Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Consider the Poor LIS Professors

On last week’s post about how great librarian jobs are and thus why they’re so hard to find, someone left a comment that might frighten even the most jaded of library school professors:

I will give you a hint when I graduated in 1994 it took me 6 months to find a job. The average size of a MLIS graduating class? 12. Now the average size of a graduating class is over 200. We need to tie accreditation to job placement (98% fulltime employment in an MLIS related field within 6 months of graduation) or the school is out. Sure we will lose most of the schools (which have turned into diploma mills anyway) but in the long run it will be a good thing.

I surveyed several imaginary professors at library schools and even some of those fancy “I schools,” and they all agreed this would be a terrible idea because it would endanger their schools and their livelihoods.

It’s hard to argue with that.

The argument for is that librarian jobs are so hard to find because there are way too many people applying for them, which is probably because library schools crank out way too many students.

And they crank out way too many students because collectively they’ll let in and eventually graduate just about anyone with a college degree and a tuition check.

Sure, sure, there will be librarians who’ll talk about how hard they had to work in library school, and they’ll do their best to defend the rigor of their program so they can feel good about themselves after spending $20,000 or more on a degree that doesn’t command much of a salary IF they can find a job.

However, there are about 60 ALA-accredited library schools, and if you go far enough down the list, one of them will let you in, and once you’re in it’s pretty easy to graduate. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have so many graduates.

There are probably some sophisticated arguments against the proposal. “MLIS related field” is pretty vague, for example, especially given the range of courses at some of the larger library schools.

We could change that to “employed at all,” maybe. But what if more than 2% of the graduates don’t want to be employed at any given time? Maybe they’re raising children or living off their trust funds, like library school graduates tend to do.

Eh, we could drop the percentage. 90%? 80%? 80% is still a B, after all, which is probably a lower grade than just about anybody ever receives in library school.

But mostly we should think of the poor professors who teach in library schools. What will they do if the schools shut down? What would happen to “Library 101: the Library and You” if so many of the people taking that course had to be employed at some point in the future?

It would be bad. These aren’t people with a lot of options. A PhD in library science qualifies you for far less than a master’s degree. Technically it’s a social science, but one that’s not taught many places.

Out of the 60 or so accredited library schools, 37 of them offer PhDs.

There are about 4600 2- and 4-year colleges in the United States. Imagine if over half of them offered PhDs in English or Sociology or Math, the sorts of classes that are taught at most of them. It would be crazy.

And yet, over half the library schools offer PhDs in library science or something related, which generally qualifies you to teach in a library school and not much else.

You think the librarian job market it bad, try those odds!

These are often people who tried being librarians, but that was just too hard for them. They couldn’t take the hustle and bustle of libraries, so they retreated to library schools, where the only hustle is getting students to enroll with the promise of good jobs that probably won’t appear.

It would hardly be fair to them to make their livelihoods depend in some way on libraries when they’ve been trying to avoid libraries for so long.

After all, those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach library science.

This isn’t a criticism of library school professors; it just sounded like one. Everyone needs a place of shelter in the world. Librarians should know that better than anyone, considering what they’ve sacrificed in money and time to avoid competing in the private sector.

Next time you’re resentful that you got suckered into spending a lot of money or going into debt to pay for a master’s degree that’s just a union card only without any benefits attached, think about how lucky you are not to have a PhD in library science and have even more limited options.

Think about what it must be like not to have one of the great jobs working in a library, but having to teach the people who go to library school year after year after year.

Have a little compassion, and just be glad you’re a librarian.


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


  1. “After all, those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach library science.” I had a prof who gave open tests; she used the exact same test each year, and the vast majority of my peers cheated when they had the opportunity. Again, our profession weeps. Nothing easier academically then getting a library degree.

    Having said that, the work is terrific and the pay great, love my role as a public servant!

  2. Libertarian Librarian says:

    Most of the students in my program already had library jobs. They were moving up. How would that skew the numbers?

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