TLA Annual Conference 2004 Logo

Finding the Right People:
What Do Prospective Employees Really Value?

Ronald D. Pollock
Director of
Career Services
of Information
University of Texas at Austin

From a survey I conducted in 2001, this is the most memorable comment from a student:

“I think public libraries are the worst. [T]he 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 of 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.”

The question that concerns me is this:

Do we understand each other?

It often seems that the ideas of library administrators about library school students and the ideas of library school students about administrators – and the profession in general – are often very different. For example, here is an example of the attitude toward library school graduates from a library administrator:

Views of a Library Administrator with More than 25 Years Experience

“I do not encourage people to enter a profession that condemns them to a life of genteel poverty. The salary and benefits speak for themselves.”

“I do not encourage people to enter graduate programs that poorly train (I won’t even legitimize library schools with the term educate) people to enter the field . . . Library education today is almost irrelevant to the needs of libraries . . .”

“New recruits are mostly on the rebound from other professions and jobs . . . There is usually a reason they are on the rebound, and it is not a constructive one . . .”

Harold N. Boyer, Library Journal, 1 October 2003, page 10.

Likewise, students often have ideas about administrators and the profession that may not be exactly correct either:

Views of Students

“Many times we work under someone who knows nothing about the library so we are being constantly micromanaged.” UNT Student Comment, 2001

“I think libraries have trouble recruiting great talent because people with great skills are lured away by better-paying, higher profile employers.” UT-Austin Student Comment, 2003

“Considering the low Salary, poor work environment, and minimum opportunities in libraries, even those few new LIS graduates may not prefer to join [a] library.”

UNT Student Comment, 2003

To better understand the goals and expectations of students, plus have a better understanding of their perceptions of libraries and librarianship, I conducted a survey of the three ALA accredited programs in Texas – the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University, and The University of Texas at Austin – in late November and early December 2003. The survey was almost identical to a survey I conducted in February 2001 for a presentation at the 2001 Annual Conference.

A Survey of Student Perceptions

  • Survey of all three ALA accredited programs in Texas
  • Conducted in November & December 2003
  • 368 students responded
  • Repeat of a similar survey conducted in February 2001

This next slide indicates how the 368 total responses were broken down by school.

Participants by Program (Slide 1)

(368 Total Participants in 2003 Survey - In Numbers of Respondents)

  • The University of Texas at Austin: 99
  • Texas Woman’s University: 148
  • University of North Texas: 121

One of the questions many library administrators want to know is how many students in today’s information environment are really interested in becoming a librarian. This next slide gives you an idea of the intentions of the current students in the three institutions.

Will You Seek to become a Librarian? (Slide 2)

As you can see, 90% of the students responding in 2003 intend to be librarians, up slightly from the 87.6% in the survey I conducted in 2001.

I also asked students to indicate their interests in a number of career fields in which they may be interested, breaking down the librarian career into general areas of interest.

Areas of Career Interest (Slide 3)
In Numbers of 2003 Respondents
(Could respond more than once: 897 Total Responses.)

Students could respond to more than one category. As you can see, most of the 897 responses focused on librarianship. The next slide provides a better illustration.

Grouped Areas of Career Interest (Slide 4)
2001 & 2003 Responses in Percentage of Respondents
(Could respond more than once: 831 Responses in 2001 & 897 in 2003.)

When grouping the interests, 62.5% of the respondents indicated librarianship was their career interest, up slightly from the 58.5% in the 2001 survey.

One essential question that every administrator and HR manager must know the answer to is what motivates students to apply for jobs.

Is Money the Prime Motivator?

We talk about money as being a primary reason for not being able to recruit librarians. Is that really the case for students who have already enrolled in a program? I asked students what was their most important consideration when deciding on which jobs to apply for. Here are their answers.

Most Important Consideration When Deciding on Applying for Job (Slide 5)

As you can see, money is not the prime concern. Work environment is the number one consideration, with 40% of the votes in 2001 and 37% of the votes in the 2003 survey. Following in second as the prime consideration is Geographic Location, with 27% of the votes in 2001 and 28% in 2003. Salary is a distant third as the most important consideration, with 15% in 2001 and only 14% or the respondents in 2003 selecting it as the most important.

