Reader Mail: Unemployment in Libraryland

I got an email from a reader. I will quote it in its entirety.

Instead of addressing issues such as library videos and the views of a contrarian librarian your fellow librarian blogger colleagues like to
ridicule, please the address the issue of the high unemployment rate among librarians and recently graduated MLIS students . Unemployment is the elephant in the room in the library world while the unimportant issues as the ones I mentioned get the most attention. It is librarians like you who are “telling us nothing”.

First, there’s a very simple explanation as to why library videos and a contrarian librarian get more blog space as opposed to the the issue of high unemployment within the profession: the former is a bit more interesting than the latter. In fact, I would say that the latter is actually a boring topic. It is boring in the unique way that mathematical facts can be boring for it boils down to an elementary matter of supply and demand. From my own calculations, there are almost twice as many people going into the field than are coming out of it (though my estimation of retirements does not include people who are killed or otherwise dying, most likely face down somewhere in the stacks, their hands latched in a death grip onto their book cart). In other words, if you ate two apples a day and everyday I bring you five apples, you are never going to be able to eat all the apples. Too many librarians, too few positions; the supply outweighs the demand.

Why is demand so low? The short off-the-cuff answer is that librarians are not retiring at the rate predicted about a decade ago (more on that farce in a moment) and that library budgets for all types (special, school, academic, public) have been generally cut or eliminated. As to the retirement question, any one of these embedded links should help you out in answering that question (and here’s the one to the 1999 ALA study suggesting the need for heavy recruitment). For whatever reason, ten years later, librarians are not retiring in the numbers that were forecast. And even if a librarian retires, there is no guarantee that their position will be filled.

This leads us to the second point about library budgets of all sizes and types. Budgets, on the whole, are down. There are some bright spots for library budgets, but overall, it’s not a great scene. School librarians are being cut left and right so as to maintain continued smaller teacher:student ratios. Since they are sometimes classified as administration, their budget line is seen as an easy place to find savings in a school budget. California is the latest state to get creamed by their governor in terms of public library spending; I can think of other states like Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Washington, and my own New Jersey that waged massive campaigns for the restoration of library spending. Some got the money back and maintained their status quo, others didn’t and either had layoffs or closings. I don’t think you could swing a cat online and not hear a story about the library being understaffed with no prospect for additional hiring. In other words, we are “doing less with less”.

Now, the other question: why is supply so high? In addition to the aforementioned layoffs and closings, graduate schools continue to churn out graduates at a rate that is indifferent to the status of the market. Since the schools get paid whether or not a student finds a job, there really isn’t a downside or a reason to slow down the MLS degree assembly line. (It should be noted that in the employment surveys that US News & World Report sends out it does not denote whether graduates are working in their field or not; it only indicates if they are employed or not. In other words, Starbucks counts just as much as working in a library.) While some may hold it against the programs to continue to expand their class sizes or recruit under the ‘graying profession’ pretense, these departments are in the business of putting butts into seats (either in real life or online) and to justify their continued existence to the college or university president. As the federal government will continue to offer loans to people to get their MLS degrees, the business end of these institutions of higher learning are satisfied. Besides, is it up to the schools to tell their prospective students that they can’t be a librarian? This is America, after all; the land of opportunity.

So, to recap: as it stand currently, the profession cannot find places for everyone who graduates, and therefore the supply remains woefully higher than the demand. But, even after all these fancy words, I’m guessing my reader knew these things already. The real essence of the question presented in their email is what can be done about it. So, what can be done?

There’s a great exchange early on in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Nucky Thompson, the corrupt County Treasurer of Atlantic County in the 1920’s (based on the real life Nucky Johnson), is standing on the porch of a house talking with his driver and friend Jimmy Darmody. Darmody is trying to get Nucky to give him a boost by placing him in a ward boss position in Atlantic City. Nucky refuses, telling him that it’s not how things work and that he won’t get that position anyway. Jimmy pleads his case and the exchange ends with this:

Jimmy Darmody: Nucky, all I want is an opportunity.

Nucky Thompson: This is America, ain’t it? Who the fuck’s stopping you?

The reason I bring this up is that I think it illustrates the heart of the point I want to make. What is stopping unemployed librarians (either new graduates or current ones) from finding new applications for their education and experience or becoming entrepreneurs? We are surrounded by a vast and expanding information landscape that will not level off or slow down for the foreseeable future. This is information that is begging for management as it creates its own productivity and morale issues in the workforce. There are companies that could use someone with library science skills search, interpret, and otherwise tame the data that they have gained and stored. We are in an age of knowledge. The person that arrives at the conclusion first due to having the right data in hand at the right time wins. Be the person to make that happen.

Rather than wait for someone to burn out, opt out, or die out of the librarian profession, create your own opportunities and businesses. Libraryland does not owe you a job. Find a spot that needs attention, create a business that addresses that, and get going. You’re an information professional. Start acting like one. Do your research, put together a plan, and go for it. Unemployment is not the elephant in the room for librarians; innovation of a changing field is. Be the person to change what it means to be a librarian.

In the time that my reader took to write me to say, “Where are the jobs?”, they could have begun making one for themselves. And I hope they do. I’ll keep my resume up to date for when they succeed. Why? Because I want to see where they will take the librarian field next.

143 thoughts on “Reader Mail: Unemployment in Libraryland

  1. Andy, a very bold post. I will admit that I agree with you and I also fine honesty and the “cut-to-the-chase” feel that this has refreshing. It also reminds me ever so slightly of one of the key points that the great W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about. I will be looking forward to the comments on this one.

    • *edit – note to self don’t type a response before completely waking up –
      Andy, a very bold post. I admit that I agree with you and I also find the honesty and the “cut-to-the-chase” feel that this contains refreshing. It also reminds me ever so slightly of one of the key points that the great W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about. I will be looking forward to the comments on this one.

    • Andy,

      Remember that libraryland is a non-profit sector and most of the people who work in it are not the most innovative. There is no incentive to innovate when you have a captive clientele (where else are those students going to go to get access to the databases?). There is no incentive to get a “competitive advantage.” The real elephant in the room is that you have a professional culture full of people who are introverted, risk-averse, socially awkward, technically incompetent who like to only hire people with those same characteristics. I think what this profession needs is to get rid of the library leadership and fill them with MBA types who are no-nonsense, bottom-line/outcome-oriented with enough power to hire, fire, and restructure. If this were to happen I bet half of the librarians in academic libraries would be fired and many new hires would have “information degrees” that don’t necessarily include an “L” in them. My 5 cents.

      • Socially awkward is the cliché that sadly keeps on giving. just when I think that it may not be true….I meet another nervous, twitchy librarian

  2. First: I always appreciate an economic analysis.

    Second: anyone who wants to talk unemployment can come right on over to my blog. I am happy to chat about that. Maybe I should write up a post on that.

    Third: as an unemployed librarian, I wholeheartedly agree with you; I’ve been citing your “there is no spoon” lesson almost continuously. Yes, I am tremendously frustrated that I don’t have a full-time library job yet, but I do have numerous sidelines and CV items, some of which pay me. Particularly if you have tech skills there’s no shortage of ways to find some corner of the world to take over (and if you don’t, why not? no shortage of online tutorials and, dare I say, library books…)

    I also invite your anonymous correspondent to come check out the ACRL New Members Discussion Group; I’m trying to start a conversation there about the personal branding panel we did at Midwinter ( One way to make yourself stand out from the crowd…

  3. I completely agree that people have to make their own opportunities. When I was unemployed for 9 months after getting my MLIS (though I had a job offer after 7), I worked hard to build a name for myself in the profession and network my butt off in my job search efforts. But I can tell you that I didn’t just want “a job.” I wanted to work in a library. That’s why I got my MLIS in the first place. If I’d just wanted a job, I’d have fallen back on my MSW and worked as a therapist again (where it was easy to find a job). I also wonder how many library school graduates could create jobs/businesses in/related to the library profession with no or little professional track-record. I honestly can’t think of what sort of business I could have started at that point. I think it’s a lot easier for you to say something like that than to make it happen, just like it’s easier to complain about not having found a job than to do productive things to increase your chances of getting a job.

    I think what bothered me when I was looking for a job was that a lot of people (at least on the listservs I frequented) assumed that there was something wrong with the person who couldn’t find a job. Clearly they were unqualified, had a bad personality, or were not doing enough. Your comment ‘In the time that my reader took to write me to say, “Where are the jobs?’, they could have begun making one for themselves” reminded me of that. Yes, clearly that person is cranky and pissed off and their email was not a particularly useful way to make friends and influence people, but you’re assuming that they haven’t done everything possible to find work, network, build a professional online presence, volunteer, attend conferences, speak at conferences, etc. Maybe they have and maybe they haven’t, but it’s a bit presumptuous to assume they’re sitting on their hands all the time. We like to make those assumptions because it’s a lot less painful than thinking that it could happen to us. But it could. Some of finding a job is skill/attitude/experience and some of it is just luck and timing.

    I think it’s unconscionable that some library schools do not prepare students at all for what the job market looks like today, so that they’re thrown into the job hunt and only then learn what employers are looking for (and that they don’t have it). I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen from San Jose State (for whom I also work), as they offer classes that seem closely aligned with today’s market,offer courses in areas that will prepare students for jobs outside of libraries, and are actively developing a site to advise students on finding work in the profession.

    Your post really rubbed me the wrong way, because I remember being unemployed and how depressed I felt so much of the time and how hurt I would have been if a blogger had called the topic librarian unemployment “boring.” It’s not boring for those going through it, which is why I write posts and columns offering tips on cover letters, networking, building an online presence, etc. so that I can do at least a little something to help those who are going through what I did.

    • Thanks for your reply, Meredith.

      The kind of whining about no jobs in libraryland that really bothers me is the stuff that sounds like a 17 year old kid saying that because they have a license they deserve a car to drive around in. It simply doesn’t work that way. I’m pretty familiar with the sort of stigma that you are referring to when it comes to trying to find a job; I went a full year after grad school before I found a position. I was working very part-time in another library in the meantime, but I kept plodding along. You do get that anxiety that goes with it in which you go to job interviews and wonder how the gap in your resume will look to people. I think it’s pessimistic to think that there is something wrong with a person because they have not landed a job; if the opportunities do not arrive, then how can that be helped by the individual?

      I think there is a lot of meat to what library schools are doing right now in churning out degrees. That flies in the face of conventional wisdom that people can use their unemployment time during an economic recession to get training or degrees, though. If I was a prospective library student or someone in library school right now, I’d be asking about any employment assistance available after graduation.

