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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Jobs Situation: It’s not Pretty

I was so busy last week thinking about self-publishing my mystery novel Death of the Annoyed Librarian that I missed the Library Journal Placements and Salaries data.

Fortunately, a couple of Kind Readers corrected my oversight, sort of. They sent in a link to this blog post discussing the salary data. The LJ article has “Details on jobs and pay for 2012 LIS grads, broken down by region, type of role, school, and more.” Those details aren’t good.

The saddest table has to be table 3, total graduates and placements by school. If you’re thinking about library school and are concerned about placement rates, definitely take a look at this.

If you’ve been a librarian for a long time and want to know how different things are from when you graduated, also take a look and rejoice that you don’t have to face the market these grads have to face today.

Where would you want to go today, at least based on placement rates? Well, the best placement rates seem to come from schools that ignored the LJ survey and provided their own placement data. That they’re savvy enough to do that should tell you something, although I’m not sure what.

Michigan, for example, claimed 166 graduates in 2012, with 140 placements. Wisconsin (Madison) claimed 78 graduates with 54 placements.

On the other hand, Wisconsin (Milwaukee), which didn’t contribute its own data, had 225 graduates and only 49 placements. So you can see how important it is for library schools to submit their own figures rather than rely on the survey.

Plenty of the schools have placement rates under 20%. Examples (Graduates/Placements) include:

Alabama (135/22), Buffalo (155/11), Florida State (226/25), Kent State (230/34), North Texas (464/39), Pitt (190/20), Pratt (158/27) San Jose (559/116) South Carolina (134/12), St. John’s (21/1), Texas Women’s (181/19), and Washington (127/22).

The saddest case has to be Long Island University. I didn’t even know they had a library school. Employers don’t seem to know, either. Graduates: 163. Placements: 2. Ouch.

Even some of the top schools by rank, as long as they’re not supplying their own data, aren’t doing so well. Illinois’s placement is about 32%, North Carolina about 30%, Syracuse at 36%. Rutgers is doing a bit better at 45%, Simmons at 53%, Texas at 52%, .

I was a little shocked at the size of some programs. North Texas and San Jose graduate nearly 17% of the total graduates surveyed of the 40 or so library schools. They placed about 9% of the total.

I know San Jose is online only, and UNT has an online contingent. That explains the high numbers of graduates, but not necessarily the percentage rate, since other schools are doing as badly. Of course, for sheer number of unemployed grads, those two schools top the chart, churning out about 865 unemployed grads between them.

North Texas’s 8.4% placement rate of its 464 graduates should tell us something. That if you want a library job in Texas, go to UT-Austin, with a 53% placement rate. Or else it tells us that UNT should report its own figures like UT does. I’m not sure which.

I couldn’t spot many patterns. Simmons has a huge urban area to market to, but so does Pratt (17%). The top ranked schools aren’t doing that well, but neither are those nearer the bottom like St. John’s, Buffalo, TWU or Missouri.

Even some of the best placement rates, at schools like LSU and UCLA, aren’t much higher than 50%. The overall placement rate was about 26%.

The survey included 6,148 graduates, with another 4,424 of unknown status. Are the unknowns as unemployed? Either way, this is the worst data in years.

The salary data isn’t nearly as interesting, but it’s important because we all know we entered the profession to make the big bucks. If you want the highest median salary, you should go to Southern Connecticut, where the average salary for placements was $61,000.

In addition, you should also be a man, because the median salary for women vs. men from S. Connecticut was $46,500 compared to $121,000. I have a feeling one placement skewed the data, though.

As for average salary by regions of the country, if you’re a woman you should avoid everywhere but the Southeast, the only region where women’s salaries outpace men’s. Although given the low salaries for most of the jobs, the men aren’t doing that well either.

What we don’t see, but I wish we did, is how many of those placements had previous library experience or even already worked in libraries compared to their unemployed peers. What little personal knowledge I have about this suggests that the ones with experience and current jobs tend to do a bit better on the job market. But that’s merely anecdotal evidence.

It would also be interesting to compare online degrees with face to face degrees. Does the prejudice some have against online degrees justified by the job placement?

