Library Journal published their annual Placements and Salaries data for 2013. From a glance at the raw data, one could argue that the outlook for recently graduated Librarians is pretty grim. As a current MLIS student I have to give pause and wonder “did I make a huge mistake?” Even Forbes’s Magazine is in on the MLIS disillusionment, claiming an MLIS to be one of the worst Master’s degrees to have right now if you’re entering the job market.
The problem I have with the Library Journal data is that it’s well, raw data. Sure there are interpretations going around about what the numbers mean and that may (or may not) be helpful to readers. As a person with a background in research, and more specifically, data interpretation, the data bring up more questions than they answer. First, librarians entering the job market aren’t entering a vacuum, they are entering a full-on sluggish market in general, and it would be nice to see a more comprehensive look at how these rates compare with other disciplines and their placement rates. Additionally, data doesn’t tell you why a certain percentage of graduates are unemployed (or simply off the grid, which factors into the unemployment rates) and the data doesn’t tell you how many graduates who took non-traditional jobs (i.e. non-library jobs) who earned their MLIS specifically for that purpose. I’ve met quite a few MLIS students who are computer scientists getting their MLIS and have no intention of ever working in the library setting.
Furthermore, schools need to step up when data like this emerges. Schools need to look at this data and address it for their students. No one wants to hear that their school graduated 163 people and only 2 of them got jobs. Their students need to know why placement was so low. I have a few ideas on that subject which I’ll address in a later post.
Lastly, I want to re-visit the Forbes article. Forbes is an interesting take because they list that a MLIS is a terrible degree to have but they are relying on (from what I could see) two primary measures-job growth (how many library jobs are available) and salary growth. Honestly, to me, salary means nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but I want to earn my MLIS and work in a library. I’m not concerned at pay in general (and I know that I’m rare in this category) because my husband works (and has one of those degrees on the Forbes best list, actually two) and just by getting in MLIS I will double my current earning capacity from just my Bachelor’s degree. Also, of note, Forbes only looks at salary growth, not that in some areas, salaries are receding. At least librarians aren’t seeing their salaries ebb, as in other markets.
Forbes also mentions the MLIS degree as somewhat of a wild card, stating that those seeking the traditional library route are seeing stagnation in pay and growth, but those seeking non-traditional employment areas with the degree are seeing higher pay and better growth. In this vein, I think Forbes does the degree a disservice by making it a “worst degree” and should have placed it in its own category of “wild card” (just think of all those wild, zany librarians!)
At any rate, current students need to be aware of the current market’s temperature, but also make sure to take the data in its fuller context and interpret it thusly. Don’t give up. It gets better. Be it, Don’t Dream It!