Volume 27, Number 1, Spring 2005

ASCLA President's Message: The Future of the Profession

by: Peggy D. Rudd, ASCLA President and Texas State Librarian

The library profession faces numerous challenges in the coming decade: increased demand for and decreased supply of information professionals; the need to identify changing competencies of these information professionals; and the lack of effective recruitment and retention strategies. Projections are that between 60 and 65 percent of currently practicing librarians will retire by 2020.

In recent years, the number of retiring librarians doubled that of library school graduates. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics article (Winter 2000-2001 Occupational Outlook Quarterly) projected that by 2008 there will be 39,000 job openings for librarians due to retirements.

Indeed, the library profession is aging rapidly and is generally older than members of other professions. In 1994, 58 percent of librarians were aged 45 or over compared with 48 percent in 1990. Also, 40 percent more academic librarians than individuals in comparable professions were aged 45 or older, and librarianship has only half the number of individuals 30 and younger as other professions have. This age disadvantage may be attributed to the fact that many individuals come to the profession of librarianship as a second career. Even the age of library and information science (LIS) students has increased along with the age of the profession as a whole. While the percentage of students aged 35 and over was 25 percent in 1981, it doubled to 50 percent by 1994.

With the number of students graduating from U.S. library and information science programs flat or increasing only slightly, there will not be enough library professionals to fill job openings that will be created at a faster rate in coming years as the number of retirees increases and as the private sector attracts more LIS graduates. The heavy recruitment of librarians by the private sector and the higher salaries this sector has offered will leave even fewer graduates to take the place of retirees in traditional library jobs in public, school, academic, and special libraries.

As an example of the scope of the problem, this deficit will impact large, urban libraries particularly adversely. In a trend study of public library data covering 1990-2001, Robert Molyneux of the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science noted that in 2001 the top 25 percent of public libraries employed a total of 111,000 people while the bottom 75 percent employed just over 19,000 people. Molyneux found that the “mean number of total staff at the bottom quartile of libraries increased by .15 over that period while the mean staff at the 95th percentile libraries increased by 26.”

The profession has mounted several efforts to address not only these challenges but also the challenges of defining 21st century competencies for the library professionals of today and tomorrow. To date, these efforts have not resulted in a clearly articulated policy to guide the profession. Over the past five years, the American Library Association has convened three Congresses on Professional Education (COPE I, II, and III). The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) formed an ad hoc task force on Recruitment and Retention Issues in 2001. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) established the Recruiting Librarians for the 21st Century grant program. In addition, IMLS announced the award of $994,369 in September 2004 to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science for a two-year study of the future of librarians in the workforce.

The articles include in this month’s issue of Interface are a testament to the broad scope and wide variety of strategies and programs that are being employed to address the complex issues of recruitment and retention. In addition to these worthy efforts, there is another aspect of the future of librarianship that must capture our attention and motivate us to act. That is the mentoring of the next generation of library leaders in our communities, our institutions, and our profession.

In 2003 ASCLA President Ethel Himmel appointed an Ad Hoc Mentoring Task Force and charged the members to “develop a detailed implementation plan for establishing an ASCLA mentoring program.” The Task Force, composed of Cathleen Bourdon, Brenda Vogel, and Jerry Reynolds, and led by Elizabeth Ridler, drafted recommendations which were accepted by the ASCLA Executive Board. The board plans to use the Task Force recommendations as the cornerstone of an ASCLA mentoring program for which I plan to seek private funding. It is our belief that a strong mentoring program not only will enhance the leadership skills of those involved in ASCLA, but also will help us recruit and retain members who find value in ASCLA’s programs and services. All of us who are “senior” librarians and information professionals have an obligation to secure the future of our profession and its practitioners.