PRESENTATION TO THE TEXAS LIBRARY ASSOCIATION 2001 ANNUAL CONFERENCE

WHERE HAVE ALL THE LIBRARIANS GONE?

RONALD D. POLLOCK
Director of Career Services

Graduate School of Library and Information Science
The University of Texas at Austin


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FOR THIS PANEL TODAY, I THOUGHT I WOULD PROVIDE A BACKGROUND ON THE REASONS WHY WE HAVE A SHORTAGE OF LIBRARIANS TODAY AND SOME FACTS FROM A STUDENT SURVEY. BUT, OVER DINNER LAST NIGHT, I SCRAPPED MY PRESENTATION AND DECIDED IT WOULD BE MORE APPROPRIATE TO CONCENTRATE ON HOW STUDENTS FEEL ABOUT THE PROFESSION. THEREFORE, THIS MORNING I WILL FOCUS ON THE THOUGHTS OF LIBRARY SCHOOL STUDENTS FROM THE THREE ALA ACCREDITED LIBRARY SCIENCE SCHOOLS IN TEXAS, COMBINED WITH SOME OF MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE PROFESSION AND THE OPPORTUNITIES IDENTIFIED BY THE PUBLIC LIBRARY ASSOCIATION LAST YEAR.

DURING MARCH, I CONDUCTED AN ONLINE SURVEY TO DETERMINE STUDENT PERCEPTIONS AND PREFERENCES CONCERNING EMPLOYMENT IN LIBRARIES. THE SURVEY HAD A TOTAL OF 339 RESPONSES FROM:

THE SURVEY CONTAINED 20 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE STUDENTS AND THEIR INTERESTS AND PERCEPTIONS ABOUT THE FIELD OF LIBRARIANSHIP. THE FINAL QUESTION WAS OPEN-ENDED, ASKING "IF YOU THINK LIBRARIES ARE HAVING DIFFICULTIES RECRUITING LIBRARIANS TODAY, WHY DO YOU THINK THEY ARE HAVING DIFFICULTIES?"

I WANTED TO FIND OUT HOW MANY OF THE STUDENTS INTENDED TO FOLLOW A CAREER IN LIBRARIANSHIP.

STUDENTS RESPONDED TO THE QUESTION: "IN WHICH GENERAL AREA IS YOUR CAREER INTEREST." (THEY COULD RESPOND TO MORE THAN ONE AREA OF INTEREST.) THE RESPONSES WERE:

SINCE MANY STUDENTS ARE CURRENTLY EMPLOYED, I ASKED THEM IF THEY WILL SEEK A POSITION AS A LIBRARIAN UPON GRADUATION.

WE ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THE VACANCIES OUR LIBRARIES ARE EXPERIENCING. BUT, ARE STUDENTS AWARE OF THE SHORTAGE?

I ASKED THEM WHAT THEY WOULD CONSIDER TO BE THEIR MOST IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION WHEN DECIDING TO APPLY FOR A JOB? THERE RESPONSES WERE:

THESE STUDENT RESPONSES REFLECT THE THINKING OF STUDENTS CONCERNING THE WORK ENVIRONMENT:

"LOW PAY, VERY HIGH WORK LOAD, BAD HOURS, AND UNCONCERNED LIBRARY MANAGERS."

