February 17, 2018

Where Are the Jobs?

Regional economic instability appeared to have limited impact on average starting salaries for new graduates; however, the same economic uncertainty is reflected in the levels of regional unemployment among these same graduates. The two regions that felt salary compression were the Northeast ($42,346, 3.7% below 2008) and the Southeast ($39,525, 1.1% below 2008). The Northeast and Southeast also experienced moderately high levels of unemployment in 2009 at 7% and 8.5%, respectively. By comparison, the other regions had notable salary increases over 2008, ranging from a positive 3.4% in the Midwest ($40,418, up $1,371 from 2008 levels) to 6.5% in the Southwest ($42,780, up $2,780 over levels of 2008). Regionality continued to affect salaries, with the West having the highest starting salaries at $50,343 (16% higher than the national average of $42,268), and the Southeast hovering at $39,525 (6.9% lower than the overall national average).

The real bright spot in the LIS job market during 2009 was in the Southwest. Across-the-board starting salaries there enjoyed healthy growth of 6.6% between 2008 and 2009, rising from an average of $40,000 in 2008 to $42,780. In the same vein, part-time employment among LIS grads in the Southwest declined for a second year to 4.3% of the reported placements (down considerably both from 6.9% in 2008 and 8.2% in 2007). Women experienced the best salary growth in the Southwest, increasing a healthy 7% from $38,997 in 2008 to $41,921 in 2009, surpassing the salary levels of 2007 ($40,795). Southwestern public libraries saw a similar improvement, jumping 7.5% to an average of $38,904, topping the national starting salary for all public libraries ($37,308).

Comparing region to region, the Midwest experienced the highest placement rates, with 26.7% of the overall reported jobs (full-time and part-time combined). The region also experienced small but positive salary improvement, up 3.4% to an average of $40,418 from $39,047 in 2008, helped along by improved salaries for graduates entering government libraries and vendors in the Midwest. Compared to the other types of libraries and information agencies, the Midwest had the highest placements in college and university libraries, accounting for approximately 40% of new academic librarians. However, placements in public libraries fell sharply from 39.5% in 2008 to 27.8% in 2009, while salaries in Midwestern public libraries held steady at $34,966 (still among the lowest in the nation). This reversed a placement trend set in 2008 when public libraries in the Midwest had the best overall growth rate. Graduates in the Midwest, however, saw the best job growth (27% between 2008 and 2009) in other types of agencies, especially in private industry where placements doubled between 2008 and 2009—though it was only 13.3% of total placements.

Graduates in the Southeast were not quite so lucky. Overall placement in all types of libraries and other agencies dropped almost 20% compared to the previous year; salaries in many types of libraries were among the lowest in the nation, especially for public librarians; unemployment among grads was 8.5%. However, the region also experienced pockets of good news. The Southeast was the only region in which minority graduates reported salary growth, improving 2.8% to $43,259 (an increase of $1,175 from 2008), nearly 10% higher than all graduates in the Southeast (with an average starting salary of $39,440). Graduates negotiated higher salaries in government libraries than their peers in other regions, with an average starting salary of $45,858 (approximately 11.5% higher on average). This improvement is owing in part to graduates accepting work in the Washington, DC area, which traditionally offers better-than-average salaries.

Jobs rare, but silver linings
The graduating class of 2009 saw a decline in available positions, averaging 11.5% below last year’s reports. However, this does not begin to tell the whole story. Several roles, including archives and records management and research specialists (i.e., independent research and research analysts), experienced modest growth. Graduates also found a number of new and interesting job titles in the areas of intellectual property, copyright, and scholarly communications. Salaries resembled a roller-coaster ride with an equal number of dips and rises, some more harrowing than others.
Reference service continues to be a popular choice among LIS graduates, with positions spread among academic, public, and special libraries. Following a pattern that emerged over the last couple of years, however, reference jobs declined again, making up 15.4% of the overall jobs (compared to 20.6% in 2008 and 21.6% in 2007). It also comprised 23.7% of the reported part-time positions in 2009. In the plus column, new reference librarians saw improved salaries, up 3.4% after declining in 2008 ($41,795 compared to $40,368 in 2008 and $41,172 in 2007). When discussing their jobs at the reference desk, graduates frequently described multitasking as a strong element of their daily routine, combining reference with collection development, outreach, and/or instruction. In public libraries, they switched between adult reference services and children’s or teen services, or floated among multiple units, covering the circ desk, tech services, and the reference desk. While the overall numbers are low, graduates acknowledged accepting positions in academic reference and user services in newly established learning commons and as digital librarians along with standard reference desk activities.

