Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Job Chances of the Changing Demographic

Normally I don’t link to the other AL because there’s usually not much of interest there, but I noticed this column in AL Direct and had to take a look. In it, Joe Janes writes about how the applicant pools for library school have shifted over the past 25 years.

In the olden days, “library school applicants often covered two basic points in their personal statements: what job they desired and why they wanted to work in libraries.”

I suspect my library school application statement was something like that. “I want to be a book librarian because I love to read books.”

In addition, “most would also tell some version of the Road to Damascus story.” I think my version was that I’d failed at everything else so librarian was my last best hope. Apparently that worked because I got in. On the other hand, everyone gets in somewhere.

Things are different now it seems. New applicants don’t know what they want to do and haven’t taken a long journey into librarianship.

There are now a “substantial number who are within a year or two of completing undergraduate degrees and more than a few college seniors” who have a “less specific sense of what their interests and intended careers are.”

For example, “I want to work to improve and develop communities and promote social justice through better access to information.”

That’s vague and hopelessly idealistic, the perfect qualities for aspiring librarians! Or maybe not.

Could this shift have any relation to the difficulty some librarians have finding jobs? Maybe it’s not just that library schools let in anyone with a pulse and access to student loans.

It seems like in the past more people went to library school who were older and had already worked in libraries. The previous experience along with not being 23 probably made it easier to get library jobs.

I know a lot of library school students probably don’t want to work in libraries at all, especially if they’re coming out of an “I-school” rather than a “library school.” It’s possible that wanting to improve communities and promote social justice through better access to information would have nothing to do with public libraries. If not, actually working in a public library for a while would probably beat the idealism out of people.

But presumably some of these students do want to work in libraries, and if so, I suspect they’re the ones having the hardest time finding jobs.

If recently graduated college students then soon become library school graduates with no library experience, what sort of odds do they face in the job market compared to their more experienced, and in academic libraries often more educated, librarians?

And if these odds are bad, should they even be let into library schools in the first place? Let’s say yes, because obviously library schools have never been concerned about who makes it into the program.

The other question is whether such students should go to library school at all.

Or if they go, should they be informed early on that they’re going to face very difficult odds?

It probably doesn’t matter, because there’s not going to be anyone in the pipeline doing the informing. 22-year-olds fresh out of college with no library experience are just as eligible for thousands of dollars of student loan money to attend library school as people with more library and life experience.

What library school would want to rain on their parade?


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. Do I detect a modicum of sympathy for young would be librarians. A while ago you pretty much labelled someone struggling to find work and living at home as spineless despite their valiant efforts to gain work experience. Are you feeling okay up there in your ivory pent house? Maybe you need a cold compress or a hot whiskey?

  2. “I want to work to improve and develop communities and promote social justice through better access to information.”

    I think you get this kind of crap nowadays because students think this is what is expected of them. They have to believe the reason they are pursuing their career of choice is some high-minded, making the world a better place BS.

    Also, to be fair I was 22 and fresh out of college with no library experience in 2009. I’m now 26 and have been employed professionally in a library since 2 months after graduation. It’s what you do in those 1.5-2 years of library school and technology skills that can get you the job.

  3. “I think you get this kind of crap nowadays because students think this is what is expected of them.”
    Most of us applicants don’t believe that crap either! But as someone who has applied to / been a student at / worked admissions for multiple academic programs, I can tell you that’s what everyone writes, because that’s how all the admissions questions are worded.

    One of the most frustrating aspects is that Library Information Science as a masters program can’t seem to make up its mind if it is a theory and research degree or a skills-training program.

  4. Joneser says:

    The person mentioned in that blog entry was in the late 30s -not exactly a “young” would-be librarian. There were quite a few other red flags as well.

  5. “can’t seem to make up its mind if it is a theory and research degree or a skills-training program.”

    What I’ve found is that many of the tenured professors (not all) are a lot more interested in information theory and how people seek/gather information, etc. than the nuts and bolts of working in a library. But, I think that has a lot to do with academia as a whole and what academic pursuits are seen as prestigious/worthwhile and what is seen as less so. I had a much better experience with my adjunct professors (typically local library professionals) than with any of the tenured faculty.

  6. Cindy Maxey says:

    I went to library school in my early 40s and have been in the profession for about eight years now, the last two and a half as a department manager. I entered the profession because I wanted to work to improve and develop communities and promote social justice through access to information. And I do, everyday.

  7. One advantage that a librarian who went directly from undergrad to an MLS program (while having little to no work experience) is that they are usually more mobile and able to relocate without considering children, spouses/significant others, elderly parents. That flexibility may give them an advantage when looking for a job, over applicants who can’t (or are unwilling) to relocate due to family concerns.

