Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dear Aspiring Librarians (On MLIS Program Placement and Salaries)

Let's revisit the US News and World Report rankings for Masters of Library and Information Science programs.

The rankings:
Source is a screencap from here
How they got this information:
The library and information studies specialty ratings are based solely on the nominations of program deans, program directors, and a senior faculty member at each program. They were asked to choose up to 10 programs noted for excellence in each specialty area. Those with the most votes are listed. (Source)
In sum, these rankings are useless. If the above paragraph doesn't convince you of that, here's more.

Luckily, Library Journal has some useful data on MLIS programs. In particular, they list placement rates and salaries by type of library/organization as well as a breakdown by geography.

For discussion:
  • MLIS programs are a very gendered experience. Only two SUNYs (State Universities of New York), Albany and Buffalo, and the University of Michigan have programs in which the male to female ratio is under 1:2.5.
  • The ratio of employed male to female 2012 graduates is worse, across the board, than 1:2.5, in many cases it's more like 1:4 or 1:5. 
  • Long Island University graduated 163 people. Two report employment. Yikes. 
  • San Jose State University and the University of North Texas graduate a lot of librarians. Maybe too many. Neither school, no school, really, is under any obligation to limit the number of enrolled students, but the sheer numbers of graduates these schools send into the workforce concerns me. And as it turns out, I'm not alone.
Q: "Are there any library schools whose alumni you would be reluctant to hire?"
A: "San Jose State." (Hiring Librarians)

Though men are employed at a lower rate than women upon MLIS completion, their salaries tend to be higher, which both reflects and propagates a gender pay gap.

These salaries are probably not enough to help you pay off your student loans. You may have loans from undergraduate programs and then take additional loans for an MLIS program. Please forgive me for what I'm about to say, which comes from a privileged position, which I acknowledge:
Think long and hard about whether or not you want this degree. Do you really really really want it? Because you could be paying off loans for a long long time upon completion of an MLIS program. Ramen doesn't taste that good.

There are very few people in librarianship for the money. That being said, money is nice. So if you're on the fence about what to specialize in, perhaps this table, in conjunction with professors, coursework, peers, and librarians, can help you make up your mind.
  • Automation/System, Government Document, and Knowledge Management (corporate buzzword alert!) librarian jobs have higher low end salaries than other kinds of library jobs. This is also reflected in the median salaries by position.  
  • Usability/UX, and Emerging and Information Technologies also seem like good bets, though there may be elements of what The Library Loon terms "new hire messianism," in which it is the responsibility of newly hired librarians, often in new positions, to advance "change" and have these skillsets ex officio, without being given the tools to institutionally succeed (it is more complex than this, please read the link above).
  • Interlibrary Loan, Circulation, and Children's/Young Adult librarians continue to not pay as well. I suspect that there is more than a little "women's work" going on here, especially in the latter two positions, whereas some of the higher-salaried jobs reflect the gender pay gap we saw in Table 4, and/or code as being more "masculine." Further study is warranted. Also, because we continue to not properly fund and allocate resources towards children and young adults, which is unfortunate and maddening. 
None of this is to say that you should pick an MLIS track that will make you more money. Rather, please pick a focus that you like and that makes you happy.

  • Be prepared to move. 
  • Placement by gender again... wow.
Do not choose MLIS programs based on the US News and World Report rankings. Though the MLIS program you graduate from may matter to some people, see Hiring Librarians, above, it may not matter to many others. As a librarian who hires people, I am not terribly interested in where you went and why you went there. It is more important, from where I sit, that you
  • learned things
  • know theories of information and librarianship because these theories inform practice
  • took courses that can help you in the positions that you apply for
  • show initiative
  • are curious
This means that you should have a plan going into an MLIS program, because while the program may not matter to me, those first three bullet points above sure do, and choosing a school in which you can accomplish those things, via the transitive property, can help both of us. Also, not to beat a dead loon, but you should read this, too.

Good luck.

Source for all tables: Maatta, S. (2013) Placements & Salaries 2013: Explore All The Data, Library Journal, 17 October 2013,

Elsewhere on this site and related: Dear Aspiring Librarians (On MLIS Program Rankings)


  1. Looking for Clarion. Don't see Clarion.

  2. I know someone who is represented in the 2012 statistics, and she is one of the lucky ones in the "employed" category - but she's only working in a library part time. That's another word of warning to those of you who are considering joining this profession (a profession I love, by the way): not all jobs are equal. I remember someone who graduated with me cobbling together a few different part time librarian gigs just to make enough money on which to live.

