Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The incredible shrinking librarianship

The Wall Street Journal published an article which presents a variation on a theme about the future of libraries. In this article, it suggests that librarianship is a shrinking profession and that there aren't enough young workers to fill the positions vacated by retiring librarians.

According to the chart in the article, librarianship is not in as poor a position as occupational therapy or home health care aides. But I suspect that if you're a new graduate from a LIS program, you might find yourself objecting to the notion that librarianship is suffering for young workers to fill vacant positions.

It seems like the reaction to this piece has mostly been that there are, in fact, too many young workers trying to fill too few positions. This 2011 In the Library with the Lead Pipe piece by Brett Bonfield lays out a lot of interesting data about graduation rates from LIS programs. Bonfield also points out some of the challenges associated with this data--namely that identifying the number of people who graduated with an MLS from an ALA-accredited program in any given year is really challenging.

Given all of that, my hot takes on this article aren't related to whether or not there aren't enough young workers to fill positions vacated by retiring librarians.

I want to focus, instead, on this notion that librarianship is a shrinking profession.

It's my sense that when librarians retire, administrators are either not filling the positions or are rewriting job descriptions to fill gaps in skills. This might mean that in an academic library a reference librarian position gets rewritten into, say, a data curation position.  Or, when a cataloger retires, the position is not filled at all and the work gets done through outsourcing or shelf-ready processing.

So you have a lot of people who want to be reference librarians and catalogers, but a lot of libraries who need data curation specialists or programmers with specific programming language skills.

Which is great, if you have the skills to fill these positions. But what if you don't? What then?

I suspect that this need for people with niche skills isn't going to go away any time soon. So how do we prepare ourselves for this new reality?

One answer is to find employment outside of librarianship. It's absolutely true that your information organization skills are transferable to the world outside of libraryland. But what if what you really want is to stay in librarianship?

Andromeda Yelton wrote this really great piece for Letters to a Young Librarian about skill building to equip you for life after library school. And I think it's great advice for wherever you are in your career. What skills do you have now and how can you demonstrate them? What skills do you need to deal with the new reality of a shrinking profession and how can you acquire them?

I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging how challenging this new reality is. But I also think we can equip ourselves for it.

Stay positive,

1 comment:

Andromeda said...

Awww, thanks for the compliment :)