  8. anonymous says:

    “What I’ve found is that many of the tenured professors (not all) are a lot more interested in information theory and how people seek/gather information, etc. than the nuts and bolts of working in a library.”

    Um, that’s why they call them schools of library and information science, not schools of applied librarianship. If you want to experience the nuts and bolts of working in a library, work in a library. It may shock you to learn that not everybody attending schools offering degrees in library and information science actually wants to work in a book-centric library. Frankly, students who are interested only in all libraries all the time and hold the book holy drive faculty (and other students) in ischools and schools of library and information science a little bit nuts. It’s a bigger world. Get along.

  9. Good for you Cindy! I do NOT consider it crap to “want to work to improve and develop communities and promote social justice through better access to information.” One of the reasons I work in a college library is to be around students who aspire to help the world. We need to hold on to our idealism and passions – who wants to work with a jaded librarian / information professional.

  10. So what you said does nothing to change my point. If said faculty aren’t interested in the applied librarianship side of things maybe they shouldn’t be teaching classes on providing reference services to patrons?

    It doesn’t shock me that not everyone that goes to an ischool wants to work in a library. That doesn’t change my statement at all. I appreciate you providing me with all of your irrelevant points though. I never said there is anything wrong with being interested in metadata, information theory, information architecture, etc. I just said that when it comes down to actually performing the daily tasks of being a librarian I received better training and preparation from the adjuncts. I appreciated all of your irrelevant points and your smarmy tone though. Thanks for the worthwhile reply.

  11. You can be realistic (and passionate) with out being jaded.

  12. the.effing.librarian says:

    my first resume for library work sounded like it was written by the Hulk:
    me want. regular. paycheck. me want. move. from parent’s garage. me want. quiet place. to think. and not smash. but will smash. if will get me job.
    and it worked.
    libraries: respect the shh or get smashed.

  13. Experiencedlibrarian says:

    “Me,” I went to library school 15 years ago (yeah, I’m ancient, and I wasn’t young to begin with) and have worked in a number of areas in public and technical services in both academic and corporate libraries (currently work in a corporate library). While “metadata, information theory, information architecture” haven’t ever been my area of foci (read, I’m not and never have been a cataloger, a taxonomist, nor a systems librarian), you can bet a deep understanding of their principles underlie everything I do (and now I’m in administration). So if you think these were irrelevant courses, I can’t say much for your librarianship. Sometimes we learn theory because (gasp) it applies to practice. Get over it. Smarmy tone aside.

  14. Saleigh Dittie says:

    I went to library school because I like public service and I like the search, the hunt to find whatever it is people are looking for. I was naive and never worked in a library for, although I loved hanging out in public and academic libraries. I came out of library school last year with 3 years working in a public library. I wanted to work in an academic library, but I’m a middle aged second career person and trying to break into the hallowed halls of academia proved impossible even with two internships under my belt.

    I do wish that someone, an advisor or other admin in library school had given me a heads up to how hard it would be to achieve my goal. Up until I graduated my advisor kept telling me I would have no problem getting a job. I am presently working as a paraprofessional in a public library. I don’t know when I’ll ever get a professional position, if ever. But I am happy helping folks everyday, and from time to time participating in a real hunt for a gem of information someone wants. Those are great days!!

    I really don’t think library schools want to tell us the truth. They just want the tuition.

  15. For a librarian, I’m surprised at the lack of reading comprehension.

    “So if you think these were irrelevant courses, I can’t say much for your librarianship.”

    Where did I infer that these were irrelevant courses? You’re right you can’t say anything for my librarianship, because (gasp) you don’t know me.

  16. Are any of you adults? In particular “Annoyed Librarian”? Don’t get me wrong – I understand the harm that can come from flooding a field with more professionals than there are jobs (see: capitalism, nature of). I also understand that young people – in every field – are more idealistic than practiced and that. Seriously, who is this a revelation to? I grew up where five-year-old children, bellies distended and empty, sold hand-made jewelry on the side of the road. Life is f****ing hard the world over,and I am pretty certain that bitter, self-important, condescending bloggers don’t have the worst of it.

    As for wanting to work for social justice, some of us have actually done the work rather than spitting on it. Will I bring about world peace? No. Will I “save” anyone? No. But I would rather spend every day of my professional life trying to make a difference and trying to make my work matter than sitting on a hill-top feeling superior. I don’t mind your anger over high loan indebtedness, but your contempt for students and the challenges they will fae in their lives infuriate me. Don’t pretend you care about the loans they leave with or their unemployment when you degrade them with every word you write.

  17. Annoyed Librarian says:

    Someone woke up grumpy this morning.

  18. Cndy Maxey says:

    Well said, Katie.

