The Entry Level Gap


As noted in AshtabulaGuy's Journal, LJ has an insightful article on the challenges new librarians face as they try to secure that first professional position. Some interesting tidbits discussed include the fact that only about 11% of advertised positions are entry level, full time professional positions; and even with these positions librarians with several years' experience are applying and getting the jobs over new grads. From my perspective as a new librarian, I'm glad to see a piece that finally 'tells it like it is.' What do others think?


Eight years ago, when I was a new MLS (with several years of library experience) I had some interesting experience trying to get a job in Ohio. In 1997, college students had the best Internet skills. Home Internet access in rural Ohio wasn't very common. The public libraries were starting to get their state-funded T-1 lines and computers, but many librarians who'd been out of school for a while didn't have much Internet experience.

I went to a nearby library to use the Internet to hunt for jobs. The Internet computer was sitting alone, mysteriously in the corner. I asked the reference librarian if I could use it, and she said I could, but she didn't know much about it and couldn't help me if I needed it. I told her I didn't need any help.

She watched me use it from a distance for a few mintues, then came over and asked me a few questions.

The next day, while home at my parents' house, I received a call from that library. The reference librarian had LOOKED UP MY PATRON INFO and called me at home with questions about the computer and the Internet. Meanwhile, with these obviously needed skills, I was being rejected for jobs around the state.

Good enough to work for free, not good enough to pay...

You could also say that they are also going to be getting the workers with the most up to date learning and skills coming from the Library Schools.
Now whether that's necesarily a good thing is another matter.

This is very harmful--but good for library directors who (a) want to keep their personnel budgets down (b) don't want folks to get to "uppity" and know too much (c) then you can claim you're a great person for giving the new librarians experience.

-a jaded librarian

I'm a 2002 Kent State grad and was extremely lucky to get a job in a library. The job only required "some college"...Not the job I was, and still am, looking for. The really weird thing though is that they hired a manager the previous year who had absolutely no library experience at all. This person has a degee in social work. The library is really suffering because of her decisions that are on the order of Dilbert's Boss. Obviously, when a job is open, qualified people need to be hired. There are certainly enough of us out there!

This practice is very harmful to faculty & students. It takes time for librarians to establish relationships with faculty and academic departments to learn about the research and academic needs. It may take several years to learn about these needs and make adjustments to collections or library services. Why build up a knowledge-base to only discard it every three years?

The practice at one academic library which I will not name is as follows:- new librarians are hired on 1-year contracts which can be renewed for up to 3 years. After 3 years, it's out the door you go! Then more new librarians are hired for these temporary positions.- Tenure-track librarians are occasionally hired but there are requirements as to experience and subject degrees that prohibit many librarians from applying.I find this depressing. How is one supposed to get a permanent librarian job?

I think librarianship is in the same boat as most professions. In the corporate world, you must hire the BEST person because everything is driven by profits. I think this is forgotten in librarianship since most library positions are not related to a bottom line.

I was in information school. Now, I'm not. Finally, I feel better about that decision. Had I stayed, I would have likely been graduating this month. Imagine reading this particular article in LJ just weeks before getting a master's degree in information studies.The top reason why I feel some sense of vindication is that I would have likely become a homeless information professional. I would have sent out thousands of applications for jobs (professional and paraprofessional), and gotten back an extreme few nibbles. The greatest factors would have included overqualification, underqualification, undereducation, inexperience, and, yes, age.Now, instead of facing homelessness, I am in that group of library employees commonly known as paraprofessional. I'm OK with that. I'm learning more about practice now than I was about theory in school. In addition, I am making at least some small contribution to the information profession. One piece of advice I received in information school is that everyone must start somewhere...Another piece of advice I received in information school is that an emerging information professional needs to be marketable. And when you're younger, you definitely need a huge edge just to break in. I didn't have that edge, and I just couldn't get it through two years of information school and a graduate degree.Now I think I should go find a really good journal article that gives an in-depth, multidimensional profile of the "new information professionals."

I did that once this year relative to that job in western Canada. Since February I have watched that school be denied initial accreditation and continue to implode day by day. I think I made the right choice in not accepting the offered contract. I must really be a rat as I realized that such was a ship that was starting to sink.

Actually, I don't like the concept of entry level jobs. Either you have a job opening in your library, for which you are ethically required to hire the best candidate, or you don't. The concept of a less-paying entry level job is a way for libraries to hire people for less income.
        I realize that sometimes ten years of experience is actually one year of experience repeated ten times, and that some entry level people have better people skills or computer skills than seasoned librarians, and I have always taken that into consideration. But usually, libraries want people who can hit the floor running, and saying that seasoned librarians are over-qualified and therefore damned to ever get another job, is silly. The best qualified and best candidate should get the job. The salary negotiations are a separate issue.
      Also, often this "entry level job" is based on who is the "junior" librarian and will have to take the worst shifts, etc. This also is silly, and to keep dumping the worst shifts and worst jobs on the youngest/newest hire only leads to staff inequity in other areas. But no one should be told they will work the worst shirfts for a few years, and then the library will hire a younger librarian to take them over. Not only is this age discrimination, it is also unethical treatment of the staff.
      Certainly a job that requires no previous experience should be open to entry level people who are willing to apply. But better candidates who also need a job shouldn't be eliminated simply because they are older, more experienced (or even worse, more experienced than the existing library staff, oh! my!) or a subject specialist.
        Unemployed librarians with years of experience need jobs too, and are often in a bind whan a spouse is transferred, they move to another location to be near a sick parent, etc., and need a new job. Let me tell you, an entry level salary in a library for an experienced librarian looks pretty damn good as an alternative to working as a temp secretary or flipping burgers.

Although I've been retired since 2000, I still remember pouring over the stacks of letters and resumes when I was assigned to a search committee. Some candidates were just unbelieveable. Because we also had to select a colleague who could publish, make tenure in 4 years, and pull his/her own weight on numerous committees we had to look at a few things other than transcript. I'm sorry to say, I saw some pretty awful cover letters and poorly prepared resumes from people with MLS+. The good ones always rose to the top, and were often taken by the time we were able to contact them. And then when they finally came to interview (an exhausting processing for everyone that no one should have to go through), often we were the ones to be rejected, and we started all over again.

I'm three years out of school with my MLS and can't get a sniff at a full time librarian job. My shot at an entry level reference librarian job ended last month when I received the customary, "While you have excellent qualifications, blah, blah, blah..." letter. Then I learned that there were over 40 applicants and a number had PhD's! No wonder I didn't make the cut. I know the market is tight (especially where I live with two, count 'em, two, major universities within 75 miles of each other cranking out MLS's) but this is getting out of hand.

250 applicants, half of them degreed, and for a paraprofessional job... That says something.

There are a couple of people I work with who want to go get their MLS and take advantage of this "librarian shortage" that's coming. Boy, are they going to be disappointed. And you know what the funny thing about it is? Both of them are making very good wages at what they are currently doing. "WARNING: Sharp Learning Curve Ahead..."

Excellent point.I applied a couple of years ago for a PARAPROFESSIONAL position at my local public library system, one of the largest in the country. I figured I would at least get an interview: I was halfway through library school, had 10 years' experience in another field, and had volunteered with that public library system for several years.When I got the rejection notice without an interview, I called the hiring person at the county HR office to ask why. The county uses an automated electronic system to scan resumes before they send approved ones to the hiring agency, and I figured that it was a matter of not using the right keywords for the system to pick up.The HR person handling this position told me they had gotten 250 applications for the job, and fully half of them were from MLS-holding librarians with years of experience. For a PARAPROFESSIONAL position. That's just wrong on so many levels. How do we get "library experience" if we can't get hired for para positions?

Not that I ever really believed that there were lots of jobs available, it is nice to see that LJ is publicly saying what many of us know. It ain't so. I gave up after a year of sending resumes. I have no previous "library" experience and was always up against librarians with much more experience than the actual required qualifications. I can't find a position low enough on the totem pole to get hired despite what I think is a wealth of experience in other fields that would give me some unique reference skills. Oh well!

I'm glad to see printed word confirming my concerns that very few entry level librarian jobs are available. Depressed, too, but glad.I've dipped my toe in the library applicant pool as of December, inspired by several colleagues at my company (library-related) who have recently departed for library jobs. And well, there ain't much out there.These days I can barely turn around without knocking over a newly-minted MLS or significant other of same. Over beers last night, I heard the story of one new librarian using her cataloging and classification skills, putting away concert t-shirts in her job at Hot Topic.

I was actually told by a hiring committee my first year out that, while they thought I was a better fit for a particular job, they "had to" give the job I'd applied for to someone else simply because she had 10+ years of experience. The job required no experience. Interesting. Short sighted, of course. I know several librarians with less than 5 years experience, myself included, who are trying to figure out how best to parlay our MLSes into another field for this very reason. And they say that the plural of anecdotal evidence is data... So where does that leave the profession? Perhaps THAT's where the shortage they keep talking about will eventually come from. Ha!

OK, KSU Grads and others, here is a big TIP. Send your resumes to Dayton Metro Library. We have several professional positions posted. We do not get enough MLIS applicants. The pay is very competitive and so are the benefits. If you are a good librarian I'm sure you can find the address.