Regardless, it’s a gloomy time to be a new LIS graduate.



  1. It has gone from bad to worse. I would not advise anyone – even those with a burning passion to be a librarian – to pursue an LIS. When a degree from the so-called elite institutions does not give you better than a 50/50 chance at employment, something is systematically wrong.

    • Mike,
      What are people thinking?? I went to library school about 20 years ago, and with limited information available–there weren’t boards such as this back then, I did as much research as I could on the cost of the school, its ranking (I used a Gorman report), and the outlook for finding a job. After I was satisfied that I wasn’t making a mistake, I got the degree. Isn’t it ironic that we’re librarians but we don’t do this background information before getting a degree? I think one telling sign is that anyone can get a degree these days–you do not need to get an acceptable GRE score or move across the country to obtain one. Perhaps the online courses allow one to work in a library while getting the degree, but I think have more degrees out there than a demand for the skills.

    • Mike,
      I suspect that most people who get into library work don’t spend their lives thinking about becoming librarians. I know that I’d been working low-wage part time page jobs, and I knew I could do the library work. For ages, I said I wasn’t going to get an MLS, because it seemed so unnecessary. But after a long time and a lot of stress, the temptation to go “get that piece of paper,” especially when the implication is that, as soon as you do, you’ll have access to the jobs you see coming across the internal listings bulletin board… just looking around, figuring, “The only difference between me and the ones who have those jobs is the degree”…

      You know. Stress makes people do weird things.

  2. The Librarian With No Name says:

    I’ve been involved in hiring three librarians so far. Not much of a sample, but here’s what I’ve observed:

    There are enough MLIS holders out there that few libraries need to settle for a non-MLIS candidate unless they want to. Nevertheless, I’ve hired a half-time librarian with no degree and no intention of getting one. She had a decade of experience under a manager I know who spoke well of her, but any halfway-decent MLIS candidate would have beaten her out. They didn’t because there were none.

    Most of them didn’t make it to the interview process because their applications either made them look brain-damaged or they had recycled cover letters stating their intention to work in a completely different kind of library. I know it sucks to be sending out your hundredth job application, but it’s better to invest twenty minutes in a good, customized application than wasting five minutes on one that will go straight to the slush pile.

    Every job you apply for puts you in a list of more people than I can possibly interview. If you give me a reason to knock you out of the running, I will jump right on it without hesitation. As the pool gets smaller and the candidates get stronger, these reasons become increasingly petty and arbitrary.

    Once you get an interview, it’s up to you to sell yourself. You get bonus points for convincing me that you’re interested in working at MY library rather than A library, because many people don’t. Personality counts more than technical skills, because you can teach a person how to weed a collection or use a catalog, but you can’t teach them to be more enthusiastic or how to get along with their coworkers.

    That might be the reason for the sharp drop in placements among online degrees. I don’t generally pay attention to the school you got your degree from, but making it through an in-person degree might filter out some of the social impediments that will cause you to crash and burn in an interview situation.

    So if you don’t have a library job yet, take heart: there are plenty of MLIS-holding rivals out there, but many of them are terrible.

    • Just a Student says:

      I don’t think that people in online programs generally lack social skills. Many of my classmates (including me) are working in libraries already, which is usually the reason we’re doing an online program in the first place. Obviously, I understand that an interview for a professional position is different and much more strenuous, but I’m sure that any library interview experience helps. Yes, I’m at SJSU and yes, the statistics look bad, but it’s like any college or grad school: you have to take advantage of opportunities on your own and figure out how to make yourself valuable.

    • Someone, anyone, hire me... says:

      Unfortunately, my brick-and-mortar library school graduated every single one of the people who had a crippling lack of social skills. Aside from finances, I feel that the bar you have to jump over in order to get an MLS is at ground level. Maybe even buried underground.

    • The Librarian With No Name says:

      Hah! A good point. I suppose if all MLS grads were social butterflies, we wouldn’t have catalogers.

    • Thanks, The Librarian with No Name!

