Really? You're still telling us this?


I am officially pissed off.

I was reading the Annoyed Librarian, and she linked to a new article in American Libraries which includes this line: “As the library profession “grays,” many academic libraries anticipate staff shortages as older employees retire within the next 10 years.”

ALA is still promoting the idea that we are approaching a librarian shortage and cannot possibly train enough people to continue on the grand tradition of librarianship.  This information was suspect a couple years ago, and considering the state if libraries right now–academic, public and special– it’s a damn lie.  This is the same propaganda they’ve been spouting for at least a decade.  Fellow Closed Stacks writer Penny Dreadful heard the same thing when she was in library school ten years before me.

You know what, ALA?  There are no jobs.  Quit filling people with false hope.  If this mass retirement you’re anticipating actually does come about AND those positions are filled (which probably only half will be), those positions should go to those of us who fell for your ruse the first time around, got an MLIS and are now languishing in the land of no job opportunities.

Among the most popular posts on this blog are: Why don’t a have a job yet?, It’s not just you and A little bit of research on job prospects.  I graduated over a year ago and had three years public library experience, one year special library experience, an academic library internship, an archives internship and a whole host of other well-rounding skills under my belt.

I applied for every job within an hour’s commute of my house that I was remotely qualified for.  Most of the advertised jobs were either part-time, or for directors.  Four months after graduating, I landed a 19-hour-a-week position, I held onto my on-call position which nets me a cool 5+ hours a month and just (as in, I start this week) found a second part-time job.  I’m making enough money to break even each month, but certainly not enough to pay down any of the loans I took out to pay for library school in the first place.

Of the people who graduated around the same time as me, I can think of three who got a full-time job right away.  Another girl was out of school for a year and a half before finding full-time work, and that one job had over 200 applicants.  Most of my friends, if they’ve found library jobs at all, are working part-time.  The lucky ones have more than one part-time library job.

You could try to say it’s because I live in a state that’s top ten worst economy right now, but Closed Stacks has writers from all over the country.  Paige Turner (California), recently sat for a qualifying exam for a paraprofessional job with 350 other hopefuls.  My alma mater in Minnesota advertised a position for a 9-month appointment, and they got over 200 applicants– most from out of state.

The library staff in Fargo, North Dakota–the largest city in the only state with a budget surplus–only received a cost of living increase of 1%, and all city departments were asked to make a 1% budget cut with no new positions considered until the next fiscal year.  Of course, library circulation is up 30%.  The North Dakota state library cut its budget by 3% despite the $1 billion budget surplus.  In the states with the most money and in those with the least–there are no library jobs.

Considering that my small program graduated about 50 people last May–there are not enough jobs for even those people.  If the 57 ALA accredited programs in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico each graduate–let’s estimate 100 people per year, that’s over 5500 new librarians out there looking for work.

There are not, and will not be 5500 jobs available any time soon.

The city I work for is counting on slashing the budget in the next five years due to retirements.  People are given nice retirement packages, and they are not being replaced.  I am happy (and lucky) to have my 19-hour-a-week position, but I’m also pretty certain that it’s not going to turn into anything different any time soon.

This is what the Occupational Outlook Handbook has to say about the future of the profession:

Job prospects are expected to be favorable. On average, workers in this occupation tend to be older than workers in the rest of the economy. As a result, there may be more workers retiring from this occupation than other occupations. However, relatively large numbers of graduates from MLS programs may cause competition in some areas and for some jobs.

OOH is pulling these statistics from years past, but as far as the program I graduated from, the new trend is younger and younger.  I realize that this may not be true across the board, but according to a friend of mine who teaches at my old school the student demographics have gone from about 50% older, second career students 50% young, fresh-out-of-undergrad students, to about 90% young.  At Paige Turner’s school, she guesses it’s about 80% younger students, 20% over forty.

