The Jobs Can Be Found

'The Entry-Level Gap' and anecdotal evidence suggest frustration, but the job market for new graduates is much more complicated In fall 2005, as we began our MLS education, Rachel Holt and Adrienne L. Strock's article “The Entry-Level Gap” (LJ 5/1/05, p. 36–38) was the talk of the school. Holt and Strock argue that new MLS graduates have trouble finding work because of low salaries and the disappearance of entry-level positions owing to deprofessionalization. [Correction: Strock's name was misspelled in the print edition.] Also, they say that continued MLS student recruitment compounds the problem. The specter raised by the article—that it is harder than ever to get a job out of library school—clearly touched a nerve among students and faculty. We were the sole voice of opposition in the classroom. Analyzing the authors' research methods, we had serious reservations about their conclusions. Holt and Strock frame their hypothesis as “There is an entry-level gap for new librarians,” then gather evidence to support it, a form of inductive reasoning sometimes found in our qualitative nontheoretical library literature. If we want our literature to be about library science and not about library arts, then we must base our research methods on deductive reasoning. A more scientifically based approach would be to create a hypothesis that can be falsified and then gather evidence in an attempt to refute it. So, we reformed the hypothesis to be “There is not an entry-level gap for librarians” and then tried to disprove it. And we couldn't. Critiques of investigation We have four main points of issue with the original article. First, Holt and Strock looked at a small amount of data. They surveyed 900 job advertisements but only over the two-month period of June–July 2004. Are those two months representative? Libraries don't do the majority of their hiring during these two months. A look at a larger time span would account for any possible cyclical hiring effects, as the graduation dates for MLS students vary by program and by student. The results of the original research, based on the two-months' worth of job advertisements, were not published in their article. They base many of their conclusions on a survey sent to 80 public and academic libraries that had advertised for applicants with zero to one year of experience. One startling conclusion: “There were as many tenured librarians applying for these entry-level positions as there were entry-level librarians. There were also as many tenured librarians being hired for these entry-level positions.” We have since learned that only 29 libraries responded; that's not a bad response rate, but the sample remains quite small. The article suggests a one-to-one correlation between those graduating with LIS degrees and those entering the job market for professional positions, with 5000 graduates for about 4100 jobs annually. However, as discussed in Stephanie Maatta's Placements and Salaries article for 2005 (LJ 10/15/06, p. 36), some graduates choose to delay their job search, continue their education, or pursue paraprofessional work. Other students work as assistants or interns while at school and are offered a professional position by their employer upon graduation. Corporate libraries will often pay for their employees to attend graduate school and promote them upon graduation. These graduates fill unadvertised positions. Therefore, the competitive pool of graduates is much smaller. Lastly, the survey created by Holt and Strock does not take into account two key job search factors: geography and prior work experience. Job seekers willing to relocate will find more opportunities. Similarly, a new graduate whose résumé includes meaningful professional internships and practicums will be more desirable than a candidate who has simply completed LIS coursework.

A new approach

So we tried to disprove the hypothesis, “There is not an entry-level gap,” while filling in some of the holes in the original arguments outlined above. Our ideal source of data would be a large-scale, comprehensive survey of recent graduates over many years. Luckily, such data is already available from LJ's annual Placements and Salaries Survey. We analyzed the results of the surveys from the last six years, 2000 through 2005. Unlike Holt and Strock's data, LJ's account includes special library and nonlibrary professional positions. A summary of the types of employment for new graduates is included in Table 1. Between 2002 and 2003, the average length of a job search for someone after graduation increased by 346 percent and is now an average of four months (Table 2). That may indicate a cyclical effect to job hiring and reinforces the need to look at a larger window of time. In the last six years, at least two-thirds of new job seekers were able to get full-time permanent professional positions, and employment of any type ranged from 83 percent to 93 percent. It is important to note that between 2003 and 2004, the number of unemployed/unreported decreased by more than half, from 15 percent in 2003 to seven percent the following year. Though the job search is long, those who stick with it seem to find success. Are too many applicants applying for too few jobs? Over three years (Table 2), about 35 percent of respondents returned after graduation to their current employer. They weren't job-hunting in the June–July time period. By removing that cohort and revisiting the authors' original numbers, there were no longer 5000 graduates seeking 4100 new jobs but rather some 3250 graduates for those positions. It does not appear that there are more graduates than new positions. LJ's annual surveys consistently show that library jobs are not evenly distributed across the United States. Also, for the last two years, the Placements and Salaries Survey discusses the need for applicants to have gained professional experience while in library school. Any investigation into the success or failure of new graduates in getting jobs must address these issues.

Concerns & pending questions

After reviewing the data, we could not disprove our hypothesis that there was not an entry-level gap. Still, many librarians remain concerned about the difficulty in finding jobs. See for example Christen Orbanus's NextGen column, “Where Are All the Jobs?” (LJ 6/15/07, p. 46), and the several TalkBacks posted online. The job search may be long, but most people eventually find employment. Many new graduates have jobs waiting for them prior to graduation. Before we graduated in May 2007, we had taken five months to find permanent full-time positions, one month longer than the average. But we did find jobs; in our favor, we had library experience, but the search was made more difficult because we were geographically picky. So, until an entry-level gap emerges in statistically significant data, we caution against sweeping statements. Still, we believe that Holt and Strock raise several interesting questions that invite further inquiry. Are entry-level applicants who are geographically flexible and have done professional internships not getting jobs? Do new librarians successful in getting jobs come from schools with an emphasis on offering real-world experience? Is LIS education not meeting the needs of today's employees? Are experienced librarians consistently applying for entry-level jobs (with entry-level pay)? If so, why? Is the long predicted retirement wave of librarians not happening? Are special library and nonlibrary professional positions helping to eliminate the entry-level gap, as LJ's annual surveys suggest? If so, is LIS education providing MLS students with the necessary skills for these jobs? A closer look at job-seeking efforts would make for clearer discourse and help more of our concerned colleagues. The ever-increasing influx of technology into our profession presents an opportunity to gather quantifiable data, so we encourage other librarians to investigate the entry-level phenomenon.
David Conners and Laena McCarthy are 2007 graduates of the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science, New York. Conners is Digital Collections Librarian, Haverford College, PA. McCarthy is Image Cataloger and Assistant Professor, Pratt Institute Libraries
2000 74% 8% 5% 2% 89% 11%
2001 70% 9% 5% 4% 88% 12%
2002 64% 8% 5% 6% 83% 14%
2003 66% 9% 9% 1% 85% 15%
2004 69% 8% 7% 9% 93% 7%
2005 69% 7% 8% 7% 91% 9%
*Note: Data was collected from the following Library Journal articles: Stephanie Maatta (2006, 2005, 2004, 2003); Tom Terrell (2002, 2001); Vicki L. Gregory & Sonia Ramírez Wohlmuth (2000). Tables do not always add up, individually or collectively, since both schools and individuals omitted data in some cases.
2002 n/a n/a 1.3
2003 34% 30% 4.5
2004 36% 23% 4.5
2005 37% 25% 4.0
*This table represents only placements reported by type. Some individuals omitted placement information, rendering some information unusable. Comparison with other tables will show different numbers of placements.

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