MLI – LESS?

By: Rachel EsguerraAndertoons

November 2, 2014

1.08 Trillion

What does that number represent? Is it the population of some place? Maybe it’s the number of miles between different galaxies. Perhaps it’s the amount of seconds in thousands upon thousands of years. Sure, it could be any of those things, but in this case it is the amount of student loan debt in America. Some contributors to this debt are folks just like us – Master in Library and Information Science students and graduates. It has to be paid back somehow, right? Yet, will there even be a job for us to make the money to pay back the loans?

I’m sure many of you experienced the puzzled looks from friends and family when you told them about the degree you were pursuing. You probably got some off-the-cuff remark about how you must love to read. Or how libraries are archaic because of the internet. I’m also sure many of you are familiar with the article from Forbes back in 2012 stating “The low pay rank and estimated growth rank make library and information science the worst master’s degree for jobs right now.” (Smith, 2012)

Of course seeing as I myself am an MLIS student this comment makes me bristle. However, there certainly are some numbers out there that would indicate to some that pursuing an MLIS will not be a fruitful endeavor. According to ALA’s 2014 State of America’s Libraries Report, the job outlook is sluggish.

The overall job outlook for librarians remains slower than average, with a projected growth of 7% over the next decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ reports that the 148,400 librarians in various types of libraries in 2012 earned a median annual salary of $55,370. The bureau projects that there will be an increase of 10,800 library jobs by 2020, but that the new total might include 40,600 jobs that open due to retirements, career changes, etc. (2014)

A 2005 article by Rachel Holt and Adrienne L. Strock discuss the entry level gap. “The number of full-time, professional positions in libraries is dwindling, salaries continue to be depressed, more entry-level positions are being liquidated or “deprofessionalized,” and qualified job seekers are having trouble securing work.” (2005) They found that entry-level jobs are very few and that new librarians were almost always passed over for those with experience and/or upper-management or faculty-level credentials. The authors also mentioned a trend that both academic and public libraries have been practicing which is filling positions with people who do not even have an MLIS degree. Academic libraries would advertise for specialist positions, usually technology based, while public libraries were “cutting professional librarian positions into part-time jobs and giving them to paraprofessionals.” (Holt, 2005)

A 2004 article by Robert R. Newlen and Teri Switzer addresses this very issue. They listed pros and cons of accepting a paraprofessional job with an MLIS degree. One of the pros was that paraprofessionals are doing a lot of tasks which were once exclusively for librarians only such as reference, circulation and cataloging to name a few. Also, “a key advantage of starting in a support position is learning the nuts and bolts of the organization’s operations as well as becoming familiar with the people, politics and inner workings of the organization.” (Newlen, 2004) However, they also listed some cons of doing this mainly that management may only see them as support staff and hence be overlooked when librarian positions become available.

While this all seems bleak these articles were written ten years ago and the profession and libraries themselves have evolved considerably as was indicated in previous blog posts. In fact, there are many jobs out there that don’t even have the word “librarian” in them and jobs that use “librarian” in a very non-traditional way. Here are some examples found from a 2011 article so imagine what other jobs have come up since then!

  • Web Analytics Manager
  • Geographic Information System Map Specialist
  • Curator, Media Resource Center
  • Archival Consultant
  • Head of Information and Research Services
  • University Archivist/Professor
  • Teaching and Services Learning Coordinator
  • Associate Director, Technical Services
  • Metadata Analyst
  • Data Officer
  • Web Project Manager
  • Records and Information Manager for the Federal Trade Commission
  • Information Management Officer
  • Senior Business Intelligence/Technical Analyst
  • Intelligence Associate
  • Data Management Analyst
  • Department Head, Music, Film and Audio
  • Electronic Resourcing Specialist
  • Digital Manuscripts Project Manager
  • Librarian Relations Manager for Thompson Reuters
  • Wine Librarian
  • Clinical Informatics Librarian
  • International Librarian
  • Assistant Visual Resource Manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Sound FX Librarian for Lucas Films (!!!)

Just as we’ll always have a need for dentists to look at our teeth and accountants to look at our taxes, people are never going to stop seeking information in all its forms. Acclaimed author Neil Gaiman said it best – “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.”

