March 17, 2018

Where the Library Jobs Are

Considered from a regional perspective, salaries for new LIS graduates experienced slow to moderate growth. Average annual growth in salaries nationwide ran approximately 1%, with the Midwest winning the prize of a 5.7% improvement in starting salaries ($42,857 in 2010 compared to $40,418 in 2009); salaries in the Midwest were also just above the overall average starting wage ($42,857 compared to $42,556) for new grads. This was helped along by a 7.4% rise in salaries for Midwestern women ($42,077, up from $38,965 in 2009) as well as the higher salaries commanded by graduates of institutions such as University of Michigan (who earned an average overall starting salary of $55,000).

The Midwest, as well as enjoying the best salary growth, experienced the strongest placement rate with 36.1% of all of the reported jobs (full-time and part-time combined, both inside and outside of the profession). These gains were a surprise given reports of how difficult the economic recession has been in the upper Midwest.

Another bit of good news came out of the Northeast. In 2009, grads there experienced salary compression, with starting salaries nearly 4% below those garnered in 2008 ($42,436 compared to $43,854). Grads in 2010 regained a portion of that loss, with averages rising 1.7% to $43,088. Men experienced the best rate of growth in salaries in the Northeast, with a healthy 14% jump to $44,148 (up $6,183 from 2009). These strong signs were further enhanced by a reduction in the overall unemployment rate in the region from a high of 7% in 2009 to 5.2% in 2010, highlighted by the strong placement rate among graduates (33.4% reporting employment of some sort).

The Southeastern region’s tradition of supporting the lowest salary levels remains, with average starting salaries at $40,383 (5.4% below the overall average). Yet 2010 graduates felt a small boost of 1.1% in salaries compared to previous years, which had actually dropped from $39,964 in 2008 to $39,925 in 2009. In a few glimmers of light, some grads finding jobs in the Southeast reported salaries at the uppermost levels of salary ranges, with the highest reported salary of $97,000 for a federal government position. Salaries were helped along by high-paying federal jobs in Washington, DC, as well as strong participation by graduates of Valdosta State University, GA, and Louisiana State University. Graduates claiming minority status ($45,652) in the Southeast and men ($42,477) enjoyed healthy growth in salaries (5.2% and 8.2%, respectively). Reported unemployment also stabilized in the Southeast, dropping from 8.5% in 2009 to 4.0% in 2010.

Jobs, library by library

Salary is only one way to measure the ongoing health of a profession. Placement by specific types of agency or types of job assignment also suggests areas of strength and of concern.

Academic libraries, for example, saw an increase in the percentage of overall placements. In 2009, positions for academic librarians comprised 20.7% of the reported jobs; in 2010, academic positions made up 28.7% of these same jobs. While it can be seen as both a negative with no progress being made and a positive with no measurable losses, the average starting salaries for academic librarians held steady between 2009 and 2010, hovering at $40,315 (up less than 1% from 2009 when salaries averaged $40,065). Academic libraries in the Southwest gained the most, with a 4.8% increase in reported salaries (to $40,561).

On the other hand, the graduates also had a lot to say about job postings for academic libraries, citing far too few entry-level positions. They reported that job announcements excluded a preference or requirement for a second advanced subject degree, but that they were ultimately eliminated from the applicant pool owing to the lack of additional graduate degrees. Another complaint: the skills and competencies were so specific, they believed they could never measure up to employer expectations.

Public libraries, as anticipated, lost jobs in 2010. Nationwide, public library systems are being forced to close branches and consolidate operations in order to maintain a minimal level of service to the community with, in some locations, severely restricted funding. As a result, public libraries are experiencing hiring freezes, early retirements, and layoffs. This meant new LIS graduates interested in public library service had fewer choices. Public library placements dropped from 24.2% of the jobs in 2009 to 22.7% in 2010. This decline was readily apparent in the Northeast, where reported positions fell from 34.2% in 2009 to 28.2% in 2010. A gleam of light appeared for children’s librarians, who saw available positions in public libraries grow from 4.2% of the overall placements in 2009 to 7.3% in 2010.