      I’m sorry calling the topic boring rubbed you the wrong way, but boring doesn’t mean it’s not lamentable. It’s boring in the way statistics are boring to me as it is purely a numerical comparison of librarians available and positions available. You can’t tart up those numbers at all in such a supply-demand equation. Whether I find it boring is a completely different question than whether I find it angering, sad, and absolutely frustrating.

      I certainly hope I’m helping this person and others out, even if it is a bit of tough love.

  4. I get emails like this all the time (not surprising given the name of my blog!) which inspired me to write a series about job hunting.

    That’s all find and good and I can give job hunting advice until I’m blue in the face, but we should all face the facts: not everyone is going to get a job in the library of their dreams. I certainly didn’t, but I kept my mind opened and after 5 months of unemployment, I ended up as a solo hospital librarian. While it will never be the job I want, it’s a job. And at some point, that’s all that matters.

    I agree with you, Andy, it’s time for information professionals to start creating opportunities for themselves instead of relying the same old sources to come through for them.

    Not that I have any idea how to create new job opportunities…

    • The only thing that I’d like to add is that I ended up working at a public library after thinking I would be at an academic or law library when I was going through school. I’ve never regretted it since I love what I do so much, but sometimes careers can take you down paths you didn’t know about.

      Do you have a link to your series? You might as well give it a plug!

      • Tough love doesn’t put meat on the bones, Andy. It is, I think, facile and flippant and hypocritical and nonconstructive to tell an unemployed person to get out there and be entrepreneurial – especially when you yourself have done no such thing: you plodded away until you landed a traditional library job, and in a part of the profession that you didn’t necessarily prefer or expect. Not everyone is an entrepreneur. And not everyone is comfortable with the concept of ‘personal branding’ and selling oneself, btw. Why should we have to turn ourselves into products? The whole notion is distasteful to me.

        And the person is right: unemployment IS the elephant in the room. I just graduated from an MIS and there was no talk about the state of employment in the profession – though there was a lot of talk about change and change management. The issue is much bigger than whether baby boomers are retiring or not: it is also about the ongoing struggle for open information vs. intellectual property rights regimentation, about whether our democracies truly value or even want an informed public, about free and equitable access to information vs. the putting up of paywalls by companies that are in the information business. Here’s where information manager entrepreneurialism hits paydirt these days: find a way to make people pay for information. But isn’t this the antithesis of everything the profession stands for?

        Rather than glibly suggesting that unemployed librarians get entrepreneurial, why don’t you suggest how they might do so? How do you make an about-face from an expectation of landing a professional job after academic training (not a very creative pursuit) to one that requires innovation, invention and fabulous marketing skills? And all of this when you have no money because you have no work, and are probably feeling somewhat demoralized? You are employed in a traditional library job Andy; are you at all qualified to pontificate about how the unemployed librarian should reinvent themselves and the profession?

        • Why do I have to have done something in order to suggest? If a friend likes sports and winter, would I have to have skied first in order to suggest it to them? Of course not. A person asked for my advice as to what to do about being unemployed; I suggested they go into business for themselves. And now you want me to *think* up ways for them to do it? Do I get a royalty if I come with an idea that works?


          Also hogwash: the thesis that the profession is about finding ways for people to get information for free. Wrong! With a set amount of money, my colleagues and I try to give our communities the *most* amount of materials and service for the budgets we are given. That is not free, that is fiscal creativity in action. It is not funded by magic or goodwill. There is always a cost, whether it is our own money and time or someone else’s.

          (Also should note: the issues that you are suggesting are ‘much bigger’ do not involve employment.)

          In the business world, companies pay for information all the time. Whether it is buying the local newspaper for the business section, purchasing access to specialized data collections, or using it to gather corporate counterintelligence, they buy information that will help their company improve its performance. I worked for a company that dealt with patent information; they analyzed, researched, and sold it to companies that wanted to know what they had purchased, what people in other companies were churning out innovations, or a forecast as to where the market was going.

          Companies buy information. Librarians are (in theory) information professionals. Find a niche, exploit it, and go from there. I’m sorry if I’m not in the handholding business, but that’s how I see it. Personally, I want the tougher librarians to make it. I want them because we have some serious fights on the way and I don’t want people who will give up at the first sign of resistance or wait for someone to take charge of them. I want fighters, I want people with initiative, and I want winners.

          If that’s tough love, well, then it’s tough love.

  5. Perhaps not the most delicately answered mail; but, I have read several articles/posts about the unemployment problem in the library world;so, I do think it is a topic that is being talked about whether or not it is something your blog has addressed or not. We can’t all address all the current issues in our profession.

    I know when a person is unemployed, they can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the same advice; but, if I might offer up some advice to the unemployed new grads.

    Not only must you think outside the box in terms of finding work (usually not full time) in various pockets of industry; but, you really need to open your mind to moving geographically.

    When I graduated in 94, my classmates also struggled to find work. I had an offer before I graduated. I literally packed my bags in Pittsburgh and moved the week after graduation. I pretty much did not rule out any geographic area and accepted a position in South Dakota. Now, did I want to move to South Dakota? No, I really didn’t. I’m an East Coast city person who spent most of my 20s in Minneapolis and I’m gay. So, moving to South Dakota was not really appealing; but, I knew that in order to jump start my career, moving to a less than appealing place was exactly what I had to do.

    I dragged my partner to Brookings and I stayed there one year before moving on to Kansas City. And what I did grudgingly ended up being a great year in a place where I met all sorts of wonderful people who accepted us and mentored me professionally. It was a great experience and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I know librarians in Minneapolis who are so unwilling to move that they are working in non professional positions and have basically abandoned the idea of ever working as professional librarian.

    I wish all you new grads the best of luck in developing your careers!! We are definitely in a tight climate and public employees are the current scapegoat; but, I do think there are opportunities out there.

    • No, it was not meant to be delicately answered. It’s a tough subject that gets danced around like a drunk racist uncle at Thanksgiving. Overall, I think commentary in libraryland tends to get sugared down (as opposed to watered down), but that’s the subject of another blog post.

      I think you bring up an excellent point about mobility. If you aren’t willing to move at least at the start of your career as a librarian, than you are geographically locked. It’s a bet that a person takes on to stay where they are versus striking out to other locations to try to get where they *eventually* want to be (either in location or position). I don’t know how many people are willing to move and that might bring up its own issues. There can be positions advertised all over the place, but if people aren’t willing to go, then they will remain open and those people will remain unemployed.

  6. I’m not touching this one. I don’t even know where to start. Nobody has any money. Feds have no money = State has no money = Library has no money = No new hires and would-be retirees can’t afford to retire = No space = You have no job and no money. Am I missing something?

    Can we now please get back to blogging about “nothing”?

  7. I think that by this point, anyone going into a LIS program should’ve done enough research to know the general situation of libraries, unemployment, etc. Maybe that wasn’t true a few years ago, but it seems like everywhere I look people are talking about unemployment, possible closings, furloughs, positions being lost, etc. Anyone researching a career in the field will probably run across it.

    So I think it’s being addressed in a lot of places, but there’s only so much one can say. Perhaps some people could write tips for your suggestions on making your own space, self-promotion, etc…and perhaps they already do, I just haven’t been looking for that info.

    • Agreed. These are big people in grad school. Adults. The market stinks and a lot of us are negatively affected by it. But those who go blaming their graduate colleges for the fact that they can’t find an entry-level job are woefully naive and misguided. I’ve sat patiently through numerous discussions in which late-semester students decried their library schools as snakeoil drummers. They claim they were somehow suckered into enrolling in and completing the library science program. My feeling is, if you needed prodding and marketing to be convinced to enroll in a library program, then you enrolled for the wrong reasons. You should have been aware of the market and the total professional landscape and you probably should have enrolled in an altogether different program. Sorry, Charlie.

    • I did do that research. In 2008. When the economy was good. A month after I entered grad school, said economy fell apart. *sigh*

      Everyone I talked to before applying was very upbeat about the state of things in libraries; by the time I was halfway through the program it was, of course, obvious that the graying-of-the-profession thing is a load of lies, but that conversation somehow seems to be much more accessible in the field than outside. The salary & employment statistics for the school I went to looked very good; I didn’t realize until much later how badly the survey was constructed, how poor the response rate — the fact that the way the questions are written make it basically unanswerable if you’re unemployed. And was still positive about the employment outlook, last I checked.


      What I’m trying to say here: I’m not complaining. (Annoyed about being unemployed, sure, but not complaining, and doing as much as I can about it.) But it is possible to do reasonable diligence and still end up with the wrong story.

      • The greying of the Library profession wasn’t really a lie or bogus or whatever. Speaking as one of the grey-haired ones, I’d love to retire and leave an open position for new librarians to fill (well perhaps not my position, but as others move up to fill mine, then one lower down would open up).

        The issue is that many of us librarians of a certain age would be considering retiring now or soon, but due to the same exact 2008 crash has had a very negative impact on older folks in the workforce.

        Many of us watched our pensions, other savings and investment shrink dramatically due to the 2008 crash. I can’t tell you how many of my friends and colleagues (not just in libraries, either) have said: well I’ll have to put off my retirement plans for “X” more years. It’s a reality that even the most frugal and thrifty among us have had to face. Many older librarians simply cannot *afford* to retire at the time they originally thought they would.

        Unfortunate: yes!! For all concerned. But ALA’s original predictions about jobs opening in the library field just about now was based on economic conditions at the time. Not a lie, but now made inaccurate by the economic downturn. FWIW.

        Best of luck to those coming out of Library school recently. It is tough, but there are some good suggestions here. I will finish by endorsing what a prior post said in terms of being geographically “available.” Personally I have moved a LOT in my career because *often* there simply are no jobs in a particular area/state/town, etc. the more flexible you are in terms of where you live, the more *likely* it will be that you can find a job. Just my 2 cents worth.

  8. I agree that library schools don’t spend much time preparing their students for the workplace. Then again, every time my program brought up anything related to career planning, students complained that they were not paying grad-level tuition for vocational training. They only wanted academics. So catch-22.

    However, if you get all the way through an MLS etc program without becoming independently aware of the current supply and demand issue, you truly are doing something wrong. And you’re going to be too detached from the field for me to put you at the top of the candidate list. This field is all about independent study and taking personal responsibility (and expense) for personal development. From now until you retire. It may not be fair, especially at these salaries, but it’s reality. And you have plenty of time to think it over and withdraw before receiving that degree.

