This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Critical shortage of librarians leaves thousands of professional jobs open

Published: September 19, 2002

Contributing Editor

If you're looking for a good job with superior benefits, great hours and attractive working conditions—Get thee to a library school!

In America's libraries, thousands of good jobs are going begging, says Judith S. Robinson, professor and chair of the Department of Library and Information Studies in the School of Informatics.

"Most people don't know that there is a massive job surplus in the field. It is the result of a wave of retirements, the movement of librarians into lucrative business positions and the new prosperity of many library systems, which has allowed the creation of new positions.

"Today, the American Library Association Placement Center lists more open library positions than at any time in the last 20 years," Robinson says, "and library administrators are vying for the smallest pool of candidates in three decades."

Librarians are in such demand, Robinson says, that an estimated 80 percent of UB's 120 library-science graduates last year were employed in the field within three months of graduation.

Whether the traditional or high-tech aspects of library science are most appealing, Robinson says now is the time to pick up a degree whose value is waxing while others wane.

"You can earn a master's degree in library science—an MLS—in a little more than one year," she points out, "and be in very high demand on the job market.

"School libraries, which project 25,000 job vacancies by 2005, call the librarian shortage a 'crisis.'

"Administrators of school, university and public libraries are beating the bushes to locate qualified applicants to fill thousands of vacancies," she adds. "Many urban libraries can't staff new branches and small-town libraries, sometimes hobbled by lower salaries, can remain unstaffed for years."

Catherine L. Phelps, an academic advisor in the Department of Library and Information Studies, predicts that New York State itself will need about 300 newly certified school media specialists in the next five years. She points out that in the City of Rochester alone, there are 14 openings for school library media specialists for the coming school year.

Last year, an informal survey of libraries in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Broward County, Fla., found that there were 10 jobs open for every application received.

To qualify for such jobs requires an MLS.

"Library programs offer different degree options," Robinson says. At UB, we have a 36 credit-hour MLS program that can be completed in one-and-a-half to five years. There also are MLS programs in music and law librarianship and a doctorate in communication with a concentration in information and library science.

"We also have an MLS program with a specialization in school media. School media specialists must be certified as teachers in New York State, so the program requires the completion of 39 graduate credit hours—some in education—and a school library practicum."

School media specialists, she says, have to demonstrate a proficiency in a foreign language and earn graduate credits in the teaching of reading and math. Because of the level of certification standards, she says New York State-certified school media specialists are very skilled and highly employable anywhere in the country.

Robinson says that whatever their area of specialization, new MLS graduates are armed with hot information and technical skills that make them desirable candidates for nontraditional jobs as well.

"From the beginning of the boom in information technology," Robinson says, "librarians have been Web-site developers, database experts, technology leaders, trainers and system integrators. Some have academic specialties on top of that.

"That's why so many of them are lured into lucrative, non-library specialties as archivists, informatics freelancers or Web designers, and corporations are snatching them up to bolster their online presence," she says.

Although many library-science graduates head for the technological frontier, where they are welcomed with open arms, Robinson says others find satisfaction in more traditional roles—guiding library users to authoritative information, helping them find a good book to read or training them to effectively search the Internet.

"Today's librarians' workdays might include presenting story hours, answering reference questions, designing Web sites, visiting jails or rest homes, planning programs and training the public to use computers," she says.

They typically have good benefits, normal working hours and easily can work part-time. School librarians usually work only during the school year. For many people, librarianship is viable as a second, or even third, career.

"The field offers incredible opportunities for professional development in different aspects of informatics, including systems development and management, but people don't realize what is available out there," Robinson says.

"The great thing about the field of library science," she says, "is that it prepares students to deal with new and traditional communication technologies and—most important—to serve the adults and children who use them.

"Many libraries are remodeling and expanding their facilities," she says, "so there are some very attractive working conditions out there."

Entry-level salaries will vary from region to region, but typically begin at around $37,000 to $40,000. Experienced librarians can earn considerably more.

Phelps acknowledges that jobs may be less easy to come by in urban areas with established library schools because new graduates are in stiff competition with one another.

"That isn't the case in every urban area, however, and in rural and small-town regions—among them the entire southern tier of New York State—the field is wide open," she says. "The most employable librarians, of course, are those mobile enough to take advantage of job options in other regions and states."