      I’m a recent grad and applying to current jobs. Seeing an insider’s perspective is increasingly helpful. While I believe I’ve been doing everything you’ve mentioned should be done, it’s still good to see that I’m headed in the right direction. My biggest fear is that I don’t have enough true library experience (not just as an assistant or volunteer), and you’re indicating that my personality is more important. Thank goodness, because in my last interview I tried really hard to express that it was THEIR library I wanted…and why.

      My fingers are crossed and I appreciate your insight.

  3. Miss Librarian says:

    I am graduate of Michigan’s program from a few years back, and most of our cohort did turn out okay. However, the school has really started to focus on the other, non-library iSchool discplines (Human Computer Interaction, Health Informatics, etc.) rather than library science. Most of the students in those other programs are not librarians and have no intention of ever being librarians. And I think a lot of the actual library students at Michigan, who have to take some of those other courses (a few of them even double specializing), end up later using those non-library skills in great non-library positions with nonprofits or start-ups. That might be where the high placement numbers come from.

    • Technical librarian is a librarian says:

      I don’t think the library/non library distinction you’re making has a clear boundary, especially since most people interact with the library online, and with digital preservation, linked data, etc.etc.

    • @Technical librarian RE: the idea of “library/non library distinction not having a clear boundary”: I agree with you personally. Unfortunately, most library hiring managers don’t in my personal experience. It is extremely difficult to get hired in a library after you’ve left for a different type of organization, and no matter how many years post-MLS work experience you may have, you are generally hired in as an entry-level librarian at entry-level pay (e.g. low $40s or less in most parts of the country). The door to the profession is essentially closed at this point.

    • @Miss Librarian – as a fellow Michigan SI grad, I will second all of this. The reason Michigan’s numbers are so high is that most of its grads have no intention of trying to compete in the library market and go straight into far more lucrative jobs in HCI, UX, etc. And that’s a great thing. If I could do it over I’d have gone the HCI route from the beginning.

    • Miss Librarian says:

      @Technical librarian is a librarian – Andy has already addressed this, but I’ll reiterate: When I say non-librarian I really mean NOT a librarian. I’m referring to people who go on to become user experience researchers or interaction designers at Amazon or Google. Or they do complex data analysis or bioinformatics work in industry. The HCI students I knew come from computer science backgrounds, and they were getting their MSIs to do higher-level work in the tech field.

    • Miss Librarian says:

      @Andy – I wish I had done HCI too!

  4. Matthew Williams says:

    How do these stats compare to graduate programs in other fields? Is the placement for other fields much higher?

  5. It looks bad but I can’t say that the survey is very accurate. 42% of graduates didn’t respond? I remember in 2011 when I finished and started employment within 2 months of graduation I didn’t respond to the survey. I was too busy starting a new job. The results looked equally as grim that year. Not that I kept in touch with a large portion of the graduating class but of those that I do, they are all employed as full time librarians.

    I’m sure it’s not all rainbows and puppies out there but I’d trust the LIS programs that submitted their own data more so than the LJ survey.

  6. Kate Bowers says:

    I’m reading on an ipad, so I might have got the columns wrong, but it looks like Simmons is 220 employed out of 317 graduates. So that’s 69%.

    Still not great, but not 53%.

    Did I misread?

    • Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

      I don’t think the survey is iPad friendly. Simmons had a total of 325 graduates and 172 placements = 53%

  7. I just graduated from TWU and started my full time.job today… Like someone said before, take advantage of opportunities… I did!

  8. Stephen Michael Kellat says:

    My member of the House of Representatives wondered why I was even proposing a suspension of funding under Title IV of the Higher Education Act to all library science education programs for a period of no less than five years. People could still pursue such studies if they chose but would bear far more of the financial risk themselves. Placement rates like this call for some recalibration overall.

    • THIS. Cut off the easy money to the diploma mills, since the ALA is never going to do anything to address the issue.

    • Seems like you are a bit bitter Stephen. Federal funding really needs to be cut from the for-profit colleges – they take a ton more federal dollars than a few liberry skewls. I realized when I went to liberry skewl I would have debt, have a hard time finding a job and would have to move to a rural remote area to be a librarian. So that’s my life and you know what? I’m good at my job and I make a difference in the community I serve.

