Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Library of Reality

Yesterday I overheard someone say, "This is an interesting time in history to teach in law school, since there are no jobs for these students when they graduate." Her friend replied, "Yes, well, I hear that there is a palpable awareness of that in the classrooms. The students are shaken."

So, why is there no equivalent in library school? The library job market has crashed, with public libraries gaining patrons but losing state revenue; academic libraries losing patrons to Googling undergrads; and many libraries downgrading formerly professional jobs to paraprofessional ones, or replacing MLS positions with IT personnel. Yet library schools continue to accept a flood tide of students--library schools are a cash cow for universities. I watched my own classes triple in size WHILE the economy was crashing. And meanwhile, there is no sense of reality on the campus, no one telling these students that library jobs are sparse and when one opens, a glut of overqualified applicants will apply. Or that most academic library jobs opening up were two or three people's jobs a year or two ago. Or that many retiring librarians are not replaced, or not replaced right away. Or that too many graduates who are volunteering at their local library or otherwise beefing their resume are no closer to a paying full-time job than they were when they graduated two years ago. The MLS continues to be marketed as a "flexible degree."

To my knowledge, no one has written a high profile article to reverse the enthusiasm that "A Hipper Crowd of Shushers" created in 2007 (New York Times, July 8).


Margaret Bashaar said...

I don't think that MLS programs were the only ones that saw a huge influx of students as the economy was crashing - people were (and to an extent still are) looking for any way they could to get out of the job market and avoid the reality of needing to look for employment. I think many simply looked for something that they thought they would enjoy studying and hopefully doing if/when the economy bounces back. Where are there jobs right now?

I know that the nonprofit and arts sectors have been hit particularly hard, but I guess it's just surprising to think that anyone would believe that any field, particularly one dealing with books of all things, would have a job just waiting for them post grad school these days. Do you think a high profile article would make a difference if people don't already realize that their job prospects are pretty abysmal? Does it help to be shaken moreso than we already are?

Karen Lillis said...

For sure, MLS programs weren't the only one to see a rise in enrollment. But the MLS is a one-year degree that is supposed to lead to employment--it's a voc/professional degree, and that's why people attend, with the hope of getting a job or raising their salary. I do think that such a program has the responsibility to talk about the reality of the job world, whereas I did not expect this when I got a Master's in fine art photography.

>> that any field, particularly one dealing with books of all things<< The library science world is not much about books. It's about information literacy, public service, archives, technology, and having the resources that the audience needs. Right now that includes books as well as many other types of resources.

Karen Lillis said...

>>they thought they would enjoy studying << No, everyone in the library world tells you when you go into a library science degree, "The classes are kind of a drag, but you need to jump through that hoop and get the piece of paper to get the jobs." (At least that's what they said in 2007.) I don't recall meeting anyone who did the program for the sake of studying. The courses are nothing like humanities classes--some theory and lots of reading, but also lots of very practical exercises.

Margaret Bashaar said...

Hunh. That's really puzzling then, honestly, and more than a little disappointing that universities have kept up this ruse (it would seem) that the MLS will ultimately lead to employment. I guess it's because I know people who work in libraries that I know the jobs are so very scarce.

Perhaps I was too flippant with my comment about "books of all things" - I guess to me, as someone who writes, who reads, who keeps up with the state of libraries and publishing and writing and reading, it is apparent that this is a bad time for the MLS. I also have fewer stakes in the MLS issue as I don't have one and am not the one struggling to locate a job at a library. To be fair, were one available to me... ;)

Write the article. For real.