    Supply and demand does mean that many totally qualified, hard-working, madly networking candidates will not get jobs through no fault of their own, absolutely. But they also have no reason to not be prepared for that very high risk and to have a backup plan. I can see some people in some fields being unprepared for the university bait and switch, but not someone declaring themselves an information professional.

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  10. I agree with Meredith on this one. It’s easy to find fault with the unemployed when you are employed full-time in a traditional, civil service protected library job. So, hey, innovative, entrepreneurial jobs using your MLS? It sounds really great. You go first.

    • With all due respect, if you think there is any such thing as a “civil service protected” job (library or not), you are sorely out of the loop. My state library is being basically closed (let’s not discuss local libraries for a moment). And on the non-library end? My uncle the corrections officer (in another state) has been laid off because they’re so broke. He has 2 more years til retirement, so don’t say it’s for seniority reasons.

      Times are tough all over, and anyone who graduates with a chip on their shoulder or resents those who have jobs is probably shooting themselves in the foot with their attitude.

      • I have been thinking about the Michigan situation myself, as an MLS student, and I wondered if the Michigan libraries (and other libraries) can take advantage of this recent article post in the ALA 2/3/11 newsletter:

        In response to the overall topic, I am hopeful that I will find a position, and I will do my best to stay flexible and follow the advice on the column. I wanted to be a public librarian, but due to the unemployment situation I thought it best to specialize in a field that I had a better chance of finding a job in, am doing two internships this year prior to graduation that should give me a year’s experience before I hit the ground running, and I have a backup plan. Thanks!

    • In New Jersey, last year proved that no job is sacred. So I can nip that in the bud right there.

      As for ‘going first’, I wouldn’t say something like that unless I was willing to do it myself. Sure, I have a full time position now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t branch out and start something on my own and see how that goes. Or think ahead in the ‘just in case’ scenario of what if something did happen.

      • I agree with both of you. Maybe the high number of unemployed librarians is a harbinger of the shifting winds of our own profession. I am trying to figure out my “second act” if it is necessary and it is rough going. I think we should be sympathetic to the unemployed of all professions. Many are caught up in circumstances over which they have little control. I’m sure you used the term “boring”, Andy, to inspire a response. But maybe it’s not boring at all. It’s an issue with no easy resolution.

  11. Andy first let me say I’m impressed that you even responded to this email. The tone is, let’s say, offensive. I think I would have hit delete and went merrily along my way. Its my blog I write about what I want. There are plenty of places out there addressing the issues for job seekers.

    Despite the issue some take with your response in the last two (short) paragraphs you do spend a good portion of the post realistically addressing the issues facing job seekers in libraryland today.

    As for the last two paragraphs anyone who knows you or reads your blog should have expected as much. If the reader/writer wanted a shoulder to cry on they should have written a different blogger.

    Keep on keeping on. 🙂

    • and before anyone attacks me I am in no way implying the problem is with the reader.

      Though now that I think about it the fact that they wrote an email like that to Andy may indicate that indeed the problem is them.

      • Thanks Bobbi. I hope this makes people consider some of the points raised (most notably library schools and also innovations within the field) and put some more thought into them.

  12. Also, it’s easy to take professional development and networking for granted when you have that full time, civil service protected library job.

    • Hardly. As above folks have already mentioned, “civil service protected” library workers are hardly cushioned from the current budget crisis, are facing unemployment in droves due to mass layoffs in public libraries, and must network and engage in professional development just as much as any other person in the profession who hopes to remain relevant and employable.

      I’m a NYC public librarian (we’re not civil service employees, btw, since the libraries here are private non-profit organizations), am waiting to receive my second pink slip in a year, and am frantically networking to improve my job prospects. It is easy to look at the currently employed and feel resentful, but *no one* has job security anymore in today’s economy.

  13. I think libraries are actually a lot like some traditional blue collar jobs. Technology and automation has reduced the number of people needed to do the same job. Believe me, I know that “less are doing less” but at the same time one or two really internet savvy librarians can do the job of four or five old school reference librarians. Technology makes things faster. What happened when people retired? Libraries just didn’t hire anyone else. AND because librarians are awesome, people that already had jobs learned new skills instead of just vanishing like some pundits tended to think they would.

    I await my flaming.

    • Oh, don’t forget a certain amount of outsourcing. Whether it is LSSI for library management or vendors offering cataloging and tagging services, certain local operations are going away with attrition, retirements, or cost cutting steps. You bring up a good point that technology has eliminated the need for multiple librarians covering a desk.

  14. I can relate to Meredith’s comment, especially her statement, “…I can tell you that I didn’t just want “a job.” I wanted to work in a library. That’s why I got my MLIS in the first place.” I left a good job in a lucrative field to get my MLIS because that’s what I want, too — to work in a library. And I’ll admit, I was initially sucked in by the “graying of the profession” pretense, but honestly, the job market was not a major factor in my decision to pursue librarianship. The reason I did it: because I couldn’t fathom doing anything else.

    That said, I agree with you, Andy, that discussion of high librarian unemployment can be BORING. Boring because there IS no magic solution. There are millions of blog postings out there on how to write a great cover letter, how to network, how to perfect your resume — if I want to read one of those, I know where to find them. And then responses like yours that encourage people to be creative and look for other solutions are often taken as insensitive and flippant (“Oh, easy for YOU to say…”). What is there left to say on this topic that hasn’t already been said, or that isn’t going to hurt someone’s feelings?

    The unemployment situation is depressing. I’d much rather read about library videos, contrarian librarians, and issues that matter in the field right now. Reading about those things energize me and encourage me. Reading about unemployment… well, frankly, that just bums me out.

  15. As a single woman soon to be embarking on a PhD (in Libraryland, no less) I think about the graying or non-graying ALL the time. But I have gone down every path, and I agree with Erin, “The reason I did it: because I couldn’t fathom doing anything else.”

    So that is why I am going to take the GRE (again), and write a thousand essays, and hope for the best. Not because I want to go back to school, but because researching seems to be the thing I love the most. (And where do you go to do research? A PhD.)

    This was a very bold post, and thank you for writing it. Because, if there isn’t a job in Academia, I will probably invent something.

  16. When a person is unemployed, the subject isn’t boring. For some, it’s a a crossroads of walking away from satisfying career, having enough money to live on and hoping the future gets better.

    My area of librarianship has fallen by the wayside and I’ve had to face that there won’t be many jobs in this area until retire which they won’t. I didn’t specialize in a particular field because I didn’t see that trend coming. Now, needing to specialize, I find I can’t even get an internship without experience and formal training(classes). When I was in college, interning was the way to GET experience and see if a field suited one. Paying for classes w/out knowing if a field, like archiving, is what I want, is a lot of wasted money when I need money.

    As for starting a business, it’s easy to say, much harder to do. I’m one of those people that, one matter how many classes, webinars, workshops I take concerning techie stuff (designing websites, etc), my brain just doesn’t get it. One person research
    firms are hard to start when there is a lot of competition in a metro area.

    And with reports of unemployed people being discriminated against because they don’t have a job, it is very easy to get frustrated. I think readers just want some recognition that their
    situation is understood by other librarians.

  17. If I can add a suggestion, look to the career center of the institution (not just the LIS program) … resume review, interview practice, etc.

    I’ve chaired/served on more search committees than I care to count and with that have looked at more than 2000 resumes, had some role in more than 150 interviews, etc. I always cringe to see some of the mistakes folks make – but, while I can cringe, I can’t fix them for the candidates. And, in the 15 years I’ve been involved in hiring librarians, my experience is that academic HR departments are becoming more rigid in interpretation of requirements. For example, if the add says B.S., then a person with a B.A. can’t be considered. Make it OBVIOUS that you meet the requirements of HR may toss you out of the pool before the search committee ever gets a chance to take a look! Sorry … a bit off on a tangent.

    My main point – don’t overlook the campus resources that may be able to help.

    And, for those looking for jobs, please be assured that those of us who now have the responsibilities that used to be shared with two or even three positions – we’re advocating for those positions to be created again as much as you are. We’re on the privileged side of the equation but we don’t like not being able to hire either!

  18. Great job addressing a ubiquitous problem in society today: entitlement. In other words, “Because I have an MLS, somebody should give me a job.”

    I too was unemployed for a spell and got very frustrated with job searching. My complaint went something like this – “I worked hard and did well all through high school, undergrad, and grad school, and for what?! I’m supposed to be able to get a job after all of that hard work!”

    What I did not realize then is that the work wasn’t over. It never is. Yes, getting a master’s degree is an achievement, but it is not the ultimate achievement that must be rewarded with a full time job, a nice salary, and a decent benefits package. It’s only one (very large) stepping stone in that process.

  19. Very well said.

    Unfortunately, when I was entering library school in the late 1990s, there was a lot of irrational exhuberance about the jobs ready to open up when we graduated. You still see that in the math and science fields (and it that was true in the early 1990s when I was an undergrad). So there is a certain amount of overselling on the part of colleges and universities. The sense of entitlement to a job in your field is unjustified but understandable given the way schools recruit students.

    I’m lucky to have a very good job in a great library, but no one owed me that just because I got an MLIS. Sheesh.

  20. I’m a recent library school graduate and your blog was introduced to me by one of my professors. I’ve been reading it ever since.

    There’s so much I could say–and want to say–here, but for now I’ll stick to one point you’ve made in both your post and in your responses to others. I have several RSS subscriptions to sites that post jobs in libraryland. I often see wonderful opportunities….in other states or in regions of my own state far enough away to prohibit a daily commute. The issue is not that I am unwilling to relocate, but rather that I am unable. My husband owns his own business that is almost 30 years old, and it has deep roots that are firmly planted. We also have three kids–this is our home. We cannot move; therefore, I am pretty much at the mercy of the local library job market. Thankfully, I already have a job as a cataloger at a Systems office, and while I am eager to make the move from my paraprofessional position in technical services to a professional position in public services and from the public sector to an academic library, I will have to wait until an opportunity presents itself or until I make one of my own. Nobody promised me my “dream” job while I was in library school. In the meantime, I stay current, network, and attend professional conferences when possible.