ANOTHER SAID:
" I THINK PUBLIC LIBRARIES ARE THE WORST. THE PAY IS LOW AND YOU ASK PEOPLE - MANY OF THEM WOMEN - TO WORK IN AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE THERE ARE DISGUSTING HOMELESS MEN WHO STINK, ARE RUDE SOMETIMES, WHO LOOK AT YOUNG GIRLS (WHO ARE TRYING TO STUDY OR READ), AND MASTURBATE OR LEER AT THEM. IT IS CREEPY. BUT PUBLIC LIBRARIES SEEM TO HAVE THIS 1960'S FEEL-GOOD ATTITUDE THAT TRIES TO ACT AS IF ANYTHING ANYONE WANTS TO DO IS OKAY (THEY ALL HAVE "RIGHTS") - WHICH IS TRUE - BUT AT SOME POINT THESE POLICY DECISIONS IMPACT WHO WANTS TO BE IN AN ENVIRONMENT AND WHO JUST DOES NOT. I KNOW WOMEN IN THE LIBRARY SCHOOL WHO JUST AVOID EVEN GOING INTO A PUBLIC LIBRARY IF THEY CAN HELP IT. THEY'D RATHER JUST BUY A BOOK THAN GO INTO THAT SAD ENVIRONMENT. MAYBE IT IS POSSIBLE THAT LIBRARIES COULD PARTICIPATE IN THE SOCIAL ENGINEERING POLICIES THAT HAVE BEEN ALLUDED TO HERE AND EMPLOY SOME HIGHER STANDARDS THAT WOULD MAKE THE LIBRARY A MORE PLEASANT PLACE FOR ALL. JUST A THOUGHT. ULTIMATELY, I THINK MANY LIBRARIANS WILL MOVE BACK TOWARDS LIBRARIES FROM THEIR DOT COMS, ETC. POSTS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND BECAUSE WHAT ONE ACTUALLY HAS TO DO TO PULL DOWN A SIX-FIGURE SALARY IS NOT THE REASON SOME OF US CHOSE THIS PROFESSION IN THE FIRST PLACE. BUT, BEING LIBERAL ARTS PEOPLE, A LOT OF US HAVE WORKED MANY LOW PAY, HOURLY JOBS, SO THE NONTRADITIONAL JOBS FOR PEOPLE WITH OUR SKILLS CAN BE VERY ALLURING."

ANOTHER RESPONSE:
". . . CHILDREN'S LIBRARIANS OFTEN PURCHASE MATERIALS FOR PROGRAMMING OUT OF THEIR OWN POCKET BECAUSE THE LIBRARY DOES NOT HAVE FUNDS FOR THESE MATERIALS. I FIND THAT TROUBLING. WHY SHOULD I STAY IN AN INDUSTRY THAT ALREADY DOES NOT PAY ME WHAT I AM WORTH AND, IN ADDITION, QUIETLY EXPECTS ME TO DONATE CRAFT MATERIALS SO MY YOUNG PATRONS CAN ENJOY FREE PROGRAMS AT THE LIBRARY."

WHEN ASKED THE QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION WHEN DECIDING TO APPLY FOR A JOB, THE STUDENTS REPLIED:

AGAIN, SOME STUDENT RESPONSES:

"SALARY, SALARY, SALARY. WE WILL SOON FIND OURSELVES RELEGATED TO THE POSITION OF PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS, EXCEPT THAT WE DO NOT HAVE THE STRENGTH OF A UNION BEHIND US. WHAT WE SEE NOW IS THE SILENCE BEFORE THE FALL. FOR SUCH A LIBERAL-MINDED GROUP, I CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHY LIBRARIANS DO NOT UNIONIZE. IF PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOLKS AT THE UNIVERSITY CAN MAKE $100K PER YEAR, WHY ARE LIBRARIANS MAKING $27K? SAD. VERY SAD."

