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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Another Librarian Retirement Wave

Oh my goodness, there’s another retirement wave coming, or one coming that didn’t come before, or something like that. I hope everybody’s ready.

Thank Kind Reader for this important announcement which will probably not affect your future ability to get a library job: Retirement Wave To Hit Academic Librarianship. That’s a blog post commenting on a brief new ARL study with the somewhat duplicitous title: Delayed Retirements and the Youth Movement among ARL Library Professionals.

The last time we started hearing about all this, around the turn of the millennium, it was the ALA predicting the “graying of the profession,” and how everyone should go to library school immediately because there was going to be a librarian shortage for years.

Plenty of suckers fell for that ploy, but at least the library schools got some extra money and some more people paid ALA dues hopeful for their professional future, so it wasn’t a total loss for all involved.

This time the prediction isn’t so broad and not quite so “rosy,” despite the use of the term by the blogger.

The Association of Research Libraries represents only about 120 libraries or so, but they tend to be larger academic libraries. Thus, the study isn’t very predictive of library positions in general. The ALA and library schools are probably disappointed in this as recruitment fodder.

The blogger, for some reason, perhaps an undisclosed bitterness, tries to make the already moderate report seem bleaker by distorting its claims.

He claims the ARL report paints “a golden future that is ripe with new job opportunities,” and illustrates that with this quote: “More likely, the peak vacancies we expected between 2010 and 2015 are actually happening right now, resulting in the best market for research library job seekers in memory.”

If you realize that the the research library job market in recent memory has been pretty bad, saying we might be entering the best one in memory isn’t exactly a claim to ripeness.

What’s more, this is supposedly a “rosy outlook”:

This rosy outlook for the future fundamentally assumes that retiring library professionals will be replaced by similarly credentialed new hires at their current numbers. It also assumes that the employment structure of libraries doesn’t change. I’m not sure that either of these assumptions ring true.

Perhaps the study makes those assumptions, or perhaps those assumptions are thrust upon the study.

But the study does implicitly acknowledge why this alleged retirement wave can’t be propagandized the way the ALA did so many years ago.

Here’s the bit after the bit about the best market in memory:

The youth movement is almost certainly already in progress, but for ARL libraries, youth is not what it once was. New professionals are naturally the youngest subgroup in the population, and it is true that library schools continue to attract primarily young students, about 70% under the age of 35 in 2015.12 But ARL libraries tend to recruit new professionals who are somewhat older, with an average age of 35. What’s more, ARL libraries are increasingly likely to skip the hiring of new professionals and instead recruit individuals with experience: the percentage of new professionals among new hires has declined from 35% in 1986 to 26% in 2015.

That’s the slight duplicity of the study’s title, the reference to a “youth movement.” When the “youth” are in their late thirties and forties, it’s a little ironic.

It’s not necessarily that ARL libraries won’t be hiring librarians, but the effect of this wave of retirements is unlikely to change the “graying of the profession.”

Library school students are getting younger all the time, and there are libraries that hire young library school students straight out of library school. ARL libraries don’t seem to do that.

This isn’t even pretending to be a “rosy outlook.”

If one had to make a prediction about future job prospects, the inability to gush would enfeeble the ALA propaganda machine. Here’s what it might be:

If you’re an academic librarian with several years’ experience, and probably one or more graduate degrees beyond the MLS, there might be some increasing opportunities for you over the next few years as ARL libraries continue their glacial shift, the way they’ve been doing for the last 30 years.

It doesn’t seem like a bleak outlook for the right librarians, but hardly rosy.

It seems like most library jobs, if you have the right credentials and experience, and a bit of luck, you might get a better job. That kind of reality doesn’t make for much of a recruitment pitch, though.



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


  1. anonymous coward says:

    Our jobs are, mostly, not physically demanding (or can be done in ways that don’t require them to be physically demanding). Mentally, maybe- but it keeps people sharp. Why would they retire? What’s the benefit to them?

