Monday, March 25, 2013

Article Note: On Employment Opportunities for New Academic Librarians

Citation for the article:

Tewell, Eamon C., "Employment Opportunities for New Academic Librarians: Assessing the Availability of Entry Level Jobs." portal: Libraries and the Academy 12.4 (2012): 407-423.

Read via Project Muse.

This article reports on a 12-month study, running from 2010 to 2011, of 1,385 job advertisements drawn from various job aggregators. The goal was to assess just how available or not entry level jobs for academic librarians are. In some ways, this article confirms much of the discussion already going on in the librarian blogosphere. For those who have been in the job market recently, it may validate some of our experiences. It is not news, nor should it be news, that getting a librarian job in academia is extremely difficult and competitive. It is even more so if you are fresh out of library school given competition with librarians already in the field who may either have graduated previously and just could not find a job right away or more experienced librarians who are making lateral moves in their careers. In this situation, new librarians with little or not practical experience stand to lose. As Tewell writes, "the job market is very limited for entry level job seekers in particular, who typically lack the experience of more seasoned job applicants and are unlikely to have integrated themselves into librarianship’s multifaceted culture" (408).

The author summarizes the history of the library job market in the literature review. The author mentions that the severe shortage of jobs led to articles, and I will add blogs, blaming LIS schools and professional associations, such as ALA, for misrepresenting the market. Let's be honest here. There has to be some misrepresentation going on. What library school is going to admit less people into its programs let alone responsibly inform its students about the poor librarian job market? Career advice on "alternative" jobs other than librarian (what most people go to LIS school in the first place) only goes so far, assuming such advice is available. As for organizations like ALA engaging in over-recruiting, let's leave that for another day.

The author monitored various aggregators to draw job ads for the sample. The author then defined an entry level job as one requiring an ALA-accredited MLS or equivalent (and by the way, we could comment on how the word "equivalent" can be a slippery slope or sleazy way to get around the MLS requirement), one or less years of experience, and w/o experience or duty requirements that entry level librarians do not have such as supervisory or administrative experiences. Next, the job ads were sorted based on various traits such as position level, title, institution name and type, location, and years of experience required.

The author found that entry level positions made up only 20.7% of the total sample. It must be noted that the majority of job ads featured "preferred qualifications," which are often code words for what an institution really, really wants, and if you don't possess them, please don't bother to apply.

Other notes:

  • The majority of job postings came from larger universities, 68.9% of the positions advertised. Then colleges with 19.4%. Public institutions had the majority of postings at 52.6% (415). 
  • A question the author asked, and one that now and then flares up in the librarian blogosphere: "How do the increasing number of professional positions that do not require an MLS impact the librarian job market?" (417). Go back and consider those ads with "preferred qualifications" among other things also when you ponder this question. There are other questions that need answers as well such as entry level jobs filled by real entry level applicants versus applicants with prior professional experience (I would define this prior professional experience as post-MLS). 
  • This may be of concern, especially in light of recent cases such as McMaster University. As the author writes, "the increasing number of nontraditional library employment opportunities indicates that although the MLS remains a prerequisite for a majority of positions, this may not remain the case as academic libraries continue to redefine their goals and create new positions accordingly" (418). This goes along with the idea of "feral" librarians as proposed by James Neal.
  • In sample cases, it is clear that experience does correlate with obtaining a library job, or at least getting a good library job. 
  • Statement of the obvious because as we know a lot of the LIS literature basically presents a lot of the obvious. Here we go: "It is not unheard of for entry level positions to be obtained by professionals with several years of experience, particularly in a difficult job market" (420).
  • Some very small rays of hope: 
    • "Applicants for entry level jobs are most likely to find positions in a university setting..." (421).
    • "This suggests that for job hunters, targeting universities may be a more fruitful path to finding employment than pursuing particular areas of the country" (421). Translation: find a university in a place you think you can bear living in. Don't just hope you are going to get that cool job in Seattle because you want to live in Seattle. The university that will hire you may not be in the coolest city of your dreams. However, geographic mobility remains important. 
    • "In terms of entry level positions, recent graduates have the most opportunities in Public Services and Electronic Services" (421). For what my humble opinion is worth, this is still a "people" profession. Even if you work in electronic resources, depending on the place, odds are good you may end up with a reference desk rotation or liaison duties, so odds are good that you will need people skills.
  • Conclusion: "This study provides evidence that in the current academic library market, entry level positions are greatly outnumbered by those requiring years of experience and duties beyond the reach of recent graduates. Recent graduates lacking significant practical experience may find securing a professional position to be a potentially insurmountable challenge" (422). 

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