If ALA is counting on older students who get the degree and work for 15 years before surrendering their jobs to the newbies, that’s another thing they need to reevaluate.

I am offended that ALA is still pumping out these lies.  If you’re a potential new librarian researching graduate schools and the American Library Association tells you that job prospects are favorable, why would you not believe them?  Librarians give you facts, data.  Certainly they wouldn’t lie to you because they have an interest in keeping enrollment up.  Well, I guess they would.

Shame on you, ALA.

46 Responses to “Really? You're still telling us this?”

  1. 1 Carey

    I live in Michigan. I have applied all over the country. I graduated in December 2007 and was lucky to have a curator job (fell into my lap) and then a cataloging position which didn’t work out.
    I have been applying EVERYWHERE for EVERYTHING and have had only a handful of interviews. This search has been going on for close to 16 months.

    I am trained,
    I am ready for an academic or public library position.
    I have the degree.

    Can ALA realize that there are a ton of us wanting jobs?


  2. This article had the same effect on me. I entered library school in the fall of 2008 right before the economy tanked. I was told, almost promised, that a library degree would make so marketable that I would have a job before I even graduated. Um, no. Clearly that was not the case. I applied for over 50 jobs that I qualified, all over the country before finally getting a part-time job that eventually led to my job as a medical librarian.

    But I, of course, never wanted to be a medical librarian, and only took the job because I was so desperate to have one. Most of the people I graduated with in December don’t even have library-related jobs. They doing temp work or went back to retail. Didn’t we go to library school to get away from all that?

    Thanks ALA for making us promises you can’t keep.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I want to add, too, that my current job is the second one that I have had where I’ve been working for someone who has been ELIGIBLE to retire for multiple years, and who for whatever reason will not give up their position.

    I am currently in a library position, full-time, but it technically does not even require my bachelor’s degree, and there is nowhere to be promoted to within the institution. Dead end job. Wonderful. And by virtue of where I am (ie not too much libraries and the state is …. broke to say the least), I am looking at having to get out of libraries to be able to pay my bills. Granted, it will probably use my MSI, but it will not be libraries.

  4. “young, fresh-out-of-undergrad students, to about 90% young” — this is the trend that I’ve been seeing too. Not just promoted by ALA, but I’m sick of librarian as being the hot new hipster trend career. Because nothing is cooler than taking out huge loans for a, as of right now, shrinking career field!

    I have only received an actual merit type raise once in my library career, all other raises have been the 1% cost of living increase, and due to budget cuts I haven’t received one of those in two years. Older librarians are putting off retiring often because they need the insurance, and right now when they do retire the job is absorbed and not filled. Right now I am doing my job, plus the work of a retired coworker for no pay increase.

    I believed the “graying profession” hype too, just to regret it most days.

  5. 5 Em

    I’m in my second semester of MLIS and got the job rhetoric, though, thanks to these blogs, I knew it was basically hogwash. However, I’m in the damned if you, damned if don’t boat. I’m currently a part-time clerk, and to move up at my library, you basically have to have the degree for any chance of making it to a specialist or librarian position. Luckily, an in-house scholarship fund is reducing some of the debt I’ll incur, and the library board recently decided they will no longer hire back retired librarians for part-time specialist positions. So as librarians retire (yep, the city pretty much forces them to), specialists and younger librarians will move into the positions that don’t close and some of us degreed clerks will vie for the part-time specialist spots.

    But that is still rose-tinted, because 55% of our city’s budget is wrapped up in police and firefighter pay, is suffering a $500 million pension gap, and, oh yeah, pretty much the same for the annual budget. The library received a “mild” 16% cut, but we’ll see what happens the next year. We have a supportive city, but with the mayor jacking up taxes, we’ll see how long that lasts.

  6. but you completely missed the GOOD NEWS!!!! because of all those lost entry-level positions, the average librarian (manager) salary has gone UP!!!! so if you are lucky enough to be able to hang on to that job without getting canned, you might make it to the level of director, and look at that top salary, $302,500… looks like someone is have steak for dinner.