Second Important Consideration When Deciding on Applying for Job (Slide 6)

Money is important. As you can see, when asked for their second most important consideration, salary was the number one response (33% for the 2001 survey and down slightly to 32% for the 2003 survey). Of interest is that work environment still came in a strong second in both surveys.

Since money is important to all of us, let’s look at what students anticipate as their starting salary at their first job after graduation.

Expected Starting Salary (Slide 7)

This slide indicates the results of the 2003 survey indicating the expected starting salaries of students. Of the 386 participants, only 26 anticipate starting under $30,000, well under the TLA guideline of $33,000. The next slide groups these anticipated salaries and provides a comparison with the 2001 expectations.

Grouped Expected Starting Salary (Slide 8)
2001 vs. 2003 Survey Results

As you can see, over 60% of the students anticipate starting between $30,000 and $40,000. Those expecting to start under $30,000 dropped 12.2%, down to 7.1% of the total. While the percentage expecting to make between $30 and 40,000 dropped slightly from 2001 to 2003, the number expecting to start at over $40,000 have risen dramatically. The expectation to make in the $30s corresponds with data from our own salary surveys at the School of Information. In the Library Journal Salary Survey of 2002 graduates in the October 15, 2003 edition, the average starting salary for our graduates was $37,938 and the median starting salary was $38,370, the 5th highest nationally.

So, what does that mean to libraries? Are students more difficult to recruit? Is there a shortage of librarians? Well, according to the survey, students don’t think there is a problem.

Are There Difficulties in Recruiting Librarians? (Slide 9)

As you can see, there is a substantial shift in opinions from 2001 to 2003. In 2001, almost 68% of the students surveyed thought libraries were having difficulties recruiting librarians. In 2003, however, over 55% of the students felt libraries were having no problems getting the librarians they needed. Of the responses that indicated there were problems in recruiting librarians, I reviewed comments from students who answered the question why libraries were having difficulties recruiting.

Why Are There Difficulties in Recruiting Librarians (Slide 10)

As you can see, 157 students provided a comment. Of those, 55% indicated compensation somewhere in their response. When looking at their own preferences, only 17% indicated salary was their MOST important consideration.

Why Are There Difficulties in Recruiting Librarians (Slide 11)

What is of interest is there were 70 comments that did not mention salary. Of those, a slightly higher, percentage 18.6% indicated salary was their MOST important consideration.

Next, let’s look at those who indicated there was no problem and had no comments:

Why Are There Difficulties in Recruiting Librarians (Slide 12)

Of the 211 that did not provide a comment, only 10.9% indicated that salary was their most important consideration.

What do the comments of students look like this year. Here are a few examples:

Student Perceptions

“I will have a masters and get paid less than I did before I decided on this as a career goal. That and crappy hours!!!”   UT Student

“Low salary gives little incentive for a person in a well paying position to change careers or employers, even after finishing school.  I would be more likely to stay with my current company and pursue a job within the LIS group than go to a library offering me only two-thirds or less of what my current salary is.”  UNT Student

“[Libraries] not loo[k]ing in the right place, not able to compete with the private sector, long application and interview processes, lack of communication.”   TWU Student, 2003

“[T]he stigma attached to it. most people believe that a librarian is no more than what you see in the public library system.” UNT Student, 2003

“I think libraries have trouble recruiting great talent because people with great skills are lured away by better-paying, higher profile employers.”  UT Student, 2003

Low salary gives little incentive for a person in a well paying position to change careers or employers, even after finishing school.  I would be more likely to stay with my current company and pursue a job within the LIS group than go to a library offering me only two-thirds or less of what my current salary is.” UNT Student, 2003

“Poor attitude of co-workers, lack of enthusiasm about their own profession and promoting it in their communities. Poor customer service in the profession and bad attitudes.”  UNT Student, 2003

“Library schools are not visible enough...they should do more recruiting in undergraduate programs to encourage those students to continue their education in grad school and become LIS professionals. Also, ethnic minorities should be encouraged to join LIS ranks. Information is diverse, the people that organize and retrieve it should be too.”  UT-Austin Student, 2003

Do Recruiters Understand How to Recruit Graduates of LIS Programs? (Slide 13)

You will be glad to hear that the majority of students think recruiters understand how to recruit graduates of LIS programs.

