Good News: Librarian Job Growth Exploding!

Quick quiz: Is the employment outlook for librarians growing or shrinking? The answer depends on what you call a “library job.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for librarians is “slower than average,” with a projected rate of change in employment this decade of 7%, slower than the 14% average growth rate for all occupations.

This sounds bad! Who wants to join a profession where you need a Master’s degree and the projected rate of employment growth is half of the national average?

But dig a little further into the BLS description of a librarian and a picture starts to emerge. For example, some of the BLS librarian duties include:

  • Plan programs for different groups, such as storytelling for young children
  • Read book reviews, publishers’ announcements, and catalogs to see what is available
  • Choose new books, audio books, videos, and other materials for the library

BLS partners with a site called O*Net OnLine that provides a more detailed report on librarianship, including the tools and technology used in the occupation. According to O*Net, some of the tools of the library trade include cash registers, microfilm readers, photocopiers and public address systems and technologies such as email, spreadsheets and desktop publishing software.

Then take a look at their list of the top four tasks of librarians:

  • Analyze patrons’ requests to determine needed information, and assist in furnishing or locating that information.
  • Search standard reference materials, including online sources and the Internet, to answer patrons’ reference questions.
  • Teach library patrons basic computer skills, such as searching computerized databases.
  • Plan and teach classes on topics such as information literacy, library instruction, and technology use.

Are you getting the picture? The BLS description propounds a somewhat parochial view of what it means to be a librarian these days, and the sad truth is that the “traditional” library they describe is becoming rapidly endangered as government budgets come under intense scrutiny.

The problem is, the BLS view doesn’t describe too many of the librarians, archivists and museum professionals I know. Just for kicks, let’s compare the BLS librarian description to the job area of Computer and Information Systems Managers, which O*Net describes as having a “bright outlook” (projected to grow at a rate of 29% or more this decade):

  • Consult with users, management, vendors, and technicians to assess computing needs and system requirements.
  • Stay abreast of advances in technology.
  • Provide users with technical support for computer problems.
  • Assign and review the work of systems analysts, programmers, and other computer-related workers.
  • Evaluate the organization’s technology use and needs and recommend improvements, such as hardware and software upgrades.

Funny…that list looks a lot more like the job descriptions of the librarians I know!

Never was this worldview disconnect more apparent than when my colleague Erin Engle and I spoke at the Fedlink Fall Expo (PDF) back in October. We spoke at the “Forging a Digital Roadmap: The Preservation, Curation, and Stewardship Nexus” event, which was sponsored by the NewFeds and Preservation Working Groups.

In my keynote presentation (PDF) I proposed some possible areas for new federal librarians to pursue if they had an interest in technology (big data, digital humanities), assuming the necessity of pointing out these interesting opportunities in librarianship.

Little did I realize that the NewFeds panel of early-career government information professionals that followed would be full of people talking not just about possible opportunities but demonstrating the incredible technology-based work they are already doing.

The panelists included Robin Butterhof, a digital conversion specialist in the Serial And Government Publications Division of the Library of Congress who is working on the National Digital Newspaper Program; Bianca Crowley, a collections coordinator from the Biodiversity Heritage Library who described the challenges of making their content available across an international taxonomic community; Wanda Davila, who described a signal management research tool being developed by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health at the Food and Drug Administration (a tool to identify potentially dangerous food and drug issues out of massive amounts of unstructured data); and Piper Mullins, the program coordinator of the Pan-Smithsonian Cryo-Initiative (did you know that the Smithsonian collects frozen things?)

(A webcast of the entire event is available.)

Even though the panelists all self-identify as librarians, the type of work they do is somehow missing from the BLS librarian job descriptions. There are efforts happening all over the place to define what it means to be a librarian, but I still don’t see terms like “digital archivist” or “repository librarian” or “library digital infrastructure and technology coordinator” showing up in general descriptions of librarianship, even in well-meaning ones like the American Library Association’s (I don’t think the word “puppets” should appear in any librarian’s job description ever again).

Librarianship is an increasingly technology-focused profession and that’s only going to become more true in the future. There are still all kinds of stereotypes (or worse) that have to be dealt with, but if we don’t act quickly to define the new face of the profession, others will do it for us, and it won’t necessarily be in our favor.

So what are we going do about it?

Glitching Files for Understanding: Avoiding Screen Essentialism in Three Easy Steps

PBS Off the Book has a nice short video on The Art of Glitch. It’s a fun story about a born-digital art phenomena, but aside from that, I think it’s useful at helping us better understand the nature of digital objects. In the video, artist Scott Fitzgerald  gives the following concise argument for the value …

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Step-by-Step Management of Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media

I like lists. I particularly like ordered lists. I’ve even read a book about checklists. Which is one of the reasons I wanted to point out a recent OCLC report, You’ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media(PDF). The report focuses on practical approaches institutions …

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Talking About Museums and Digital Preservation

In anticipation of the Museum Computer Network conference next week in Seattle, I’ve been giving some extra thought lately to museum community involvement in digital preservation. We (the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, that is) work with many partners from a range of industries, and in the last couple of years this has …

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Fixity and Fluidity in Digital Preservation

Kent Anderson offers a provocative post in The Mirage of Fixity — Selling an Idea Before Understanding the Concept.  Anderson takes Nicholas Carr to task for an article in the Wall Street Journal bemoaning the death of textual fixity.  Here’s a quote from Carr: Once digitized, a page of words loses its fixity. It can change …

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Using Wayback Machine for Research

The following is a guest post by Nicholas Taylor, Information Technology Specialist for the Repository Development Group at the Library of Congress. Prompted by questions from Library of Congress staff on how to more effectively use web archives to answer research questions, I recently gave a presentation on “Using Wayback Machine for Research” (PDF). I …

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The is of the Digital Object and the is of the Artifact

Fixity is a key concept for digital preservation, a cornerstone even. As we’ve explained before, digital objects have a somewhat curious nature. Encoded in bits, you need to check to make sure that a given digital object is actually the same thing you started with. Thankfully, we have the ability to compute checksums, or cryptographic hashes. This …

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Read All About It! An Update on the National Digital Newspaper Program

Here at the Library of Congress, there are many projects underway to digitize and make available vast amounts of historic, archival material.  One such project is the National Digital Newspaper Program, providing access to millions of pages from historic newspapers (a previous blog post provides an introduction).  Deb Thomas, NDNP program coordinator here at the …

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If You Can’t Open It, You Don’t Own It

On October 17, I had the extreme pleasure of hearing Cory Doctorow at the Library for talk entitled “A Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond.”  Not surprisingly, the room was packed with attentive listeners. The talk covered a wide range of topics–his love of books as physical objects and his background working in libraries and …

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Revisiting NISO’s “A Framework for Building Good Digital Collections”

Today’s guest post is by Carlos Martinez III, a Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities intern in the Library of Congress’s Office of Strategic Initiatives. The National Information Standards Organization provides standards to help libraries, developers and publishers work together. Their report, A Framework Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections, is still as helpful to organizations today …

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