  7. I was until recently a (non-traditional) grad student in LIS. Given my family history of fundamentalism and alcoholism, I’ve become expert at spotting when people are trying to convince me of something so that they can convince themselves. I dropped out after two semesters. The more they talked of the wide-open opportunities just around the corner, the more convinced I became that my degree would be worthless. (Their enthusiasm for Second Life, which I never hear anybody outside the LIS field mention anymore, didn’t help.)

    The career I’m in isn’t perfect, but I have a job there.

  8. Yep, I agree completely with you (and Jessamyn, and Annoyed Librarian, and the commenters) that this line from the ALA is tired, wrong, and ridiculous. I’d just like to offer one slight correction: This information was suspect a couple of decades ago, let alone a couple of years. That detail aside, you are absolutely correct to point out the fallacy of this notion.

  9. 9 Tricia

    I hope people express their disgust with ALA to the organization’s “face” as it were. I have had the same feelings as you about their role in perpetuating the lie about jobs in this profession. Actually I’ve entirely lost any sort of confidence I may have had in ALA as a useful professional resource. Being a member got me lots of junk mail from them selling my information, and periodic frustrations from browsing through American Libraries (where the lie about job availability often pops up). Thanks for writing this post.

  10. 10 JM

    I got an MLIS in 1997 and have never landed a full-time position in a library. The private sector has been good to me a couple times, but not the public sector. I’m working part-time in the public sector now, but that’s only because I knew someone… The job I want has been vacant but unadvertised for 2 & a half years now.
    In my experience, what few professional jobs there are get filled by insiders. If you don’t know the right person, you won’t get hired.
    And yes, ALA has been spouting this ‘graying’ line for over 15 years and I’ve never seen a bit of it in reality.

  11. While I’m one of the outliers in this, that I actually found a full-time job as my first out of college that pays my bills and my loans – I still spent four months scouring the nation looking for positions that were open, and soon after I got into it, we went through severe budget contractions to the point that I was holding on to the bottom part of the totem pole and hoping the shaking didn’t get too bad.

    Around me, one library assistant position was open for a week and received more than 500 applications, if I recall correctly, leading to 309 people all taking the examination. For one non-degreed library assistant position. There are no jobs here, and we have to fight tooth, nail, claw, and occasionally sledge to keep the ones that come open due to retirement. There aren’t enough jobs right now to have everyone with a degree have a job, and the promised wave of retirements keeps getting put off by the crappy economy and the ever-increasing death spiral of insurance costs.

    It’s a great profession, but seriously, the ALA needs to stop selling people that there are tons of jobs everywhere for everyone.

    Unless, that is, they really want everyone to get into library administration. They seem to be doing reasonably fine. Anyone have numbers to disprove that?

  12. 12 Allison

    This is completely dead on. 7 years ago when I was thinking about what I wanted to do in the future, I read all the statistics and prospects projected for library work were great. I invested the time and money with no prospects in sight. … The vast majority of ‘opportunities’ in southern New England are part-time or Director positions. Even for part-time library clerical positions that don’t require any college education are getting hundreds of applicants (many of whom are MLIS grads or current students). If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have gone to library school at all.

  13. 13 Chris

    Nicely written Andria. I too am waiting for the field to open up. Even though I have a job, I’m grossly underpaid and will be as long as I need them more than they need me.

  14. 14 Emma

    Yes, I’m just finishing that degree that I “needed” to get a library job but am unable to find better work than library temp.
    Why did I go into debt again?

  15. 15 Deb

    After getting my MLIS, waiting more than a year after graduating to get a job – grateful to be making $10.50/hr – I am once again unemployed having been laid off due to lack of funding…

  16. Interesting post … I responded on my blog here:

  17. ““As the library profession “grays,” many academic libraries anticipate staff shortages as older employees retire within the next 10 years.””

