ALA Recruitment & Retirement Survey By Mary Jo Lynch, Director, ALA Office for Research & Statistics


In recent years there have been a number of indicators that there was a shortage of degreed librarians. The ALA Placement Center had more job openings than job applicants at every Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference since 1998. Articles by Jim Matarazzo and Stanley Wilder warned of the present and future danger of retirements. Librarians complained about losing staff to the dot-coms and other hi-tech companies. In the spring of 2001 there were newspaper articles about public library recruitment problems in Los Angeles and Indianapolis.

When ALA staff met to plan a press packet to support ALA President John W. Berry’s recruitment theme, Lorelle Swader, Director of ALA’s Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment (HRDR) expressed a need to survey a large group of librarians to discover what was happening in their libraries with regard to recruitment and retirement. HRDR worked with the Office for Research & Statistics (ORS) and with ALA’s Information Technology & Telecommunication Services (ITTS) to plan and execute an online survey of the members of the Human Resources Section (HRS) of the Library Administration and Management Association (LAMA). The online method was chosen because it was quick and relatively inexpensive. The HRS was chosen because it was assumed that many members of the group would have direct knowledge of the issue and would be willing to participate.


On November 14, 2001 a short e-mail message from Lorelle Swader and Mary Jo Lynch
(Attachment A) was sent to the 705 members of the LAMA HRS, who had given ALA an e-mail address and who had NOT indicated that they did not want e-mail. The message asked recipients who are directly involved in administering HR to go to a private web page and complete a brief survey form online
(Attachment B). Forty-one e-mail addresses were found to be invalid and could not be corrected. This reduced the number of potential respondents to 664. Of the 644 potential respondents, 171 completed the questionnaire for a response rate of 26%. This is an acceptable response rate given the fact that no reminders were sent to non-respondents. The online file was closed on December 15th and an Access file was sent to ORS for analysis.


Attachment B shows both the questions and the responses. Two questions were changed slightly for this presentation. The original Question 5 had only three categories (Director of library, Director of Human Resources in Library, and Other), but a review of the “other” responses indicated that recoding was needed. Question 6 asked for the twoletter postal code for the respondent’s state, but results are presented for the four regions of the U.S. used in the annual ALA Survey of Librarian Salaries.

It is no surprise that a large majority of respondents (73%) have had some difficulty recruiting MLS candidates during the last six months. The major reason chosen in Question 2 on the form was “Lack of MLS degree holders generally” with “Low salaries at your institution” coming in second. But these results are not that clear cut due to the large number of respondents who chose “Other factors”. Many of the respondents who chose that option and specified their reasons mentioned a combination of the factors mentioned above, on the form. Low salaries, was mentioned by 24 of the 48 who chose “other”. The second most frequently mentioned “other factor” was the shortage of children’s/youth services librarians (7 of 48).

Other specific positions mentioned as hard to fill in the last six months were technical service positions (4), positions requiring technical skills (3), positions in science (3), and positions requiring management skills (3). Four respondents indicated that their problem was in the position itself (i.e. part-time, grant-funded). Five mentioned that candidates were unwilling to relocate and four mentioned that cost of living in their area was a problem. Five mentioned competition either from other libraries in the area or from employers other than libraries. Clearly, this question would have been more useful if there had been more categories and respondents had been able to choose more than one. But the current results seem to indicate that the
major problems are dollars and degrees.

It was surprising, given the evidence about impending retirements, that 1/3 of the respondents expected less than 5% of MLS degree holders to retire in the next five years. On the other hand, more than 20% expected to lose more than 20% -- a serious matter in a time of shortages.

Almost ½ of the respondents were from academic libraries, which is not surprising given the demographics of LAMA membership. But public libraries were well represented. 75% of respondents were either library directors or HR directors, which makes sense for the HR Section of LAMA. Given the geographic distribution of libraries and of ALA membership, it is somewhat surprising that the number of respondents from the North Atlantic region was so low and the number from the Great Lakes and Plains region was so high. This is probably a result of the distribution of membership in the LAMA HRS. In any case, all four regions are well represented in the results.

Approximately 43% of the respondents wrote comments. In most cases the comment described problems with one or more recent searches. Only ten of the 73 who added comments had no problems. Also few in number were comments saying that they had no problems in the last six months, but did have problems in the past (7) or anticipated problems in the future (11). Only one comment indicated that because of economic conditions, recruitment was no longer a problem. Several themes emerged from these comments:

  • Children’s librarians are hard to find
  • Diverse candidates are hard to find
  • Retention of staff is a problem
  • “Grow your own” is a common strategy
  • High-tech firms are major competitors
  • Finding experienced staff for middle and top management positions is a problem


Results of the survey confirm the indicators described in the “Background” paragraph of this article. What can be done about it is not clear, but the problem is very real and widespread.


Fox, Sue. “Shortage of Librarians Stifling Expansion,”
L.A. Times, 30 April 2001.

Matarazzo, James M. “Library Human Resources: The Y2K Plus 10 Challenge-Guest Editorial.”
The Journal of Academic Librarianship, July 2000, Vol. 26, No. 4, p. 223-224.

Weaver, Gregory. “Library Group Steps Up Recruiting Efforts,”
Indianapolis Star, 30 July 2001.

Wilder, Stanley. “The Changing Profile of Research Library Professional Staff.”
ARL Report, Issue 208/209, February/April 2000, p. 1-5.