    One other thing–this has nothing to do, really, with this particular post, but it is related. I’ve noticed how “new” librarians are often assumed to be young ones. This makes me laugh, because I am not young (at least by the numbers); however, I am new based on the date of my degree. While my age qualifies me for AARP in a few months, my mindset and my recent education seems to make me more of a millennial when it comes to a vision for the future of libraries and library services. I read about multigenerational workplaces in libraryland; however, I define *myself* as multigenerational–partly belonging to that class of librarians referred to in your post, you know, the ones looking toward retirement, and partly belonging to the “new” generation of librarians looking to fill their positions.

    I enjoy your blog–you are one way in which I stay current!

  21. There is no help for me. I quit working a few years ago to take care of family issues and am now considered unemployable even though I tried to stay current with professional developments.

    All employers consider my time away from a full-time job to be extremely detrimental to my consideration as a candidate. I have worked in a public library, academic library and a law library and it was all for nothing.

    I worked a part-time retail job until the transportation costs exceeded the salary. My main drawback is my age, no one will hire a 50 year old woman.

    Is it a waste of my time and limited resources to earn a post-masters certificate from the library school? Probably LOL

  22. Don’t worry everyone: The free-flowing byproducts of the declining oil age will be slowing to a trickle within a generation, and all of this lovely, lovely technology will be rendered useless. Books will make a roaring comeback. You librarians will become the backbones of knowledge and more will be doing more. You will just be bartering your services. Keep up the good work, because we will certainly need you. Tell your local libraries to stock up on school books containing basic skills (where teachers and parents can help their kids learn to read and write), home repair, gardening, and food preservation books. I am not Debbie Downer, by the way; I am one of the few realists looking ahead in the USA.

    • This scenario really only works under the presumption that there will be no replacement created or crafted and that things are just allowed to play out. There’s enough money and interested involved to ensure that your scenario doesn’t come to fruition.

      • Is it really recklessly presumptive to wonder just when we are going to see all of this innovation and progress? Where is the mass exodus from fossil fuels occurring? There seems to be way more money and time backing the status quo, whether it be in MLIS or transportation or energy. I live in Wisconsin, and we are going in retrograde on the latter two.

        Anyway, librarians are still going to be vitally important to civilization of the future. Books will never become obsolete for the reasons I mentioned.

      • Well, we’ve known since the eighties (at least) about peak oil and climate change and overpopulation. Back then, I thought, o gee, the scientists and the politicians won’t let things get dire. I was naive. I don’t see that we’ve been able to create the kind of united effort we will need to solve our problems in time to prevent real suffering. How this will play out is anyone’s guess, but it seems to me that there’s a good probability that Nance’s scenario could be the new reality, as least in some parts of the the world. What does this have to do with getting a job in libraryland? Everything! But it creates way too much uncertainty. No one wants to think about it.

        • “How this will play out is anyone’s guess”


          “but it seems to me that there’s a good probability that Nance’s scenario could be the new reality”

          So it’s not a statistical deadheat? Or are you saying this is how it is going to turn out? Or are you saying that statistically no one knows but this would be your guess?

          “What does this have to do with getting a job in libraryland? Everything! But it creates way too much uncertainty. No one wants to think about it.”

          Explain this last nebulous point.

          • Hi, Andy,

            Here is a brief list of easy to digest resources pertaining to our environmental crisis:

            1. The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler
            2. Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post-Peak Oil World by Michael C. Ruppert
            3. The Little Earth Book By James Bruges
            4. Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman

            or you may watch these films:

            1. Collapse (based on the Ruppert book)
            2. A Crude Awakening
            3. The End of Suburbia
            4. An Inconvenient Truth
            5. FLOW (For Love of Water)
            6. The Corporation

            Since nearly everything in libraries (except for the employees) is made of plastic or has plastic parts (all plastics come from petro products), or is shipped to the library via fossil fuel-consuming transportation, or is powered by fossil fuels, libraries will suffer the consequences of diminishing resources as much as any other place.

            With ever-increasing populations demanding ever-decreasing resources—and do not try to “sell” me there is a hidden stash of easily accessed petroleum—there is not—we will not have the luxury of these debates for much longer. The 100-Year-Oil Age is declining. I say we spread the word to our fellow teachers, librarians, and all others who can disseminate info rather freely to WAKE UP THE POPULACE! Join together, pass the word that we cannot go on like this for more than about a decade, and tell your fellow grads to do the same! Libraries and schools are about the only places left where people can get lesser-known info! Go for it, beleaguered grads and librarians! I am spreading the word in my classroom!

  23. I didn’t go graduate from library school so that I could start a business. I went to library school so that I could work in a building called a library that has books and materials that people use. The techie component is nice to know and of course is very necessary, but not the basic core reason why I personally went to school.
    So, I do feel duped and have a sense of entitlement; if other professions are taken seriously once a master’s is granted, why not this one?

    • “So, I do feel duped and have a sense of entitlement; if other professions are taken seriously once a master’s is granted, why not this one?”

      1) I agree that MLIS students (and frankly students in general) have been duped. I think that the students (myself included) bear a lot of blame for not verifying the sales pitches, but the end result is that people keep encouraging everyone to go to college and get an advanced degree and their are no jobs.

      2) The mistake I made in library school was not getting a job — any job — in a library while in school. Luckily I already had another advanced degree in the prestigious and well-paid field of philosophy 🙂 , so I was able to secure a series of jobs as a landscaper, video store clerk, and college adjunct instructor to make ends meet until I landed a pair of library jobs substituting at an urban public library system and cataloging at an academic library. But the mistake anyway is expecting the job to come later. If you do not already work at a library as a clerk or page or whatever, library school is much harder than it needs to be and job hunting is much much more difficult.

      3) It has become apparent to me that only a small portion of the profession has any real interest in being perceived as professionals, let alone to advance the profession. Real professions have accreditation and codes of ethics. Librarians often try to claim that the duties of librarians are too varied to codify into an exam or accreditation process. That is BS. My brother is an engineer. The difference between my job (cataloger) and say a children’s librarian is much smaller than the difference between a civil engineer and a chemical engineer, say. Accreditation would help. Then you wouldn’t have people passing themselves off as librarians because they volunteered at a school library for a few years.

      4) I’m sorry the job you expected was not waiting for you. I assume finding a library job now is much harder even than it was for me back in 2001, although that too was a time of recession and Republicanism. If times are indeed even worse now, and I think they are, I don’t understand anyone turning their nose up at jobs outside of a library.

      I sound like a dutch uncle above but I do wish you good luck in your job search.

      • You make a very good point about working in any kind of library job while going to Library school. In the way-back machine, I realized that I wanted to go to Library school, so I got a job in my college library, and in the summer’s did volunteer “page” work at my local public library.

        Then in Library School, I worked in the univ. library, plus did a number of internships in various types of libraries in the metropolitan area where I studied.

        I think it made a huge difference when I graduated, which was, yet again, another time of recession (peanuts to what things are now, but still another downturn with low job availability). I had real experience to show on my resume. I encourage anyone in library school now to do whatever they can to volunteer and/or do internships in libraries, if at all possible.

      • Could not agree more with your point 2 and recommend it to students in the MLS program where I teach as an adjunct. If you are absolutely fixed on the idea of a traditional library job, you MUST get a part-time library gig of some kind while you’re in school in order to be really competitive for full-time jobs after graduation. However, if you are open to thinking of yourself more broadly as an information professional, the job possibilities are much better (tho it still would be a good idea to get related work while in school). I graduated six years ago and, like Bonnie, cannot relocate due to family and other commitments. I’m still looking for that perfect position. Meanwhile, I’m encouraging MLS students to consider nontraditional jobs so they can make faster use of their knowledge and skills. I wish ALA would modify its curriculum objectives to do the same — to go beyond the public/academic/special libraries focus and recognize how incredibly valuable we can be in any discipline, agency, or business. As long as ALA sticks to the old options, people will continue to believe that we went to graduate school to learn how to shelve books.

      • I had an internship and a graduate assistant position when I was getting my MLS. Both were invaluable experience to me and I highly recommend them to anyone.

    • They may be taken more seriously (although…maybe not in the case of those prestigious and well-paid philosophy MAs ;), but that doesn’t mean they result in jobs. Look at JDs these days — prestigious and (in some sectors) well-paid, but recent JD graduates can’t get jobs either, and have even more debt than MLSes.

      (I say this as a recent, unemployed MLS grad. Yup, it sucks. But I am learning all kinds of recipes for metaphorical lemonade…)

    • What “other” professions do you mean? No one in almost any terminal degree program is guaranteed a job upon graduation. It’s difficult for PhD graduates in many fields to find employment. If you think we have it bad, try finding a full time position as a professor in academia.

      Even MBA graduates are having trouble finding work these days – and business degrees are supposed to be “recession proof.”

      • Agree!! The job-finding difficulties exist not only in Libraryland. Try also to find a job as lawyer working in any size of law firm (other than working for yourself). That’s next to impossible these days, unless you graduated number one in class from both undergrad and law school and were the editor your law school’s law review.

        Nearly every profession, and many trades, are suffering from the same lack of jobs as Libraryland. Try talking to construction workers, for example. Many of them have become gardeners and handymen for lack of anything else to do… for much lower pay.

        It’s a problem across all job disciplines I’m afraid.

  24. Pingback: Where the &*!@*%;*%$#* are all the Library Jobs? Advice on what to do while you are waiting to join the workforce « Tiffinianne's Blog

  25. Well said, and needed although not always wanted. It took me 3.5 years after my MLS to get a full time library job. In the meantime I worked part time and started a home business that I still run for extra income even now that I have a full time job. Get motivated people.

  26. All I want to say is, is the person who emailed you clueless? “telling us nothing”? Why would you? It is obvious why there aren’t positions for librarians. I mean come on, one can read it all over the internet, hear it from one’s colleagues. Or heck, hear it on the news. All I can do is roll my eyes at the person who asked this.

  27. Think it’s bad in libraryland? Try spending 6-7 years of your life getting a PhD in the Humanities having been lured by the same false retirement of boomers promises. Comparatively there are still about 2-3x the library jobs. So after years of partial or part time work, a lot of us are getting LIS degrees. Not great to spend most of your adult life in grad school of one kind or another, but having both degrees did help.

  28. It took me a year before I landed my first professional position, so I am sympathetic to the plight of the new graduate. I chalked it up to no previous library experience. My competition for entry level positions, was often a newly minted librarian, but with years of para-professional library experience. But I persisted and did find a position, but I was not limited geographically.