  19. Free2read says:

    Some undergrad applicants may truly “want to work to improve and develop communities and promote social justice through better access to information,” but I fear too many are just trying to delay the inevitable — being thrown into a bleak job market with all but worthless liberal arts degrees and no idea what they want to do with their lives. What they need is a good career counselor who can help them identify a professional degree program that has the potential to provide opportunities for a meaningful career and a reasonable paycheck. For some that may actually be librarianship, but they should go into it with their eyes open and a good back-up plan!

  20. Public Librarian says:

    To librarians or would-be librarians who don’t want to work in a public library — that’s great, be a digital librarian, or an information scientist, or whatever you choose. However, don’t submit an application for hiring managers to review when there’s an opening at my library and don’t expect to get hired without real-world public library experience. Library schools/colleges of information/etc. are performing a huge disservice by convincing their students that there are careers or even jobs for all of them. Libraries need librarians with imagination, enthusiasm, and passion but also with enough experience to apply those qualities.

  21. Agreed, and I’m not surprised Annoyed Librarian couldn’t muster a better response. I see a good few jobs for librarians working on charity projects in third world countries, libraries being set up at occupy events (most recently one set up for protesters in Turkey), mobile libraries for homeless people. Case in point So I don’t think we should all wallow in self serving cynicism when someone says they want to make a difference.

  22. miss.smith says:

    I graduated 4 years ago when the crisis was just kicking off. Unfortunately I had to specialise because it was the only position I got offered and now I have been pigeon holed and cannot move too far outside of that sphere even though I have the skills required to work in a public library. Recruiters are short-sighted these days, they can’t / won’t see potential. Of course I’m going to apply for public library positions in future. A nice permanent job, I’d be crazy not to. In this economy you cannot afford the luxury of deciding which area of librarianship you would like to work in to suggest otherwise is naive. You take what you get.

  23. Cindy Maxey says:

    While I wouldn’t want to hire someone into a professional librarian position without at least a substantive internship behind them, there are a few other traits I’d rank a lot higher than pre-MLS library experience.
    * Does the applicant really like people – all kinds of people – and want to help them?
    * Are they a self-directed learner who embraces change?
    * Are they a team-worker?
    * Do they have passion for the work of a public library?

    I’ve worked with just a few too many people who worked years in a library, got their MLS , got hired as a librarian and remained grumpy stick-in-the-muds. Plenty of talented associates who made excellent librarians too, but that experience isn’t the first thing I look for.

  24. I don’t know what all you people look for, but I know some seem to favor men. Like the library near me whose director said she hired the creme de la creme. Well the creme couldn’t help me find the book. Instead he pointed to an older female librarian as he seemed incapable of taking his eyes off of the computer page he was engaged in. He was at the reference desk. I felt like apologizing for interrupting him wanting to be helped as a consumer. I don’t know why some people get hired over others. I believe it’s connections, or dumb luck, or the school you went to. I could do some of the librarians jobs better without training. Like telling them they gave the wrong number to a book because sewing books do not belong with real estate – the librarian said – you’re write and changed it. So when I’m told they here the cream and a library graduate I know is still looking I could gag.

  25. I meant to say you are right..if the librarians can’t find a book I guess I can make a mistake too…

  26. oh not here but hire…I’m using a different key board…

  27. Thank you for your willingness to speak truthfully about the allusion of completing a professional degree program, with an expectation of librarian employment shortly after graduation. Your blog provides a forum to discuss realistic concerns that MLS Graduate Students have about a lack of employment options.
    Perhaps, ALA, LLAW and SLA organizations should advocate for legislation that regulates library schools, according to their ratio of graduates vs. employed students, who complete their degree?

  28. This is a bunch of …you get the picture….why do you have to be 30 to enter the library profession? What harm comes if you can’t find a book for someone? Or miscatalog? Or whatever? I was fresh out of college, went on to graduate school in Clinical Psychology, and landed my first job as a child therapist at 25…more damage could have been done then checking out a book…What is this the profession that makes you go through fire or be crucified on the cross to prove you are worthy? I thought of becoming a librarian, glad I never did. Unfortunately I know those who have and can’t get a a full time professional job…guess they haven’t crossed hot coals enough…Remember most Medical interns are in their late 20s to early 30s…compared to these professions becoming a librarian is for wussies.

  29. My first job was in a library, I have 4 years of library experience (I’m only half done with my undergrad). My statement when I apply to my graduate program is going to be “I want to work in a library because I want to take care of the books and the people who read them.” That’s fair right?

    Also, mis-catalogued items bug the crap out of me. I crusaded to do inventory for the library I worked at, which had never been done, and the library had moved. I found over 200 books that were mislabeled or supposed to be checked out and were on the shelf. I only got through the non-fiction before I went away to school. But it was enough to ingrain it into my head that incompetence in a library is unacceptable.

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