Hang in there!

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14 thoughts on “MLI – LESS?

  1. Lauren Hoehn says:

    This post immediately caught my eye because of the title, how clever! I have been on the receiving end of people telling me that getting this degree is a mistake. All I can think is how unfortunate for them that they do not see the work librarians do, not only in libraries but in the jobs you have mentioned in your post.

    I think gaining experience in any position can be helpful as long as you are willing to put the effort in to make it helpful. In response to the Newlan and Switzer article, it’s true that if you are hired as a support staffer and that is the potential you work to that’s all your employer will see you as. I you want to learn and gain experience as a manager you need to make this known by doing things like volunteering to be on projects or asking questions about the profession you ultimately want.

    Lauren Hoehn 11/12/14

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    • Rachel Esguerra says:

      I hear you, Lauren! I started as a Library Aide and am now a Clerk and I think doing the “grunt work” really helps to see how things work from top to bottom. That kind of experience will absolutely go a long way. Also, it’s very fortunate that you are already in a library position. This is what I was thinking of when I wrote this blog. I’ve had some amazing volunteers I met here at the library who said how difficult it is just to get your foot in the door once the degree is obtained, which is why they volunteered in the first place. It is definitely competitive!

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  2. Holeigh Giletto says:

    Very nice article, that list of jobs is impressive! This is something that keeps striking me, especially throughout the reading in this class. The librarian stereotype is a difficult one to overcome, but most people never consider the “information” portion of MLIS and the far-reaching careers one can enter because of it. This article has definitely inspired me to do some more research on outside the box careers associated with MLIS degrees and given me some reassurance about my choice. After entering an over-saturated teaching job market, I need the good news! 🙂

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    • Rachel Esguerra says:

      Thanks, Holeigh! And I agree about those awesome job listings I was STOKED when I came across that article and just had to incorporate it somehow. And can you imagine, that’s only like 1/3 of all the jobs that were listed from this 2011 article! There’s got to be a ton more cool jobs out there as information becomes even more vast and accessible. Can’t wait to hear what sort of great jobs we all end up in post MLIS or even 2, 5, 10 years from now 🙂

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    • Rachel Esguerra says:

      HA, I concur! And notice my !!! next to the Sound Librarian for Lucas Films I practically peed myself when I saw that lol If and when a job like that ever comes up again I’m all over that!

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  3. I agree with you in that the library profession has a lot of different jobs titles and job duties than it used to be. I don’t think Job Outlook of 7% includes something like Digital Content Manager even if the Library doing the hiring would.

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    • Rachel Esguerra says:

      Yes, I’m sure by the time we all get our MLIS there will be some very amazing opportunities for all of us that are outside of the box 😉

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  4. I was very concerned about the Forbes article and my own experience looking for a library job. It seems that there are a lot of lower level support jobs being offered but not enough traditional librarian positions,(at my current job. I get asked to work “reference because we are often short a librarian on the desk). My other concern after reading this article is will we be able to find the jobs that match the skills we have acquired in the process of getting our MLIS as the titles of the positions vary so drastically from “librarian” and become so specific, like your “geographic information system map specialist”.

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    • Rachel Esguerra says:

      Same here, Qumisha – I’m in a support position but am fortunate to gain some reference experience due to being short on F/T librarians. I think though with all of the experience combined with an MLIS education would make us be able to apply to any of those positions listed and more!

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  5. Linda says:

    Nice job, Rachel. I wasn’t sure where you were going with this but I like where you ended up! The job list shows that technology is key when it comes to employment opportunities.

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  6. Erwin Magbanua says:

    One of the things librarians can be really strong at is knowing their users and developing collections and services specifically for the community they serve. We are also curators of information that aren’t ad-driven. Google can do lots of things but it can’t always offer a lot of important things like vetted, authoritative information. I think people know this and will continue to respect what we do and support us, as the very recent and optimistic Pew studies have shown.

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    • Rachel Esguerra says:

      Great points, Erwin! As you know in our library alone we have become busier than ever and not just with assisting patrons with their information needs but for community programming as well. I definitely will check out these Pew studies!

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