ANOTHER STUDENT SAID:
"SALARIES ARE TOO LOW BECAUSE LIBRARIANSHIP IS A FEMALE-DOMINATED FIELD. IF A POTENTIAL STUDENT WEIGHS THE SALARY OF A MASTER'S IN LIBRARY SCIENCE AGAINST AN MBA, OR A MASTER'S IN INFORMATION SCIENCE, THE GAP IS TYPICALLY $15K TO $20K. HOW CAN A LIBRARIAN EXPECT TO RAISE A FAMILY, OWN A HOME, OR EVEN SAVE FOR RETIREMENT, IF THAT KIND OF GAP EXISTS. PLUS, THE PERCEPTION EXISTS THAT WITH AN MBA OR AN MIS, YOU CAN DO THE SAME WORK, OR FUNCTIONS, OF A LIBRARIAN IN THE CORPORATE WORLD, YET RECEIVE MORE MONEY. WHO ARE WE FOOLING WHEN WE SAY THAT MONEY IS NOT IMPORTANT? UNFORTUNATELY, WE NEED MONEY TO PAY OUR BILLS. THE PERCEPTION PROBABLY EXISTS AMONG POTENTIAL STUDENTS THAT AN MLS BUYS YOU A SECOND-CLASS LIFESTYLE, WHEN CONTRASTED AGAINST THE VALUE OF AN MBA OR MIS. I THINK THE PERCEPTION MUST BE REAL, OR THIS SURVEY WOULD NOT EXIST TO TEST FOR IT."

AND MORE:
"THE SALARIES MANY LIBRARIES OFFER AREN'T EVEN REMOTELY COMPETITIVE WITH THOSE OFFERED FOR INFORMATION PROFESSIONAL JOBS IN THE CORPORATE SECTOR. TEMPERAMENTALLY, I'D PREFER TO WORK IN A LIBRARY. BUT THERE'S ALREADY A LOT OF PRESSURE ON ME FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY TO GO FOR A "REAL" JOB IN A CORPORATION, ONE THAT PAYS A LIVING WAGE. I'VE KNOWN MORE THAN A FEW LIBRARIANS WORKING IN ACADEMIC LIBRARIES, FOR INSTANCE, WHO ARE ON WELFARE; WITHOUT THAT EXTRA INCOME, THEY COULDN'T MAKE IT. I THINK IT'S DISGRACEFUL THAT LIBRARIANS ARE SO LITTLE VALUED, ALMOST CERTAINLY BECAUSE IT'S PRIMARILY A WOMAN'S PROFESSION. IF THE SALARY A LIBRARY OFFERS DOESN'T MATCH THE LOCAL COST OF LIVING, ONE WOULD HAVE TO BE MAD TO TAKE THE POSITION."

JUST WHAT KIND OF INCOME DO STUDENTS EXPECT TO MAKE UPON GRADUATION? FROM THE SURVEY:

HOW DOES THAT COMPARE WITH YOUR LIBRARY'S SALARY SCALE?

WHAT IS YOUR LIBRARY DOING TO IMPROVE ITS IMAGE, MAKE ITS WORK ENVIRONMENT MORE ATTRACTIVE, AND LET PROSPECTIVE APPLICANTS KNOW ABOUT IT IN YOUR JOB ANNOUNCEMENTS?

A STUDENTS RESPONSE TO THE QUESTION: "IF YOU THINK LIBRARIES ARE HAVING DIFFICULTIES RECRUITING LIBRARIANS TODAY, WHY DO YOU THINK THEY ARE HAVING DIFFICULTIES?"

"LIBRARIANSHIP IS STILL VIEWED AS A SORT OF ARCHAIC JOB TYPE WITH THE MOST UNFLATTERING STEREOTYPES - SO, MANY PEOPLE DO NOT PICK IT AS A PROFESSION. THE BASE, STARTING SALARIES ARE NOT AT ALL COMPETITIVE WITH OTHER JOBS THAT REQUIRE THE SAME AMOUNT OF EDUCATION. I MEAN, $30K FOR A JOB THAT REQUIRES A BACHELOR'S, MASTER'S, AND USUALLY PREFERS A SUBJECT SPECIALTY MASTER'S IS JUST A LITTLE ABSURD. BUT THEN, LOOK AT TEACHERS' SALARIES, TOO. EMPLOYERS NEED TO GET OVER THE 19TH CENTURY NOTION THAT ALL TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS ARE WOMEN WHO WILL MARRY ONE DAY AND HAVE THEIR MAN TAKE CARE OF THEM."

FROM THE SURVEY, I ASKED THE QUESTION: ". . . WHICH IS YOUR PREFERRED SOURCE FOR ACQUIRING INFORMATION ABOUT PROFESSIONAL POSITION VACANCIES?"

