Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

A Reason Not to Go to School

For the last decade or more we’ve been told about the impending retirement of librarians and how that’s going to create a librarian shortage. It looks like the first of these events is really happening.

Every week I scan the national news for anything about librarians, just in case something good comes up. Searching Google News, usually the most interesting things I find are my own recent blog posts, but every once in a while there’s something interesting I’d otherwise miss.

The past couple of weeks? Much of the news I saw was of librarians retiring. It really was a wave.

Librarians are retiring in New Bern, NC, Dover, AR, North Tonawanda, NY, Hinsdale, IL, Ketchikan, AK, Knox County, MO, Becker, MN, and Toledo, OH. I’ve actually heard of one of those places.

They’re retiring, “checking out,” or “turning a page,” because news headline writers are such a creative bunch.

Another librarian in Selma, NC is leaving, too, after being the fifth librarian there in five years, but since she’s not retiring we shouldn’t count her.

Nevertheless, we have a librarian every day or so retiring. That’s a wave. This is finally the wave of retirements that the ALA and library schools promised us ten years ago. Sure, it took a while, but better late than never!

People were being recruited to library school a decade ago with the promise of jobs because of librarians retiring in 5-10 years. Now, that might be starting to happen. These are just a few retirements that made news that happened to be picked up by Google. There are probably dozens more!

So was that a good recruitment strategy?

Nope. It was still pretty a bad idea, at least for the students. Library school isn’t like a PhD program. It doesn’t take most people 5-10 years to finish, so going to library school in 2002 for jobs that might happen in 2012 was pretty pointless.

And what about now? Let’s say people are starting to retire. A lot of those retiring seem to be public library directors. The new librarians aren’t going to get those jobs.

But now we’ve had some seasoned librarians out there taking whatever job they could find for the past several years. They’re all over the country.

Does anyone think there will be a national search to get librarians for Dover, AR or Becker, MN? Somehow I doubt it. Perhaps some lucky underemployed librarian in Dover or Becker or Bern will get a chance.

That’s probably what any wave of retirements will lead to. The small public libraries that dot the American landscape will be trying their best to find someone who happens to be nearby. The one or two people in the area chosen will be the ones retiring in 20-30 years. The rest will continue waiting.

And waiting. And waiting. The best lesson from this is don’t go to school or major in something because someone says there will be jobs a decade down the line. That rarely turns out to be a safe bet.



  1. I think you’re being optimistic- in my experience, when the director retires, some one in a lower position moves up, leaving a hole that gets filled with. . . no one, since budgets are tight. The positions are often simply eliminated or spread to other staff.

    • bflolibrarian says:

      Or filled by a lower cost no advanced degree required “associate,” who then of course requires “training” of some kind.

  2. It is significant that IU SLIS is merging with Informatics. The MLS will be a degree option but appears to be less of a focus with computer science and bioinformatics coming to the fore. The questions that this prompts in me is that if one could go to the same school, but obtain an MS in computer science or other degree, and be considered for jobs not only in libraries but many more in the private sector, why would one take the extra classes for the MLS? I think this is a sign of things to come.

  3. The problem with the job market is not the demand; it’s the supply. The library laptop schools are churning out droves of graduates…because they can.

  4. the.effing.librarian says:

    I went 300 miles to get my fresh-out-of-library-school job. So if you’re not willing to extend your search that far, then I guess you will wait. Check your map, 300 miles isn’t that far.

  5. miss.smith says:

    What percentage emigrate I wonder?

    • Emigrate no, but I had to relocate to Europe and volunteer (two separate internships) for a year, just to come back to North America and apply for jobs (with no bites) for another year. I did finally find a job though. If you don’t think that two years of unemployment, including a year of volunteering while supporting yourself out-of-pocket, isn’t unreasonable, you probably shouldn’t become a librarian.

  6. In Texas several Library Directors have retired since August 2012 and I have actually seen a wave of mid level positions open and now entry level positions are opening up. Compared to 2007 when I graduated the job listings here are actually worlds better.

  7. I agree with A. This year a lot of library director jobs have opened and so have mid management jobs in my region (the west). I was able to apply my original 450 mile move seven years ago across states for my first job and trade it in for a good management job in a place I wanted to live, due to retirements. A year or so ago this wouldn’t have been possible.

  8. I am currently earning my MLIS and about a third of the way toward completing the degree. I already work in a Law Library as the Access Services Manager so I pretty much fell into librarianship. One thing I have noticed is that you do have to be willing to cast a wide net and consider options outside the norm. Since I do not want to pursue a JD I will need to look elsewhere once I complete my degree. I have focused more on the technology classes being offered with the degree as that appears to be where things are heading. Regardless, if I was doing this for the money there are more lucrative master degrees but nothing that I would be passionate about. In the end I will take passion over the larger paycheck.

  9. I work at an university library that also has a strong library science program. I don’t have an MLS but have some coursework towards one. I’m not going back to finish it, even though I get tuition assistance because there is no pay increase for getting it. I left after a year because the job market was horrible and I didn’t feel like wasting anymore money on the degree. A coworker has his MLS but doesn’t have the librarian title. He admits that library school is kind of a joke and the practical experience gained through an assistant ship or working in a library is more useful. He has some good stories about how removed some of the instructors are from actually working in a library and with patrons.

    It’s tough to hold your tongue with the MLS students who are so optimistic about getting a real librarian job after graduating. When I left in 2007, there were people who finished the program who had to settle for either part time or on call positions without benefits after months of job searching with resumes sent out to probably 5 to 7 states. The person who trained me is in library school and she is hoping to become an art librarian. I told her she’d be better off getting a MA in Art History plus her MLS.

    I think that especially in public universities, retirements are happening. I know that since I started, there have been 6 positions posted. Two librarians have retired and interviews were last week to replace one position. Part of that is due to buyout offers to people who are close to retirement age.

  10. The issue of non-retiring librarians and library support staff has become a big issue in Canada. They are pumping out Librarians and Library Technicians in this country faster than there are jobs to take.

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