Each day when they report for duty, Debbie Owen and Debra
Sidelinger have the satisfaction of knowing that they are now among
the ranks of the few, the proud - the would-be school librarians.
Both women have been thrust onto the educational front lines
before being 100 percent qualified, and they are already serving as
school librarians even while they work toward earning master's
degrees in library science.
As the United States marks National Library Week (April 6-12),
librarians find themselves in the middle of a growing shortage,
especially of school librarians.
A wave of librarian retirements, combined with school budget cuts
brought on by state fiscal problems, has resulted in a slew of
greenhorns and parent volunteers being deployed to fill the void
among the stacks of the nation's public school libraries.
Based on 1990 US Census data, almost 58 percent of professional
librarians will reach the retirement age of 65 between 2005 and
2019. In a 2000 survey by the Library Journal, 40 percent of library
directors said they would retire in nine years or less.
That's just fine for the likes of Ms. Sidelinger, a 25-year
veteran teacher who switched gears and is nearing completion of her
master's degree at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pa.
Despite not being quite done, she quickly landed a job at St.
Mary's Catholic Middle School in St. Mary's, Pa.
"There do seem to be an awful lot of jobs out there - at least in
Pennsylvania," she says. "One librarian friend of mine in the same
master's program interviewed with five schools and got five job
But the demand picture is decidedly a mixed bag depending on
region and state economic conditions. On the one hand, the overall
number of retirements does create a new national demand for
librarians who have masters degrees.
Witness Ms. Owen, a mother of two getting back into the work
force after a five-year hiatus. She had just started her master's
degree at Simmons College in Boston last summer when she was grabbed
by the Benjamin Franklin Class-ical Charter School in Franklin,
Mass. She now works half a week, sharing duties with another part-
On the other hand, tight budgets also mean positions are being
phased out in states like Massachusetts, California, Arizona,
Illinois, and elsewhere, reports the Chicago-based American Library
In Springfield, Ill., eight of the district's elementary-school
librarians have been cut in recent months. Meanwhile, at Hale Middle
School in Stow, Mass., volunteers began filling in last year for
trained librarians whose positions were cut.
But schools risk the educational quality offered students when
they fill slots with unpaid, lightly trained volunteers, ALA
officials say. …