences, I’m joining my state association instead of renewing.

  8. Mr. West says:

    AL…important point you forgot, in today’s world numbers = clout!! The more members that ALA can claim to have (working or not) the better it looks when walking into a meeting in Washington spewing….”we represent x number of information professionals…Blah Blah blah”

  9. Not a NJ Librarian says:

    The library school at Rutgers really pushed joining the ALA and NJLA for the “networking opportunities.”

    I make a point to ask every librarian I meet if they belong to an association and if they feel the association helped with their career advancement. I have only met one librarian who enthusiastically supported them and she was a former officer in NJLA. Countless others have been ambivalent, apathetic or openly angry. The most common feedback I’ve received is “save your money.”

    I feel the associations appeal to optimism of job seekers because many of us are desperate for work. They are like buying lottery tickets without the chance of big payday.

    Hopeful Inner Voice: I spent over $20,000 on the degree, so what’s another $60 to the NJLA if I can put that on my resume? I know having that prestigious organization next to my name will certainly be the deciding factor for landing a job.

    I contacted the ALA and NJLA to see if they could tell me why I should join if I don’t currently work in a library. I got a lot of responses with exclamation points and syrupy zeal “Our members are the best part!”, but not a lot substance. So far I’ve decided to save my money.

    • Librarienne says:

      I would posit that a membership in a state or local library association might be worth it for someone who is employed, depending on your job. I am a solo librarian. I go months at a time without interacting with anyone who really gets why what I do at this school is important. Conferences are a real help to me, because sometimes “networking” means finding others like you to help boost you back up. And networking at your local association (my city has one) really can help to make you memorable when your resume comes across the desk of the person hiring. “Oh, that’s the woman from that career school I had lunch with! I remember her!” I think that association membership is like politics: it’s the local stuff that actually impacts your daily life.