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The Librarian Shortage Goes International

For many years American librarians have had to endure propaganda about the upcoming (always upcoming!) librarian shortage from the ALA and its accredited library schools. I thought perhaps this was an exclusively north American phenomenon, but no.

Check out this news story from India: Few takers for library science. It’s a tale of despair and hope that should be familiar to anyone watching the ALA librarian shortage shenanigans over the years.

It seems LIS education in India is a century old. However, “Initially seen as a decent career option, LIS education has lost its shine over time as it is not a lucrative career option.”

“As is it not a lucrative career option.” That’s probably all most people would need to read. Librarianship looked good as a career at one point, only it doesn’t pay much and so people avoid it. Sounds plausible.

But not everyone is convinced. One librarian thinks it’s going to turn around. He did a study of the whole librarian situation and presented his findings at a conference.

“According to him, despite the higher potential of growth in LIS education, students are not interested in taking up the course.”

My goodness, despite all that potential for growth, students are still not interested? That would make them savvier than a lot of American students, then.

“There needs to be aggressive marketing of the course to cultivate good reading habits in children. Libraries are required at the primary level too.”

But how does aggressive marketing of the course in LIS cultivate good reading habits in children? Churning out more LIS graduates doesn’t mean that there will be primary schools to hire them. If you don’t believe me, take a look at what’s happening to school librarians in north America.

I could be wrong, though. After all, a librarian did a study “based on the 2011 census report that states that in coming years in India at least 20,226 jobs will be available for LIS professionals.”

Why will there be so many jobs available? “The paper states that the replacement market is a big job market for the LIS sector. Around 15% of job opportunities come from retirements.”

Oooohhh, replacements and retirements. That’s the theory, anyway, and we all know how it works out in practice.

Including in India. You can read this story about an Indian engineering college that has been “bereft of a librarian for the last two decades.”

I found the article on the future Indian librarian shortage unintentionally amusing. The point of view of the author of the article and the author of the conference paper the article discusses are so at odds.

For example, according to the article, “LIS professionals at university level are not paid on the scale of assistant professor and this may deter students from taking up this course.” That seems plausible.

However, according to the conference paper, “The scenario needs to be changed in the era of google where books are available with just a click. The Department of Library Science at the central and state government levels should step in to make it a popular career option.”

If all Google books really are available with just one click, I don’t see why we need librarians.

One has to wonder if the reporter is just having some fun with this one. We know from the article that librarians don’t get paid much and students don’t want to study library science.

The first reason they should, the growth potential, obviously isn’t enough to recruit students.

So what next? The government should make it a popular career option, presumably by shelling out a lot more money for libraries, and over the entire country.

That seems unlikely given the economic situation. You know the economy can’t be good when you have headlines trying to cheer people up by predicting that it’s Not all gloom and doom for India’s economy. So it’s not all gloom and doom? Well, that’s reassuring.

Maybe the government could just step up LIS education recruiting efforts instead. There wouldn’t need to be actual jobs at the end.

Just repeat a few phrases enough times and people will believe them. “High potential for growth.” “Replacements and retirements.” “Upcoming librarian shortage.”

Or maybe I’m just being cynical, which I shouldn’t be this time of year. It’s a time for laughter and joy and chestnuts roasting on open fires and Jack Frost nipping at my toes.

So Merry Christmas to those who celebrate Christmas, and to everyone else, Merry Public Holiday that Has Nothing to Do with Religion.



  1. quirkylibrarian says:

    The whole “librarian shortage” thing cracks me up, though I think it IS true in a way–just not in a way that’s helpful to new grads. I work for a small public library system, and this past year we actually had twelve retirements. Awesome, right? Twelve new jobs for library grads! Except these retirements fell into either one of two categories: a) little old ladies that had worked as library aides (part-time) for 10-20 years, or b) high level staff in management.

    New grads don’t want the first type of job and won’t be hired for the second because they have no experience. Of course, if they took the first type of job as a lowly aide, they might eventually gain enough experience to make it to the second type, but that process takes, like, “work” and “time” and stuff.

    Having said that, I’m a mid-twenties library grad student halfway through my MLS, but I’ve worked in public libraries for five years. I started out as a library aide and now I work in administration, running public relations and web technology for our library system. So the process works, is what I’m saying–but it’s definitely not an endless buffet of library jobs.

    • Most of the new grads I know would be thrilled to get even a library page job…you must have some stuck up students at your school!

    • I’m not sure if you’re being fair to recent grads when you suggest they’re not willing to take “like, ‘work’ and ‘time’ and stuff” to work their way up to a full-time position. Maybe you’re in a situation where you don’t have to take out loans, but for some of us, limping along at part-time for a couple of years after our MLIS really wasn’t an option.

      I’m one of the lucky ones–I picked up a full-time position in my preferred specialization within a year of getting my MLIS. But if the only positions available are 20 hours a week, a grad might be better off sticking with the full-time barista job until something with more hours comes along.

  2. A lot of retirements happen to come at a time when the budgets would love the savings from eliminating an equal position. No new hire = budget savings.

    It’s the economy here. In india, they’re going to massively bypass traditional libraries like they did land lines. It’ll be straight to cell phones with us.

  3. India probably WILL have a need for librarians because the goal in India is to invest heavily in education….massive building of new schools and universities to cover the talent shortage they have due to a high illiteracy rate and a subpar university system. Not that i plan on moving to India…..just saying….it is really hard to predict the job market.
    Anyway I still think it is our own fault….our profession is filled with people incapable of carrying on a conversation at a cocktail party….

  4. I am halfway through my MLIS and I work part-time for a medical library. I am also 54 years old with about 20 years working in different types of libraries. I plan to work until I am not able to do so. I prefer college libraries, but here in Southern CA those jobs only come up very rarely! I still have dreams of where I want to work, so yes, I would consider a job in India. Right now I am just glad to have a job in a library at all

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