Librarian Job Market Trends

The librarian job market can be cool in some areas, but proactive career management can help a librarian enter and remain in the profession.

Librarian Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an 8 percent increase in jobs for librarians between 2008 and 2018. At the same time, the BLS also describes how an increase in the usage of electronic resources as well as diminishing budgets for libraries will affect the outlook for librarians. For new librarians or prospective librarians, the BLS suggests that because many current librarians are mature professionals, retirements will open new positions in the field, and that there will be more positions for librarians in non-traditional settings.

Disputing the Numbers

In an article that appeared in "Library Journal," Rachel Holt and Adrienne L. Strock dispute some of the commonly cited reasons for an increase in entry-level librarian jobs. The authors suggest that fewer librarians are retiring and that more library schools are producing more graduates, which leads to greater competition for entry-level positions. The authors also suggest that if a position is not filled by a professional librarian, a paraprofessional or a subject matter specialist without library training will fill the opening left by the librarian.

They also describe results from a survey that they administered to libraries that had listed entry-level positions, defined as requiring one year or less experience in libraries, to determine who the libraries actually hired. Only eleven percent of these entry-level positions were actually filled by new librarians. Most of the positions went to librarians who had at least four years of experience.

Factors Affecting Librarian Jobs

In a traditional library setting, such as a public or academic library, cities and post-secondary institutions are trimming their budgets. Frequently budget trimming affects libraries, leading to reduced service hours and a reduced staff. It is also possible that some of the traditional library tasks, such as reference in-person or by phone or email, could also be outsourced, or that some of the traditional library education could be delivered in pre-recorded video lectures accessed via the Internet. Similar budget pressures are also experienced in special libraries, usually when electronic resources replace the print in-house material, and a librarian is removed with the library, or replaced by a paraprofessional.

Librarian Career Management

Though this is a bleak assessment of the librarian labor market, there are actions that a new professional can take. The first is to get library experience while in library school or during the summer months. Taking advantage of internships and co-op placements is an important step for a librarian to take since the librarian can gain necessary experience.

Librarians have also been urged to pursue non-traditional careers, such as becoming a knowledge broker or working in competitive intelligence. These areas are excellent for professionals who have an entrepreneurial bent and if they are interested in business librarianship or have niche knowledge and skills, such as law librarianship, designing web apps or negotiating licenses.

However, some librarians pursued their education to work in traditional libraries and to serve their public or academic communities. In this case, look for communities and institutions that are librarian-friendly, who fight determinedly to keep their library service or who are even expanding their library services. Staying up to date by reading the "Chronicle of Higher Education" and the professional publications from the American Library Association will help libraries stay on top of the pro-library communities.

At the same that American librarians are struggling, professional librarianship is taking off in some countries, like in Japan and China. It is possible to go abroad, even if you have a family, and get a few years of international experience in libraries, before repatriating to the US to work as an experienced professional librarian.