BackTalk: The Entry-Level Gap, Revisited

By Rachel Holt & Adrienne L. Strock

It was good to see a response to our article, “The Entry-Level Gap” (LJ 5/1/05), appear in the September 1 issue of LJ. Authors David Conners and Laena McCarthy certainly do their part to move the dialog about the library job-market situation forward. The more vital and diverse the debate, the closer we will come to a solution. We would like to take this opportunity to answer some of the criticisms the authors raise.

The survey

First, we revealed exactly the results of our library job-ad survey. We surveyed almost 900 job advertisements from ten web sites that focus on the LIS industry in the United States over a two-month period (June–July 2004). From those 900, we found 230 that fit the bill as full-time, permanent librarian position announcements. Most positions advertised, we found, were for “part-time, paraprofessional, or, on the opposite end, required upper-management or faculty-level credentials.” We found only 99 for new professionals—those with from zero to one year of professional library experience. Out of the nearly 900 job opportunities available, roughly 11 percent were open to new librarians.

Second, the intention of our research was not to find out how many MLS graduates were able to get jobs but how many MLS graduates landed jobs as librarians. Conners and McCarthy are correct in stating that many people who get the MLS never intend to become librarians or intentionally take employment outside the field. We wanted to know, however, to what extent the job market was willing to accommodate those graduates who did choose to pursue librarianship.

Third, in our study we were explicitly interested in MLS graduates with little prior experience. We deliberately sought a more narrow focus than the industrywide survey that Conners and McCarthy quote because we felt such aggregated numbers obscure a pressing problem: the difficult transition from library school to first job that many of our peers report experiencing.

The MLS degree is marketed as the key to a career as a professional librarian. To our knowledge, no MLS program requires anything more than a bachelor’s degree. Yet in recruiting literature, no mention is made of the necessity of experience to achieving success in libraries or any other venue.

Conners and McCarthy also appear to confuse the job-ads survey, which initially included about 900 advertisements, with the questionnaire we sent out to hiring libraries. From the hiring libraries, we did indeed get a 29 percent response rate, which we felt was adequate and not a significant weakness. Our sample size for the job ads was more than adequate in that it was not only large but was made up of sufficient proportions of each type of library environment (public, academic, special, and school).

Categorically speaking

Conners and McCarthy’s attempt at deduction is valiant. But the article makes a faulty assumption: that employment of any kind disproves the entry-level gap. The article makes no attempt to measure job satisfaction, choice, or necessity for those percentages of MLS-holders not employed in temporary, nonprofessional, or nonlibrary capacities. These individuals could fall into a range of categories: some MLS-holders are still in the same pre-MLS position while pursuing a professional position; some accept unrelated jobs out of financial necessity; some accept a related job for experience; some accept any job while they search for an ideal professional position. Others, still, settle for nonprofessional positions when a professional position was and perhaps still is the ultimate goal.

If there is indeed or ever will be a librarian shortage, it does nothing to help that shortage if MLS-holders either cannot find or feel compelled not to accept professional librarian positions. We wanted to highlight the entry-level gap as a way of showing a potential solution to any hiring crisis that may exist: give more new professionals a chance to prove themselves with meaningful library work.

Scratching the surface

When the issue of LJ that contained our article was published, we were struck by the illustration on the cover. It shows a library, positioned high off the ground, and a line of people struggling to get up to it by climbing various-sized ladders.

This represented one of the contentions we were trying to make with our article: lower the entrance to that library by making it easier for new professionals to find meaningful work, or raise the floor by making requirements for the MLS more stringent so only the most rigorously trained individuals get out into the job market.

We respectfully contend that our assertions still stand, and we invite a new generation of researchers to investigate deductively the gray areas that remain, with all underlying assumptions in place. We feel that ours and Conners and McCarthy’s response have only scratched the surface in measuring the entry-level gap.

Author Information
Rachel Holt is Associate Legal Information and Records Specialist at Mary Kay, Inc. Adrienne L. Strock is a Teen Librarian, Cuyahoga County Public Library, South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch, OH.

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