Good News: Librarian Job Growth Exploding!

Quick quiz: Is the employment outlook for librarians growing or shrinking? The answer depends on what you call a “library job.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for librarians is “slower than average,” with a projected rate of change in employment this decade of 7%, slower than the 14% average growth rate for all occupations.

This sounds bad! Who wants to join a profession where you need a Master’s degree and the projected rate of employment growth is half of the national average?

But dig a little further into the BLS description of a librarian and a picture starts to emerge. For example, some of the BLS librarian duties include:

  • Plan programs for different groups, such as storytelling for young children
  • Read book reviews, publishers’ announcements, and catalogs to see what is available
  • Choose new books, audio books, videos, and other materials for the library

BLS partners with a site called O*Net OnLine that provides a more detailed report on librarianship, including the tools and technology used in the occupation. According to O*Net, some of the tools of the library trade include cash registers, microfilm readers, photocopiers and public address systems and technologies such as email, spreadsheets and desktop publishing software.

Then take a look at their list of the top four tasks of librarians:

  • Analyze patrons’ requests to determine needed information, and assist in furnishing or locating that information.
  • Search standard reference materials, including online sources and the Internet, to answer patrons’ reference questions.
  • Teach library patrons basic computer skills, such as searching computerized databases.
  • Plan and teach classes on topics such as information literacy, library instruction, and technology use.

Are you getting the picture? The BLS description propounds a somewhat parochial view of what it means to be a librarian these days, and the sad truth is that the “traditional” library they describe is becoming rapidly endangered as government budgets come under intense scrutiny.

The problem is, the BLS view doesn’t describe too many of the librarians, archivists and museum professionals I know. Just for kicks, let’s compare the BLS librarian description to the job area of Computer and Information Systems Managers, which O*Net describes as having a “bright outlook” (projected to grow at a rate of 29% or more this decade):

  • Consult with users, management, vendors, and technicians to assess computing needs and system requirements.
  • Stay abreast of advances in technology.
  • Provide users with technical support for computer problems.
  • Assign and review the work of systems analysts, programmers, and other computer-related workers.
  • Evaluate the organization’s technology use and needs and recommend improvements, such as hardware and software upgrades.

Funny…that list looks a lot more like the job descriptions of the librarians I know!

Never was this worldview disconnect more apparent than when my colleague Erin Engle and I spoke at the Fedlink Fall Expo (PDF) back in October. We spoke at the “Forging a Digital Roadmap: The Preservation, Curation, and Stewardship Nexus” event, which was sponsored by the NewFeds and Preservation Working Groups.

In my keynote presentation (PDF) I proposed some possible areas for new federal librarians to pursue if they had an interest in technology (big data, digital humanities), assuming the necessity of pointing out these interesting opportunities in librarianship.

Little did I realize that the NewFeds panel of early-career government information professionals that followed would be full of people talking not just about possible opportunities but demonstrating the incredible technology-based work they are already doing.

The panelists included Robin Butterhof, a digital conversion specialist in the Serial And Government Publications Division of the Library of Congress who is working on the National Digital Newspaper Program; Bianca Crowley, a collections coordinator from the Biodiversity Heritage Library who described the challenges of making their content available across an international taxonomic community; Wanda Davila, who described a signal management research tool being developed by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health at the Food and Drug Administration (a tool to identify potentially dangerous food and drug issues out of massive amounts of unstructured data); and Piper Mullins, the program coordinator of the Pan-Smithsonian Cryo-Initiative (did you know that the Smithsonian collects frozen things?)

(A webcast of the entire event is available.)

Even though the panelists all self-identify as librarians, the type of work they do is somehow missing from the BLS librarian job descriptions. There are efforts happening all over the place to define what it means to be a librarian, but I still don’t see terms like “digital archivist” or “repository librarian” or “library digital infrastructure and technology coordinator” showing up in general descriptions of librarianship, even in well-meaning ones like the American Library Association’s (I don’t think the word “puppets” should appear in any librarian’s job description ever again).

Librarianship is an increasingly technology-focused profession and that’s only going to become more true in the future. There are still all kinds of stereotypes (or worse) that have to be dealt with, but if we don’t act quickly to define the new face of the profession, others will do it for us, and it won’t necessarily be in our favor.

So what are we going do about it?

14 Comments

  1. John Smith
    November 6, 2012 at 11:48 am

    The Department of Labor is not giving true numbers.

  2. Robin
    November 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Thank you for bringing this up! Libraries and librarianship are evolving so quickly. We really do have to define and be advocates for “the new face[s!] of the profession.”

    I just wrote a blog post about my successful job hunt after obtaining my MLIS in May. Only 12 of the 37 job titles I applied to or considered had the word “librarian” in them! (About my job hunt: http://www.robincamille.com/2012-11-05-hello-from-new-york-my-new-job-and-how-i-got-here/)

  3. Dorothea Salo
    November 6, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Gonna keep teaching what I teach, that’s what I’m gonna do about it. :)

  4. Xavier Agenjo
    November 7, 2012 at 7:06 am

    The real answer is LOD.
    It is, LODLAM.
    See the http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/lld/XGR-lld-20111025/

  5. GoodbyeLibraryCareer
    November 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Anyone with half a brain can see that the library profession is withering on the vine and has been for several years. The poor economy has exacerbated the loss of jobs which will unfortunately never return. There are thousands who are unemployed and underemployed. Competition is fierce for the few jobs that do exist. Yet the library schools keep churning out graduates. Getting a library job these days is like winning the lottery. ALA doesn’t address how dire the situation really is as it fears its ultimate demise. Time to figure out something else to do and emphasize the skills we do have to transition into another field. Oh, yes, and add a dose of “Lady Luck.”