    In my dissertation, I quoted the work of Stanley Wilder, who shows that librarianship is an aging profession. The loss of value in many 403B retirement accounts is causing many older librarians to delay retirement, but as Wilder points out, aging is inevitable and retirement can be postponed… but ultimately not avoided. I especially like his vivid description of the large number of librarians approaching retirement age as a large “wave crashing on a shore of retirement and death.”

    The graying of the profession will be a factor, but probably not soon enough for many new graduates.

  29. I feel I have been doing all the right things in the past year that I’ve been searching for a library job– I network, I apply for positions in related fields, I have done numerous internships and I even have experience as a reference librarian. I have a home business (unrelated to libraries) and I just got hired at a sandwich shop. But what I had hoped to get out of having a library job was a steady job with benefits, and enough money to pay back my student loans. As much as I have loved working in libraries, I feel that going this route has been a costly mistake. Unfortunately, I have an illness, and probably won’t live long enough to start over again. But at least I can go to my grave a little more knowledgeable, now that I have my MLIS… *smile*

    • What a touching story. I feel that this will be my eventual route once I graduate. I just left my job to be full-time to finish the program in eighteen months, and after three and a half years working in a place where I was the most educated, most long-thinking, hard-working employee able to see past the drama, bullying and abuse that went on in the workplace, I do not regret my decision. I will do whatever it takes, because it was my dream to get an education and become a librarian. I nurtured this dream through dark days and endless years and nothing will stop me from achieving my goals, student loans be damned. Good luck to you, Emme!

  30. Succinct and apropos response Andy.

    As an Adjunct Library School Professor – yep – the bottom line IS putting butts in the seat.

    Ironically, many of the Ph.D.’s who are doing the teaching have had 0 (ZERO) actual hands on experience in a real library. So there you go.

    The MLS is no longer the “terminal” degree. The Ph.D.’s noses are way beyond under the edge of the tent.

    No academic program anywhere will ever turn you down because there are no jobs.

    Is this a dis-service to the profession – yes. To many people = low wages.

    As for accreditation – it is for all of us (yes that means you too), to beat up on ALA for their worthless accreditation procedures. Having gone through their training – we were beaten by the ALA trainers with “We cannot make Proscriptive recommendations!” until our eyes bled. So, there are in all practicality NO STANDARDS.

    I’m out in 2021, unless California lays us all off – in which case they won’t be hiring many replacements anyway.

    Good Luck to us all.

    • I suspected as much about the bottom line! It’s the same in schools of education—total cash cows for any university. They all seem to have a school of ed. Why? Almost zero need for any major tech or physical plant enhancements. Unlike schools that require practice on very precise instruments, such as dentistry, schools of ed and library science need only willing students to take online classes ad infinitum. Thank you for your honesty. I’ve been in both schools and teach SPED now. By the way, schools of ed think technology is the solution for learning woes across the land, hahaha!

    • I agree with John. There are people in library school/went to library school that shouldn’t have been there, but were because it’s a butt in a seat and tuition money in the coffers. I will never forget the man who stood up in my survey course and said that he was only here because his parents made him – do something with your life or we’re cutting you off financially. Points for honesty, but you took a seat away from someone who could have contributed more.

      To some respect, schools should be held accountable with admission standards – personal interview, GRE (my library school didn’t require it), auditing courses before full matriculation, etc.

      • You’re right, Kate. There should definitely be an increased level of accountability, starting with (but not limited to) raised minimum requirements for acceptance into a program. Some renegade LIS educators will admit as much, including most people named John Berry.

        For librarians to better grasp the topic, it helps if they understand the basic difference between public and private schools. As is the case in most colleges, you see greater restrictions in public universities than in private institutions. Because they aren’t funded by government monies, private schools aren’t held to the same standards as public universities. That certainly isn’t to paint a broad picture of private LIS programs, but merely to state a plain truth about practices in some private schools. Though not held to the same scrutiny as for-profit schools, private schools do exist, to some extent, to profit. To better facilitate profit, some may have more relaxed standards that ensure a steady flow of entrants and graduates.

        Especially given the climate of the last few years, should LIS programs do the profession a solid and raise the bar? Sure. That’s no secret. But no ALA-accredited school will ever come close to admitting to being a degree factory.

  31. Hey Andy,

    Thanks for the post and informative links. I thought your discussion of the problem was clear. I graduated from library school about a year ago. While I was in school, I went to many “career” meetings, and the administrators who ran them pretty much denied that there was an oversupply problem, they said you just need to look harder than in previous years. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised, but their official lying to justify their existence was a big turnoff for me.

    I did manage to get a part-time job in a library 9 months after graduation, but there is no way I can support my family with the money I’m making from that job. So I’m working for private companies again in finance which is what I did before I went to library school, in addition to my part-time job. It is not optimal, but I have no choice.

    I have some problems with your suggestion that unemployed librarians should become entrepreneurs. How many of librarian entrepeneurs do you know? The only librarians that I have who have successful business are those that prospered from the outsourcing of library jobs by providing contract library staff. Having many years of experience in the business world, I can say that very little in library school prepares you to work in business. For example, during the library administration class I took, most of the students were lost when we had to create simple spreadsheets and do basic accounting calculations. It was hilarious, in a sad way. Let me say this again in case you didn’t get it: LIBRARY SCHOOL IS NOT BUSINESS SCHOOL. If you have run into many successful librarian entrepreneurs, I’d love to hear about them and the names of their companies.

    I think the best advice you can give someone thinking about library school is: DON’T GO. Vote with your feet and don’t be conned by all the propaganda the library schools and ALA pump out (as you mentioned). Since the universities won’t be responsible in cutting down their programs to size, let people vote with their feet and maybe they will get the message.

    My advice for people who have already gone or are in the middle of school and it is too late to quit is to make lifestyle choices that fit with with the expectation of a low wage – find a partner with a high(er) income, live with your parents, or give up the idea of being in a position where you need to support anyone other than yourself (ie, children). If that is not an option, they need to find another way to support themselves – another graduate degree, or be able to rely on a prior career that many not have been pleasant but was at least somewhat in demand.

    I hope people will look at the hard numbers you pointed out and realize that most people should view librarianship as an interesting hobby but a poor occupation, and therefore allocate the resources they devote to it accordingly.

    • RG you are absolutely 100% right. The go into business for yourself in this case doesn’t make much sense. Forget about the differences of business and library school, where is a recently graduated unemployed librarian going to get capital to fund becoming an entrepreneur, if they had the know how? I’m sure banks would jump in line to loan money to an unemployed information profession riddled with debt from student loans. The only way one could do this is if you already had some money, not something most recent grads have. I actually know of an archivist who is entrepreneur/self employed. This person is doing everything they can to find a job, it just wasn’t sustainable. It’s a solution that sounds nice but isn’t very practical or realistic.
      On a personally note I find it offensive to read posts that imply students should have done more research into the library field. When the library school, librarian friends, the labor statistics, and ALA are all saying the field will grow, why wouldn’t someone believe that. Honestly I think when this recession hit very few saw how deep it would go. How can librarians or archivists retire when their 401K took such a hit? I don’t blame them they need work just as much as I do.
      If I knew then what I know now I probably would have continued on to get some sort of degree in computers. I really think that’s where this profession is going. I don’t think it’s a hobby, wasn’t there a Twilight Zone episode that said librarians were obsolete that hasn’t happened yet and I dont’ think it will. But I do think more adaptation needs to be made within the profession.

      • There’s a saying in business, one that I don’t remember completely, but I can paraphrase the meaning well enough: the lower you keep your costs, the longer you can stay in business till you start turning a profit. You don’t need capital to start a business (but it does help). There are plenty of free or low cost small business resources available. In New Jersey, Rutgers has a Small Business Development Center in which you can get free consultations on creating business plans, marketing, managing finances, and doing the things that are required to make the business work. They offer low cost workshops for other topics to compliment what they have.

        I don’t imply that starting your own business is easy. It’s not. I’ve seen my father create his own. I have a pretty good idea of the trials and tribulations that go on in the mind of a small businessman. But that’s not a good enough reason not to try and not to work towards it.

        Finally, it’s not like these skills cannot be learned. Mocking the efforts of others on basic Excel spreadsheets does not preclude them from taking an interest and learning what is needed to do it. People can and do; they do it everyday.

        • “There’s a saying in business, one that I don’t remember completely…”

          Honest to God, you have no business dispensing advice about entrepeneurship.

          BTW, I find your own self-marketing distasteful. Not for nothing, it shows you are (aesthetics and values aside) an effective promoter, which is very different from being an effective entrepeneur.

          People confuse the two all the time.

          • *looks at the posting dates*

            Glad you were able to join the conversation. I look forward to you finding even older posts that you can comment on and relate what other aspects about me you find not to your liking.

            There are some 2009 blog posts you might also find suitably distasteful.

            • Hahaha, yet you are trolling along reading the latest additions, Andy. Must get to those 2009 posts. What, librarians should never refer to old info? I’ll bet the hiring situation is even more dire now than when you first opened this topic, especially here in Scotty Walker “open for business land.” Farcical.

              • Thank you for your limited and angry with everyone comment. It added nothing to the conversation, but I’m guessing you felt better because you got to post it. In the future, I’d save it for a cryptic Facebook status update where you say you are angry about something and then make people guess. In the meantime, sorry to hear you live in a crappy state.

  32. There is a correlative issue to the issue of unemployment, and that is underemployment. I understand that libraries have budget issues and they are trying to cut costs wherever they can, but to be stuck in an “on-call” position for years with no benefits when others are hired from outside seems wrong. One library I worked for had an unwritten policy against hiring from within when permanent positions became available. I, like many after me, had accepted an on-call position thinking it would be a foot in the door. It took me several years to catch on (after talking with some of the permanent staff and other on-call people who had been there longer than me) and stop applying for openings at that library. Another library told me when they hired me on-call that someone on their staff was talking about retiring. It’s been 3 years, and she’s still talking about it. Then in talking with her recently, I find she’s working fewer hours than I am. Why can’t libraries hire fewer people and give them decent benefits if they are going to do “less with less”?

    • I have a friend who works a half hour short of full time. In doing so, they don’t have to give her benefits. It’s a shame, really, a damn shame. It’s a further shame when it is being dangled like a carrot in front of someone as a means to keep their interest in the library and string them along. Libraries are looking to cut costs and this particular cut that you described comes out of you in more ways than just money or benefits.

      I hope you finally get some justice on this one.