53% OF THE RESPONDENTS PREFERRED WEB-BASED JOB ANNOUNCEMENTS, AND, WHEN YOU ADD IN THE 26% WHO PREFER THE DISTRIBUTION LIST, 70% FAVOR ELECTRONIC DISTRIBUTION OF JOB ANNOUNCEMENTS.

THE FOLLOWING ARE STUDENT RESPONSES THAT ADDRESS THE RECRUITING ACTIVITY OF LIBRARIES:

"THEY [LIBRARIES] ARE NOT WILLING (OR CANNOT) SPEND THE MONEY TO RECRUIT."

ANOTHER RESPONSE WAS:
"RECRUITMENT SHOULD, IDEALLY, FOCUS ON SALARY, BENEFITS, POTENTIAL SIGNING BONUSES, RAISE SCALES, A COMMITMENT OF SUPPORT FOR STATE AND NATIONAL PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES (CONFERENCES AND ACTIVITIES), AND MOVING EXPENSES. ATTENTION TO WHAT THE COMMUNITY HAS TO OFFER IS ALSO ESSENTIAL TO ATTRACT DIVERSE APPLICANTS."

BOTTOM LINE: LIBRARIES HAVE NOT DONE MUCH AT ALL TO MEET THE CHALLENGE.

FOR THE MOST PART, LIBRARIES CONTINUE TO USE THE SAME OLD TECHNIQUES THEY HAVE USED FOREVER.

STUDENT RESPONSES THAT ADDRESSED THIS PROBLEM ARE:

"THE ONES [LIBRARIES] THAT ARE HAVING DIFFICULTIES ARE SUFFERING FROM [A] LACK OF LEADERSHIP, VISION, DESIRE AND COMMITMENT TO EXCEL AND/OR ARE LADEN WITH WAY TOO MUCH DEAD WOOD."

ANOTHER STUDENT SAID:
" THEY ARE NOT RECRUITING AS AGGRESSIVELY AS THEY SHOULD. THEY PLACE ONE OR TWO CLASSIFIED ADS, SEND NOTICES TO LIBRARY SCHOOLS LIST[S] WITH ONE OR TWO WEBSITES, THEN SIT BACK AND WAIT FOR PEOPLE TO COME TO THEM. THIS MAY WORK IN SOME JOB MARKETS, BUT IN THE CURRENT TEXAS MARKET, THEY NEED TO ACTIVELY SEEK OUT/PURSUE QUALIFIED CANDIDATES AND SELL THEIR WONDERFUL LIBRARY TO THOSE CANDIDATES. . . . I WILL EXPECT PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYERS TO MAKE AN EFFORT TO FIND ME AND PERSUADE ME TO ACCEPT THEIR POSITION, RATHER THAN THE SEARCHING AND "SELLING" TO ALL BE MY PART."

THIS STUDENT ADDED:
" IN A PUBLIC LIBRARY, A LIBRARIAN IS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO FACE LOW PAY, EVENING AND WEEKEND HOURS, TOO MANY POLITICAL ISSUES AND BUDGET CONSTRAINTS. A PUBLIC LIBRARY WOULD BE MY LAST CHOICE."

ANOTHER RESPONSE ADDRESSING THE RECRUITING ISSUE SAID:
"I THINK THAT AT TIMES LIBRARIES PLACE TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON THE AMOUNT OF YEARS OF EXPERIENCE FOR JOB OPENINGS. HOW DOES ONE EXPECT TO FILL A POSITION WHEN THE APPLICANT SHOULD HAVE A MINIMUM OF 3 YEARS EXPERIENCE IN WHAT WOULD BE CONSIDERED AN ENTRY-LEVEL POSITION. THIS SCARES AWAY APPLICANTS WHO DON'T WANT TO WASTE HIS/HER TIME APPLYING FOR A SEEMINGLY BASIC JOB WITH SUCH HIGH REQUIREMENTS."

