Annoyed Librarian
Search ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

No More Promotions?

Kind Reader wrote with a question regarding a situation at Kind Reader’s Library where nobody is ever promoted. Here’s the situation and the question:

As positions finally open up, I am seeing more librarians with 10+ years supervisory swoop into positions that used to be stepping stones for the younger librarians. My co-workers too have been trying to move up the ranks and are beaten out by librarians whose experience seems frankly too much for the position posted. Those who get the jobs are doing a lateral shift from a nearby system rather than moving up and I’m getting tired of it.

Is this is the fate of younger librarians?

I’ll let readers with more experience in public library systems weigh in with their opinions on the matter, but based on the past 10-20 years of the ALA and library schools promoting the “librarian shortage” myth, this is exactly the fate of younger, or at least newer, librarians that one would expect.

The logic is simple and brutal.

The ALA and library schools, based on one study about how librarians will supposedly be retiring and creating a librarian shortage within the next decade or so, started spreading that gospel to whomever would listen.

That’s the sort of behavior that separates library science from real science, because real science doesn’t depend on just one study, unless it’s really faulty.

But that was enough to convince nearly a generation of librarians and library school faculty that the librarian shortage was coming.

As a result, people started going to library school in numbers far outpacing the number of jobs that were open.

The consequence, inevitably, was fiercer competition for what jobs there were.

The competition has manifested itself in various ways. In Kind Reader’s example, people with much more experience than the jobs require are beating out people who are qualified but less experienced, which also means those people will likely never get experience at a higher position.

Sometimes, especially in academic libraries, it’s a matter of degree. People with equal experience can easily be sorted by who has the most or highest academic degrees.

The systemic logic of the “librarian shortage” myth works similarly to some types of housing regulations and zoning. In areas where dense housing units aren’t allowed, but which are attracting lots of people, the regulations create winners and losers, with the winners being those who were there first, at least until rising property taxes drive them out.

That’s not a problem in libraries, where the clear winners are those who joined the game before it was rigged to disfavor the newcomers. Those people will always be a little bit ahead, and find it easier to advance.

It’s not their fault, though. It’s not like the people who are overexperienced or overcredentialed for a particular job owe anything to anyone but themselves. They probably worked hard, and are simply trying to better their situation with a promotion.

Nobody competes for a job they’re overqualified for unless there aren’t enough jobs for people with their levels of experience.

That’s the thing, those people Kind Reader are talking about are also locked out of jobs that would be more appropriate for their levels of experience, because people who joined the game just a bit earlier than them have those jobs, and they’re not leaving them.

So I could, as I often am, be wrong, but the situation described by Kind Reader is exactly the fate I’d expect for newer librarians for another generation or so, until the unintended consequences of the “librarian shortage” myth play themselves out.

Or maybe things are better than that. Thoughts?



  1. anonymous coward says:

    If you want to get librarian experience in a public library, I would recommend being willing to move to a rural area and not make much money, and be willing to bounce around and take different levels of responsibility. It is a better, imo, career plan than trying to move up in a system where there is a lot of competition and everyone wants to live. The ability/desire to put gaining experience over the inertia of a go nowhere job is a great competitive advantage.

    More harshly… the cream rises to the top, but not always directly. If you are good, it will work out or you should get out. Some systems are run poorly and you shouldn’t waste your time there.

    • Was that a Macho Man reference I sensed?

      Yeah, I came in late to the game. I didn’t discover how much I wanted to be a librarian until after I got my BA and out of school for a few years. Now I don’t have the means to get my masters so I can’t even hope to get some of those nicer, bigger jobs. So right now I’m just part time in a rural library, trying to get full time at some library within driving distance. :( I also feel like there is so much animosity towards those of us who don’t have our degree in the community. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mocked and put down for wanting a full time librarian position, not management or specialized, just something full time, without my degree. Honestly, I don’t want to even get my degree now because of that.

    • This is the key. I moved thousands of miles away for my first professional job. Now I make pretty good money in a major metropolitan area. I’m also not afraid to move around for work. Chase those promotions just like you would in any other profession.

    • As much as I’d like to move thousands of miles away for a job…I can’t. I have a man and two boys to think about. It’s hard to just drop everything and move even though things would be better for all of us when there’s also an ex-wife in the picture. (who happens to be their biological mom.)

  2. Meg, I’m full time as a paraprofessional, and even full time, paraprofessional jobs don’t pay much. I’ve thought about getting the MLIS, but haven’t because I don’t want to have debt in case it takes a long to get a full time librarian position. I don’t have any debt from undergrad and I’m not looking to take on debt now that I’m even older. I would have gotten the degree a while ago, but now, it feels like there are too many uncertain elements in the field. I can’t move (spouse and I have family obligations) so going to another city or state isn’t doable. I like working in a library, but without the MLIS, I’ve hit a ceiling and cannot advance beyond paraprofessional roles. At the same time, I’m not willing to spend the time and money to get a degree that I might use “someday” if I’m lucky.

    • Is the myth of the librarian shortage still being promulgated? Wow, I remember reading about that 20 years ago. The shortage always seemed to be just over the horizon. Back in the 90’s when I was applying for an MLS level job I already had several years of professional experience yet found myself competing for entry level jobs with 10, 20, or more applicants and almost always someone with more experience than me. This went on for a couple of years until I finally found a job with the Federal government, hundreds of miles from where I was living. Would I recommend library school to anyone at this point? Probably not.

    • @Rich, I heard that myth when I was in library school in 2007, and I wrote this article in 2010:
      The myth is alive and well.

  3. I wouldn’t put this entirely on the supposed librarian shortage. I think organizations are trying to “flatten” the organization and have broader job descriptions (for one thing so that you can move around among duties but also so that you can be moved . . .). The problem is that at some point you “top out” and don’t have the credentials; at some point you need to move to another system if you want the chance to be promoted before you are too “old” and “expensive”. It also makes sense to move to larger systems, if you can, with more opportunities.

  4. I don’t think the glut of librarians is as much about the myth of the librarian shortage as it is about a general level of unemployment and underemployment among millennials. Their enrollment in library school wasn’t so much that they thought there were lots of jobs in libraries as it was that there weren’t any other full time jobs for them when they got out of undergrad with their various liberal arts degrees, so why not try a master’s degree? And since library schools were happy to take their tuition money regardless of the fact that there weren’t any jobs out there for them, they didn’t limit the number of students they enrolled.

  5. Meg, full time library assistant positions do exist but depending where you are there may be a lot of competition for them. Some libraries will hire circulation managers that do not have a MLS as long as they have other library experience, customer service and/or supervisory experience.

    • We had a recent part time library assistant position open and had over 300 applicants in 2 weeks. The full time positions are equally competitive.

  6. The shortage of librarian jobs is due to a lot of factors, among them: downgrading of what used to be librarian jobs into “paraprofessional” jobs which do much the same work but make much less money; technology which has made it possible to do the same work with fewer people; downsizing in school systems and public libraries; and of course, financial pressures keeping people working long after traditional retirement age. None of these trends are likely to let up any time soon. Reality for new librarians is to expect to cobble together part-time jobs for several years until you have amassed the requisite experience and made the connections to get a full time job. Even the ability to move won’t help you get your foot in the door if where you want to move to has a nearby library school cranking out local graduates who don’t have to relocate. Connections are key, because people hire who they like, and many jobs are never even advertised. Of course, that’s true in any field. Flatter hierarchies definitely impact promotional opportunities, as do budget pressures keeping salaries from growing.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  4. Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media, per our Terms of Use.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind


Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE