Will the economic crisis lead to the demise of the MLS professional?

It seems ludicrous to suggest this when libraries are busier than ever, but as libraries cut costs they seem to be decreasing professional full time positions. 

The annual salary survey from Library Journal just came out and for the first time since at least 1998, starting salaries have decreased.  There are also fewer full time jobs, and I’ve heard that in the Northwest at least, there’s a trend towards using temporary agencies for staffing (increasing the agencies’ revenues, but doing nothing for the security and stability of our profession). 

After getting my MLS in the 90′s, I worked 55 hours/week in two part time library jobs, with no benefits, for $10 an hour.  After a couple of years of this, I moved across the country for a full time position that paid about the same as waitressing, so I empathize with the bleak job market new graduates are facing.  Sure, working in libraries is a great job, it’s satisfying and self-affirming.  But are we expected to do it for love alone?  Without an inheritance or a rich partner to support you, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet as a librarian.  In what other profession does an advanced degree require such devotion for such minimal compensation?

Many libraries are reducing payroll through attrition, but that just puts more work and stress on the remaining personnel.  Automation is great, but there’s only so much machines can do (and I do regret the loss of the personal touch – just a couple of years ago libraries seemed to be the last bastion of customer service, but so many libraries now greet callers with the dreaded phone tree).   Training up is another popular tactic, though eventually there may be no one left to do the training.

So let me know, do you think we’re slitting our own throats?  What’s happening in your library or area?  Have you had difficulty finding a full time professional position?  What library positions do you think should require an MLS?  Or do you think it’s an obsolete degree (and if so, what should library schools be teaching to make the degree relevant)?

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One Response to Will the economic crisis lead to the demise of the MLS professional?

  1. Justine Shaffner says:

    here are a couple of interesting comments on the MLS from a listserv I’m on -

    “…if anything, the profession should be looking at a bachelor’s degree program.

    One doesn’t need a masters in accounting to be an accountant, a masters in nursing to be a nurse or a masters in education to be a teacher. One usually needs the relevant graduate degree or certification to progress in the job structure, responsibility and pay rate. I think a bachelors in library and information science would provide an education sufficient for an entry-level professional position. A masters should be required for management positions and probably would be required for any university position.

    On the downside, I would worry somewhat about libraries reducing the salary if the bachelors replaced the masters, when librarian wages are already more appropriate to a bachelors degree than a graduate degree. ”

    and

    “…On publib, on Archives List and on Museum-L I’ve read so many articles about closings, cutbacks in staffing replacing positions that formerly required Master’s degrees with positions that require Bachelor’s degrees. Lots of people (librarians and others) are out of work, for years now many MLS graduates have been underemployed and newly-degreed individuals keep asking about how to keep their credentials up-to-date while seeking that first, full-time professional position and whether they should volunteer, go after internships or take several part-time jobs to make ends meet.???…”

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