  2. Lessee – health and/or family matters, supervisors from hell, budget cuts, retirement incentives, overwork . . .

  3. anonymous coward says:

    None of which seems to be driving people, in large numbers, to retire. So we can 1)believe these things are minimal or 2) believe these things don’t outweigh the positives people get from working.

  4. We have people retire all the time in our large public library system. You’d never know it, though, as once those jobs are vacant they STAY vacant — i.e., they’re just not filled. Job attrition in libraries is real.

  5. unemployed librarian says:

    They don’t retire because they can’t imagine what else they would do with their lives. Most don’t seem imaginative and not very gregarious or adventurous. You get the same thing in K-12 education, where some stay 10+ years after retirement age because #1 they have tenure, and so they can’t get fired for sub-par performance; #2 they have enough seniority and are immovable due to #1, that their jobs really are easy, so it’s just easy money; #3 they are probably among the misfits and rascals that dominate the field, and so they just can’t imagine what they would do in retirement, much less pull it off successfully.

  6. Senior Librarian says:

    1) I never have had tenure. Most librarians don’t.
    2) My job is not “easy” and seniority means I get to what others cannot or do not want to learn.
    3) I have plans for my impending retirement, and am looking forward to them.
    I have worked three years past retirement due to the volatile stock market and three major adjustments there affecting retirement investments. I have also funded college education for two children who have no undergraduate debt. And I am still paying on my mortgage. I am a well-educated librarian with three degrees, with excellent annual performance reviews, who will be living a lower-class retirement, and have been told I will be sorely missed, so “Please do not retire this year.” May you also experience these things and not whining from the next generation wanting to know when you will disappear.

  7. This comment & question delves into the public library sector. Silly me, I did not know that some U.S. public libraries do not hire librarians to work directly with the public, give programs, teach classes, or be available somewhere in-house for more complex reference questions; the job titles reflect this, like “information specialists I, II, & III. Even some “managers” and “program planners” may not be required to be librarians. I am aware that this has been true in NC & VA. A library director or “coordinator” in an upper level administrative position over a library branch or an entire county/city library system may be the only formally educated and credentialed librarian in the entire branch or system. Some staff may acquire their library “degrees” along the way, but that may not be necessary, even to be an information specialist III. How long has this been going on in the U.S.?

  8. unemployed librarian says:

    I don’t know much about public libraries. But I’m guessing that the reason why these upper-level administrative positions are usually filled by non-MLIS people is because most of those with MLIS would not make good leaders or managers. I have witnessed one excellent MLIS manager (she happened to be 70 years old), but most of them are horrible and don’t have good people skills, even when they supposedly have an MBA. So, until the quality of MLIS graduates improves, I can’t imagine that the powers that be will see the MLIS as beneficial for higher up administrative duties.

  9. In response to the 10/31 11:28 am reply to my 10/30 2:25 pm comment: Somehow, what I was trying to say may not have come across with clarity. The NC & VA public library systems (2) to which I was referring did have MLIS-credentialed librarians in upper administrative roles. My primary concern was/is that MLIS-credentialed librarians, and job titles to indicate such, were absent from the staff hired to interact directly with the public. In other words, the public visiting one of those public libraries and interacting with staff out on the floors and in public programs most likely would encounter staff who were not librarians by education or training. Sometimes, that causes problems when advanced information literacy knowledge and skills are needed. Also, I think many among the American public assume that Librarians are hired to interface with the public when a public library is visited. The public does not realize and is not told in a transparent way that there may not be a librarian available unless an administrative/managerial librarian happens to be in the building during their library visit.

  10. You gotta be kidding! I also have plans and can’t wait. This depends, of course, on Medicare ceasing to exist.

  11. Unemployed librarian, that’s pretty obvious. And no, non-MLIS people do NOT fill most of the “upper-level administrative positions”. And what’s this about “supposedly” having an MBA?

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