By the Numbers: Librarian Data

This charts the beginning of what I’m sure will be my continuously evolving answer to the question “Do we have too many LIS students?” tl;dr: Not necessarily

Grad & Retirement Rates

Never ask me reference questions about LIS data on Twitter, because I WILL FIND THE ANSWER FOR YOU!!! YES I WILL!

So… I’ve been thinking a lot about librarianship. Mainly: what that title actually means, how it’s definition is so intricately woven into “the library” as an institution, and what my odds are of becoming a “librarian” who works in “the library.” There so many anecdotal stories out there about how the job market is terrible, librarianship is a dying profession, and we need to look outside of “the library” if we want to survive. As I’ve complained about before, “our field has a TON of anecdotal evidence, but lack the facts, the cold hard data.” While we’re still lacking credible data on placement rates and alumni satisfaction (although that data’s out there if you look hard enough), I did a little digging and came up with some interesting statistics.

Sidenote: I’d love to use ALISE data, but I can’t in good conscience. Their yearly statistical reports are:
1) Proprietary. Dues-paying members have access to digital copies of past reports. Print copies cost $150 for members, while non-members get to pay the low-low rate of $250.
2) Locked. PDFs are great for reading data reports, but the time and effort it would take to extract, organize, and parse ALL that data just isn’t worth it.
Open access to data, why would the LIS field support that? Amirite?

… And now, the public numbers we do have:

 The Past
Also known as all those early career MLIS-holders who were told everyone was going to retire.

OldLibrarian“Nationally, from 2001 to May 2013, the number of librarians fell by 9 percent.”
FiveThirtyEight “Where Are America’s Librarians?” (2014)

Library Science degree conferrals grew by 57 percent, from 4,727 in 2001 to 7,441 in 2012 (academic year)*
National Center for Education Statistics “Master’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study” (2013)

The Present
You just graduated? Congratulations!

WelcomeSucks“From 2011-2012 the number of librarians dropped by almost 9 percent.”
AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees “Library Workers: Facts & Figures” (2013)

“The profession may lose an average of 2,820 librarians each year to retirement.”
ALA Office for Research & Statistics “Planning for 2015: The Recent History and Future Supply of Librarians” (2009) pg. 39

6,451 ALA-accredited degrees were awarded in 2013*
ALA Committee on Accreditation “Trend Data on Program Performance” (2013) *Note: Canadian programs removed.

The Future
Hey, that’s me!

Missing Librarian“Employment of librarians is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022”
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook “Librarians: Job Outlook” (2014)

“Projected job openings (2012-2022): 11,000
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook “Librarians: Job Outlook” (2014)

Total headcount in ALA-accredited degree programs (2013): 14,976
ALA Committee on Accreditation “Trend Data on Program Performance” (2013) *Note: Canadian programs removed.

So… where do we go from here? That’s a tough question. I know not everyone who goes to library school wants to be a librarian, but a lot of them do. I know I’m not limiting myself to “the library” and I have a feeling a lot of my peers aren’t going to either, whether they like it or not. The problem isn’t necessarily that we have too many library school students, it’s that we have too many librarians-to-be who can’t envision a career outside of a particular type of library, and even more who would never want to work outside of a library. We’re going to need that big tent librarianship, not only serve as a unifying force within the profession, but because there’s a lot of us coming (or being pushed) through the pipeline, whether you like it or not.

It’s time for some big picture thinking and that mindset starts in library school. We need to make the degree about the work we do and not where we do it. Really, what’s the difference between where you do that work? It all comes down to personal preference: the types of information you provide, the medium(s) that information is packaged in, or even worse, the “types” of people you’re providing that information to. Librarianship is made out to be this nuanced and siloed thing, but that seems so counter-intuitive to me. Sure, there are a myriad number of differences between a working as a public librarian and a corporate taxonomy consultant, but when you really think about it, all we’re doing is connecting people to the information they need. That’s a powerful thing that any community can benefit from and why I believe librarianship should be community-based and not institution-based. It’s time we move beyond the library and into the community we serve, no matter where that may be, even if said community has never had a library or librarian serve them before.

That’s big picture thinking. That’s the big boat we need, the one that will accommodate the more than 6,000 ALA-accredited degree holders coming out of US library schools every year. Without it, I worry that this profession’s newly minted Master’s degree holders and the library schools that created them might end up sinking. Books make great floatation devices, but being tied to a brick façade will only weigh us down… and I want us to float. I really do.



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