Special libraries also experienced a drop-off in the availability of positions, slipping from 7.1% to 5.1% of reported placements in 2010. Salaries for special librarians followed suit, falling an average of 3.1% ($41,791 in 2010 compared to $43,090 in 2009). In a continuing trend, special libraries or information centers in corporations, hospitals, and other similar agencies are being dissolved, thereby reducing the number of available positions. Nonetheless, some graduates who sought out special library jobs looked to archives and special collections for similarities in job functions, and these types of positions increased to 7.2% of jobs from 5.6% in 2009, explaining in part the growth in the number of jobs in academic libraries, where archives and special collections are readily found. New graduates also landed in academic special libraries, such as law, medical, or pharmacy school libraries. Those who did find roles in special libraries described their jobs in terms of enjoying multiple areas of responsibility. They combined traditional reference and information services with roles in digitization and metadata, took on instructional activities, and became highly involved in digital rights management and the development of scholarly repositories.

New archivists saw small steps forward for their specialized skills. The 2010 graduates regained ground lost in 2009 to garner salaries averaging $40,044. They found jobs in universities and colleges as well as corporations, history centers, and archives. While there were no strong reports of jobs in preservation and conservation in 2010, graduates working in both archives and in special collections described day-to-day activities that uniquely focused on these functions and a growing emphasis in digital preservation. Many new archivists got started in part-time positions in 2010, with 34.2% reporting less than full-time work.

Jobs in reference and information services also sprang back from previous years. Reference jobs continue to be highly popular among new LIS graduates. They find themselves in academic, public, and special libraries as well as providing similar functions in archives, research foundations, and records management agencies. Placements in reference jobs grew from a depressing low of 15.4% of the overall jobs in 2009 to an impressive rate of 23.8%, echoing levels of the mid-2000s. This hike may be due to the restructuring of public library jobs, where adult service librarians (i.e., readers’ advisors) have had their roles broadened to incorporate adult and youth services with other public services, including outreach and programming, with a the broader title of reference/information librarian. Additionally, the emphasis on instruction and information literacy in academic libraries has changed the nature of the reference role, aligning education closely with information seeking. One of the unique opportunities reported in this area was the role as residence hall librarian at a university, providing assistance on-site in the residence halls while also serving as the liaison between the academic library and the residents. Regardless of the job description, however, salaries for new reference librarians eased back slightly to $40,759 (losing 2.5%) from a high of $41,795 in 2009.

Cataloging continues to be a subject of discussion and concern among new graduates. Cataloging salaries, while up, remained well below the overall average for recent graduates ($39,574 compared to $42,556), though they improved $2,016 (5.1%) from 2009 ($39,574 compared to $37,558). In 2010, the majority of the cataloging placements (54%) were in academic libraries. New graduates expressed dismay that cataloging jobs are frequently considered to be nonprofessional rather than professional; hence the lower salaries, fewer benefits, and part-time hours. While they did not have the highest rate of part-time positions (circulation jobs do at 47.2%), approximately 22% of the reported cataloging jobs required less than full-time hours.

Stephanie L. Maatta About Stephanie L. Maatta

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



  1. Bryce Henry says:

    What’s happening west of Michigan? I’ve heard many anecdotal remarks that there are no jobs being created in places like Idaho, Oregon, Washington, etc. I was hoping this would verify or deny that.

    • Western Gal says:


      Anecdotal evidence suggests the West is still pretty tough. Myself and three of my colleagues with anywhere from 2-8 years of experience all happened to move to Denver, Portland, and Seattle in the past two years. One landed a full time position after about 15 months, one is still part-time in a para-professional position after 15 months, one left to move back East after a year and got a job within a month, and one moved to Atlanta after a year.

      4 people does not a statistic make, but our experiences are pretty telling.

  2. Patricia Leifer says:

    Florida is becoming a cultural wasteland as well.
    The current State administration is cuttling money to education and many of the public elementary and middle schools do not have the funding for full time librarians.

  3. George William says:

    Wayne State is not a good library school, from my experience its graduates can only work well with their own blood. Often time they like to bundle together, support each other and exclude graduates from other library schools. Very problematic.

  4. The future is looking bleak for me because I’d like to be a public librarian… :-/


  1. […] Something I know from simply talking to other people in my cohort, or pretty much any library world person with a pulse, placement is still a nightmare for new MLIS students.  I will admit that I am surprised to see that the growth seems to be in areas like archives and special collections, perhaps spurred by the “growing emphasis in digital preserva…“ […]