Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Librarian Supply and Demand

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Librarian Supply and Demand

Article excerpt

Today's library press is filled with discussion of trie aging of the library profession. A large proportion of the librarian workforce is approaching retirement age, while fewer young persons are entering the profession. Reports indicate difficulty in filling open positions. In response, library organizations are placing a high priority on efforts to recruit and educate future librarians. In light of the current situation, it seems of interest to look at historical trends in the supply of available librarians and the demand to employ them. There have been several key points in the past when supply and demand were unbalanced. The contributing factors and the responses to the crises reflected both the unique circumstances of the times and enduring concerns of the profession.

A dramatic turn of events in the equilibrium of librarians and jobs occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the labor market changed from a shortage of librarians to an excess, catching librarians and educators by surprise. From the early 1950s, annual surveys of placement of library school graduates in beginning positions had shown that the United States did not have enough librarians to fill the available jobs. Although the surveys examined only placement, and the data were restricted to accredited master's of library science (MLS) programs, conditions in the market for new graduates can be expected to reflect accurately the state of the overall market for librarians [I]. The report in 1961 was typical, revealing once again more positions than graduates. It exclaimed that "the new graduate could indulge all but his most captious desires in choosing his position-whether by type of library, type of work, or location. If he were free and uncommitted, the library world was his oyster: he was sought after, cajoled, beckoned, and enticed" [2]. Population growth, the corresponding rise in school and college enrollment, the explosion in information, stronger school accreditation standards, and funding by the Library Services Act all contributed to an increase in the number of vacancies.

An inventory of library needs compiled in 1965 produced the often-quoted projection of a shortage of 100,000 librarians in the field. The inventory included estimates of the number of professionally trained staff needed to meet American Library Association (ALA) standards in public school, academic, and public libraries, compared to the number of present staff. (School libraries needed the preponderance of positions.) The gap exceeded the number of trained librarians being produced annually by thirty-three times [3]. As part of his education program, President Lyndon Johnson adopted the shortage figure and called for a library "personnel development program of major dimensions and having many facets," including expansion of facilities for professional training, student financial aid, improved salary standards and employment conditions, and use of more library technicians and clerical assistants to release fully trained professional librarians [4].

The one paramount concern of the profession, as identified in a 1966 survey of ALA members, was the library workforce, including the issues of a greater pool, training, salaries, and recruitment. Major conferences were held, such as "Crisis in Library Manpower-Myth and Reality" [5]. A cover of a Library Journal issue on "The Manpower Shortage" featured the letters "CRISIS" formed by job ads [6].

Asheim suggested restructuring of jobs, creation of career ladders and a new technician class of library worker, continuing education, and executive development [7]. The profession argued about the impact of educational requirements on the size of the workforce. The Library Journal editor noted with approval a "revolutionary" recommendation to make an undergraduate degree from a four-year college the basic qualification for the first professional level. "To talk about a 'shortage' (what an inadequate word! …

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