  33. Hi Andy,

    I am about to finish my MLIS. IYour post reminded me of one of the librarians at my hometown library, who told me two years ago when I started, “Well, a lot of us will be retiring so stick around!” To date, none have retired, except from higher positions! 🙂

    I feel I am pretty well prepared for the market, I have attended every State Library Conference and Library Legislative Day, meeting and talking to librarians.

    I was able to find a field experience internship this way, and so , although I do not have a library position (I work at a large Bookseller), I have worked in one.

    I am fearless, applying for Library Director’s positions of small libraries based upon my previous management experience (I am changing careers at age 53), and I am putting together a bound presentation of my brochures, reading lists, powerpoint presentations, and web pages to show to prospective employers at the interview.

    The people I see in school for the most part surprise me. I expected more people of age, who had been working in the workforce and were now changing careers. What I find are lots of early twenties people with undergraduate degrees in English and History, who have decided that libraries would be “nice” or “easy” to work in.

    I made a conscious decision to become a librarian after having worked for many years in totally unrelated management positions. One day, a little girl came in to the Bookstore and her grandparents asked if we were doing Storytime that day. I said, “of course!” and I read three books to Taylor.

    I loved it, and began handing out business cards I made with Mr. Kent’s Storytime on them, and gave them to every caregiver or parent with a toddler I saw. Within six months I hit a peak of 55 attendees, and maintained 20-30 every week for three years, until I left the store.

    Becoming a Children’s Librarian is a calling to me – it is the job I should have always had, but didn’t know it! It has become my passion, and if you are just becoming a Librarian because it’s “easy”, get out of my way!

    • Kent, thank you for your reply. I suspect that you could have received letters of recommendation from the regular at your storytime. Your fearlessness in applying for directorships in small libraries is not without precedent; I have many classmates who became directors at small libraries after they got their MLS degrees. It can and does work.

      I really dug your story about building your storytime following and the initiative involved in that. You built something where there was nothing before; it’s a credit to your character and drive. While some of my more cynical peers may say that running a storytime is not the same as running a library, my response to them would be, “This is what Kent did with a storytime! Imagine what Kent can do with a whole library!” It’s about building relationships, making connections, and bringing people together.

      You rock, Kent!

  34. I agree that looking outside of traditional libraries is a great idea for seekers. In fact, when I was in library school it was the advice given to me from someone working for a company who loved her job employing all the skills she learned in school.

    Now I am in a position to be hiring and I have hired two interns full-time in the last 2 years. I never even posted for those jobs and hired from within. I encourage library school students to do internships and volunteer as a way to get their foot in the door if they find a place they want to work. I know it can be hard financially, but often worth it in the long run. For the record, I did an unpaid internship myself while in school.

    • Thanks Gretchen for your comments. Quick question for you: would you ever consider advertising an internship position? Or would you always want to have an intern who is a (for lack of a better term) known quantity? I think a little insight might help people who are looking.

  35. Another excellent post! I was happy to see someone mention Underemployment. It is probably a bigger threat to librarians in the long-term than unemployment. When a libraian is replaced with an intern or an LA, those jobs rarely if ever return to librarians.

    • Thank you Cynthia! Perhaps that will be the next post where employers are hiring but not full time or placing people ‘on call’. The steps to avoid paying benefits is pretty amazing and very sad.

  36. Another option would be to resist budget cuts and library closures. Try to work in solidarity with teachers, nurses, mass transit workers, and others to stop the attack on our basic human needs and social fabric. To divert resources away from war and incarceration. To tax the rich at the levels they paid when Eisenhower was president, and stop this disastrous public and private debt peonage.

    Specifically with librarianship, corporations aren’t the only people who need quality information: We the People do too. Instead, we allow the rich and their sockpuppets to dictate a culture of know-nothingism, competition, fear, and anxiety. It’s an intellectual and moral culture of triviality and distraction, and often outright deception, and it’s destroying our minds, our families, our schools, and our communities.

    Telling people to start their own businesses is the same as telling people to go to library school: they’re adding to the supply. Most small businesses fail. There’s no effective (monetized) demand for their services. Economics is not a natural phenomenon: it’s political. Those with the power and wealth determine where the investments and wages go. Why don’t librarians work with millions of unemployed, underemployed, and underpaid to seize some of that power? It’s called democracy and social justice.

    In Cairo today, we see millions who are tired of the “up-by-your-bootstraps-you-lazy-entitled-brats” homilies. If librarianship is not about democracy and social justice, then we’re just careerist information dispensers to the highest bidder. Is that what you’re advocating? Maybe we should take a cue from those resisting rapacious capitalism, imperialism, and racism. Maybe we should aspire to something more than jobs and income.

    Maybe we should be librarians.

  37. This is not a new story. “Back in the day” when I graduated from Library School (1976), we were promised the same, and it still took time, even if you wanted to relocate.

    I remember the job where I got a form letter back which said that they had 300 applicants.

    Years later, I found that there was a job where one of my fellow interviewees was Jim Rettig. Yes, that Jim Rettig, now a former ALA President (and a friend).

    In a way, I think it is a condition of the profession…

    • Dave! I love a good counter-argument, but all you did here was drop a few adjectives on Andy. That’s just not going to get it done. Please don’t let me down, David. Give us all something to think about and tell us why Andy’s post is “really arrogant, contemptuous, ignorant and condescending.” Please? Don’t make me beg.

  38. Andy,

    Thanks for posting my comments and promoting this lively discussion. I wish I had seen or heard this kind of discussion before I went to library school.

    About your reply to my comments, I think you really need to support your hypothesis that under- or un-employed librarians should become entrepreneurs with specific examples. If you can name 10 successful companies, or even 5, that have been started by librarians, your suggestions would carry a lot more weight. At least it would give readers an idea if this is a real possibility or just more theory.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible to start your own business, I just don’t see how your library degree gets you there. The evidence I’ve seen so far indicates it’s pretty unrealistic for most librarians to think of starting your own business. I don’t know what field your father was in, but it doesn’t seem like he was a librarian, otherwise you would have mentioned that in your post. I would be more than happy if you could prove me wrong, but I don’t think you can.

      • Yes, that’s a business run by information professionals. But look at how much experience they have 25-30 years worth. That’s not someone who is a recent grad. Of course if people had experience in their field they would have no problem starting their own business in. But that’s not the problem the problem is that people just out of library school can’t find work. If you don’t even have 1 or 2 years experience in thel field who is going to hire you as a consultant.
        I agree with RG, can we find a information professional fresh out of library school who has created a successful business.

  39. Pingback: for Andy: librarian entrepreneurship

  40. I just discovered this blog through the ALA JobLIST e-newsletter – what an interesting series of posts. While the topic of unemployment is depressing, I feel oddly encouraged by reading all the comments.

    I, too, am a librarian, at least on paper. I had wanted to get my MLIS for years, and finally went back to school part-time in 1999. Yep, all I heard when I was in school was what a great time to become a librarian, how there would be so many openings within the next five years because of all the current librarians retiring, etc. I graduated in May of 2002 and have yet to find an actual librarian job. That’s been as much my doing as it has been the job market. While I was in school, I worked both a full-time and part-time job, and raised a family. I regret not pursuing an internship while in school but my work schedule didn’t permit it. I agree with the other posters – getting ANY experience while you’re in school can’t be stressed enough.

    I have very limited library experience so after graduating, I looked for entry-level jobs in the Twin Cities where I live (a very competitive market even in the best of times). Because of my husband’s job and our children in school, I wasn’t free to look for jobs in other regions. In 2008, I left my job of 11.5 years working for an executive compensation consulting firm (not library related in the least) to accept a job as a research assistant for a small firm that did fundraising consulting. They were looking for someone with an MLIS, and I thought I’d finally found my break. I was laid-off six months later, and remained unemployed for the next 14 months.

    During my unemployment, I made a concerted effort to reignite my potential library career – networking, doing volunteer work, an internship, even taking classes in a post-master’s certificate program to brush up on the latest trends in librarianship – all to no avail. I finally found a job but it was back in the benefits/insurance industry.

    It’s discouraging, and I feel very defeated at times, but if given the chance, I’d do it all over again. I loved library school, and I’m proud to have my MLIS. I’m determined to find a way to put my degree to use. My husband and I are now empty-nesters and are free to go wherever we want, assuming we find jobs (there’s the rub, of course). Salary’s not as much a factor now as it used to be, either, so I can entertain a pay cut (heck, I already took a pay cut with my current job and I hate what I do). So I’m back to volunteering, networking, and looking at any part-time jobs that I can work around my full-time job. It’s clear that I’m more than likely not going to find the librarian job I’d envisioned while in school but I’m keeping an open mind. I will work as a librarian in some capacity at some point. There’s no giving up and no turning back.

    Thanks for letting me unload.

  41. Thank you, Nance. Well said.

    Also, libraries can serve their communities by focussing on resources that help people learn skills they need to survive.

  42. As someone who just finished an MLS program….I have to say….I probably wasted two years of my life. This is my first PRACTICAL degree (English, Painting and an MFA) and so I admit, as crazy as it may seem, I had hoped to find a job upon graduation (and the research according BLS two years ago was that this was a profession that would see modest increases in employment). Instead, my resume has been routinely tossed aside. Now I am being told that once again, I need to be creative and invent a career to use my MLS degree. Been there, done that–I own a successful business and believe me, I am not giving that up as it takes MANY years to build up a business that makes a good profit.

    I slogged through cataloging, reference, business reference and rarely had an opportunity to think about bigger issues of information in society but instead spent two years focusing on the procedures of librarianship–library school doesn’t teach students to be creative and inventive in our degree. We are taught how to use databases and catalog! So for those of us who want a job….I don’t think we are asking too much considering we just spent two years enduring a pragmatic degree filled with information on HOW exactly to do a job that now we are being told doesn’t exist for those graduating. Sigh.

  43. But the simple fact remains that if you don’t have your MLS, MSLS, MLIS, or whatever you want to call it, you can’t apply for jobs that require it when those jobs do become available. The degree is an admissions ticket to the application process for jobs requiring the degree. It’s a hoop, jumped through. It’s not a golden ticket that guarantees anything.

    • Also depressing is that if you already have an MLS, your chances of getting a full-time paraprofessional position (when you’ve exhausted your efforts on professional positions) goes down a bit because you’re overqualified.

      I remember being interviewed for a FT library assistant position before attending library school and the library director complained to me about the numerous MLS degree holders trying to apply for paraprofessional positions when they should be applying for professional ones. It was the recession and there was a rash of hiring freezes- why shouldn’t they try to get whatever they can in order to pursue their dreams and put food on the table?

