library corps? library corpse?

This just in from ALA, and no I didn’t know anything about it until I saw the press release.

The American Library Association (ALA) has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a consultant to conduct a feasibility study on a proposal to establish a Library Corps. The Library Corps is a proposal to recruit retired librarians to provide assistance to libraries that need help.

Pretty interesting huh? My first knee jerk response is ‘what about this looming job shortage necessitating all the library students we’re churning out by the thousands?’ My second response is that this approach is smart way to deal with both the library fiscal crises we’ve been seeing as well as the retiring and still-productive boomer generation (one that I heard a whole presentation about at PLA). This sounds like a smart direction for Leslie Burger to be going in with her brief time at the helm of ALA. Now if we can either put the brakes on some of the degree programs or start finding jobs for all these new students, I think we’ll be in good shape. [thanks beth]

28 thoughts on “library corps? library corpse?

  1. My first impression, right after reading your quote there is—man, my job search is hard enough _already_. I’m graduating in June.

    It is my distinct impression that the ‘looming job shortage’ is a myth. Didn’t ALA themselves just push back their ‘looming job shortage’ date to like 2020 or something? I know I saw that somewhere, but now I can’t find it.

    I am dubious that there is any librairan shortage, now or in the near future. On the other hand, I admit I’m not considering jobs in random towns of 20K or whatever (I am willing to go just about anywhere in the country, but, I admit, only to fairly large cities).

    Maybe if they limited this program to markets that really _can’t_ fill their positions. But I dont’ think that’s what it’s about at all, ‘libraries that need help’ is about libraries that don’t have the money to hire help (even us help willing to work for ridiculously low wages), and that’s it, it’s got nothing to do with any librarian shortage. While I feel for underfunded (presumably public) libraries trying to get stuff done, getting librarians to work for free doesn’t sound good for the profession. Or maybe I’m just being selfish?

    While normally I find library union rules preventing volunteers from doing various useful things to be just ridiculous pains in the asses that get in the way of getting shit done and don’t help anyone—this might be one case where I’d hope library unions would get in the way. I mean, really, it’s our own professional organization recruiting trained professionals to work for free, further undercutting us job-seekers in a market that already is pretty shitty? Excuse me for not being that excited, and wondering where I get a professional organization that will see the graduate-to-job imbalance to be a problem also in need of addressing.

  2. Oops, I mean ‘looming librarian shortage’ being a myth. The job shortage is not looming, and is not a myth. :)

    I wish I could find where I just read, in the past month, about the ALA releasing a statement saying the librarian shortage date had been moved back from 2012 to 2020 or something like that. (And even 2012, their earlier date, was already a bit far off to have been recruiting library school students for the past 6 years, no?) When I try searching the ALA’s web site, all I can find is their propaganda (still up!) about the looming librarian shortage, and how everyone should go to library school cause it’s a job seekers market. Ha.

  3. ALA’s recruitment drive and other actions such as this have destroyed the lives of many young librarians. I am collecting the names and emails of young librarians who are willing to work as a group to stop ALA’s recruitment drive. If you are interested in taking action, let me know.

  4. I would rather see all efforts go toward lobbying for more funding rather than recruiting more workers. And if the project is intending to recruit more skilled *volunteers* to help run libraries, then I stremuously object! What libraries need is an active lobby for appropriate funding, from the national level to the state level and to Trustee boards! IF this is even happening now, it sure could be more effectively done,

  5. I could not agree more with what has been commented so far. Bad enough the market is terrible for new librarians, now our professional organization proposes to undercut those new folks by recruiting volunteers to work for free? While I have sympathy for places that may be underfunded (and there are plenty of those), undercutting opportunities for new librarians who actually would like a decent paying job is not the way to do it. J, you are not being selfish at all. Given the current conditions, and the mostly blind way the professional organization treats those of us new to the profession, I think a little selfishness and questioning as to why this is coming up now is in order. Best, and keep on blogging.

  6. I was really unhappy when I read this press release. After my initial reaction of fuming over the fact that ALA is yet again ignoring the very real job crisis that new librarians are facing, I got to thinking: what if Library Corps was for NEW librarians?

    It could be along the lines of AmeriCorps (with which I’m only vaguely familiar) – new professionals could sign up for a year or two of service for low wages in underfunded communities. They would get professional, hands-on experience, the underfunded libraries would get inexpensive yet quality labor, and the new librarians would be able to have their (sometimes massive) school loan repayments put on hold for the duration of their time of service.

    Now *that* would address both the alleged looming shortage crisis AND would get new librarians significant work experience. I realize it wouldn’t be for everyone, but some librarians would likely leap at it. And retirees would be welcome as well, because they DO have a lot of valuable skills and knowledge – but they are not the future of the profession, and ALA needs to focus on the future.

    I sent an email to the contact person in the press release suggesting expanding Library Corps to new librarians. I would imagine that the more people that suggest such a thing, the more likely ALA might hear it.