    This quote is factually correct.
    We in academic libraries *do* anticipate there will be librarian and staff shortages in our libraries in the semi-near future.

    We in academic libraries *also* anticipate that many (most?) of these vacated positions will not be filled immediately, due to short-term budgetary constraints, if ever, due to whatever factors come up in the short- to medium-term.

    Try this blog post on for size:

    It’s targeted at new and current undergrads, but it applies to graduate students as well as those looking for work. Especially point 1: “The real world does not work like school” & point 3: “You are going to have to work much, much harder than you probably expect.”

  18. 18 A Elizabeth

    Thank God I’m hearing this; no one else ‘gets’ it. My mother said to me, “Didn’t you research the job prospects before you started school?” Yeah. Yeah I did. I too am regretting my decision to get my degree, and bitterly resent paying back the money I borrowed to (eventually?) earn a master’s that isn’t paying for itself. I bake cupcakes, for Chrissake, and that job ends in two weeks. Can’t wait to work at JC Penney to cover my winter loan payments.

  19. 19 Alison

    Oh yes, I’m feeling you here. I graduated last year and have applied to every job in my area but didn’t even get list qualifications… so far they have all been specific stuff like archivists and children’s librarians. I am lucky enough to have a library assistant position, but have started applying to positions outside the field – I just don’t know if I can hack working at this underpaid position for the next few years watching my MLIS get stale anyway. Thanks for the shared angst, it helps, especially when friends and family don’t understand why I don’t have a professional job yet.

  20. 20 Pat

    Waiting for job postings doesn’t work, you will need to network, network & network (By the time you finish your degree you should have 80+ business contacts, who will act as your information brokers). This is the reality in any job market these days. “Fit” is the more important thing when looking for a job: target companies that you want to work for and research them well before applying. Be open to non-traditional careers, where the MLIS skill set is applicable. Make sure you take a course on consulting if you can, so that you can get the ball rolling before you complete your degree. You really have to hustle in todays job market.

  21. I have two courses left to complete my MLIS… the future looks grim for me as well. This is my second advanced degree; can’t work in my other field if I want to gain library experience… but library experience seems to offer very little by way of recompense. Seems such a waste to need to leave the field just to make ends meet after going to the trouble of getting through this program.

  22. I was one of the luckier librarians I know, applying for six or seven jobs before getting one. One person I know got a librarian job after her 13th application and another has applied for 26 jobs and still hasn’t gotten a librarian position. And these are apparently some of the better figures….

  23. 23 Rob

    What really drives me crazy is the fact that library systems aren’t also taking advantage of the large supply of fresh librarians to purge their systems of the useless hangers-on who see the job as nothing more than a paycheck.

    Every librarian knows someone on staff who’s totally useless, who doesn’t lift a finger to help a patron, who gives up at the first hurdle or who does nothing but play FarmVille all day.

    So why are they there?

    The dead weights are hanging on for another five or ten years because they’re scared to retire and they don’t have anything else to do with their free time, anyway.

    I say it’s time to start raising the bar. Directors should start raising the level of service that they expect from their librarians. Don’t accept mediocre librarians; grade your people more firmly on their next performance evaluation so that their performance evaluations show how lousy they really are. If they don’t cut the mustard, *fire them* and get someone who will bring the required level of commitment and enthusiasm to the job. If you can’t grade them out, buy them out and get someone better; they’ll work harder, have new ideas, more enthusiasm and they’ll do it all at an entry-level salary!

    I read that Jack Welch had a policy where every year, he fired the bottom 10% of his workforce and rewarded the top 20%. Well, I don’t know much about Six Sigma or other management styles, but it sounds like a good policy, to me. What would we be losing, really?

    Last I looked, the law of supply and demand still worked, so it seems to me that there has never been a better time to cut the dead wood (no pun intended) in our library systems. Innovative, ambitious people are out there, DESPERATELY trying to get a job in a field they’d be great at. The people coming into librarianship are eager to turn it into a 21st-century industry.

