Library Jobs Math

Did you read the recent Wall Street Journal article that said we would soon be experiencing a shortage of librarians and sea captains?

Does that math sound right to you?

Library Journal’s 2012 placements and salary survey shows in that year, 6,184 people graduated. If that number remains constant (more about this later), that’s 61,840 new librarians over the ten years from 2012-2022.

Will this be enough to fulfill the imminent shortage???

The statistical chart entitled Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2013 annual averages (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey) gives the total number of librarians in the US as 194,000.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts a growth rate for librarian jobs of 7%, from 2012-2022, slower than the total for all occupations, which they predict as 11% (more about this later too). 194,000 times 7% is 13,580. So, the BLS’ numbers mean that approximately 13,580 new librarian jobs will be created over the next ten years.

Let’s subtract that from the 61,840 new graduates. There are still 48,260 graduates who don’t have jobs! How is that a shortage?

Oh wait, those retiring librarians!

That same statistical chart, Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2013 annual averages, shows us the ages of librarians!

53,000 librarians are between the ages of 55 and 64, so we would expect those librarians to retire over the next ten years, right?

Well, the chart also shows us that 17,000 are 65 years and older, so it looks like some of them …won’t.

Let’s say that within the next ten years, ALL of the librarians 65 years or older retire. 48,260 (the number of new grads remaining after all those new jobs are filled) – 17,000 (those 65+ year old librarians) leaves…

31,260 new grads still looking for work.

How many of those 55-64 year olds will retire in the next ten years? There are 53,000 of them.

  • 1 possibility: Say they all retire. Then yes, we will be short by (53,000-31,260) 21,620 librarians needed!
  • possibility 2: Say all but 17,000 retire. Then yes, we will be short, but by ((53,000-17,000)-31,260) only 4,740 librarians needed.
  • possibility 3: Say that those librarians are never ever going to retire because they love their jobs/have had their retirement funds decimated by the economy/some other reason. Then we will have a surplus of 31, 260 librarians!

It’s hard to know what this group of librarians aged 55 to 64 years will do.* There are some differences between a librarian of 55 years and a librarian of 64 years. If most of the 53,000 librarians are 55, then maybe they won’t be retiring in ten years. Maybe it’ll be more like 20 years. And do you know any 74 year old librarians who show no signs of slowing down? I know of at least two. I think some librarians will just go on forever and ever and ever and ever and ….

And there are three more kickers.

1. Library school enrollment is increasing, rather than staying stable, so if this trend continues it seems likely that the number of grads (e.g. job hunting librarians) will also increase each year. Meaning more or many more than just 61,840 hungry new librarians are being created.**

2. Although the statistical chart entitled Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2013 annual averages gives the number of librarians as 194,000, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook gives the number as 148,400. Granted, the former is 2013 and the latter is 2012, but to me that discrepancy indicates some variance in the counts, rather than an increase of nearly 50,000 librarians. So there may be in reality be even fewer than 194,000 librarians.

3. I am skeptical of the predicted 7% growth in jobs. The AFL-CIO provides statistical support for my skepticism:

From 2007 through 2013, library employment among librarians and library technicians and assistants shrank from 380,000 to 320,000.

Anecdotally, I look around at library workrooms with empty desks. I’ve spoken to veteran librarians who describe a slow attrition of positions, as automation and the economy visit libraries, and those who leave or retire are not replaced (or are replaced by part time or hourly employees).  Are we really growing?  It looks like we’re shrinking.

I’m sorry that this post is such a bummer.

But frankly, I think we need to be very honest with each other, and with the library school students that are going into debt right now in order to reach for the Impossible Librarian Dream.

The future librarian shortage does not exist.Not unless we can stop pumping out grads and start creating new librarian jobs.


*The potentially retiring librarians are explored in a much more sophisticated fashion in Planning for 2015: The Recent History and Future Supply of Librarians, A Report Prepared for the American Library Association Senior Management and Executive Board to inform its 2015 Strategic Planning Activities. Please note though, that this report was written five years ago, using data that is now almost ten years old. So, not totally up to date.

** I learned about this from Liz Lieutenant, who also has some good posts about library jobs numbers on her blog, for example this one, which illustrates library jobs math much more elegantly, by simply juxtaposing two quotes:

“The profession may lose an average of 2,820 librarians each year to retirement.”
ALA Office for Research & Statistics “Planning for 2015: The Recent History and Future Supply of Librarians” (2009) pg. 39

6,451 ALA-accredited degrees were awarded in 2013*
ALA Committee on Accreditation “Trend Data on Program Performance” (2013) *Note: Canadian programs removed.


Filed under Op Ed

26 responses to “Library Jobs Math

  1. Do any of these statistics include non-traditional librarian jobs? How many of those graduates actually want to work in a traditional library? What about knowledge or content managers? Analysts? Archivists? Research services? There are lots not seemingly unaccounted for in these statistics. I don’t know if the situation is as dire as it is often made out to be. Or perhaps I am just too hopeful.