  44. Late to the conversation, but…. The situation with there being more librarians than positions to fill has been with us at least since I got my master’s….in 1978. Yes, dearies, 33 years ago. This is not news, it’s not a new situation, and it will be with us until everybody has $$$.

    I wince as I say this, because I remember what it feels like, even after all these years, to be either unemployed or underemployed. It’s not fun. It’s stress and constant heartburn, as you try to make yourself more appealing. Just like high school. And, God knows, I left that as soon as I could.

    However, listening to a library school recruiter is a lot like listening to an Army recruiter. It’s up to the individual to do their own research, find their own set of facts, and think critically about whether this is REALLY the field they want to enter.

    If you weren’t willing to do that, please don’t stress because so many of those pesky baby boomers aren’t ready to retire yet. We’ve been librarians for 30 years or so. We didn’t get into it for the money, as there is most usually no money to be had. We mostly can’t afford to retire. I’ll be working until I’m eligible for Medicare. Sorry, that’s still a few years off.

  45. I don’t blame the baby boomers for not retiring…..god knows everyone has been hit by this recession and people who worked for their positions should keep them.

    Library school was such a colossal waste of time that it sucks to come out only to find out the BLS job predictions were totally wrong and there are no jobs.

  46. I knew that the graying of the profession was a lie after observing the libraries I frequented. At several of my college libraries, there was an equal distribution of librarians for each age range. In the public libraries I went to, most of the librarians still had at least 20 good years left.

    I entered library school anyways because that was what I had wanted. However, after taking out all those loans for the mediocre education my high-ranking library school is now providing and knowing some wonderful would-be librarians who have yet to land a FT position, I’ve resolved to be open to a non-library career. Once I’ve hit the 6-month point in searching for a FT library position, I’ll start looking outside the field and regard my two years working as a PT library assistant and meeting fellow library students as just a wonderful, but fleeting dream. I want to be come a librarian, but I am not going to put my life on hold.

  47. Pingback: Spine Label - Boring, but Important

  48. You find the subject of unemployment “boring”? How lucky for you. I find that ot keeps me up all night with worry. I find that after 10 years in the profession I cannot get a raise or a better position because budget cuts happen first in library departments all over the nation. When librarians retire or leave, their positions are sucked into the governing body’s budget and may never become available again. Not to mention the “last one hired, first one let go” rule of thumb. But what do you care; you are too busy being bored.

    • Boring doesn’t mean insensitive or not lamentable. It is boring in the way that 5 will always be greater than 2. There is nothing anyone can do to jazz that up; and I’m not in the turd polishing business.

      And thank you for your passive aggressive comment.

  49. It’s unfortunate that most companies do not see the value in having a great library or library staff. I’ve worked primarily at the corporate level and in media specialty positions where the staff was cut from 8 people to 1 or 2. I had a boss at a large Japanese automobile company tell me the truth…”Libraries and archives don’t bring in any money”. So it’s no wonder we’re always the first to get the axe. It is only when a company relies entirely on it’s information management that the value of the librarian comes into full view.

    • Yep. They are seen as cost centers because they do not directly generate money. Which is a shame because information is an asset, especially in business. It’s what tells you to innovate, to see how a market develops, and what trends are going on to capitalize on.

  50. Special libraries seem to be the way to go if you want a job these days. Of the friends from grad school I’ve kept up with, most are still looking for full-time work except the special librarians.

    I can’t relocate, but got a part time job at the library where I did an internship. I make under $10 an hour & work about 15 hours a week. It’s barely worth the money I make, but the hope of it someday turning into something more keeps me going.

    Right before I started school, the county we lived in then passed a major library system bond referendum, with which 3 new libraries were to be built and several others expanded. It certainly seemed like a good time to get an MLS. The bond was derailed with the economy, though, and now there are hiring freezes and no new libraries. Did my classmates & I buy a load of bunk? maybe, but things looked a lot different 5 years ago.

  51. RG made the point that library school is not business school. I completely agree, and would like to add another point: It takes a certain type of personality to be an entrepreneur, especially a successful one. Do most MLIS degree-holders have such a personality? I don’t think so. Not everyone has an entrepreneurial personality–most people don’t. And I’d wager that this sort of personality exists less in the MLIS population than in the population at large.

    The advice to become an entrepreneur is good advice for those few MLIS-holders who have the right stuff, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t work for most.

    Having said that, I do think it’s important for all MLISs (and others) who are having difficulty finding employment to keep an open mind about all different types of careers, keep your contacts up, and keep thinking outside the box.

    And finally–this may sound cliche-ish, but having been on hiring committees I assure that the following advice is not always followed–be sure your resume and cover letter use proper grammar, spelling, and word usage. And avoid empty buzz-phrases (“can-do team player,” etc.).

    • Thank you for your reply. To me, it has a paradox in the way you say that not all MLS people can be entrepreneurial and yet for people to think outside the box when it comes to employment. Those statements don’t sit well together for me, even if your first point is about personality and your second one is about opportunities.

      The advice about the grammar and spelling is always a good one. Get someone to proof read your stuff, people!

  52. I am midway through my MLIS program, and I, for one, have never had any intention of working in a library. I can’t be the only one out there. I look at the MLIS as similar to an MBA — a useful credential. So don’t worry guys, you can have my spot!

  53. My Response to Steve V;my comments were regarding Andy’s general tone in the bog post above and opening comments; especially Andy’s comments “issue of high unemployment within the profession..In fact, I would say that the latter is actually a boring topic.” Keith’s post Feb 4 essentially says it all for me regarding my view of Andy’s blog. I wonder if Andy would have such an altitude if he was a long term unemployed librarian, struggling for work in an globalized american economy continually outsourcing degreed and skilled jobs to China and India; while devovling here at home into a job economy based on Walmart and 7-11 jobs. I would add that Andy says just get out there and be a self starter and seek alternative information science careers. This is essentially ignoring the larger economic trends that are affecting the USA; the continuing and accelerating job killing outsourcing, automation and other forces; symptomatic of the long term unsustainable economic forces driving this country into economic ruin and into essentially a failed state; trends that have been going on for the last 40 years; with outsourcing acceleration starting in the 90’s. This article sums it up:
    Business Doesn’t Need American Worker
    For the concerned librarains out there some informing research papers:
    Ryan, S. (2008). Reference transactions analysis: The cost-effectiveness of staffing a traditional academic reference desk. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(5), 389-99.
    Stewart, C. (2010). Half Empty or Half Full? Staffing Trends in Academic Libraries at U.S. Research Universities, 2000-2008. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(5), 394-400.

    Another good post:

  54. Hey, I’ve got a good idea. Why don’t you quit your job and become an entrepreneur yourself?

    Yeah, I thought not.

    This field prepares you for very little else than fighting tooth and nail for Administrative Assistant and bookstore clerk jobs. A few lucky people get in good and then get to feel GREAT about themselves for starting a FB group.

    I wish there were some way to warn people not to go to library school at all, unless they are a person of color or completely pompous. And the field can become bloated with them too. I hope professional librarians die out sooner than later so no more bright eyed people go down this dead end road.

  55. Boy, do I have a few comments.

    As far as I can see, no one yet has mentioned the fact that a huge # of MLIS grads tend to stay in the same geographic area as their grad schools. I found that out the hard way. I got my MLIS 10 years ago in MD but moved to MN four years ago because I couldn’t afford to stay there without a job (thanks to change in life circumstances, aka divorce).

    I discovered very soon that the few library jobs here in the Twin Cities went (and still go to) grads of the local MLIS program. Even though I’d graduated from a program that was ranked in the Top Ten in the U.S., it didn’t matter — it’s “who you know,” especially here in the xenophobic Midwest.

    Add to that the unfortunate fact that the local program cranks out hundreds of grads every year and they all want to stay here because it’s a nice place to live.

    Other librarians I met here said I was “lucky” even to get the sub job* — that they all had had to accept para- or PT library positions for 4-5 years (!) before getting a “real” librarian job. Wow. (No wonder Minneapolis was rated the Most Literate City in the U.S. a couple years back.)

    I went into the Library Science field in the late 1990s because I too believed the myth being touted by library professionals, i.e., that the field was exploding (thanks to Al Gore’s “Information Highway”) and that many older librarians would be retiring. Thanks a lot, ALA. (And all you university professors who said the same.) I personally know of only a handful of librarians who retired in the last 10 (TEN) years.

    I even completed an unpaid 6-month practicum in addition to the MLIS degree in order to earn state ed certification as a school library media specialist — only to find when I finished that school librarians were the first positions cut by schools and local government, despite the fact that very few SLMSs held state certification. (Can you spell “seniority”? And “teacher’s union”?) And how about “volunteers”? Schools and public libraries everywhere are cutting professional-level jobs and using volunteers instead.

    I’m willing to move wherever there is a professional-level paying job. But with a 10-year-old degree? I was going to take additional coursework here to increase my job prospects, but the only program in town lost its ALA accredidation last year (if you can believe it) — so it would have been pointless because no employer honors coursework from an unaccredited institution.**

    This was the second time I “recreated” myself after being cut from my federal job in the 1990s (along with 1000+ other women at my agency alone***). Now in my 50s, what are my chances are of getting a decent library job when there are so many younger librarians? Be honest.

    You can tell us to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps all you want, but in the real world discrimination is still alive and well. Don’t believe me? MN legislators just proposed a law to do away with equal pay for women in government jobs. I kid you not. And you can bet that private industry will be happy to follow their lead if the law is passed. It makes me want to weep.

    (*then cut two years later thanks to budget shortfalls)
    (** who finally re-earned their accredidation in 2011)
    (***Same thing happened to thousands of CIA and State Dept. women in the 1980s, and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.)

  56. Pingback: Reader Mail: Unemployment in Libraryland, Ctd. « Agnostic, Maybe

  57. Wow this is really disheartening to hear. It seems we always want to blame the person who is unemployed!!

    In my degree program, everyone who is a law librarian (with law degrees) landed jobs. Everyone who previously worked in the stock market has landed jobs. I just started looking but as I said, the reception to my resume was colder than chilly. I am lucky I already reinvented myself 12 years ago and have a thriving business. I just thought I could have a career that involved helping and working with people. Oh well….I certainly don’t want to create a new business now in a field that I am not an expert in. It is NOT an easy thing to do. It takes A LOT of hustling and working round the clock to get it going. So for those of you who have never run your own business…I am here to say….don’t just respond flippantly to go create your own business. I had hoped to have a job where I didn’t have to eat dinner and then go back to work to meet a deadline but luckily, I have a career and don’t need to help people or be a librarian. It is just I WANTED to do that.

