The Economics of a Degree?

14 Dec

As more and more of our generation graduate from library school with our MLS or MLIS, we’re finding that jobs are becoming scarce.  What was a librarian’s job market only 4 or 5 years ago has undergone a drastic reversal.  Now employers, thanks to the economy, are able to demand multiple masters degrees, years of experience, and familiarity with highly specific formats or standards…for a library assistant position, paid about $25,000 per year.  It’s depressing that there aren’t more jobs out there and it’s a Catch-22: how are we, as younger librarians, archivists and curators, supposed to get the experience employers want if no one will hire us?  Volunteering is good and public libraries need volunteers to run, but we have bills to pay just like our older counterparts.  And really, we didn’t go to graduate school to be allowed to volunteer.  Perhaps it’s snobbish of me, but I feel like my current knowledge and the fact I’m driven to establish myself makes the lack of 10+ years of experience not as much of a problem as some make it seem.

I realize there are jobs out there that really require the experience listed in the position, but I’ve gotten good advice on this.  “Apply for jobs even if you don’t match the description perfectly – if you can be 80% of the job, convince them the other 20% isn’t a problem and that someone else would be better suited to it regardless of candidate.”  I think that’s realistic; today’s job postings read like wish lists for Santa Claus.  Sadly, a lot of employers do get the Barbie Dream House and pony they’re asking for because our profession is a victim of this economy.  School libraries are cutting staff, public libraries are in a hiring freeze, and librarians who have been in the work force for over 40 years aren’t retiring because the economy isn’t the strongest.  Jobs are designed for people to retire, and that becomes a problem when you get people who don’t want to transition.  Older librarians, while capable of learning new technologies, will never be as comfortable as us because we grew up with it, to cite one example.

What does this mean for us, right now?  Unfortunately it means that many of us will have to settle for being underemployed in those assistant positions and hope we can ride the tide until we have the skills to demand what we’re worth.  Make no mistake, fellow recent graduates!  We are worth at least $50,000 per annum with benefits, and although you might settle for less, take pride in the fact you know your worth.  Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask for it when you get the chance.

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