      I think people who choose to go to library school need to do their research before they get there. Not after they get done and realize that they are screwed. My only comment is if you want to be a librarian – you have to know how to do research. So do it.

    • The same guy who was head of the SJSU LIS program during its period of explosive bloat is now starting another BRAND NEW LIS program at USC:!/article/45393/usc-marshall-to-offer-new-online-masters-in-library-science/. Read about the tuition for that program!

    • Graymalkin says:

      Holy smokes. Here’s the tuition for the new LIS program Donal posted about that’s headed by the former SJSU head. I hope for the sake of the students who pay $60k for this degree that they have a better chance of future employment than those fresh out of SJSU.

      Fall 2013/Spring 2014 Tuition
      Per Unit: $1536
      Per Semester: $12,288 (8 units)
      Total Tuition: $61,440 (40 units)

  9. A Nonny-Like Moose says:

    I’ve had three disagreements with Human Resource reps within the last year over how they assessed qualifications. Some of what really hurts the numbers out there isn’t anything more than just the recruitment process itself. And it’s pretty grim when some employers won’t count the very same volunteer efforts which are so thrusted upon students and qualified candidates as a means for experience when nothing supportable exists.

  10. I prefer to spell arkivist with a K says:

    I would like to see how these placement statistics compare to admission standards.

    • Jacqueline Seewald says:

      I believe that with all the funding cuts to libraries, it clearly becomes harder for newly minted MLS graduates to find jobs. My son ran into that situation. He wanted to work as a law librarian but found no opportunities, eventually deciding to become an attorney instead. He still spends a great deal of time in the library doing research for his legal briefs. However, this was not his first choice. As a retired librarian and now a full-time writer, I find what is happening most discouraging.

      Jacqueline Seewald

    • Both (admissions standards and placements) are pretty darn low.

  11. I wonder what percentage of certain schools are primarily online students (San Jose, Illinois, etc). In some cases, the LIS student is already employed and only does the program on a part time basis. They are technically already employed while attending the online program.

    I think a more interesting survey would be of MLIS degree holders who received their degree post 2000 and how many of them are in positions where they have either a full time librarian title or equivalent pay levels. That would be one survey I don’t think either the ALA or the library schools themselves would like the results from. I think there’s a large number out there who are working in paraprofessional positions or in part time librarian positions. There’s probably a fair number who no longer are active in libraries as a result of no luck finding a position related to the degree.

    I work in a university library as a paraprofessional and it’s tough holding my tongue about how tough the job market is right now. My workplace employs 3 LIS students and I would be shocked if any of them got a job within 6 months of graduation. The person who trained me is graduating in the spring and she’ll have a tough time even though she has actual non-library work experience. I almost wish that the library schools would admit fewer people fresh out of undergrad. It would do a lot of them good if they worked for a year or two and got some real world work experience. Whether they have to work in retail or in a clerical administrative role, it would do them so much good. They would learn how to interact with the general public and apply their tech and computer skills in a practical setting.

    I don’t think that future is bright for librarian positions. With most being funded by either state or local governments, there will be more pressure to reclassify librarian positions upon the retirement of the incumbent as paraprofessional for their successor. Depending on the pay structure, that’s a savings of at least $20,000 a year plus benefits per person.

    • “I almost wish that the library schools would admit fewer people fresh out of undergrad.”

      Agreed. Many of us wish they would admit fewer people, period.

  12. Kronan the Grammarian says:

    Excellent column & comments, although depressing, as I graduated w/my MLS in May 2011. I geared all my coursework toward academic librarianship & in particular reference & instruction to build upon previous teaching experience. W/no job when I graduated, I volunteered at an academic library for a semester, then got a one-semester contract that wasn’t renewed. At the last minute I was rehired w/a one-year contract that wasn’t renewed. I applied for a position at the same place, but didn’t get the job. There are zero positions available w/i a commutable distance, especially w/a teenager who needs at least some assistance getting to & from school activities for another year or so until she can drive. So I’m thinking of spending my unemployed time getting a certificate of advanced study in something other than reference & instruction. I’m wondering whether I should figure out a way to fund a certificate from one of the top library schools or if I should do what I can actually afford & get one from a less expensive school. If anyone has any comments/advice on whether going for education from one of the top schools pays off in a better chance at landing a job, I’d appreciate hearing it. Thanks!

