A Lack of Librarians Is One for the Books

By Billups, Andrea | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 23, 2000 | Go to article overview

A Lack of Librarians Is One for the Books


Billups, Andrea, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The booming technology job market and a rapidly graying work force have combined to create a serious shortage of librarians in public schools, universities and at community facilities around the country.

An estimated 40 percent of the nation's 190,000 librarians say they will retire in the next nine years or sooner, according to research by Library Journal magazine.

What's more, the number of American Library Association-accredited graduate-level programs has dropped from about 100 two decades ago, when interest in the profession was booming, to just 56 today at colleges throughout the United States and Canada.

"I think [the shortage] is a critical issue for libraries around the country," said Susan Kent, director of the Los Angeles Public Library, where 380 librarians are employed at the city's main library and its 67 branches.

"Public libraries are being very heavily used, and we're in a period of expansion in many places across the United States," she said. "We are working very hard to recruit the best and brightest new graduates, but today librarians who are getting their degrees have many more choices. There is the whole e-sector now and it's very competitive."

At the library association's annual conference in Chicago this month, job recruiters saw the severity of the shortage firsthand. They had 997 jobs available, the most at the conference since 1982, but only 489 job seekers, the fewest since 1965, when the ALA first began keeping records.

Low starting salaries are partly to blame for the dearth of applicants, the ALA said. New librarians with master's degrees earn an average salary of about $32,000. The median salary for professional librarians is $44,209, the ALA said. Only 1.9 percent of librarians earn more than $50,000.

In Los Angeles, new hires start at $38,000 annually. "That's not a lot of money in Los Angeles," said Miss Kent, who has hired about 100 new librarians in the past year and needs many more. Opportunity for advancement and earning is growing, however, as her seasoned veterans are rapidly leaving their posts.

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