  6. Reference Librarian
    November 8, 2012 at 8:46 am

    New technologies are used by all types of librarians, in particular reference and research librarians, who must utilize all manner of devices/ apps and electronic resources to teach and use when interacting with library patrons in person, virtually, or via social media. Being a super searcher and custom report producer within a specific field (business, law, science/medical, etc.) is just one aspect of the job of a librarian or information professional.
    The important point, in my estimation, is not what we call ourselves but how we continually show the value of our services to our employers
    See for starters!

  7. Deb Schwarz
    November 9, 2012 at 10:28 am

    It has long been obvious to me, a librarian who turned entrepreneur some twenty years ago, that the traditional definition of a librarian needs a major public relations effort to more aptly and fully describe the diversity and range of our skill sets. Of course the challenge has always been the reality that the world likes and understands simple labels: an accountant is an accountant – but a librarian – well as this thoughtful article that expertly pulls the bland BLS job description apart.

  8. Jim
    November 14, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Really? If the CIS list sounds like most of the librarians you know, then most of them are systems managers, heads of automation, etc. I’m a librarian who used to do all of those things–when I was a systems analyst!

    I’m all for making librarianship relevant to modern workforce needs but to pretend that those five bullet points describe the job abilities or duties of most librarians is disingenuous. The remainder of your article is much more persuasive and provides room for discussion but you almost lost me, and probably others, at the start.

  9. Butch Lazorchak
    November 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Jim,

    Excellent observation and thanks for the comment.

    It’s true that the CIS examples don’t work perfectly, but they’re useful for making a dramatic point.

    There are many librarians who are “librarians” as defined by the BLS and more power to them. But there is a growing population of self-identified librarians, archivists and museum professionals who do the kinds of things that fit more easily under the CIS classification. I’m thinking of titles like database administrator, webmaster, GIS specialist, electronic records archivist, data officer, etc.

    Folks who are doing these kinds of jobs who happen to work in libraries often get called “librarians.”

    We’ll (hopefully) always need “librarians” as described by the BLS. But more and more, “librarians” are starting to look like the CIS description, but often, simply because they’re called “librarians,” without the authority, prestige, compensation and positive career outlook that comes with it.

  10. Joan Beaudoin
    November 15, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Couldn’t agree with you more about the role of librarian suffering from an image problem. At a time when information is omnipresent in the lives of most people, it is surprising that librarians and what they actually do isn’t better understood. I think part of this stems from the fact that even within the profession itself a degree of fracture exists over what may be thought of as traditional librarianship (user and tech services) and the more recent additions surrounding digital processes and technologies.

    I teach courses in digital librarianship, metadata, digital preservation and cataloging and it is very clear to me that neither side would survive with out the theories and practices of the other. For me, itt is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in librarianship. We have the opportunity to bring information in its many different forms to a larger group of individuals than ever before in the history of mankind. How cool is that?!

  11. Joan Beaudoin
    November 15, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Couldn’t agree with you more about the role of librarian suffering from an image problem. At a time when information is omnipresent in the lives of most people, it is surprising that librarians and what they actually do isn’t better understood. I think part of this stems from the fact that even within the profession itself a degree of fracture exists over what may be thought of as traditional librarianship (user and tech services) and the more recent additions surrounding digital processes and technologies.

    I teach courses in digital librarianship, metadata, digital preservation and cataloging and it is very clear to me that neither side would survive without the theories and practices of the other. For me, it is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in librarianship. We have the opportunity to bring information in its many different forms to a larger group of individuals than ever before in the history of mankind. How cool is that?!

  12. Alice T
    November 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Jim’s comments are particularly interesting. I think many “typical librarians” are striving to remake themselves in order to be more relevant and marketable. But, the duties and abilities mentioned in the original article are, to me anyway, outside of our scope of duties. (I am primarily responsible for reference and instruction.) I struggle with how to gain experience in more technical areas, such as database management, records management, systems requirements. Unafraid, but penned in.

  13. Dr. Steve Fortosis
    December 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    We rarely give librarians enough credit. Many of them are the most well informed people in our society about the vast plethora of books being constantly flung off the presses. Librarians should be declared a national treasure. How many times have you been assisted in finding information or a book or resource when you had completely given up all hope? It was a librarian who helped you track down that book. As a professional writer, I often need books that are not in my local library and may only be in a few libraries nationwide, yet I’ve known librarians who tracked down the resources I needed. Bravo to all librarians everywhere! http://www.books-to-grow-by.com

  14. Dane Jansen
    February 25, 2013 at 1:06 am

    Very interesting info !Perfect just what I was looking for! “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts about reality.” by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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