Advocacy, chrystie, Library Management, Sustainability, Tech

about us. about them.

By chrystie | September 6th, 2007 | 5 Comments

One of the best things about my job is that I have my own librarian. Ok, she’s not ‘my’ librarian. Her name is Tam and she’s more OCLC’s librarian. But it still feels like I have my own personal librarian because I email her questions and she just, like, answers them. Rright away. It’s amazing! I’m such a happy patron right now.

Anyway, one of the projects I’m working on (with my colleagues here at the WJ, including ‘my’ librarian) is gathering some basic info about librarians in the US. Who are we? What do we do? Where do we work? How many of us are there? Frankly, though I don’t often come right out and say it, I’m generally not all that interested in numbers, but this project proved to be pretty interesting and so I thought I’d share some of our findings:

  • In 2006, there were 229,000 librarians, 119,000 library assistants, and 113,940 library technicians (for a total of 461,940 library workers). Side note: as of last month, WJ has around 30,000 members (total) and over 500,000 unique visitors to the site (in the last year). Looks like folks know we’re here but we have a ways to go before we entice people to join the fun!
  • Around 60% of librarians in the US are over 45 and projected to reach retirement age over the next 10 years; 40% of library directors plan to retire in the next eight years.
  • Meanwhile, there are 57 ALA accredited library schools in the US, with just under 5,000 students awarded an MLIS or equivalent every year (1980-2002 average was 4,600). There won’t be a surplus of graduates to retirees until around 2020, with the biggest deficit between the years 2015-2019.
  • In 2006, 30% of reported MLIS job placements went to Public Libraries, 24% to Academic Libraries, 20% to School Libraries, 8% to Special Libraries, 5% to Government Libraries, .25% to Networks and Library Schools, and 1% to Vendors. Everyone else? You guessed it: Other.
  • The three highest ranking job categories (also in 2006) were Reference and Information Services (19%), School Library Media Specialist (18%) and, again, Other (10%).
  • Two ideas emerge from these stats. First, if the bulk of retiring librarians is at the director level, who will the profession promote to those positions? Even if the post-MLIS force keeps up with retirees, will they be ready for the positions they’re asked to fill? Second, if MLIS students are increasingly moving into non-traditional environments instead of taking traditional positions in public, school, academic or other types of libraries, where does that leave us institutionally?

    I’d like to append to these facts and figures with an impression that has developed for me through conversation with colleagues over the last several years. Some of my friends in LibraryLand, many of whom are extremely innovative, ambitious, and eager to contribute to the profession, are often struggling in their library jobs. They seem unsupported by their institutions, sometimes specifically by their library directors and senior colleagues. Age, along with tech savvy or advocacy and a shift towards community-based authority or expertise layers in additional divisive factors, sometimes widening the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’. I have personally benefited from relationships and mentoring with elders in our field – I won’t call them traditionalists! – as well as from very strong institutional support from my employer for my work. But I’m wondering if there’s a way to shift our culture as a profession so that my experiences along these lines are more of a norm, rather than an exception.

    And so, how can we bridge these gaps in our daily work? Can we create inter-generational or inter-experiential dialog and (two-way) mentoring so that the library profession, and our institutions, can thrive (not just survive) in the midst of this particular change?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how to approach this. At least two projects in the works so far! Stay tuned…