  7. In response to J’s second comment, I think that the study is called Recruitment & Retirement: A Deeper Look. I mentioned it in a blog post about this last year. The link in my post is currently broken because they made a slight change in the name of the title, removing 2004 from it (I plan to fix my reference shortly), but you can find this one by searching for “deeper look” within the ALA website and it should be the first hit.

  8. This latest bullshit from ALA doesn’t surprise me. I graduated from library school around 15 years ago and I’ve gone through numerous job searches since then. I’ve been looking for library work for the past four years. I’ve lived in two large cities, so you would think that finding a job with my amount of experience would be no problem.

    There is no shortage of librarians. ALA is selling the same old cock and bull story that they were peddling back in 1990. ALA is toothless when it comes to winning higher salaries for librarians or increasing the number of jobs. As somebody who has been in the market for several years, I have an excellent feel for the actual nature of the market. There aren’t many jobs out there.

    I’ll believe that there is a librarian shortage when I have a job and I start hearing about libraries who can’t fill jobs.

  9. ALA is an organization for libraries, not librarians. It advocates for the good of libraries, not librarians. Until people realize this and stop paying their hard-earned salaries to it, nothing is going to change. This program? Helpful for libraries, but bad for librarians who actually want a job with a living wage.

    Honestly, what I think we really need is a new organization based on the needs of librarians and library staff. If it had reasonable dues and less mind-numbing bureaucracy, I’d join it.

  10. This is an interesting discussion. As a librarian with 15 years experience who is competing with entry level librarians for positions, I think ALA is definitely on the wrong track. If they can get boomers (with computer skills) to volunteer for free, why pay us? I stopped paying dues to ALA about two years ago, after getting disgusted with the recruitment situation. I am much happier paying my money to the Special Libraries Association. If ALA serves libraries, let libraries pay dues. Volunteers are a great thing, but the people who run public libraries, universities, and non-profit organzations will probably replace paid staff with volunteers to cut costs.

  11. I agree with everything being said above (and have contacted my state and division councillors), and have an additional dimension to add:

    This isn’t even good for libraries. Trying to mask the impact of underfunding of libraries by bringing in cheap/free labor simply undercuts the stresses on libraries casued by lack of funds. Librarians are always trying to provde full service, no matter the hours they have to put in and things they have to do without (in my library, we can’t order file folders anymore, must recycle old ones, so that we have money to order books. This is the second year that librarian professional development funding has *not* been reallocated to the monograph budget…).

    I love being a librarian, but it’s a career, not a calling. I have an advanced deegree. I need to make a living (and pay off the debt accrued in obtaining said advanced degree). I need to have an outside life. I am not a martyr, and shouldn’t have to be. ALA undercuts pressure on comunities to properly fund their library services by doing this.

  12. I’m a former teacher and an MLS student. Part of the reason I chose this profession was that I thought I had a decent chance of obtaining work upon graduation. Now I’m thinking of concentrating more on Information Science and less on Library Science. Can you imagine how a teachers unions would react at the notion of bringing retired teachers back into the classroom for free?! Why isn’t there a professional librarians union?


  13. I like Beth’s idea of doing something like this with new professionals — and if you want to hook up the retirees as volunteer mentors to those new librarians, so much the better.

    An even bigger issue than the current job shortage, in my opinion, is the long-term viability of libraries and library professionals. If you want to put retirees to good use, you should do so with that goal in mind. Mentoring new librarians helps maintain continuity within the profession and strengthens, rather than weakens, the future library profession. The current proposal does the reverse. Who does ALA think will be paying their exorbitant dues in 20 and 30 years if they undercut newcomers to the profession?

  14. This is preposterous. I am rightfully insulted. It appears that younger librarians now attempting to enter the profession after grad school are going to have to wait for the “spectacle chain and sweater clip” generation be buried before we get a crack at modernizing their jobs. Apparently their retirement is too soon to welcome a faster pace of progress.

  15. I graduated from the Simmons College MLS program in December 2003. It took me 16 months to find a job! The Feb 15 issue of Library Journal says that instead of the retirement wave being 2009-2014, it’ll be five years later.

    I like what I do. I’m finally getting experience I need to advance in the field. But if we’re this crowded with librarians at all levels, I’ll have to cling to the job I have for a few years.

  16. Thanks for the cite, Morgan.

    The report “Retirement and Recruitment: A Deeper Look”, by Mary Jo Lynch, no date given on document (Geesh, people, you call yourself librarians? Who’s running this website? Put a publication date on that document, please.), as cited in the Feb 15 issue of Library Journal according to JSleeper (I seem to recall seeing it there too)

    can currently (until they change their URLs again) be found at:

    The 1990-based analysis predicted a significant wave of retirement that would peak in the 2010 to 2014 period. Updating the forecast with 2000 Census data, as shown in Figures 1 and 2 predicts a similar retirement surge in the near future. The main difference is that retirements now appear to peak slightly later—between 2015 and 2019. In total, the ten-year period beginning in 2010 will see 45 percent of today’s librarians reach age 65.

