me want job
January 17, 2010 10:28 AM   Subscribe

What are current job prospects for librarians?

In February of 2009 I completed my PhD in Art History. My education has continued following that accomplishment, but now rather than art history I'm learning about how ludicrously difficult it is to get a job teaching it. I'm still applying all over the place but am trying to put a plan B in place, involving going back to school again, this time to get an MLIS. Is this smart or crazy? Will I be more employable as a librarian than an academic? Would my PhD, combined with an MLIS, make me an attractive candidate for a position in a university art history library?
Also, what MLIS programs would you recommend? I live in Kingston Ontario. Unfortunately Queen's doesn't offer one. The programs at U of T and McGill look pretty good. If possible I would prefer to do it online and not go anywhere, if there's a valid program that offers that.
I'm currently working as a carpenter's assistant. The situation is ludicrous. Help!
posted by crazylegs to Work & Money (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
With an extra graduate degree you'll be head and shoulders above other candidates at academic libraries. If you can learn enough about the technology side of the library world on top of that you'll be on top of the pile. I've heard that Western's one year library school program is quite well-regarded, so definitely look into it.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:40 AM on January 17, 2010

I used to work as an academic librarian and I know that many of the senior librarians had PhDs in their field as well as at least a masters in library science. So the librarian who specialized in, say, economics actually had a PhD in economics along with her lib sci masters. I've heard that this is overwhelmingly the case at libraries in the Ivy League. Of course universities are cutting back all over the place, but I imagine there must be more people with just (just!) a PhD in art history than there are people with both a PhD in art history and a masters in library science. Good luck! I really enjoyed working in a university library; you get lots of the benefits of being a faculty member (and in some places you're actually considered faculty) without grading tons of papers, if you don't like that kind of thing.
posted by tractorfeed at 11:03 AM on January 17, 2010

Job prospects for librarians are pretty grim, I'm afraid. But yes, your PhD will give you a good leg up.

As far as an online MLIS degree goes, the correspondence program at the University of Washington comes highly recommended.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:13 AM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't have an answer to this question, but I do have a piece of advice. I think you should find real art librarians to whom you can ask this question in person, not anonymously. Do informational interviews, and at the end ask them if they'll take a look at your CV and if they know anyone else you should talk to. That has the obvious benefit of helping you find answers to your specific questions, but it also has the less-obvious benefit of helping you build up a professional network outside of art history departments. And building that network is a really important thing for grad students seeking non-academic jobs to do.
posted by craichead at 11:14 AM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

I keep hearing from various academics I know that schools grow during recessions; I don't understand this because their principal forms of funds, namely taxes, endowments, and tuition payments all become more scarce in times of want than in good times.

So, I wouldn't buy the notion that job prospects for educational positions--of any kind, at any level--are very good.
posted by dfriedman at 11:17 AM on January 17, 2010

In your field, at best, only a scant handful of jobs will be open at any given time in North America. Here's a listing from the Art Libraries Society of North America. I'm a former academic librarian. I had a good run with it, but I would not recommend librarianship as a career at this juncture unless you are wildly passionate about it and undeterred by the meager prospects.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:41 AM on January 17, 2010

Oh, one more thing. If you decide to go for it, start getting academic library experience right now. It is no longer possible to get a job as a librarian without substantive prior experience.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:51 AM on January 17, 2010

dfriedman: to a limited degree, tuition payments increase because people who are out of work sometimes go back to school, young people who can't find employment after graduation sometimes stick around for an MA/MS, and high school grads who can't find work sometimes enroll in their community college or local Big State U.

At many state schools, this is more than offset by often drastic reductions in state support, and many state schools operate near capacity anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:55 AM on January 17, 2010

I am one of the only people I know from my graduating class this past summer who has gotten a job as of now. Not bragging, just stating the data. I graduated with several years of past experience working every library job I could find, and that might have helped me out. I know how lucky I was to land something at the moment. It is an extremely tight market right now. I am also an art history person with graduate studies in an art history field, and I can tell you that the art library market is about 500 times tighter at the moment due to budgetary concerns, and is always more competitive than many other areas of librarianship. A second subject degree in art librarianship is usually the minimum requirement of entry, so that will help you out. I don't mean to discourage you; if you have the passion for the job that's required and you're committed, you can make it work. Just start working in any good (even non-paid) library job as soon as you can.

If you're planning to go into art librarianship specifically, Indiana and Pratt both have well-regarded art history-focused library programs. But I really encourage you to build a diverse base as a generalist librarian. It will serve you well. MeMail me if you'd like to talk art library stuff! Good luck!
posted by teamparka at 12:08 PM on January 17, 2010

(Pardon, I meant a second subject degree in art history. Eek!)
posted by teamparka at 12:13 PM on January 17, 2010

Other people have spoken about the job market, but I can add one caveat about the switch. Art History is a tough field to break into, so yes, a plan B is very wise, but if you were passionate about studying art and the prospect of teaching or working in an art museum, you need to think about how you're going to feel, having to work everyday with people who are excitedly pursuing your old dream. If you can find an equal passion for aspects of library work, it will be a great fit. If not, it could be very frustrating for you.

