Thursday, August 2, 2012

30th Year Reflections/9: A Professional Snapshot and Glimpse of the Future

“In the last two decades of the 20th century the number of credentialed librarians increased rapidly, but this was followed by a slight decline between 2000 and 2005. More important for the profession, however, is the potential impact that retirement could have during the next ten years. The age structure of librarians is unique. This mostly-female profession has a long-standing pattern whereby people join it at what would be the middle or latter part of many careers. This pattern gained strength as the first half of the baby boom ascended through the profession. Today, this large group of early boomers is in their 50s. They make up over 40 percent of the profession, and they are perched on the precipice of what most think of as the retirement years.”

— Planning for 2015: The Recent History and Future Supply of Librarians (2009)

It is time to consider some numbers. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there were 156,100 professional librarians in 2010 (professional defined as one having a master’s degree). Another report prepared for the American Library Association (ALA) in 2009 (quoted above), put the number of “credentialed” librarians (i.e. those with a master’s or doctorate) at 104,600. The 2010 median pay, according to the BLS, was $54,500. The projected rate of change in employment for the 10-year time-frame between 2010 and 2020 is 7%, or a numerical growth of about 10,800 jobs. The average growth rate for all occupations is 14%, thus prompting the BLS to characterize librarian job outlook as “slower than average.” According to the BLS the following areas employed the most librarians in 2010:

Local public elementary and secondary schools 35%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 28%
Colleges, university, and professional schools (state, local, private) 17%
Private elementary and secondary schools 4%
Junior colleges (state, local, and private) 3%

In 2009, according to the ALA report, 17% of the profession was male and 45% of those men worked in higher education. (I’m running true to form.) And finally, the ALA report projected that by 2015 nearly one-sixth of the “current working U.S. membership base is likely to retire. Looking forward another five years to 2020, an additional 13 percent of members will retire.” I’m not planning on retiring until 2025 at the earliest, but then I’m not an “early boomer” (according to the report the largest demographic group of librarians in the modern history of the profession, born between 1946 and 1955; in other sections of the report this group is referred to as the “librarian bubble”). Looks like I’ll be saying “happy retirement” to around 28% of my colleagues before I take the plunge.

Why do I mention all this? Because, for those contemplating the profession or just about to take first steps in graduate school, it is good to go in with your eyes wide open knowing what the profession has to offer (or not). And because, as large as the profession might seem, there is a very good chance—depending on where one lands—that one will cross paths any number of times with people met along the way. Thirty-two years ago, while attending a class on academic libraries, I met a retired university librarian who was volunteering his time on a new special collection acquired by the University of Minnesota. The librarian’s name was Errett Weir McDiarmid and the collection was the Philip S. and Mary Kahler Hench Collection of Sherlockiana.

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