Winter 2002

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President's Memo: Where's The Librarian?

By Dr. Norman J. Jacknis, NYSALB President

Winter 2002 issue of Trustee

At a recent meeting of our library board, we were happily going over the details of the newly expanded children's library room. It was modern, clean, well-lit, and big. It was missing just one thing - a children's librarian. We then discussed with the Director some of the difficulties she has had in filling the vacancy.

But our library is not alone. The shortage of librarians is an issue all over New York State, indeed all over the country. As an example, about a year ago, the three library systems in New York City reported that a third of their librarians had left.

So we have the current boom in library construction, the increasing use of libraries as a twenty-four hour a day resource and the increasing absence of the people who pull it all together.

There seem to be a number of reasons why this is occurring:

  • The first is the obvious reason that the salaries for librarians are not very high considering the educational requirements of the job, including a master's degree.
  • Even within the library world there are disparities, particularly between librarians in public libraries and those in schools. That's why it is especially difficult to find children's librarians for public libraries. A librarian interested in working with children will find it much more financially rewarding to take a job in a school than in a public library.
  • The closing of several library schools over the past couple of decades has also tended to reduce the number of new librarians. Those schools that remain have often shifted emphasis away from public librarianship, and especially children's work.
  • The ever growing information-driven economy offers expanding opportunities for educated "knowledge workers," especially women with the kinds of skills that librarians have. An increasing, if not yet overwhelming, number of library school graduates are drawn to these companies and their better pay. For example, the structure of the very popular Yahoo site on the Web was built by librarians. While the inflated dot-com startups have had a hard time financially in the last year, the long term trend is for increasing employment - and increasing temptation for those who would otherwise be librarians.

Of course, not all librarians will vanish overnight. Most public librarians love the atmosphere of their libraries, being on the "front lines" providing service to the community. A number will be able to handle the job on a part time, almost voluntary, basis. But this does not mean we have no problem. Over the longer run, the librarians will vanish unless we can overcome some of the trends described above.

The answers are neither easy nor quick nor necessarily in the control of library trustees. As trustees, though, we will have to start to focus on the issue in a concerted way and try to determine how we adjust our budgets and plans.

If your library is already facing a shortage of librarians or, better yet, if your library has come up with a way to ease the shortage, please write to me care of NYSALB's offices or email me at In that way, NYSALB can share the best ideas on dealing with this complex problem.

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