Three recent blog posts have stuck with me, mostly because they are writing about the same topic from very different points of view. I wanted to contribute to the discussion because I have both additional information and questions, and I would really like your thoughts and feedback on it all.
Here are some thoughts from a recent Closed Stacks post on ALA’s perpetual “graying profession” statement:
I am offended that ALA is still pumping out these lies. If you’re a potential new librarian researching graduate schools and the American Library Association tells you that job prospects are favorable, why would you not believe them? Librarians give you facts, data. Certainly they wouldn’t lie to you because they have an interest in keeping enrollment up. Well, I guess they would.
Another point of view was offered by Colleen at Guardienne of the Tomes:
“There seems to be a general belief that a school has a moral imperative to let you know the degree they offer you has an oversaturated market and that the job prospects are poor. In fact, library schools are trying to stay open. In further fact, you look like delectable, juicy, tuition dollars.”
She also states:
“Librarianship isn’t the only profession where the number of qualified grads outnumbers the available positions. Speak to any English PhD who received their degree in the past 30 years.”
I read both of these posts carefully, and agreed with points from each. I agree that prospective master’s students should be responsible enough to do their research about the job market. I also agree that library schools and professional associations have an ethical responsibly to NOT LIE to their prospective students/members.
Where I’m having trouble reconciling these thoughts is the burden of knowing the actual number of students currently in library school (the 2009 numbers, anyway). Frankly, since I have nothing to compare it to, I find it pretty devastating.
Closed Stacks says:
Considering that my small program graduated about 50 people last May–there are not enough jobs for even those people. If the 57 ALA accredited programs in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico each graduate–let’s estimate 100 people per year, that’s over 5500 new librarians out there looking for work.
There are not, and will not be 5500 jobs available any time soon.
Unfortunately, I happen to know the real number of students currently in library school – which is about 4 times that. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I am working on the Students section of ALISE Library and Education Science Statistical Report. The report is in the process of being finished, and won’t be published for a couple more months (I’ll let you know when it is, and I will direct you there), but I can say this – the number of library school students (master’s level) last year was approximately 20,000. We have 57 ALA-accredited library schools. This cannot be a normal number of graduate students – right? I don’t have the numbers for English, or any other master’s or PhD programs, but when I started a master’s in English, there were about 20 of us. Most PhD programs accept 3-15 people per year. Does anyone out there have figures for programs like this?
I really just want to know, because numbers like that make me feel betrayed. One school currently has over 2,300 students enrolled. Another has over 1,250, and another has 1,130 (and those are just the top three). All for the ALA accredited MLIS/MLS only. How can they justify this? These schools have good reputations, excellent faculty and adjuncts — and yet I can’t help but wonder what this does to the worth of an MLIS. That has been an especially hot topic on library blogs in the past week, starting with Andy Woodworth’s post. His post involved a completely different issue, but I think inflation of students probably weakens whatever it means to have an MLIS.
Do I think that there a lot of worthy, passionate, intelligent people who deserve to be librarians out there? I really do. Do I know some of those worthy, passionate, intelligent people who have been rejected from some LIS programs? I do indeed. But what does this master’s degree mean? What are the standards? What are the projected outcomes of the program (i.e., what should we be able to accomplish after we finish the program)?
I don’t have answers for these questions. I know that for me, personally, pursuing this MLIS has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I’ve been exposed to so many incredible opportunities here, and I have a true passion for what I hope will be my future work. I can’t see myself in any other profession.
Colleen makes a good point when she states, “No, libraries aren’t hiring. No, library work often doesn’t pay well. But you’re perfectly qualified (if you took your courses with an eye more toward being useful than with an eye toward getting out quickly and via the easy route) to deal with knowledge and information management in the corporate setting.”
This is true, and it is a great path for some people to pursue. I know a little something about SLA, and I think I could see myself in a non-traditional library or information job. However, the majority of new library school students do not come to school hoping to become a knowledge manager. They really do want those traditional library jobs. Should someone warn them? Should it be us? I recently helped out again with new student orientation, and we had the biggest incoming class we’ve had in years. I wondered if they knew what they were facing, and if they are invested enough to pursue this career at all costs.
So, to recap a few of my questions:
- Is a number of 20,000 library school students in 57 accredited MLIS programs a fair, reasonable number? (and if not, does anyone have statistics from any other master’s or PhD programs where the number of grads far exceeds the number of available jobs?)
- Does this number of current library students devalue the MLIS?
- Should most new library school students pursue non-traditional information jobs?
- Should we, those of us who either have a job or are unemployed and looking, warn new students about the myth of library jobs?
Thanks for reading this too-long post. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughtful responses!
QUICK UPDATE: In case you missed it, here is an excellent link round-up from Librarian by Day of all of the “worth of the MLIS” posts lately! (and while you’re there, don’t forget to check out her So You Want to Be a Librarian post as well)