Researcher’s Corner: Entry Level Job Opportunities for Academic Librarians

I’m very happy to be able to share Eamon Tewell’s research with you here, not only because I think the subject matter is very relevant for many of you readers, but because he did such a wonderful job of writing this informal summary. If you’d like to read a more formal, thorough account, follow the link to Project Muse, or search for the article cited below:

Tewell, E. (2012). Employment opportunities for new academic librarians: Assessing the availability of entry level jobs. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(4), 407-423.

Rather than being disheartened by the rather bleak results, I hope that this research will spur us to continue discussing how we can make more job opportunities for librarians, entry level and otherwise.  Please feel free to add your comments below.


Introduction

As a recent graduate seeking a professional position in an academic library, I spent most of a year looking for a job suitable for someone without a great deal of experience. Anecdotally, it seemed that many postings were for administrative positions that required years of post-MLS experience. Where were the entry level academic library jobs? Further, I wondered, what types of academic settings and which departments offered the most opportunities? These are two questions I attempted to answer by conducting research, of which the full version can be found at Project Muse (institutional subscription required). One goal of the article was to shed light on the reality of the job market for recent graduates–a market which new librarians know to be extremely challenging but for which little data exists to back up this assertion.

Methods

To examine the state of the academic library job market, I went directly to the job listings. Many articles that study job postings fail to take into account the many positions that are now advertised almost exclusively online in a wide variety of places. With this in mind, I used 22 different sources representing national, regional, and local listings to collect a total of 1385 job advertisements over a one year period from 2010-2011. These sources included national job aggregators (such as I Need A Library Job), regional listings (like ACRL/New York’s Job Listings), and human resources departments for individual institutions to make sure the maximum number of postings were found. A listing of the sources used to find job advertisements is included in the full article.

Defining which positions were and were not entry level was key. Using previous articles on similar topics as a basis, I reached the criteria that jobs were to be considered entry level if they required:

1. An ALA-accredited Masters of Library Science degree or its equivalent;

2. One or fewer years of experience;

3. No experience or duties that entry level librarians typically do not possess (supervising other professionals, administrative experience, etc.)

For each advertisement found, the level of position (entry level, non-entry level due to experience requirements, non-entry level due to job duties, and administrative), institution type (university, college, community college, or other), location (state and region), department, and job type were all noted.

Findings

Of the many findings, here are two that I found to be most interesting and relevant to job seekers:

  • Nearly three-quarters of the 1385 positions were non-entry level owing to either experience or duty requirements, confirming what those in the academic library job market already know: finding an entry level job to even apply for can be a challenge.
  • Twenty percent of positions were entry level, and public services (such as reference or instruction) accounted for sixty percent of entry level positions, a significant majority. Administrative and part time/temporary jobs accounted for the remainder of the jobs.

Given the relatively small number of jobs that recent graduates can viably apply for, I looked at what types of institutions and locations are more likely to offer positions.

  • Applicants for entry level jobs will have better chances finding a position in a university, where nearly seventy percent of all postings were found.
  • The distribution of advertisements among the four major U.S. regions was relatively even, though slightly more positions were based in the South and Northeast. The number of jobs in each state corresponded roughly to the state’s population, with New York and California offering the highest number of opportunities.
  • Certain specialties are more likely to offer positions, particularly Administration and Public Services. In terms of entry level work, the data suggested that recent graduates have the most prospects in Public Services and Electronic Services.

To begin to address the major question of whether the candidates being hired for entry level jobs actually had experience that matched those requirements, I emailed the Human Resources departments at 47 institutions to determine the experience backgrounds of successful hires. Through their responses I found that a large majority of the candidates hired for entry level positions had two years or more of professional experience, demonstrating the impact of potentially unexpected competition on the outcome of entry level job searches.

Conclusion

In the current academic library market, entry level positions are greatly outnumbered by jobs requiring years of experience and duties beyond the reach of new librarians. Seeking work in particular settings or within certain specializations is one way to increase your chances of landing your first job, but that may not be enough. Recent graduates lacking practical experience may find securing professional employment to be a huge challenge, which is why I and many others cannot overemphasize the importance of securing internships or pre-professional work prior to graduating with your MLS. Despite these difficulties, it is my hope that with more facts regarding the realities of the job market, everyone involved in or thinking about joining the library field can make more informed decisions regarding their career paths and goals.


Eamon Tewell is Reference Librarian at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, where he provides research, instruction, and outreach services. He earned his MLIS from Drexel University in 2008 and his BA from the University of Colorado at Denver. Eamon has published and presented on the topics of emerging technologies and popular media. He tweets at @eamontewell and can also be reached via eamontewell.comAcademia.edu, orLinkedIn.

6 Comments

Filed under Academic, Guest Posts, library research, Researcher's Corner

6 responses to “Researcher’s Corner: Entry Level Job Opportunities for Academic Librarians

  1. Pingback: Researcher’s Corner: Entry Level Job Opportunities for Academic Librarians « Alice Kim

  2. In the post’s conclusion, there is an assumption that having pre-professional work and internships help in the job hunt. That is not always the case. I have multiple years of library experience, including internships and a multi-year graduate assistantship in a library reference department, but they don’t always help in my job search. Many job ads are listing that a candidate must have so many years of “post-graduate” or “post-MLIS” experience. I’ve seen this become more and more common in the last few months, mainly since summer.

    Based on Mr. Tewell’s research (I’ve noticed these trends too) and my observations, the first step to creating more entry-level jobs is simply to remember there are recent graduates out there looking for a position and to tailor descriptions in a way to not exclude them. Yes, that sounds simple and obvious, but it would help the most. After all, the low number entry-level jobs now is going to hurt libraries later when they need people with experience. Why? Entry-level positions (plus internships and assistatnships) are ways to gain the needed experience to be future library leaders. This especially holds true since our profession is aging and many experienced librarians are predicted retire within the next decade.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you so very much for your input here Ms/Mrs Nickless, as my nephew had a position as an entry level page last year at his college, but very sadly the ‘regular’ libraries won’t even take him on as a volunteer. Heart breaking to see this happen, especially when they “desperately” NEED the help.

  3. Pingback: Reflections on Fall, 2012 « Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

  4. Pingback: Researcher’s Corner: Education, Training and Recruitment of Special Collections Librarians | Hiring Librarians

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