Of my MA art history class (which consisted of 11 or 12 people), 5 of us went on to get an MLIS. Most went into archives or special collections work, but one did become an art librarian. One who was a special collections librarian, and really passionate about art history, just couldn't take having to help people who "were doing what she really wanted to be doing." Luckily for her, her story ended happily, she went back and got her Ph.D. in Art History and got a tenure-track teaching job. I can't speak for the rest, but I have to say that when I, as an archivist, was working exclusively with art-related documents I was sometimes frustrated by the fact that I was basically just the preparing the materials for scholars who would swoop in and get to do the fun research. It was something that I really had to struggle with for awhile.
posted by kaybdc at 12:53 PM on January 17, 2010

Having the PhD will give you a leg up, but it's still a really tough job market. A CLIR fellow that I know has spent the last two years working on various grant-funded projects here because neither the library nor the library school has had the funds to employ her on a permanent basis. She just secured a great job at another university, but it took a full year of looking and is requiring her family to live in two different places, because her husband can't transfer his job easily.

So yes, I'd say you have a better shot than the average library school student, but you could very easily find yourself still in the same position you're in now: in possession of degrees and skills that are in oversupply.
posted by MsMolly at 1:44 PM on January 17, 2010

I keep hearing from various academics I know that schools grow during recessions; I don't understand this because their principal forms of funds, namely taxes, endowments, and tuition payments all become more scarce in times of want than in good times.

Following off of ROU-X's comment, recessions are a mixed bag for schools. Public schools are being hammered, because their state support is being slashed. And schools that depend on their endowments may or may not be needing to make cuts, depending on how their investment strategies have fared.

But for private schools that are more tuition-dependent, this is not a bad moment at all. Demand (in the form of warm-bodied students willing to pay to attend) is way, way up, and families are willing to make tremendous sacrifices to keep their kid in school. From the school's perspective, it matters not at all if the student is paying tuition with loans, savings, or by working three jobs -- the check cashes just the same.

So to the extent that jobs for academic librarians tracks the financial health of schools, things may not be totally dire.
posted by Forktine at 1:45 PM on January 17, 2010

As far as I know, there is no library school in Canada that you can even do a substantive portion online. You might want to look at Western. The program is 12 months without a break and everyone who I know who went there loved the program.

Another option might be doing the joint Library and Archives program UBC. I think you can do it as a co-op so that will also help get some experience

As for getting a leg up with a PhD, my opinion is it would not help you at first. After several years of liaison experience it would be useful in getting that plum job, but as far as getting you hired right out of library school, unless you have some experience you will have trouble.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 2:33 PM on January 17, 2010

In general, pretty grim.
In your specific case, your terminal degree in your field will give you a leg up on the (very limited number of) art librarian jobs that come up from time to time. I still don't know if I'd bank on it, but you'd have a better chance than most fresh MLISes.
Also, if you have significant student debt, I recommend against being a librarian. The pay really sucks; in tandem with student loan debt, it can be really disheartening.
posted by willpie at 7:12 PM on January 17, 2010

It's not a fall-back career anymore. There are lots of librarians out of work.

If you were in the US and just looking for a fall-back career where you could stay in the university setting, I would encourage you to get an MPA or other master's degree with a focus on non-profit management/public policy with an emphasis, in your coursework, on advocating for people with disabilities and outreach to minority linguistic/ethnic/racial communities.

In the US, university administration is a much more reliable (and better-paid, and with more opportunity for advancement) track than academic librarianship, and people with both a Ph.D. and a public-policy degree that focuses on serving underserved constituencies are eagerly sought-after.

I have no idea if the same is true in Canada, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:26 PM on January 17, 2010

On the other hand, the Bureau of Labor Statistics claim that the job outlooks in librarianship (in general) going forward are favorable.

On the other hand, that is a government agency talking....
posted by IndigoJones at 10:08 AM on January 18, 2010

posted by IndigoJones at 10:08 AM on January 18, 2010

On the other hand, the Bureau of Labor Statistics claim that the job outlooks in librarianship (in general) going forward are favorable.

Yeah they've been saying that since at least 2003 (when I was in library school). They expected lots of people to start retiring, and for that to open up lots of jobs. Instead, there have been openings at the top, while entry level jobs are cut or reclassified as para-professional positions. So I wouldn't put much stock in their predictions.

That said, I don't really know anything about the art library market. Especially in Canada. You should try contacting people at ARLIS-Canada. They should have a excellent idea of the market, and what to expect.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2010

More schools are hurting right now than are benefiting from the recession. Tuition might be a primary income source for private high schools, but at the university level they are constrained by facilities and teachers to limit the number of people they can accept, even if there are more applicants in bad economic times. Most of the money ends up coming in from the government, endowments, and grants anyway, so things are pretty tight around the university I worked at. That being said, the economy may be picking up again by the time you finish your MLIS, and schools might be looking to fill those positions they cut during the recession.
posted by sophist at 9:49 PM on January 18, 2010

I would say that whether it is smart or crazy depends on whether you actually want to be an academic librarian or simply be employed. This isn't really clear from your post. When you say "the programs at U of T and McGill look pretty good" do you mean that the courses actually sound interesting to you? Do you like public service? Do you like messing around with computers? Are you interested in information systems or human computer interfaces or user experience? What about creating and managing digital assets?

I could be reading your question wrong, but to me this is like if I (as a science librarian in a university) got fired and couldn't get a job and asked if I should get my PhD in physics, and whether it would be easier to get a job as a physics professor. Being a librarian is not really the same as teaching Art History at all, and even if the job prospects are good, why waste your money and time for a degree that's only good for something you don't enjoy?

I would do some informational interviews with academic librarians. See if you can follow them around and find out what the job is really like. Find some blogs written by academic librarians and see if they drive you up the freaking wall, or if their work and the issues they deal with are interesting to you.
posted by unknowncommand at 3:13 PM on January 20, 2010

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