February 17, 2018

Heed This Career Advice | Editorial

A tough job market demands creativity and commitment

The job picture painted in the latest LJ Placements & Salaries Survey of library and information school grads reflects the realities of an unyielding economy. “It’s tough out there!” grads across the country told Stephanie Maatta, who has written the survey since 2003. Her report mirrors what we’ve been hearing from those in other fields as well: too many applicants for fewer entry-level jobs, long searches to find a job, and lower pay and multiple jobs, both in and outside of their professions, to make ends meet. For some, a degree in mixology added to the MLS turned out to be a combination to pursue, at least for the near future.

There were some glimmers in the gloom, both from the survey and from library grads themselves. People with Master’s degrees are more likely to be employed than the general population. Maatta noted a decline in the new MLIS graduates’ unemployment rate, from 7.8% in 2009 to 6.7% in 2010. The number of grads who said they were hired in academic libraries rose to 28.7% from 20.7%. There was an upturn in jobs in archives and special collections, as they digitize. And salaries held steady, with the gender gap between women’s and men’s starting salaries closing.

In another positive note, Maatta pointed out that the LIS schools were graduating fewer students: 8.4% percent lower in 2010 than in 2009, which followed a 7% decrease from 2008. If the numbers indicate fewer admissions to LIS schools, it might stem the oversupply of librarians and lead eventually to more jobs. Grads have been angry at the bill of goods that the LIS schools (and the American Library Association) have been selling for years about the graying of the profession, which was supposed to open up the field. That didn’t happen, and the recession only contributed to worsening the job market.

If the lower graduation stats mean that students are dropping out because they can’t afford the cost of the MLIS or are taking longer to complete the degree, it’s a sign of the times.

If the numbers mean schools are taking fewer students and giving them the best opportunities, with enriching internships and enhanced job search skills, it might mean a welcome shift in approach. The first seems likely, the second less so. We’ll investigate this trend in the next survey.

Last year, as a companion to LJ’s Placements & Salaries Survey, several recent graduates recounted their employment trials and gave encouragement to new grads. This year, we asked four grads, who had appeared on the covers of the Placements & Salaries Survey issue representing their graduating classes, for career advice (p. 28–31). The words from the field are “network, network, network” and “intern, intern, intern.”

“Highlight your transferable work experience and skill sets” and “don’t shy away from…internships, volunteer opportunities,” and paraprofessional positions, says Deborah Lilton, a 2006 grad, now a bibliographer at Vanderbilt. “The position you think will be a great stepping stone…may…be…a challenging career in disguise,” says Kristin Centanni, a 2008 IS grad, now a business consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Tim Salazar, also a 2008 grad (though not a contributor to this issue), told me he took a somewhat circuitous route to his job as an Interaction Designer at Amazon, where he “designs digital interfaces for mobile and desktop spaces.” Some of the skills he learned at Pratt are entirely appropriate for his job, he says, like dealing with taxonomies, information architecture, and user-centered design. Dalia Levine, another 2008 grad from Pratt, told me much the same about her job as Enterprise Information Architect at the Ford Foundation, where she set up and helps maintain the intranet. “[MLS grads] bring knowledge of cataloging, classification, and search” in the digital environment. “We’re the go-betweens between IT and users.”

What unites all of these grads is their ability to move beyond their “comfort zones,” as one put it, and their fearlessness in trying new things. Centanni writes that “your professional career doesn’t stop with getting a job. It starts there.” Those of you waiting to start your professional careers should take heart, and some solid advice, from the stories here, whether you’re immersed in or just embarking on the job search. We’d love to hear your stories, too, and share them with other grads in the pages and on the website of LJ.

Francine Fialkoff About Francine Fialkoff

Francine Fialkoff (ffialkoff@gmail.com) spent 35 years with LJ, and 15 years at its helm as Editor and Editor-in-Chief. For more, see her Farewell Editorial.



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