    This is like a joke. First of all, the original forecast was a shortage at 2010 at the earliest. Wasn’t even THIS a bit far off to be actively recruiting librarians in 1995 (if not earlier?). What were those librarians supposed to do for the 12 years after graduating before 2010 (or 2015!). Are they even still going to be employable as librarians after 10 years of not working as librarians? But now, based on new information, the ‘shortage’ date is pushed back to 2015 at the earliest. (That’s assuming the number of jobs doesn’t shrink, mind you. That’s assuming lots of things. Take a look at their methodology; I wouldn’t bet the farm on the prediction).

    And this information is there in this report, if Morgan gives you the title so you can Google it. If, on the other hand, you just search around for things on the ala site about librairan job prospects, or job shortages, or job market—you get lots of stuff saying now is a great time to be a librarian, everyone should go to library school, becuase there’s a looming job shortage.

    So, like, what the heck is going on? Sure, okay, what’s going on is ALA is acting in the interest of libraries. But do libraries even need more MLIS grads? I mean, it’s ridiculous. Maybe if they want to do marketting/outreach to underpresented populations in the profession, sure that’s still neccesary looking around at the composition of my library school class. Maybe if they want to do marketting/outreach saying there’s plenty of rural public libraries in the great plains having trouble filling positions (assuming this is true), okay.

    But the easiest first step the ALA could do to do something about graduate-to-job imbalance would be simply an act of omission-stop publicizing the mythical looming librarian shortage completely unsupported by even your own research.

  17. I find this all extremely depressing. As a LIS student just about to finish my first semester, should I just jump ship? I mean, I didn’t go to library school because of the “shortage”- you may as well grab a copy of the Occupational Outlook Handbook and flip to a random page if that’s your criterion for deciding on a career- but still, no matter how much I may love the profession, if I can’t get a job, what’s the point?

  18. word to Beth’s idea, it was actually my first thought, too. Why change the concept of Ameri/Peace Corps to retirees when there are lots o’ mlis grads who’d be willing to work in a less competative locale for a few years in exchange for some mad money off those student loans. And, those critical few years of experience that are pre-reqs for applying to many jobs. I would whole-heartedly welcome a Library Corps for people new to the profession, and I bet more than a couple people would actually have nice things to say about ALA, for the first time this century.

  19. Posting in response to Eric’s comment as a new library science student: I am a library science student who’s been at it for two semesters, and this topic is something I’ve grappled with as a student organization representative living in Buffalo NY. In the face of budget cuts here (which have made the press in every issue of ALA’s journals for the last year, it seems like), librarian positions have been cut by over 50% in the last year alone, and over 20 libraries in the counties have been closed down. Student morale has been low at many points over the year, and I see a lot of Eric’s sentiment going around.

    The truth is that librarianship is a fascinating profession which is not for everyone. If we don’t have the tenacity and drive to make the market work for us as new librarians, we won’t have a place. As a library school student, it is important to reaffirm your commitment to your career choice in light of the facts, not ALA’s ubiquitous recruitment drive. Work hard as a student, get as much practical experience and theoretical grounding as you can, and, again, work hard.

    I just wanted to put a note of positivity in here. Cheers, Jessamyn, for as always getting a vigorous conversation going!

  20. Hey, thanks for the words, Washtublibrarian. I have to say that’s pretty much been my conclusion. I thought hard before I decided to go to library school, and I’m committed to doing what I have to do to get a job upon graduation. I just hope it’s enough!

  21. You know, I get the distinct impression that the Boomer generation thinks the world will fall apart when they retire. It won’t. I promise. The cemeteries are full of indispensable people. Move aside, let go, and don’t try to be the hand that rules from the grave through some kind of misguided Library Corps program. I cannot believe they even came up with this. It’s bad enough to have patrons & voters saying, “Well, why can’t volunteers do all the work?” without having the ALA say it.

  22. I think the point to the ALA call was not to get volunteers to staff a reference desk, but to have senior librarians and library administrators volunteer to share some of their years of experience with libraries that need it.

    I don’t think this will impact on any entry-level librarians – they could not yet have the experience needed to do more administrative or non-librarian work. As it seems clear that library schools are only able to produce graduates with basic skills (no slam to schools or grads – these are important!), it could be enormously helpful to libraries to have someone experienced who would volunteer to help write a grant to bring in more money, or to set up a liaison program with the city, or to spend lots of time on a project that may not show much initial value but will turn out to be good for a library. Libraries could really have the possibility of using these experienced volunteers to help develop programs and ideas that staff are not able to spend dozens of hours developing, but could then take over and continue to run.

    Having worked at a couple of smaller public libraries, I would have fallen all over myself with happiness if I had a volunteer who could have help us develop some neat programs for our community, or could have helped us design a webpage, or helped plan a budget, or provided some insights into developing tax-levy strategies, or any of a million other things. Having someone else do this kind of work means librarians can continue to do the important work they do: staff desks, build collections, work with the patrons, etc.

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