    • I don’t see a certificate helping much. The number 1 requirement I see in job postings for academic library position, apart from the MLS, is work experience. You know what I never see listed as a requirement? A post-MLS certificate.

      If you want to work in an academic library, you’re going to have to be willing to relocate; that’s the hard reality.

  13. The numbers are probably even worse, since apparently, many schools didn’t participate in the survey. I wonder what San Jose and North Texas are telling students to get them to enroll in droves.

  14. Libraries are cutting their futures short by not hiring professional librarians. I’ve hired and worked with excellent librarians and very excellent paras (with and without MLSs). Overall (note that I did not say without exception), the passion and vision it takes to lead libraries forward can be found in our young professionals not our non-MLS paras.

    I understand the choices administrators must make and I’ve made ’em. Every time, I can, however, I have upped the quota of professional librarians. I know I’m lucky I have been able to do that but I’m also determined.

    Library Administrators, don’t sell your profession short. The future of libraries and their communities, let alone librarians, lies in paying a bit more money (very little in some cases) to invest in professionals.

    • Frog the Librarian says:

      Thank you for having such a positive mindset. Librarians need to stop selling themselves short!

  15. I graduated from UNT in 2007 and just about everyone I knew got a good job within 6 months — and I was in the same class as The World’s Strongest Librarian Josh Hanagarne. I’m pretty sure UNT did not put in their own data because plenty of us got jobs right out of grad school.

  16. Okay, they are working in A library…or some part there of…but are they full time? are they in a paraprofessional job rather than a professional???I have noticed a lot of jobs are half time, or worse, how about 5 to 8 hours per week???Are they in temporary jobs? Jobs with benefits? Do those placed have another degree…now to be a law librarian you need to be a lawyer who has passed the bar..(well both professions are going down hill with regard to placement)..Child librarian, how about being a teacher too…Business librarian, don’t forget that MBA..etc….I don’t believe the big placement numbers…but my library seems to be hiring mostly males now, and they all seem to come and go really fast.. must be because they have to point to the lady librarians who “are really good at finding books.” Most just try to do google searches for me, I’m so impressed with them and the library director who does all the hiring…

  17. I know I just commented but I’d like to tell little miss rah rah U of M library that on a recent professional lis serve there was a darling newly minted MLS who just couldn’t find a job even though she graduated from U of M…and if there aren’t many jobs you can have all the social skills in the world and not get one in a library… there is the simple fact of supply and demand. Just like the fact that a lot of us would like to be the President but there is only one generally every four years…so I console myself with the fact that if not for that I might be the President…sigh

  18. The job market for is also affected by private companies like LSSI that assume the staffing and managing of public libraries. The business model is typically to undervalue librarians, hiring as view as possible and making a majority of those positions part time. In fact, positions are predominately part time for all classifications. The staff that I know who work at these LSSI managed public libraries claim they are chronically understaffed. They save the cities/counties that hire them money, but more importantly ensures LSSI profits. Their latest profit maximizing action is to drop all part time staff from health care coverage and directing them participate in the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, the ACA doesn’t cover dental or vision care which LSSI is also discontinuing for part time staff. They may be a only a small part of the overall problem now but they continue to grow as a solution to struggling libraries. Unfortunately, it’s at the expense of the librarian profession.

  19. “In addition, you should also be a man, because the median salary for women vs. men from S. Connecticut was $46,500 compared to $121,000. I have a feeling one placement skewed the data, though.”
    This would be applicable if we were talking about the mean salary. The median, however, is resistant to extreme values (it’s the value in the middle of the data when it’s arranged in ascending order).
    In other words, this stark difference is not just a fluke, it’s systemic.

