So I have a Google Alert for the phrase “Hiring Librarians,” not just because I am vain and want to know when people are talking about me, but because it sends me a little sampling of the Google zeitgeist for library hiring issues. Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recently updated page on the Occupational Outlook for Librarians popped onto my radar.
What first struck me is the figure that library jobs are expected to grow 7% from 2010 to 2020. Although this is slower than the average growth rate for jobs, this actually seems high to me. It may be cynicism coupled with months of underemployment, but when I think of the job market for librarians, I feel like we are treading water. Sure, there are a few new positions being created for web, assessment, and user experience librarians, but our profession has suffered massive cutbacks over the past few decades. I have spoken with staff at libraries that have been inversely decimated: only one out of ten librarians has been left standing. This is just my personal feeling though, and I have no desire to argue with my beloved Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When I asked Twitter if the figure felt right to other librarians, @librarian_lali responded by wondering about the growth rate of library school graduates. Good question!
I took a quick look at the annual review for my alma mater, SJSU SLIS, and found that there were 676 of us 2011 graduates (page 3…if you flip a little bit further you will find me being totally *famous* on page 22). The BLS’ 7% growth figure translates to 10,800 new jobs. If SJSU holds steady at 676 a year, that means 6,760 new librarians will be created from this one program alone. Leaving 4,040 spots to be split by ten years worth of graduates from the other 57 ALA accredited library schools.
To look at another figure, Library Journal’s Annual Placements and Salaries Survey (2011) includes 38 schools, which have a total of 4,790 2010 graduates. This total is much more ominous, because even in its incompleteness, it leaves us with a surplus of 37,100 new jobless graduates over that ten year period. Of course some librarians might retire, if they decide their retirement funds have bounced back or that they can’t bear to explain Boolean searching even one more time.
While I was thinking about this, I came across Brett Bonfield’s piece Is the United States Training Too Many Librarians or Too Few? (Part 1) at In the Library with the Lead Pipe. He has more statistics, from different places, including one that puts the number of positions opening due to attrition as 42,000. So maybe there is a bigger sliver of hope for surplus librarians after all. And you know they do peer review and stuff over there, so they’re perhaps a little more authoritative. Still pretty bleak though, right?
My big question is not, “are we training too many librarians?” but “what are we doing about creating more librarian jobs?” Are there library leaders out there who are looking for ways to create new positions? Or are they so snowed under with fighting for libraries that losing personnel is a lesser of two evils? Will the last librarians standing continue to work longer and longer hours trying desperately to show their communities that libraries are relevant and valuable?
Here’s my thinking. Libraries and books are synonymous in the public mind. But as we move beyond the physical to the digital, and as we leave behind the necessity for the corporeal trappings of libraries, what is left behind is librarians. We need to shift our thinking, and the thinking of the public, to the idea that the library is in the librarian. We know that librarianship is service profession. That service is where the value of our future libraries lies. Libraries without librarians will not, in fact, be particularly relevant or valuable. It’s not just the books; Librarians are a public good. We need to fight for new jobs, and not just cling to the last scraps of funding for decaying warehouses.
Who do you know of that is fighting for librarians? What are we doing about creating more librarian jobs?