Jobs in administration provided another small area of genuine improvement. While administrative placements held steady, hovering right around 6% of the jobs in 2008 and again in 2009, salaries jumped 7.6% to a starting average of $45,266 after dropping the previous year ($43,849 in 2007; $41,809 for 2008). Administrative jobs were seen across all library types and outside of library and information agencies. Job titles included department head, library director, project manager, higher education administration, and manager. Interestingly, high-level administrative positions were offered almost equally between new grads with prior professional experience (33% reporting) and those seeking their first professional jobs (31% reporting), suggesting that an interest in administration combined with personal skills are as important to the job as is prior experience.
Circulation and technical services continue to be areas where graduates struggle to find better-than-average salaries. After rebounding in 2008, salaries for jobs in circulation plummeted more than 10% to $30,515 (a huge drop of 38.5% below the national average of $42,268 for starting salaries in 2009). In addition, circulation jobs made up nearly 25% of nonprofessional positions in 2009, equaling low pay and few benefits. Technical services also experienced a similar decline in salary levels, losing 9.5% between 2008 and 2009 ($38,652 and $35,301, respectively). This may be due in part to an increase in the level of nonprofessional positions filled by LIS grads in 2009. Catalogers, on the other hand, while still trying to recover the losses between 2007 ($39,607) and 2008 ($36,812), mustered a modest salary improvement of $746 ($37,558, up 2%).

New archivists saw increased demand for their skills. Over the previous two years, there has been small but steady growth in the number of reported archival jobs, rising from 4.4% in 2007 to 5.7% in 2009. Unfortunately, salaries for new archivists did not keep pace, falling 7.4% to $37,631 (compared to $40,397 in 2008). They found themselves employed in a range of agencies, including museums, nonprofits, and regional and national archival organizations, many of which were impacted by a struggling economy; others landed jobs in large corporations that maintain their own records management facilities. In a related area, a small number of graduates identified jobs in preservation and conservation, including digitization and digital preservation. Salaries here, while slightly less than archival salaries ($36,066 compared to $37,631), enjoyed a modest 4% growth from 2008 (averaging $34,620).

In 2009, graduates reported new job titles related to digital repositories and scholarly communications along with ones related to intellectual property management and copyright. The majority of these placements were in conjunction with academic and special libraries (law and business in particular). Not surprisingly, these jobs were snapped up by graduates of heavily information science programs where they used more of their technology, metadata, and database management skills. In addition, jobs in the areas of usability, user experience design, and interactive design were increasingly identified as roles by the IS graduates, replete with fat starting salaries (averaging $66,346 in 2009).

The attractive “other”
Once again, jobs in the “other” category—or falling outside of library and information agencies—provided an unusual look at the LIS professions. The number of graduates describing positions in other agencies outstripped the levels set in 2008 (15.5%) and 2007 (16.3%) by making up more than 27% of the reported placements in 2009. This growth was helped in part by the number of grads from University of Michigan who landed jobs in private industry (56% in 2009) and from Drexel, which placed more than 67% of its responding grads in other agencies. Placements ran the gamut from jobs in large corporations and hospitals to historical societies and state government agencies. Along the way, grads took up positions in consulting, bookstores, publishing, and entrepreneurial endeavors (self-employed). More than one grad explained that while the jobs fell outside of libraries and information science, they used their LIS skills daily in dealing with complex information questions and information management activities. Their educational experiences were expanded to applications well beyond the library environment.

The type of other agency that hires LIS grads plays a role in salary levels. Private industry continues to maintain strong earning potential, with an annual average of $55,301. However, private industry was not immune to the economic recession of 2009, with salary levels not quite reaching the high of $58,194 earned in 2008. Private industry was once again dominated by jobs focusing on information technology, social media, and high-level business operations and analysis. By comparison, salaries for nonprofit agencies ($42,522) and other types of organizations ($43,427) were much closer to each other and in line with overall national starting salaries for new LIS graduates (an average of 1.6% higher). The gap between private industry and nonprofits—$55,301 and $42,522, respectively—narrowed to 30% compared to the previous year’s divergence of a solid 40%.

Author Information
Stephanie L. Maatta, Ph.D. (slmaatta@gmail.com), has been on faculty at the University of South Florida School of Library and Information Science, Tampa
Stephanie L. Maatta About Stephanie L. Maatta

Stephanie Maatta, Ph.D. (es7746@wayne.edu), is an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University School of Library Information Science, Detroit