AS YOU CAN SEE, STUDENTS ARE VERY CONCERNED ABOUT A NUMBER OF ISSUES, WITH COMMENTS FOCUSING ON THE WORK ENVIRONMENT AND SALARY LEVELS LEADING THE WAY AND CLOSELY FOLLOWED BY CONCERNS ABOUT THE PERCEPTION OF THE LIBRARY PROFESSION AS A WHOLE.

AGAIN:
"TODAY'S JOB MARKET IS AN EXTREMELY COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT, ONE THAT IS LOOKING FOR THE SKILLS OF THE LIBRARIAN AND VALUES THOSE SKILLS. WHEN FACED WITH NEW COMPETITION FROM THE BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY COMMUNITIES, HAVE LIBRARIES CHANGED THEIR RECRUITING APPROACH TO MEET THE CHALLENGE OF FINDING LIBRARIANS IN TODAY'S JOB MARKET?"

IN A JANUARY 2000 DOCUMENT TITLED "REPORT TO THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY ASSOCIATION: RECRUITMENT OF PUBLIC LIBRARIANS," SEVERAL AREAS WERE IDENTIFIED AS CAUSING PROBLEMS WITH RECRUITMENT:

NUMEROUS RESPONSES TO THE STUDENT SURVEY ADDRESSED THE PROBLEM ASSOCIATED WITH THE FAILURE OF THE PUBLIC TO APPRECIATE THE ABILITIES AND SKILLS REQUIRED TO BE A PROFESSIONAL LIBRARIAN:

"SOCIETY PERCEIVES THAT LIBRARIANS DO VERY LITTLE "REAL WORK" AND AFFORD THEM VERY LITTLE RESPECT AND RECOGNITION FOR ALL THEY DO. IT IS A THANKLESS JOB WITH GENERALLY LOW PAY AND VERY LITTLE BENEFITS."

ANOTHER SAID:
" . . . MANY PEOPLE DO NOT PERCEIVE LIBRARIANSHIP TO BE A "PROFESSION" REQUIRING SPECIAL SKILLS."

ALSO:
"IT IS HARD TO BE THOUGHT OF AS "JUST THE LIBRARIAN." THE GENERAL PUBLIC HAS NO APPRECIATION FOR THE LEVEL OF SKILL REQUIRED TO BE AN EXCELLENT LIBRARIAN . . . TOO MANY BELIEVE WE DO LITTLE MORE THAN READ AND SHELVE BOOKS DURING OUR WORK DAY."

SOME OF MY OBSERVATIONS SO FAR ARE:

IN ORDER TO INCREASE LIBRARIAN'S SALARIES, LIBRARIES MUST ESTABLISH THEIR VALUE TO THE COMMUNITIES THEY SERVE. MANY LAW FIRMS NOW CONSIDER ALL LAW LIBRARY RESEARCH AS BILLABLE HOURS, PLACING THE LIBRARY IN THE REVENUE PRODUCER, RATHER THAN A REVENUE CONSUMER, CATEGORY.

LIBRARIANS AS A GROUP MUST DEVELOP STRATEGIES TO HELP LIBRARIES BECOME VALUED WITHIN THEIR COMMUNITIES.

LIBRARIES MUST CREATE SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENTS THAT NURTURE TALENTED PEOPLE AND PROVIDE CHALLENGES THAT WILL KEEP THEM INTERESTED AND FOCUSED ON THEIR PROFESSION.

IN LOOKING AT THE WAY LIBRARIES ADVERTISE VACANCIES:

ONE WAY TO ADDRESS THE JOB ANNOUNCEMENT DISTRIBUTION PROBLEM WOULD BE TO SEND JOB ANNOUNCEMENTS TO ALA ACCREDITED SCHOOLS. THERE ARE LESS THAN 50 ALA ACCREDITED SCHOOLS IN THE US AND PUERTO RICO. LIBRARIES COULD USE AN E-MAIL DISTRIBUTION LIST TO SEND JOB ANNOUNCEMENTS TO ALL THE SCHOOLS, OR TO SELECTED SCHOOLS IN THEIR AREA - INSTANTLY - FOR DISTRIBUTION TO THE SCHOOL'S STUDENTS AND ALUMNI. ONCE THE DISTRIBUTION LIST IS CREATED, EVERY ANNOUNCEMENT CAN BE SENT QUICKLY AND VERY CHEAPLY.