But, however, not every student agrees!

But - Student Perceptions

“I have not seen any who were seriously trying to get anyone's attention.  They are not aware of the potential client or they are too busy in their own, private conversations when you come [to] speak to them.  I think they should pay more attention and be fully prepared to answer questions instead of ‘we'll take your name and send information.’”  UNT Student

“Well, I've never seen a library recruiter, and I've been in the program for two years.  So I'd have to say they're not very good at seeing everyone.”  UNT Student

As you can see, some students feel that recruiters do not actively recruit new librarians effectively.

Another area of interest to libraries today is where are the library directors of the future going to come from?

Is Ultimate Career Goal to Be a Library Director? (Slide 14)

As you can see, in both the 2001 and 2003 surveys, only about a third of the students expressed the desire to be a director in the future. What does that say for the developing the leadership of tomorrow?

Is There a Solution?

The question that remains is how do we bring libraries and graduates of LIS programs together to insure staffing meets the needs of the library?

Seven Suggestions

To help focus libraries on meeting their needs, here are seven suggestions that may prove helpful:

1. Develop job announcements that mean something.

This is especially true for public and school libraries. Job announcements should include more than the basic requirements and duties. If you don’t know what I mean, look at many academic library announcements. They often describe not only the job, but also the culture of the library. To attract the best and brightest, job announcements must tell the library’s “story” to prospective employees, with an emphasis on the things that make the library a good place to work.

2. Develop ways to distribute job announcements and the story of the library.

In our survey this year, almost 45% of the students preferred job announcements from a variety of Web-based sources, followed by 31% preferring job announcements on listservs. How do you distribute the job announcements for your library?

Some libraries make it just about impossible to find out information about job openings. Others will post an opening with a 7 to 14-day window for applications, but not get the announcement out until the window is almost over. And, schools (K-12) often don’t advertise outside of their district, or the librarian who is leaving sends out a short notice saying she is leaving soon and asking if anyone is interested in the job.

To recruit effectively, consider the ways in which the library can meet expectations of potential employees, not just the needs of the HR department. And, don’t forget that if you do advertise on the Web, to update the information regularly – unlike the academic library that had an announcement that indicated interviews would start a year before I called to see if the openings were still valid – and was amazed to find out they were! Repost – or indicate the position is reposted – if you do not fill the position immediately.

3. Develop relationships with schools that produce librarians.

While distance may limit some relationships with library schools, there are still ways in which libraries can establish relationships:

   -a- Visit campuses occasionally – establish relationships with professors and with career services personnel.
   -b- Create a group e-mail address for all ALA accredited schools’ career services offices for distributing job announcements.
   -c- Seek opportunities to establish mentoring programs for students.
   -d- Provide “career talks” about your library to students.
   -e- Provide opportunities for internships, volunteer experiences, or professional-level academic projects.

4. Develop a “grow your own” for employees without MLS.

Sometime geographic location or other limiters create difficulties in attracting applicants to the library. Look for ways to create programs for professional growth within your current para-professionals, improving morale and insuring you have employees with known levels of dedication to the job.

5. Develop exciting, motivational work environments.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make the environment pleasant or to reward excellence on the job. Little things can mean a lot to employees, and the cost of a certificate of appreciation for a good job will not break the budget, yet can mean a lot to an employee.

6. Develop an interview checklist that covers job requirements and sells the library to job applicants.

A written checklist ensures the story of your library is told during each and every interview of an applicant.

7. Develop innovative compensation packages that have value to potential employees.

Once again, imagination can provide significant gains, often for limited cost.

Presentations on the Web

2001 Presentation: Where Have All the Librarians Gone?

2004 Presentation: Finding the Right People: What Do Prospective Employees Really Value?

Presentation | Survey Questions | Comments: Why Problems Recruiting | Comments: What Recruiters Doing Wrong

Ron Pollock's Website: Introduction | Résumé | Interests | Organizations | Presentations

Comments to
© 2004, Ronald D. Pollock