  20. whatever! i grad’d in ’12 and have been full time employed with a salary a bookmark-width below 50G since 2 weeks after graduation. now, granted, i had to move out of the US to do it, but thats a benefit as far as i see it. y r these placements so low? bc the library students (most of them) have terrible work ethic, no drive to really find a job, no credible experience that employers want (just getting the degree isnt librry experience) and no real guidance as to how to job hunt. i went to a library school that ranks in the middle but i knnow (and knew during school) that our placement would be low bc of the clowns (sorry) i was surrounded with. i cant even explain it; it was a mix of entitlement (not sure for what tho), apathy, and delusion. anyone with an LIS can get a job, it just takes extreme effort (AKA less facebook/pinterest posts, more cover letters and resume sending!), perseverance and savvy searching…..and oh yeah, the ditching of the idea that if the three local libraries withina 30 minute driving radius from ur house dont hire u, u miiiiiiight have to actually move to get a job. grads shouldnt be discouraged; the lazy ones should.

    • NJ, I’m very curious where you landed! I’m working a FT professional librarian role in Asia now, finishing up the MLS, and looking for my next international position!

  21. The shortage of available professional positions forces many recent grads to apply for non-professional positions. I’ve noted for several years that my postings for these positions inevitably attract scores of newly-minted MLSs and the even the occasional DA or PhD. I usually won’t consider these applicants as I see them as flight risks….they’ll continue to seek a professional situation while working for me and leave as soon as they can find one.

  22. SJSU’s MLIS program seems to be a money-maker: 559 graduates x $20,382 tuition & fees for 43 credits per graduate = $11,393,538 a year with no significant overhead costs (all online, all asynchronous classes, largely recyclable teaching materials and syllabi, so low course development costs). It would be interesting to know how much SJSU instructors make on average and what that does to the profit margin. There seem to be a lot of instructors/lecturers in the program. The curriculum/teaching/structure/format does not seem to be translating into job placements.

  23. Well, the numbers I just gave aren’t obviously correct for an annual estimate because the graduates in their last year have paid that $20k throughout their years at SJSU. But there are many other students in their first, second, third, etc., non-graduating year who have not graduated yet but are still taking classes and paying tuition (SJSU has a 7-year cutoff). So what is the actual annual revenue from tuition at SJSU? There are very few LIS faculty members who need offices, I would think, and they don’t need classrooms. The vast majority don’t need office supplies or on-campus computers or computer labs. The classes are asynchronous, so there is much less tech support needed than for live lectures. Do they employ counselors, and do they pay for a job placement “office”? I am just trying to figure out why they are graduating almost 600 graduate students a year if they have such a low placement rate. I mean, if you’re not considering the job market, why stop at 559? With an unlimited virtual classroom space and a large pool of lecturers, they could probably admit many more.

  24. Wait, why do you suggest cutting funding for a Bachelor’s or a Master’s in Library Science? I understand about attracting those who really do want to be librarians. However,I have a BA in Psych and worked in social work agencies for years. I can write and spell properly, and (obviously) ;-) like helping people; part of what I find enjoyable is working with adults and teens and assisting with explanations, even teaching.
    From what Annoyed Librarian says, I might be a good candidate as I had hoped.

    But, if there won’t be financial aide or funding of some kind, there’s no way at all I can get my Masters -period.

  25. Concerned Studen says:

    I am a current partime student at FSU for an MLIS. I currently work as a Junior Paralegal and in a few years when I graduate I hope to land a library job. I have voluntered for one year at a public library and I am about to start volunteering at a private library/archives. Every year I plan to volunteer at a different type of library to get various experience. I have no problem relocating. Will the job market in the next 3 to 5 years be better or worse as we get further away from the recession? Or should I stop now and surrender my hopes of working in this field?

  26. Concerned, since nobody has stepped up to respond, I’ll offer my 2 cents. If you want to work in a library, I’d recommend leaving your paralegal job and finding a library paraprofessional job ASAP. Sadly, your paralegal experience in general is not going to count whereas your library experience will. That is simply how most library hiring managers think, unfortunately.

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