    1. Ahhh, yes. The "adjunct" librarian track.

    2. Yep... so many of us stuck in the adjunct circus while we wait to have enough experience to be considered for "real jobs"

  3. It may not matter to a hiring committee which school you went to by name, but it's certainly true that the bigger (richer) schools with well-connected programs can afford their students more opportunities to gain experience, especially if there are multiple on-campus libraries. It's great to see coursework, but it's better to see real-world experience, too, and while a determined student can always find something to do, it's easier on a large, busy campus.

    Also, I've never understood why USN&WR counts those rankings as they do. It seems wildly misrepresentative. I'm glad you're pointing that out.

    And I'll second Jessica's comment above — there are definitely a lot of part-time library workers.

  4. I'm working right now on analyzing the responses to the any preferred schools/any schools whose alumni you'd be reluctant to hire. Out of 307 responses, about 96 people named specific schools whose alums got a hiring edge, and only 44 named specific schools whose alums they'd be reluctant to hire. San Jose showed up in both categories, as did a number of other schools.
    LJ's placements and salaries survey is wonderful, and a very important tool. It does fall short in examining two things, as stated, people who find multiple part time jobs, including distinguishing between permanent part time and hourly/on-call work, and the stretching of the gap year -new grads find work, but it's taking longer and longer, by which time they've already reported unemployment to the survey.
    I'll definitely agree that you should not go into debt for your MLIS. That's giving yourself a pretty tough situation.

  5. I don't see why you take a quote from an anonymous academic librarian about San Jose State and insert it in the midst of the research done by two notable periodicals. San Jose State produces exceptional graduates, and that not just because I am an alumni. The program after are graduated became even more comprehensive and challenging. Most of my best hires for public libraries have graduated from there and well prepared to work in the field. The rest of your comments are pretty spot on and I believe well thought out. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I used that comment because I find it a useful stand-in for on-going discussions about the role(s) of MLIS programs as they relate to online education, acceptance rates, and ethics. SJSU can admit and graduate as many people as they like, but there is grumbling from some LIS professors and practitioners about their role in driving up the number of un-and underemployed MLIS graduates. No doubt some, maybe even many, SJSU graduates are exceptional LIS professionals. No doubt some, maybe even many, are not.

      Personally, I have not had any interactions with SJSU LIS graduates or students that would give me pause, but it seems that others have, and that the sheer number of graduates from that program concerns people, myself included.

    2. I think the biggest issue for me when I was at SJSU (got my MLIS from there) was how many students in the program had ZERO library or MLIS related experience. Now being in a position that involves looking at applicants for professional positions I see that trend is not unique to SJSU. This shocks me because you really need to work in the field (if you are getting the MLIS for a library career) to know what you are getting into. I had worked for a few years and earned a couple of promotions before I pursued my MLIS. Practical experience in libraries and networking are really vital parts of any career including librarianship so I often times wonder if in a less than robust economy the number of applicants without any real experience , combined with many doing a poor job of selling themselves is a huge issue. Many also seem to want to jump right into a position with management or supervision responsibilities. Perhaps it is my bias having grinded my way up the ladder in libraryland, but I often hear from people looking for that first job the following:
      1) It isn’t the ideal job for me, I want to be X type librarian (Honestly, if you can do the job get the experience you may end up loving it and it is easier to move to a different position once you have one)
      2) There are only non-librarian positions open in the location I want to work, so I am going to wait (I’d advise you to started working and also continue looking for a professional job, library experience matters and in larger systems it is a chance to become known)
      3) The pay isn’t idea (welcome to librarianship  )
      4) I’d have to move (again welcome to librarianship, there will be sacrifices in terms of the type of job and pay if you limit yourself to one location)
      In a nutshell some, perhaps even many of the recent graduates I work with seem to want everything at once and don’t think long-term or do much to separate themselves in large applicant pools.
      As far as SJSU it was great for me, but I was proactive in getting the classes I wanted and not just going for the teachers who were rated as easy by the online student groups etc. I think MLIS programs can overall do a better job of stressing and even teaching networking, how to get known at a library in your area (work, volunteer, go in and just talk with the staff) because being known will open up a lot of opportunities, even if that opportunity is simply getting interviewed. Those job application, resume, cover letter, interview skills are a practiced art for many of us, new candidates need to do their homework on that front and seek mentors as well.

