Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarians are Dying Out Again

Once again, someone who appears not to know much about libraries or librarians has declared librarian a “dead-end job,” along with a few others. That someone is a “journalist” who has consulted some “career coaches.” It’s published by the prestigious, so it’s definitely something to pay attention to.

The dead-end jobs are paired with alternative careers, and here’s where things get weird and you begin to wonder if “journalist” isn’t one of those careers on the way out.

Let’s take a look at them.

1) Dead-end job: desktop publisher. Alternative career: graphic designer. Desktop publishing is supposed to decline with the decline of printed publications, at least according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Come to think of it, if you have the Occupational Outlook Handbook, you don’t really need professional career coaches. A librarian could probably tell people that.

The alternative career of graphic designer is the only one of a list of five that makes even the slightest sense. Both design stuff graphically. Okay, I’ll let that one pass.

2) Dead-end job: Telephone operator. Alternative career: Public Relations Specialist.

Okay, telephone operators have to have a minimal understanding of public relations, or at least learn how to talk to people. And they talk a lot. Other than that, how are they connected?

A telephone operator is a relatively low skill occupation that anyone with an understandable accent can do, or even a not understandable accent if it’s outsourced to India. According to the article, PR Specialist is a better choice because “A PR Specialist can bring businesses to the next level, because they actually have the connections and relationships with the community, radio personalities, publishers, journalists, and the ability to leverage various media strategies for the greatest media exposure,”

Yes, a PR Specialist might be able to do that. And of course someone with the talent to make it in the world of telephone operations is just right for doing all that. They already connect two people using the telephone lines. How hard is it to make the next step connect radio personalities with publishers or whatever? Not hard at all!

It gets better.

3) Dead-end job: Computer repairer. Alternative career: Computer programmer.

See, they both have “computer” in the title! Thus, they must have pretty much the same skill set. You could probably make that transition in an afternoon.

4) Dead-end job: Travel agent. Alternative career: Paralegal.

Because…because…sorry, no reason given. They both like to travel? Looking for travel deals is similar to poring through legal books and writing reports? I don’t get it. At least paralegal “is a high-growth, low barrier-to-entry job that can pay big bucks,” unlike, say, computer programmer.

And finally…

5) Dead-end job: Librarian. Alternative: Nutritionist.

A career coach (which I’m assuming is another “low barrier-to-entry job”) says librarians are dying because “information now is so readily devoured using technology.” I have no idea how that relates to librarians. Presumably back in the day librarians would spoon-feed information to people using non-technology, unless the spoon is technology.

And since librarians have no connection whatsoever to information technology, they’re history!

Oh, and “federal funding for new libraries is basically non-existent, and job growth is expected to follow suit.” I actually laughed out loud at that one. How many new libraries have been built with federal funding? Other than federal government libraries, that number has got to be relatively small.

The “career coach” apparently thinks that public libraries, and we’re almost certainly talking about public libraries, are public because the U.S. government funds them, like National Parks or something.

You might think the “alternative career” suggested by the “career coach” is a little strange, because if there’s one thing you think when coming away from a librarian conference is “healthy eaters!”

But she suggests it because she “had a client who said that her work with the library’s organizational systems and her attention-to-detail helped her navigate the complex medical systems used by doctors and nurses to organize and manage their patients in her new career as a nutritionist.”

A client, one client, said this. And then the “career coach” extrapolated from that one example and made it general advice, showing that statistics isn’t another field you need to know about to become a career coach.

Based on the reasoning about librarians and nutritionists, I’m starting to doubt it all. Maybe travel agents are on the way back.

By the way, the Occupational Outlook for reporters and correspondents projects a 6% decline, as opposed to a 7% growth for librarians. Who’s in the dead-end job now?



  1. Is a career in libraries a dead end? Not necessarily. But as you’ve covered on this blog before most of the time starting out you’re working for peanuts as a paraprofessional to get some experience, have to be willing to cast a wide geographical net, and the pay scale ain’t that great if you are one of the glut of MLS holders lucky enough to get an actual MLS position. Then when you do get that job the only opportunities for career advancement are hopping to a different library for a marginal raise or waiting for someone in management to retire or die and free up their position.

    Is it a dead end career? Maybe not, but I wouldn’t call it a great career either.

    • Annoyed Librarian says:

      That’s a good point, but maybe a different issue. There’s not necessarily a lesser need for librarians so much as library schools are graduating far more librarians than the market can bear. Thus, it’s much more difficult for new librarians to find gainful employment.

