There’s been a lot of negativity about the library job market after Forbes’ article, ‘The Best and Worst Master’s Degrees for Jobs’ pegged the MLIS as #1 worst, and I figured I’d add my perspective to the discussion.
Forbes analyzed 35 Master’s degrees using job growth projections and average mid-career earnings using the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Payscale.com. The results were averaged and the MLIS came out lowest, with an 8.5% growth prediction and $57,600 salary.
Those somewhat questionable calculations resulted in a maelstrom of feedback from MLIS holders across the country. The Reddit community weighed in first, placing blame with library schools and ALA for exaggerating the demand for librarians and leaving a generation of newly graduated librarians feeling hopeless. There were multiple comments concerning the very real difficulty of finding a job after school – some had gone up to three years without a job or with one or more part-time no-benefits positions. One person stated, “the moment you aren’t employed they assume you don’t want to be” – which rings particularly true to me. And then there was the link to this comic, which says a lot about the prevailing attitude:
There were some refreshingly optimistic comments as well, suggesting we play to the strengths of our profession and focus on information technology and knowledge management rather than the traditional roles of a librarian in our job search. To go along with this good advice, there was the question of what undisclosed search terms Forbes used to find the mid-career salary information. A librarian with specialized technical skills, or one using their MLIS outside a library, would undoubtedly make more than a reference librarian in a public library.
The blogging librarians are beginning to respond as well, the most provocative of which is Andy Woodworth’s Are We in the Midst of a Lost Generation of Librarians? In his post he discusses the effect of new graduates spending prolonged periods seeking employment, the impact of this wasted time on professional organization involvement, and the existence of a ‘moving target’ of skills for new librarians. It’s essentially the perfect storm of obstacles to starting a successful career, and he argues that the result will be a generation of ‘lost librarians’ who earned their MLIS in the vortex of the problem, are unable to find jobs, and will be unable to compete with ‘fresher’ graduates when things eventually improve (fingers crossed). Pretty scary.
The Bottom Line
I’ve been out of school for nearly two years and have come to realize how sneakily “life happens”. None of my coworkers planned to have a career in retail, and they all have similar stories – they took the job because it was full time, had benefits, and paid the bills… and then more bills came up, marriage, kids, et cetera, life happened, and ten years later retail has become their career. Over the past two years I’ve been applying and applying and occasionally interviewing, and in the mean time life has happened – I can’t afford not to have benefits, can’t afford to work as a part time librarian or take a leap of faith that a second part time position will come along, and as a result I find myself in Woodworth’s “lost generation”, hoping I have something better to offer than the newer graduates.
But I refuse to make retail my career, I refuse to give up, and I refuse to let my Master’s degree gather any more dust. It deserves to be framed in an office, as do the degrees of all the rest of the struggling under- or unemployed librarians. There are still things we can do, like looking outside of traditional jobs and beefing up our technological competencies – a librarian on the cutting edge can still succeed, even in an uncertain world. There will always be a need for information professionals, organizers of the chaos of human knowledge, and now is a great time for innovation and creativity in our field.