      Ok enough of a rant from me, just wanted to share my two cents.

    3. I read Hiring Librarians often. Depending on who they interview they may say they do not hire from a certain school. Most say they do not care.

      You also get the spectrum-- one person will list SJSU as a school they love to see applicants and another might say the opposite. I find that the same schools are widely liked, but the disliked schools vary a little more.

    4. @ Mark - It may NOT surprise you to learn that this was a heated conversation I had with the then Dean of the Simmons College School of Library Science. I argued that ALL library master's programs should include practicums and internships as part of their degree requirements and asked how we could compare ourselves with other professions (medicine, teaching, etc.) that DID have real-world experience as integral parts of their degree requirements.

  6. As long as the school is ALA-accredited, I really don't care where an applicant went. I'm much more interested in what he or she did while in library school than which school's name appears on the diploma. I tell prospective library school students to attend whichever school will a) leave them with the least amount of debt and b) offer them the best opportunities for internships, field experiences, graduate assistantships, and other real, live work while they are in school.

  7. LJ said the data came from 30% of 2012 graduates. Is that a statistically sound sample to be worried about? It seems like the data reflects what a lot of people have been saying the job market is like, but I'm not totally convinced. For example, I am at Florida State and maybe it is just my class, but I feel like there are enough males that there should be a response in the salary table. Isn't it possible that 70% are working (or not) and just didn't respond to the study. That seems like a big chunk.

    1. This is a good point. Not that my personal info statistically adds or detracts from this point or the original post, but I'm a male 2012 FSU MLIS grad. Took me 6 months of unemployment and underemployment (part-time retail work) after graduation to find a full-time position in a library. And I had had an entire year of a library internship during my MLIS. And previous office work experience. I stuck out my job applications that long because I really, really wanted to work in a library. I got interviews where I was turned down for entry level library jobs (Library Assistant or some other rank that doesn't require an MLS) simply because they thought I would find a better job eventually. (AKA "You're overqualified." Two places actually told me that was the reason they turned me down.) It's hard out there. Good luck.

  8. Hey, I'm one of the employed librarians from Southern CT! Woooo!

  9. Maryland isn't on here. :( I graduated in 2013 and have a full-time library job in a public library. I have no idea how the rest of my class fared though.

  10. Couple of issues with this post : first, the USN&WR quote above refers to rankings of specializations, not of entire schools. The method for ranking schools is presented in the first two paragraphs on the page in question; that quote is from the third.

    The correct information is "The rankings are based solely on the results of a fall 2012 survey sent to the dean of each program, the program director, and a senior faculty member in each program.

    The peer assessment questionnaires asked individuals to rate the academic quality of programs at each institution on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). Individuals who were unfamiliar with a particular school's programs were asked to select "don't know.""

    Still questionable methodology and results, but not quite as haphazard as it was made to sound. I'm not sure how we really get at the quality of a program -- placement rate is not all that relevant to quality.

    Camille is correct that 30% is not an adequate sample, particularly when it is a self-selected group. Who is more likely to respond -- someone who is employed or someone who is unemployed with an axe to grind?

    LSU has an 80% (more or less) placement rate at graduation. We're pretty close to 100% after a year. But the honest truth is that at least half of our students in any given class are already working in a library, either in a part-time assistant position or as a "librarian" of a rural library or a school librarian -- which is why I say that placement rate is not a good standard for evaluating the quality of a school. I'd say that a better measure is where the students are 5 - 10 - 15 years out of school.

    The students who take the longest time to find a job are those who are unable (or refuse) to move; who have unrealistic expectations about salary, status, duties, etc. (they want to go in as Assistant directors); are trying to get into an academic library but do not have a subject masters -- in general, are very rigid about what they will accept.

    A graduate recently sent me an e-mail that she had recently accepted a position as a young adult librarian. Her specialization in school was academic libraries, but she does not have that subject degree. She told me that she had applied for the YA position because I had told her in a conversation that I thought she would make a great YA librarian. She loves her job. Sometimes we faculty really do know what we are talking about.

