Academic Librarian market
March 31, 2009 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in academic librarianship. I am currently finishing my first year in an MLIS program. I already have my Master's Degree in computer science and am currently working as a computer programmer in an academic library in Southern California. I'm curious as to what the job market is like out there for academic librarians now. I know that many universities have experienced dramatic budget cuts recently and several (including ours) have instituted hiring freezes. I won't be graduating for another year or more but I'm curious as to what the climate is like out there now. Are there many openings? Also, given my programming background, what areas do you think it's best for me to focus on in my studies? What is going to make me hireable and look good on a resume?
posted by pahool to Education (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Why not just check out job banks now? That will give you the best idea of the job climate. is one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:03 AM on March 31, 2009

The short version: the job market for all librarians is bleak right now, particularly here in California where we have not one, but TWO library schools. Academic librarian positions here have always been hard to come by; now they're near impossible. If you're willing to move, especially to a state that doesn't have a library school to begin with, you might have better luck. Here's a list of accredited library schools to get you started.

With a programming background, perhaps systems librarianship is something you might want to look into.
posted by chez shoes at 8:51 AM on March 31, 2009

Honestly, if you have programming skills AND people skills, you're about 90% more employable than most of the MLS holders out there. What area of academic libraries are you interested in?

There are hiring freezes, but at least at MPOW we are still hiring to fill lost positions. I'm getting ready to post for a position in a week or so, matter of fact. That won't stop, because libraries still have to operate, and people are leaving.
posted by griffey at 8:52 AM on March 31, 2009

Honestly, if you have programming skills AND people skills, you're about 90% more employable than most of the MLS holders out there.

What griffey said. And I would place it at about 99%, actually, but that's probably sour grapes. (Unemployed dime-a-dozen humanities-type librarian.)

Keep an eye on the Chronicle of Higher Education jobs page. They publish librarian vacancies there, or at least they did before I completely abandoned my job search and went back to freelance editing.
posted by scratch at 9:33 AM on March 31, 2009

Your CS degree and experience will make you stand out amongst all the resumes--you'll be competing against people with English and History degrees. And systems librarianship is what came to my mind as well.

The market is bad, but I don't think it's as bad as many folks say.

I think you're going to be in great shape, actually.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:04 AM on March 31, 2009

I re-read your question and realized you asked what to focus on. I'd say focus on information science-type stuff, but focusing on anything more traditional, like cataloging or reference, will make you that much more attractive to employers as a systems librarian, because you'll have some sense of what pubic services librarians (essentially, your users) are dealing with.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:25 AM on March 31, 2009

I'm an information science-type MLIS holder working in an academic library. Yes, many schools currently have hiring freezes, but that will only last until the economy improves (yeah, could be a while). Also, hiring freezes (at least in my state) don't apply to openings in critical positions, and library systems certainly falls into that category.

Lately I've seen quite a few job postings for digital projects librarians and systems librarians. With your background, you'll be in much better shape than your classmates -- but I wouldn't be in any hurry to graduate. Get whatever tech-oriented certifications you can while in school, even if it adds a semester or 3. The job market will improve, but almost certainly not in the next 12-18 months.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:54 AM on March 31, 2009

There are a number of open source library software projects that you could participate in while you're in school - ILSs such as Koha and Evergreen, digital library platforms such as Kete and Greenstone, link resolvers, glue such as Jangle, and so forth. Experience contributing or deploying any of those would be a plus on your resume.
posted by metaquarry at 11:12 AM on March 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'd say with your background you'd be well-suited for digital library projects and positions at larger academic libraries. I'd probably keep an eye out for projects and positions at Digital Libraries Federation member libraries. In terms of coursework, I recommend taking any digital libraries and metadata courses available to you.

I can also see you as a subject specialist in a university that has an engineering school or a separate engineering library.
posted by needled at 1:27 PM on March 31, 2009

I am a systems librarian. Yes, the market for jobs is bad now, but getting a good systems librarian is *hard*. People will make exceptions. If it's what you want to do, you'll be able to do it.
posted by the dief at 1:34 PM on March 31, 2009

Thanks for all the responses. This is a lot of food for thought. I'm fortunate in that I've got a full-time programming position and am not under pressure to find a different job once I graduate. I likely will stay with my current institution for quite a while. I am just starting to gather more information about the job market and what I should be focusing on. I really appreciate all the thoughtful responses. I am new to metafilter and am very impressed with the quality of the information here.
posted by pahool at 2:54 PM on March 31, 2009

The university market is incredibly bleak and will be until the economy picks up. With your programming experience, though, you'll be a highly desirable candidate for the few jobs that do manage to get through the hiring freezes. I ran numbers recently on postings to my school's job boards and there were approximately 200 fewer academic library jobs *per month* advertised in January and February 2009 as there were in those same months of 2008. (This was just some casual data clean up and pivot table use done out of curiosity, not real data analysis, but it's a pretty good sign of what the market's like out there.)
posted by MsMolly at 4:17 PM on March 31, 2009

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