  58. Andy’s advice may seem harsh to some but he has a point. We do need to make things happen. It’s hard to hear that when you’ve just spend a ton of money on a degree, know you’re smart and awesome but get rejected multiple times a week or, worse, just never hear back from libraries about your application, it is really hard.

    I received my MLIS in 2009 and thought I had done everything “right” in order to prepare myself for employment. I got involved in my program, had a great internship. I was offered a full-time position there but had to turn it down as my husband was told he was to be transferred. Guess what? The transfer fell through. Because his job is the one that pays our mortgage I needed to limit my search to our current location. That made it more challenging but what I found to be the bigger impediment to my job search is my diverse background (tech research, HR). During interviews I learned my background was considered a liability. I am a positive person and able to well see how my experiences and flexibility make me a great fit for a job in a library and was able to articulate this.

    Traditional librarianship, I learned, is a lot like figure skating or gymnastics. If you want to be successful, you need to start when you are just wee, shelving books, showing your dedication to the cause, shunning all other careers. The librarians who do the hiring? They like that. They understand that. They are that.

    So yeah, I found myself losing out to traditional candidates. There were times when I wanted to and did whine (oh, who hasn’t?) but I this is a buyers market. Libraries can choose who they want and that is a traditional, “safe” candidate. I applied for volunteer roles, never got responses and just started to feel like damaged goods.

    A little more than a year after graduation it hit me. Libraries just weren’t that into me and I could keep doing what I was doing, chasing my “crush” or I could move on and make something for myself. I was given the opportunity to join a tech startup in a talent acquisition capacity. At first, it felt like a bit of a defeat especially when librarian friends cringed at my choice. But now I realize it was probably for the best. My research skills help me to target and find the best candidates. I’ve approached my CEO and offered to start doing research and dissemination of competitive intelligence. He sees the value of this and has agreed. I hope to transition over completely one day to that role.

    While there’s still a bit of sting surrounding this (I wouldn’t be reading this if it didn’t strike a chord for me) I’m happy to be in a field where innovation is rewarded and no one looks down on me for not being afraid to try new things with my life. When I am hiring, I don’t just look for a linear resume and the “appropriate” background but for someone with the curiosity, intellectual vigor and the confidence to make things happen. I make sure to treat candidates with compassion, empathy and to not fall into the trap of so many libraries by picking the safe, traditional candidate, hence missing out on a smart, innovative, appreciative but “riskier” candidate.

    • Your post really strikes a chord with me. I, too, often feel like I have been shunned by the traditional library community. I came to libraries later in life, and I feel like that is sometimes held against me–like I haven’t paid my dues or don’t fit in or something. It’s an odd feeling. I’d like to think that anyone who has a passion for this vocation can join the club. I’m beginning to wonder if there are unwritten criteria that exist somewhere, known only to the lifers, that says who can and cannot join this exclusive club. I realize this is a generalization, and I apologize to those who are a bit more accepting.

    • Thanks for your comment! I had not heard of such hiring practices, quite frankly. As I think here and reflect, I can see where that can happen. I’m saddened by it since it means that we are not hiring on the basis of talent and potential but what will rock the boat the least.

      I will say I’m surprised that your background is a liability. That just doesn’t make a lick of sense to me personally. I don’t doubt your story, but man, that’s just pretty stupid in my opinion.

      Glad you could find something that works for you!

      • Andy and all, thanks for the responses. Having pretty extensive hiring experience and experience teaching managers behavioral based interviewing and other skills, I assume part of it is similarity bias. People want to hire others like them (background, often included school attended, interests, etc). In one academic institution, one interviewer asked how they’d know I could commit to librarianship since I didn’t commit to the other career paths. Not all libraries are like that. Had my husband’s job not messed things up, I’d be working with a really wonderful library director, who I’ll always thank for giving me a shot!

    • It’s so weird to me that you and Bonnie have had this experience. (Like Andy, I’m not saying I doubt you — just that I find it strange.) I mean, nearly everyone in my MLS program was a career-changer. I get that in teaching (my previous career) this same bias exists — and it’s stupid there too — but at least there are a lot of people who have been planning to teach since childhood and took a straight-line path to get there.

      Librarianship seems to me to have a huge problem seeing how skills can transfer both into and out of the profession, and this causes such huge damage — both to libraries (who lose out on the kind of talent & initiative you talk about) and to disheartened librarians, who need a change or are unemployed but can’t see (or articulate) how their skills are valuable elsewhere.

      If I were an economist I’d have something intelligent to say about labor market rigidity, but someone else is going to have to take it from here.

  59. For me, it’s not been as much about the career change as about a certain unidentifiable characteristic that most librarians I know seem to have, and I don’t, if that makes sense. I do have ideas that may rock the boat, but in my opinion the libraryland cruise ship needs some rocking! It’s almost as if people who have been doing this for a long time think it’s arrogant of me to believe that I may have some new and hopefully better ideas about how to do things. I know without a doubt that I can learn from those who have more experience. Why do they doubt that they can learn something from me?

  60. LJWTIM, like Andy, I don’t think your background ought to be a hindrance; it sounds great to me. But, I believe you hit the nail on the head with your comment about similarity bias. I was probably the beneficiary of similarity bias when I was hired for the job I have now. And, no, I’m not young, and neither is my MLn. I set out looking for a new position in a different part of the country when I was in my early 50s. I was prepared for the search to take longer than it did. I got lucky, and I don’t regret moving for a minute. But, I digress.

    At my former institution, our boss hired a consultant to advise us on hiring. The consultant’s assessment was that there were too many of us of the same age on the professional staff, and that we should plan to start hiring chronologically young candidates. Long story short, we hired a young candidate, who was a native of the local area and an alumna of said institution. Age was the only dissimilarity.

    In this respect, the hiring process starts to look a lot like the tenure process, and fit with the existing staff will always be a consideration. When libraries post job ads that ask for bold, innovative approaches, that’s 21st c. boilerplate, and it’s mostly b.s. There are precious few libraries that can realistically pay for innovation; we’re barely able to afford upgrades.

    The other point about similarities has to do with who librarians are as people. Many, many of us are very conservative-natured souls, despite the political rants of our professional associations. We may be philosophically very liberal, but in our personal lives, which we bring to work every day, we trend toward risk aversion and conservatism. Hence, we end up hiring ourselves, over and over again.

  61. Thanks to Andy for posting this blog. Regardless of viewpoints I believe it was important to have this eye opening discussion.

  62. yes conservative is what I have noticed. Having come from an art background, i am used to being more forthright and bold in my opinions. So far, it has not hindered my limited job search. But I have noticed some mild mannered Clark Kent types since entering library school

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  64. Wow! Interesting post and interesting responses. Though I didn’t get through the majority of them. So, forgive me if someone has said the same thing I am about to.

    I would think someone going to Graduate School would have the level of intelligence necessary and the forethought to research employment prospects for their intended degree path! To spend the time and money to earn a graduate degree without doing that first seems foolish. That person probably doesn’t deserve a job in the industry. And, I don’t mean just going to the ALA web-site and reading their outlook. I mean talking to librarians, looking at job postings, job boards, and reading blogs like these.

    I am currently in the process of applying to MLS programs right now. I have researched the industry and am well aware of the number of unemployed librarians in the field. With that knowledge, I have chosen to continue on this path. Sometimes, you just know what the right path looks like.

    I have about 15 years of sales experience and have many different ideas on how that background will aid me in either finding a position or creating one to use the new skills I will have learned along with my existing ones.

    So, while traditional job prospects may not be great, I agree with the gist of what you’ve said Andy; it’s time to create some new opportunities!

  65. Unless you already have some amount of library experience, I think you will be joining those of us underemployed in libraryland. Because without some expertise….I am curious what kind of career you can create in this field?

    I did research…in fact, I did so much research that I ended up going to school for free with a full IMLS grant….so with an education paid for, I am not complaining per se….just feeling empathetic for those who were hoping for some job stability and who aren’t going to get it. Seems like more hustling….which I have been doing for years as a business owner, but I understand that is not for everyone. Especially those interested in being a librarian.

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  69. As a 2008 grad, I am keenly aware of the (insert pithy adjectives here) job market. I moved an hour and a half away last year to take a position as a small town library director. With no benefits, and having missed my daughter’s entire junior year of HS, I came back to town thinking that surely now I was experienced enough to land a library job in the big city where I have practicumed, interned, volunteered, and even worked. Think again.

    The huge city system of some nearly 30 branches is hiring. After a two year freeze, they are hiring former interns and practicum students.

    While I had wanted to do my practicum there, my advisor thought my degree program was more suited to an academic setting. Also not hiring.

    I am still writing reviews for Library Journal and serving on a state library association task force, but I am working in the development offices of a state university. But I am working!

    Development, grant writing, foundation and prospect research with colleges and universities and other non-profits, are all viable transfers of the MLS skill set.

    I saw a story recently of a librarian who got herself a grant and created a library for the homeless population in her area. The return rate of materials was not too good.

    But still, we are, if nothing else, resourceful.

  70. I can tell you what is happening in the job market. New, recently graduated librarians are taking up clerical and librarian assistant positions! Jobs with a starting pay of $25,000 per year! This is all that’s out there. It’s the strangest thing I have ever seen, but a sign of the times.


    Library assistant with over 20 years of experience.

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  72. One chief problem, dear hearts, is that most librarians holding M.L.S. degrees are unaggressive civil service-types, low-key, and not high energy business people. When you have prunes, you makes prune juice, not champagne.

    Nearly all innovation and changes in libraries have come from outside the library business, from industry and government. Information needs management, but organization of it, and even extrapolation skills, scarcely require an academic education. An M.L.S. degree, at the end of the day, is a poor choice anymore if it’s intended to be used vocationally. My advice to the young is to acquire truly useful training in another field. Don’t waste your precious years hitting a brick wall. And for those contemplating entering the field, resist enrollment in a library school.

    An old, non-delusional retired librarian…

  73. Having been in the workforce for nearly 40 years, both in the library world and out, and also having my own business, I can tell you that not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. It takes certain strong personality traits, marketing expertise, financial moxie and the will to work 16 – 18 hours days – and even with this you may not succeed.

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