WE SEE AS MANY - OR MORE - LIBRARIES FROM OUTSIDE OF TEXAS RECRUITING ON CAMPUS AS WE SEE LIBRARIES FROM TEXAS.

LIBRARIES DON'T FOLLOW-UP TO LET US KNOW IF POSITIONS ARE STILL OPEN SO WE CAN REPOST POSITIONS.

TO MEET EMPLOYMENT NEEDS OF STUDENTS AND ALUMNI AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN, WE'VE RESTRUCTURED OUR METHOD OF DISTRIBUTING PROFESSIONAL JOB ANNOUNCEMENTS. INSTEAD OF A WEEKLY PLACEMENT BULLETIN, WE NOW USE A WEB-BASED RESOURCE WE CALL THE GSLIS PROFESSIONAL JOBWEB. IT IS POSTED INSTANTLY, IS SEARCHABLE BY KEY WORD BY JOB CATEGORY, AND BY DATE POSTED, AND IT IS FREE TO ALUMNI, STUDENTS, AND FACULTY. THE JOBWEB PROVIDES 24/7 AVAILABILITY TO ALUMNI AND STUDENTS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD WHERE THEY HAVE INTERNET ACCESS - PLUS IT'S MORE TIMELY AND COST-EFFECTIVE THAN THE WEEKLY PLACEMENT BULLETIN EVER WAS.

THIS SERVICE IS FREE FOR EMPLOYERS. THERE ARE SOME PROBLEMS THAT WE ENCOUNTER TRYING TO PROVIDE A FREE SERVICE:

INFORMATION FOR EMPLOYERS ON HOW TO POST JOBS WITH OUR JOBWEB AND SUBSCRIPTION FORMS FOR ALUMNI ARE BOTH AVAILABLE AT OUR EXHIBIT AND ON OUR WEB SITE (URL BELOW).

FULL SURVEY RESULTS, WITH THE COMMENTS YOU'VE HEARD TODAY AND MORE, LOOK AT MY OFFICE WEB SITE MONDAY EVENING (APRIL 2, 2001): http://www.gslis.utexas.edu/~careers/tla-talk/TLA-Talk.html

I'D LIKE TO CLOSE WITH BY SHARING THE CONCLUSION OF THE REPORT TO THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY ASSOCIATION:

"IF THERE ARE TO BE AN ADEQUATE NUMBER OF PUBLIC LIBRARIANS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, EACH LIBRARIAN MUST NOT ONLY WORK AT DELIVERING EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE AND BEING GOOD AT GETTING WHAT THEIR CUSTOMERS NEED, BUT MUST BECOME PROFESSIONAL RECRUITERS AND MENTORS OF FUTURE LIBRARIANS. IN THE WORDS OF MARGARET MYERS, "WE MUST EACH USE OUR KNOWLEDGE, OUR COMPETENCE, OUR COMMITMENT TO SERVICE, OUR ENTHUSIASM, AND OUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE TO PROMOTE OUR PROFESSION ACTIVELY AND STRATEGICALLY."

I BELIEVE THAT PLA'S CONCLUSION APPLIES TO EVERY CATEGORY OF LIBRARIANSHIP.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENDANCE AND YOUR INTEREST IN OUR FUTURE.


Presentation | Questions | Graphs | Comments

Introduction | Résumé | Interests | Organizations | Presentations


Updated: January 4, 2002
Contact me at: rpollock@gslis.utexas.edu
© 2001, Ronald D. Pollock