  11. Until last month I served on Wisconsin's version of a State Library Board (The Council on Libraries and Network Development). I am the only member who is a librarian for a private company.

    Over the last six years our Board has had a chance to discuss the cirriculua of both the UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee SLIS programs. If I were selecting a library grad school, I would seek a program with the most forward looking conception of our field.

    Many of the SLIS students I have met seem to want a job in the library of their childhood. Still possible, but not growing fast or well paid.

    Personally, I am eager to find librarians with the skills we use in the biotechnology library work. I am seeking people who are skilled in the standard Medline sort of resources but also in data mining, visualization, and other advanced information processing skills. People with these skills would be offered a hefty salary, multiples of the meager starting wages your table shows.

    People going into librarianship, at least in the globally competitive biotech industry, will find plenty of good jobs if they have acquired advanced skills our work requires.

  12. While I went to San Jose State and really enjoyed the program there, I agree with the fact that they may be a little less selective and graduate librarians who may not be ready for the workforce. I personally selected difficult classes and researched my professors to end up with the best quality of education I could, but a few years ago worked alongside a fellow graduate that did not really seem qualified to be allowed into a masters program of any kind let alone graduate from one. He would consistently leave notes with incomplete grammar, misspellings, had a hard time communicating verbally or in writing and once left a note with the word "library" misspelled for the rest of the staff. This was well assembled and is a great overview of what the job market looks like for new graduates.

  13. I agree with a lot of the above recommendations. I'd also recommend that students who are interviewing for assistantships and other work/study types of positions ask employers in the interviews about the job placement of their assistants (they may not have stats but they should be able to speak to this in some way). If you're still in the decision-making process about which school to attend, ask recent grads about which assistantships/positions/etc seem to best prepare students for getting jobs. Not all assistantships/work experiences were created equal...

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. Your post is fantastic with a lot of useful information.

  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  17. >Though men are employed at a lower rate than women upon MLIS completion, their salaries tend to be higher, which both reflects and propagates a gender pay gap.

    The fact that men tend to earn more than women can't be taken as prima facie evidence of discrimination.

    It's entirely possible that men are more likely to get undergrad degrees in, say, business or accounting or technology fields; and women are more likely to get undergrad degrees in, say, psychology or English or sociology. Men might earn more as librarians simply because they have a skill set that can command higher wages than women.

    For every dollar a man earns, 70% of feminists don't understand statistics.

    1. Strong troll, zeppo.

      But the pay gap is not because of jobs, or majors, it's because of gender. We know this because social scientists have controlled for factors like these I mentioned above. A male librarian with an undergraduate degree in English is more likely to make more than his female counterpart, and is more likely to rise up the ranks and become a library administrator. It's not because men have degrees in chemical engineering and then go into librarianship, it's because of institutional sexism.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Yes, in most cases, men do choose the more challenging majors in college, ie: Engineering, Computer Science, Law, etc., however, if our public schools challenged girls to take courses that would better prepare them for higher paying occupations, then there would be equal competition. Young girls need mentors in school, and in life, to show them they can be anything they want to be. Women do not have to settle for traditional roles; ie: teacher, or nurse. Lets face it, there is gender inequality everywhere, not just in the workplace.

  18. And why does an undergrad degree in business or accounting or technology merit higher wages? You say this as if it is prima facie evidence of that skills set being inherently more valuable -- as if there were some absolute standard of merit of skills sets -- rather than a reflection of the biases of society.

    Society values the work of women less than the work of men simply because women do it, and the wages are the reflection of that bias.

    And what statistics did you actually cite?

  19. I have read your blog it is very helpful for me. I want to say thanks to you.
    پایان نامه

  20. Thank you for sharing such great information. It has help me in finding out more detail about Study Loans!

  21. I do not see the University of Hawaii listed anywhere? I earned my MILS Degree there, graduated on December 17, 2000 while my husband was stationed at Pearl Harbor while on Active Duty with the Navy. I transferred from San Jose State.

  22. It was an amazing blog, for our better understanding about the importance of loans for abroad education. Learn more about to understand better about Study Abroad Loan.

  23. Thanks for the blog very nice keep going.
    garmin watch sale