    We want them. We need them. We deserve them. Our patrons deserve them, our employers deserve them and our communities deserve them…if the clock-watchers can be shown the door.

  24. This topic came up on Lita-L last week or so when someone asked an innocuous question about applying to lib school and most of the answers were of the benign “do it if you love it not for the money” kind of thing. What set *me* over the edge was when someone said, “OH IF YOU ARE WILLING TO RELOCATE, THE JOBS WOULD BE FORTHCOMING,” which like “greying of the field will bring jobs” is an outright fallacy. So I commented that no, that is NOT true and well as I’ve applied for nearly 90 jobs in the lower 48. My comment spawned into a 100+ post thread with many of us new grads gently, professionally whacking those already long in the field with cluebats that YES, IT REALLY IS THAT BAD. Many of the new grads/those looking for work are very well aware that jobs are beyond scarce, that doing everything “right’ from being willing to relocate, to overextending ourselves in classes with the participation/presentin’ and what not, to volunteering at local institutions, to attending confs, networking, expanding our social and professional outreach and making ourselves beyond marketable – the jobs are not there.

    For me, and I know for many, what is becoming beyond infuriating (as illustrated by the Lita-L thread) is that when we tell you those in the field of what the reality is of what’s going on in the job search, we get a lot of unasked for and unwarranted advice that borders on patronizing. When I tell you that an institution told me I was too ambitious, this was NOT code that there was something wrong with “me” – it was sincerely said by the hiring manager that they were looking for someone who will not get bored and leave within 6 months, which is something they honestly feared I would do.

    There is a two prong issue with what is going on:
    1. There are LOADS of jobs for directors/heads/etc that ARE opening up and need to be filled but are not, for a variety of reasons. Checking JObLit, LibGig, HigherEd etc can confirm that a good portion if not most of the positions of “the greys” are being opened but middle staged librarians are NOT moving into those positions, which is not opening up the entry level positions for those of us coming into the field. This is causing a stagnation within the field – it’s not about age really, it’s about experience and will always be about experience. Many, many middle staged librarians have aid they will NOT move into those positions for a plethora of reasons but the main constant seemed to be job safety. They were willing to move laterally but not vertically. So yes, the greys are shuffling off but the middlings are staying put.
    2. Library schools/ALA are a BIG part of the problem: They are NOT promoting whether via the professional network or the schools that there are LOADS Of other jobs for those with MLIS outside of “traditional library” settings. The other issue is that those who follow the traditional non-ischool path for a MLIS, those schools are NOT teaching much needed courses that are now needed for those who work in the trenches (web design, general computing skills, marketing and business courses). The flipside is that those I’ve met who have/had attended an iSchool will NEVER set foot in library ever or work at a library since most of their courses are theory and not practical based. There is seemingly NO middle ground.

    Bill Drew was kind enough to repost one of my last posts to Lita-L on this topic detailing my job search habits and the creation of my blog series, “So you want to be a librarian”:

    “So, you want to be a librarian/archivist” was started when I started my MLIS in the fall of 2008 and details how to find, apply and attend library/archives school, the job hunt, realities of the job hunt, what the eff you can do with the damned and everything else inbetween. It’s been namechecked by LibrarianByDay, ALA and a few other blogs:

    I apologise for hijacking the thread, however, I’m becoming a firm believer that our time of whinging is over and that unless we are proactive in changing librarianship at the core, creating a radical revolution so that we can get this profession OFF the stagnating pisspot it’s landed itself on, nothing will change. In six months, a year, maybe even 2 years, myself or someone like me will find themselves writing a similar blog post/comment on a similar thread and the problems/issues we’ve all outlined here will have NOT changed. Not only is this a great loss to ourselves but also to our patrons and our community, and this is NOT why I attended library school.