    • We are not the only field hearing this, lawyers hear this too. That there are too many on the market not enough jobs, that doesn’t make lawyers irrelevant (go ahead an add a lawyer joke people) but it does make the job dead-end unless you are truly talented and shine among the ones who are great too!

    • Frumious Bandersnatch says:

      It’s difficult for older librarians to find gainful employment too, depending on your definition of “gainful”. I’ve noticed that the administrative drive to provide better patron service seldom translates to a willingness to pay for better staff nowadays.

    • Frumious, I can sympathize. My first “real” library job was 25 hours a week and paid $12 an hour. The interview was a group interview and there were three older librarians who had been let go from their jobs and were looking for whatever they could get. I ended up getting the job primarily because they wanted someone who would “respect the salary.” That’s a verbatim quote from my second interview.

  2. anonymous says:

    Where does the career counselor think all the nutrition students are going to go to get the journals they need to study for class? I know, they’ll all pony up the $50 per article they’ll get charged by not going through the libraries that don’t exist anymore because of the lack of federal funding!

  3. On the other hand, career coach seems to be a populous profession. What exactly does one do to become a career coach? You get to tell people what to do with their lives … with out doing any research at all. Must be nice. I’ll give it a try. Likewise, everyone uses their cell to check the time so watch repairers should become marine technicians. See, I can do it too.

    • anonymous says:

      Good point. If all the information is on the internet, why do we need career coaches anymore? They are as irrelevant as librarians and travel agents. I wonder what her alternate career for the dead-end job of career coach might be? Seems to me those skills might translate well to librarian…

  4. Graphic design (called commercial art in the old days, not desktop publishing) as the go-to career, huh? A number of graphic designers don’t think so. This thread has been going for over six years:

  5. I do think there’s a lesser need for librarians. I’m a librarian, and I’m paid quite nicely, but over 80% of the time I’m checking books in, checking them out, shelving them, taking money or signing up new customers. Surely at some point, someone is going to notice that the high school student we have come in to do the same tasks on the weekend is paid exactly half what I’m paid to do exactly the same tasks? When does it finally get to the point where the deskilling is so severe that someone in our funding body notices you could fire half of us, replace us with children, and save a cool $250 000 a year?

    • My boss complains when I have to make copies or fold flyers or sharpen pencils or clean up vomit, but there is no one else to do these tasks because we have no parapros or library assistants or pages in the reference section because we can’t hire any more staff. But they have no problem with ma MLS-bearing supervisory librarian spending hours shoveling snow as part of team building exercises (that’s what they call it). The city is broke and we lost 7 FTEs over the last 10 years so all the unskilled labor that used to be done by non-MLS staff now falls on us. They could easily lose two MLS librarians by hiring 3 para-pros or library assistants and still save a ton of money; but they won’t because they are afraid of the same thing – if they don’t continue to hire librarians, then librarians won’t be seen as being necessary. It make sense but is it worth it to have us sharpening pencils and making copies just so we can be seen as being necessary.?

    • Frog the Librarian says:

      Based on your job description, you are a librarian in name only.

  6. These articles (and perhaps commenters like TJ) always seem to forget that public librarians are not the only librarians. I work in an academic library, and the students couldn’t be trained to do the work my technical services department does. I’ve also worked in museum libraries and special libraries, and often the reference tasks are too complex for someone who is new to the field and is only working part time. And even at the public library, I’d imagine there are people dealing with MARC records, e-resources, event planning, licenses, and other aspects of librarianship beyond shelving. I’m sure my children’s librarian friends wouldn’t be happy with the idea that their specialized training could be replaced by high schoolers.

    • MS, if you think you are irreplaceable because you work at an academic library or because you work in technical processing, you may be in for a rude awakening. Haven’t most competent libraries outsourced functions of their technical services departments, such as processing and cataloging? Your extra masters degree and sweater vest may not provide sufficient protection from being replaced by less expensive, more effective alternatives.

    • Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian says:

      to D –

      “less expensive”, perhaps. “more effective”, perhaps not. But, it is a case of ‘good enough’ on the users end which means that many don’t feel they need librarian assistance, just a good search engine.

    • MS, you are not as irreplaceable as you believe. Your MLS is somewhat looked down up by people with more academic master’s degrees and PhDs. An MLS is equivalent to an MBA – a professional master’s degree program that requires little extensive original research and as long as you check off the boxes of the courses you need to take plus electives, you have your degree. It can be done online, an experience that would be hard to replicate if you got a Master’s in Engineering or English Literature. The more academic intensive science and humanities programs require more in person lab and discussion work that can’t be imitated online.

      I work in an academic library in a paraprofessional technical role and I would say someone who has an MLS would be extremely overqualified for what I do. At this point in academic and some public libraries, it’s like a union card when you really don’t need it to check out books or answer basic directional questions. It would be helpful to have if your job description involves specialty cataloging duties in technical services or are in administration. For reference or material selecting duties, especially in academia, someone who has an advanced degree in the subject area plus library experience would be more desired. Someone with a MLS without any coursework in the subject library they potentially would be working in would be useless.

    • Frog the Librarian says:

      I agree. The people who also replied to MS: are you jealous much? :-)
      I’m also an academic librarian and I find my job to be as complex as s/he described. And yes, public librarianship is more deskilled than academic.

  7. Brand new LIS Grad says:

    Found this while googling Tracy Murphy, the apparent target of a school shooting today. Librarians dying out in dead end jobs? As someone who’s already long regretted the nearly $40K investment in my LIS degree… ugh.

    • You obviously haven’t paid enough for your education, Brand New LIS Grad. Graduate from USC’s BRAND NEW online LIS program, a degree that will set you back more than $60,000 in tuition alone, and put your money where your mouth is!

    • I hear they teach you the secret handshake.

  8. Soren Faust says:

    I’m not sure any job is as secure as we’d like to believe. Of course, some are more secure than others, but in today’s market no one is impervious to lay-offs, loss of job due to automation (I mean, just think about what the job market is going to be like once AI really starts to take hold), and etc. I happen to have a great job in a public library in a large urban system that is beloved by the city government and therefore gets a lot of support. I have a challenging job because I do a lot of programming and community outreach as the only business librarian for my system. So, from my perspective, things are going well. I’m sure if I were in a different situation, I wouldn’t be so optimistic. At the same time, there is not a day that goes by that I realize even a good situation can turn bad quickly. Sad to say, I think the tenuousness of job security is a going to be a permanent condition and is going to affect everyone no matter what the career.

    • Soren Faust says:

      “At the same time, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t realize even a good situation can turn bad quickly. Sad to say, I think the tenuousness of job security is going to be a permanent condition and is going to affect everyone no matter what the career.”

  9. This meme – that librarians are rendered irrelevant by the ready accessibility of information on the Internet – is widespread and pernicious, parroted by mindless media outlets like the one referred to here. What makes it even more irritating is that, like most over-simplifications, it contains a grain of truth. Yes, technological advances have changed the way libraries operate, and in some cases they have led to outsourcing, budget cuts, etc. Yes, Google is a great tool for looking up information.

    But the core of the meme – that by Googling anything on your smartphone you can quickly accomplish anything that one might have used libraries for years ago – reflects a seriously anti-intellectual viewpoint. It is founded upon a perspective on culture that I disagree with. To think that Google makes books, journal articles, reading clubs, etc. irrelevant is to believe that digesting small bits of information will constitute all of the intellectual fare that we need to flourish as a society. Libraries are relevant not only because we provide the best, most reliable, most thorough information out there – we also matter because we are maintaining centuries-old cultural capital and pedagogical tenets that the unregulated, corporatized Internet cannot be trusted to maintain.

  10. Thomas Lindsey says:

    I was fortunate to be able to retire at the time of my own choice. I sympathize with those who had to take a paraprofessional level position. The career counselor who wrote the article published in Yahoo may have a lot of incorrect information, but I think that she may have the correct answer for the wrong reasons. Data in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity “Form 5 survey” for 2012, compared with data aleady available in the 2010 survey, will provide information about the employment of school librarians. Data tables about total employment in public libraries and libraries in public institutions of higher education, that are published in the 5-year interval Census of Governments 2002, 2007, 2012 forthcoming, conducted by the Census Bureau will give us better information than from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I know that one large American city that has grown by over 225,000 people during the past 10 years has the same number of library employees as it did 10 years ago. I have looked at the online budget and employee information from 2003 and 2013; the population is the estimate of the Census Bureau. Sorry, but I do not see a bright future ahead.

  11. James Castle says:

    Librarianship attracts people with sub-par skills in mathematics and the sciences. In fact many academic librarians are assigned to a university physics department holde the MLS and and another masters degree in an unrelated field; hstory or english literature for example. In fact, the number of librarians that hold advanced mathematics and science degrees are very small in number. Sorry…. look for another career Considering the fact that information is now digital the role of the librarian is clearly less viable

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