    • I’m specifically talking about librarian jobs. I know that non-traditional library jobs are often touted as the great savior of library school students. And good for those library school students who are interested in them. But I think it can be a bait and switch. And I think it obscures the loss of librarian jobs, which we need to be more actively fighting against. I wrote about it in my other blog here:


      • Oh, I am certainly not saying that it isn’t a problem. I definitely think it is! I know plenty of my cohorts DO want to work in a traditional library, and I am worried for them! But I personally (and I know others who feel the same) never went to library school with the intention of working in a library (as you stated in your other post). I knew the field of data and knowledge management were open to me with an MLIS, and thus, that is what I pursued. So I think it might be unfair to include “all MLIS graduates” in these statistics, as we can maybe assume that a small percentage of those graduates every year were never intending to take a position in a traditional library to begin with; therefore, that leaves more positions open for those that do. I do not believe it is something that doesn’t need to be or shouldn’t be fought for, it just might not be AS dire as it seems when considering just the numbers. I think this is a very well through out post overall, as I was also in disbelief over this so-called “shortage” of librarians.


      • Fair enough. I am personally pretty focused on traditional jobs, and do tend to forget about the non-traditional ones. I agree that ALL MLIS grads is an overstatement there.


  2. Bookworm

    I already felt like taking a flying leap off the nearest tall building. Why not really cement that feeling?


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  5. As a current MLS student, my question to you is this: should I continue with my program? I am only 4 classes in. I was planning on working in a traditional library (academic) but I was also open to other things too (FBI internship). Here’s my dilemma. I wanted to be a librarian so that I could empower people to find the information they seek and perhaps help make finding information easier. I don’t mind working hard, but I am getting really concerned that I am going to spend a lot of my time looking for a job, trying to keep that job and then looking for the next job to expand my career that I am not going to really be doing the work. Does that make sense? I feel there are potentially other majors I could consider that might allow me to focus on the work and less on trying to get a job. I must say I read this article and my first thought is that I need to get out now. I don’t say that easily but I am a strategic thinker and it makes no sense to keep riding a sinking ship. How does someone get a real handle on the current state of librarianship and how do you make some realistic predictions about the future?


    • So, there are jobs. There are just more people who want jobs than there are jobs available. This post isn’t saying that no one will ever get a librarian job. Just that it’s tough!

      I’ve had my job for just over a year, and I’m not currently looking. I spend most of my time doing the job that I love. Thinking about career paths and doing that kind of networking and development is the same as it would be for any other career, I think.

      My two standard questions for people who are interested in library school are:
      Do you already work in a library, and do you need library school to advance your career?
      Will you go into debt in order to go to school?
      If the answers are yes, then no, library school is a much more logical path.
      If the answers are no, then yes, I would advise thinking very carefully before going to library school.

      For you I’d say, if you *like* library school, if you’re not going into debt to go to library school, if you’re interested in the potential for non-library paths, then continue? I don’t know enough about what your other options are, and really you’re the only person who does.
      Now I have to go to work! 🙂


  6. Reblogged this on The Library, Information, and Science Junkie and commented:
    Interesting article on the differentiation between the number of library school graduates and the number of library jobs available. In my next blog post I’ll look at the available statistical information and try to put my two cents in on this issue.


  7. Angelynn King

    And here are two more numbers that might help you fine-tune your excellent numerical analysis: current Boomers and Xers in that pre-retirement group are not eligible for Medicare until they’re 65, and many of them won’t be able to collect social security until they’re 67. They are unlikely to retire before that, and they can’t even work part-time, because they’d lose their health insurance. So I’d say your conservative estimate is the most realistic.


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  9. Nice breakdown, Emily! But what about those sea captains?


  10. Meg

    Are you taking ALA accredited Information Schools into account as well? I ask because I am an MSI student at an ALA accredited program where a solid two thirds of the students are not interested in libraries at all. They will be UX designers or work for Google or something. Then from that third some are going to be archivists. And some are going corporate like me and won’t have library anywhere in the job description.
    If you’re including schools like mine (and there are a few) then maybe we won’t have as many librarians entering the job market.


    • That number is from the LJ placements and salary survey, and you can see the list of schools if you follow the link. You can also take a look at the chart of ALISE data which shows that the number of grads enrolled in ALA accredited programs is rapidly increasing. You’re right that not all the grads will want to be traditional librarians. But we’ll still have plenty.


      • Anonymous

        Thanks for the links.
        I went to the ALA reports and looked up my school. I think we may be an outlier, but those numbers are misleading. I couldn’t use the ALISE link due to Twitter security things, but I was able to look up the LJ placements and salary survey, which was fascinating. That one confirmed- my school is highly unusual.


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  12. Anonymous

    I wouldn’t advise anyone to go into the library profession at this point. The opportunities for actually making a living are practically nonexistent, there’s no job security and in terms of social status you’re about on the same level as a waitress (and usually treated with a similar amount of courtesy and respect.)


    • Dusty Chaps

      No regrets about graduate college or matriculation in the MLS program. But you’re absolutely correct to discourage anyone who wishes to make their way in public or corporate libraries. Few jobs and disgraceful wages. Librarians are indeed treated with loads of disrespect.


  13. Dusty Chaps

    There is no future these days in public or corporate libraries for professional librarians who hold the MLS or MLIS degree. There hasn’t been at least since 1980. Believe no others! Find something else to do. Period.


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