    – Lisa / @pnkrcklibrarian

  25. 25 Cari

    This is infuriating. That’s all I have to say.

  26. 26 Joan

    I worked F/T while earning my MLIS from 1999-2003. I’m always surprised to hear how people take on so much debt for library school. It seems like some use school to postpone the inevitable job search and reality. The MLIS is more of a certificate than ticket into a profession.

  27. 27 Natalie

    Ah, this is all depressing. I worked as a museum librarian for over ten years and then with the stock market crash in ’08 it was decided that all remaining library employees would be made half-time. (Oh, yes, and from the years 1998-2008 our library staff had been slowly decimated by lay-offs from 11 people to 4). To make a long story short, I took a solo school librarian position because it was the only thing I could find after a long and extensive job search. It was definitely not my niche, but I remained in it until I could no longer take the understaffing and long and early hours confined to one place with only one-half hour for lunch, in which you had to remain in the library because there was no one to man the place. After much thought, I quit my job and have gone back to having my own business – far from the library world – making clothing, handbags and jewelry. I did this in Library School and made a pretty good living. Funny how things have a way of turning in another direction. Having been in the work force since a teenager, which is now about 38 years, my advice to all is to become competent in other areas. The Library field is going the way of the dinosaur.

  28. 28 Part-time Librarian

    I’m also a part-time librarian with only one position at several hours per week less than you. I had a librarian job before I graduated and felt fortunate to have a professional job, even with parapro pay. Today I’m dependent on someone else for housing, health insurance, etc. and I feel like I’m the one going gray early.

  29. 29 Elizabeth Ferguson Keathley

    Did Sarah D. Smith ever reply to any of this?

  30. 30 Drewcifer

    I suppose I was destined to find the article saying what I wanted it to say by Yahoo!-searching “unemployed librarian.” If current trends continue, then with each passing season’s crop of fresh MLIS graduates, the choir you’re preaching to will only grow. Wow, I just realized that it’s been 5 months. And absolutely nothing.

  31. I’m an English librarian but the situation is similar here. I remember when I started my MA, all my tutors told me that it’s a great profession to be in, so many opportunities, so easy to get a job before you’ve even graduated. Sadly, it hasn’t been the case. I have been fortunate enough to find a full time position in a public library because I did a placement there, but I think I can count on one hand the number of my class mates who have managed to find professional posts. It does feel for some of them that they’ve been sold a false dream by our tutors and I count my blessings that I managed to find a full time job!

  32. 32 Pigbitin Mad

    Yes I truly wish the whole ALA and library profession would go to straight to Hell. I will spend the rest of my days encouraging people to stay away on forums like this one. It’s a joke. And the calcified dopes who do the hiring sit around waiting for some perfect candidate because they honestly believe that there is no one capable of learning on the job….in two seconds. And increasingly no one will have the experience because nobody will ever get hired unless they know the director or someone in the organization. I wish all library schools would go bankrupt. So if you really want to make a difference (or just get even), spend all your time encouraging people to stay away.

    Nobody will go to go to your shitty school if they can’t get even get a lousy paying job out of it. It would be in the best interest of library schools to lobby for more jobs for recent grads. I am not kidding. I am that angry.

  33. 33 Jenny

    That is one reason why I am not renewing my ALA membership. If the organization isn’t professional enough to be honest about the state of the profession, I see no reason to continue giving them money.

    – Jenny

  34. 34 Luke the Librarian

    I graduated in the winter of ’08, and was lucky to find an entry-level job. It is also a dead-end job, because the current Director (unfortunately) isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So, wanting to keep my career from stalling, I have begun job hunting again, and am sadly discovering that there aren’t too many jobs that I’m qualified for. And like the rest of you, I too am looking nationally. Competition, indeed.
    I’m not renewing my ALA membership, either. What a waste! I’m probably going to do what I should have done in the first place, and get another degree in IT. Good luck to all of you.

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