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Where Are All the Library Jobs for New Graduates?

Jul 23, 2007

Newly-graduated MLS holders have an uphill struggle ahead of them when it comes to landing new jobs. What is the job outlook in some of the different areas within the field of librarianship?

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Perhaps the most important question the newly-graduated or about-to-graduate LIS (Library and Information Science) student has to ask is -- where can I find a job? Good question -- not so easy to answer. A survey of library jobs offered over the course of a two-month period in 2004 revealed that of all the jobs offered, only 25% were full time, permanent appointments and only 11% were jobs that would potentially be available to entry-level professionals.

And here's another scary statistic -- it seems that there are on the average about 5,000 students graduating from library and information science graduate programs every year -- and these students will be competing for only around 4,000 openings per year, openings where preference is usually given to the more experienced candidate.

So it seems as if the new graduate's job hunt may be somewhat akin to playing musical chairs -- if so, where is the best place to start looking for one of these hard-to-come by library jobs?

Many graduates will seek first to work at a large public library system -- and although public libraries do have a constant need for staffing, the problem here will be finding a full time position, and one where you will be given the title (and salary) of librarian. A number of public libraries, as cost-cutting moves, are reducing their staffing needs for professional, MLS librarians and instead choosing to replace outgoing librarians with part-time paraprofessionals (non-MLS holders).

School libraries are also a popular choice, although many areas schools are eliminating librarian positions or reducing them to part-time. Many schools also prefer to hire multi-tasking 'teacher librarians' - and they are more concerned with teaching background and credentials than they are with any actual library skills and experience. Your best bet is if you can somehow earn school library/media specialist certification in the state in which you plan to teach. Once you have such certification, public school jobs are far easier to come by (and tend to be much better paid with better benefits) than are private school jobs. You'll also need to consider a number of different school districts -- look for ones in areas experiencing rapid population growth, especially districts where new schools are being built to accommodate the expanding population. These school districts are the ones most likely to be experiencing critical teacher shortages in all areas, including that of library media.

Academic library jobs are considered by many library school graduates to be among the most prestigious positions -- this in spite of the fact that such positions are extremely hard to come by. Community college jobs are the ones most likely to be open to new MLS holders -- but such jobs tend to be very low-paying, offering salaries as low as $14 an hour for part-time work with no benefits (that at the professional, not paraprofessional, level). Jobs at 4-year institutions often require candidates to possess subject-specific master's degrees in addition to their MLS degrees -- and the salaries (usually under $50,000 per year) seldom justify the commitment to earning that second degree.

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Corporate librarianship was the hottest area for the MLS holder at the end of the last decade and the start of this one, with the dot-com boom in full swing -- but when it crashed, many 'corporate information officers' found themselves, along with other dot-com employees, overqualified and yet out of work. Although information management is still important at the corporate level, a background in information technology is usually of more value in the corporate world than is a library school diploma.

The federal government tends to pay much better than all other employers of librarians -- the catch here is that you will usually need archive, government documents, or law library experience to gain such a position. If you can secure one, however, you can expect to earn a mid-career salary in the $70,000s as opposed to the $40-$45,000 average for most other library positions.

So is there one area of librarianship which is a growth field, where you will be almost assured of finding a job should you possess the necessary qualifications? The answer is yes, and the field is that of Health Sciences Librarianship. As the overall healthcare industry continues to expand (it appears to be overtaking information technology as the nation's fastest-growing career field), there is a critical shortage in the number of qualified health sciences librarians available. In fact, the Medical Library Association (http://www.mlanet.org) reports that there are currently three health sciences librarian jobs for every applicant - jobs that pay, on average, some $50,000+ per year.

So there you have it. If you are a new library school graduate, best of luck to you. Take your particular skills and field of study, be it young adult librarianship, law librarianship, cataloging, archiving, etc., and shop it around. Do your research (at least we're all well trained in how to do this!), find out where your particular skill set fits and where it is likely to be most in need, then go out there and start applying for jobs. If you are still in library school, however, and you still have a little room in your schedule -- you might want to check and see if there are any health librarianship courses offered, since it appears this is where the jobs are, at least for the foreseeable future.

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