Foundations and Futures | Placements & Salaries 2018

What’s old is new again in this year’s job market for newly credentialed librarians. Our snapshot shows placements are resurging in traditional library settings, as well as continuing to gain strength in nontraditional areas that benefit from classic LIS skill sets.

Full-time employment and traditional library settings are up; gender pay gap narrows

What’s old is new again in this year’s job market for newly credentialed librarians. Our snapshot shows placements are resurging in traditional library settings, as well as continuing to gain strength in nontraditional areas that benefit from classic LIS skill sets.

The annual LJ Placements & Salaries survey reveals a healthy job market for graduates of American Library Association (ALA)–accredited LIS master’s degree programs. The results suggest that core skills such as cataloging, reference, and collection development are essential in traditional and nontraditional settings alike. Results also reinforce the strength and value of the LIS master’s degree, both in preparing graduates to excel in a wide range of placements and in signaling the skills and talents of candidates to potential employers. While there are some hints that salary levels are flattening, there are glimmers of improvement in gender pay inequities and interesting shifts across employment sectors.

Forty-two of the 52 ALA-accredited schools participated in this year’s survey. They reported producing a total of 4,389 graduates during calendar year 2017. Thirty-one percent of these completed questionnaires about their job search status and experiences.

Graduates predominantly self-reported as female (80%), while 18% were male, 1% nonbinary or not sure, and about 1% declined to answer. The 2017 graduates identified themselves as white/non-Hispanic (76%), Asian/Pacific Islander (8%), Hispanic/Latino (5%), black/African American (4%), or more than a single race (4%). The gender and ethnic composition of this class was very similar to last year’s. For the third year in a row, the typical graduate was relatively young. The majority were 35 or younger (71%). Eleven percent were 46 or older, and the average age was 33.



An increasing number of graduates found full-time positions (85%). This is a slight uptick from 2016 and marks the fourth year in a row that full-time employment has exceeded 80%. Nine out of ten of these full-time positions are permanent. Only 15% of employed 2017 graduates took part-time positions, continuing the declining trend noted last year and down by half from the percentage of 2015 graduates who reported part-time status. The majority of this year’s part-timers hold only one position, with 40% reported holding two, for an average of 1.5 positions, which is similar to last year. Six percent of graduates reported that they were unemployed compared to 7% least year. That’s higher than the overall U.S. unemployment rate for the comparable period: about 3.95%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s nearly three times higher than the overall 2017 unemployment for holders of a master’s degree: 2.2%.

More than three in four graduates are satisfied with their full-time job placement (78%). The highest levels of satisfaction were expressed by full-time employees of public libraries (84%), school libraries (83%), special libraries (82%) and private industry (82%). Government library employees were the least satisfied with their positions (63%), a marked decline from last year’s 76%. Many graduates commented that the source of their satisfaction was achieving the position they aspired to have (“my dream job”) and demonstrating their learning from their LIS program. Others noted that they were now in a good “stepping stone” position that would provide experience needed to advance into preferred positions later. Other job characteristics that fueled satisfaction were good pay and benefits, schedule flexibility, camaraderie with coworkers, understanding and capable managers and mentors, and a comfortable setting. Some graduates emphasized interesting and fulfilling work, with challenges and room for growth, but also circumstances that allowed them to be successful and make a positive difference. Several expressed a deep fondness for the users or communities they serve.

Graduates in 2017 who said they were dissatisfied with their job expressed frustration about having to settle for part-time or temporary work, working multiple positions to support themselves, missing benefits, or feeling trapped in a nonprofessional library position or a position outside of LIS. Several noted that they were frustrated by unsuccessful attempts to land a professional LIS position. Many feel underpaid and underemployed and long to put their master’s degree to work in a fulfilling environment. Some dissatisfied graduates were employed in professional LIS positions but not in their primary area of interest or expertise. Others had issues with management, coworkers, or insufficient resources. A few dissatisfied individuals mentioned their plans to improve their work life by switching to a more fulfilling position or relocating.


School Region Number of
Number of
Employed in
LIS field
of LIS
Currently Unemployed or Continuing Education Total
% Employed
Northeast 10 296 256 25 7 288 84%
Midwest 10 384 213 38 21 272 87%
Southeast 9 231 224 17 11 224 84%
South Central 9 267 264 38 17 264 90%
West 4 189 186 19 12 186 79%
TOTAL/AVG. 42 1,367 1,029 137 68 1,234 85%



A majority of graduates reported that LIS is their first career (57%). About half indicated that they were already working in a library prior to starting an LIS program. Echoing past results, this year’s survey found that 43% of the 2017 graduates are now career-changers with professional experience in a different domain.

The most common starter field for these graduates was education (34.7%), including those who started in K–12, higher education, adult education, and specialties such as music or math instruction. Business was the next most frequent previous profession (11.6%) and included subfields like sales, economics, finance, insurance, and human resources. Communication-related careers were the next largest group (9.4%), bundling publishing, writing, journalism, advertising, and video production. Law careers (7.4%) were the next most common prelude to LIS studies; this category included attorneys, paralegals, and law enforcement. Those with backgrounds in entertainment and the arts (5.7%) formed the next group, including TV, music, theater arts, visual arts, video production, and museums.



Graduates were asked if they were working in a library prior to starting their master’s program. This year we found an almost perfect split regarding previous library experience, with 51% saying yes. This is a change from last year, when more than half did not work in a library before enrollment.

Almost a quarter of 2017 graduates reported holding an advanced degree when they started their LIS master’s program. This was a slightly larger proportion of all graduates than last year, but 2017 graduates listed only 76 different graduate degrees, versus over 200 last year. None of this year’s graduates said that they had already earned more than one advanced degree as a prequel to this master’s program, although three individuals held doctoral degrees (one each in English, musical arts, and an unspecified discipline). Some 12.4% indicated they held a prior master’s degree without offering specifics. Another 12.4% said they had a Master of Arts and 4.1% listed a Master of Science degree, without specifying the discipline. Graduates who included the field of study for their prior master’s degrees mentioned Education (7.4%, including specializations such as higher education administration, secondary education, and early childhood education), law (5.8%, including JD or LLM degrees), MBA (3.3%), literature (3.3%, including writing and English lit), and MFA (2.5%). An additional 4.5% earned some type of social sciences master’s, including geography, linguistics, psychology, public administration, or educational leadership and policy. Another 4.1% held a humanities master’s degree, specifically history, philosophy, music, art history, and English education. Only 1.7% noted specific science master’s degrees (analytical chemistry and molecular biology).

Many schools offer dual degree or certificate programs concurrently with their LIS master’s program, an opportunity used by only 6% of 2017 graduates. The most popular dual-degree or certificate programs were a master’s degree in history (33%) or a certification in archives and cultural materials preservation (also 33%). Others concurrently studied children’s literature (5.5%), art history and design (5.5%), or data science (5.5%). Still others listed a school library teacher certification, information security, education, art librarianship, children’s services, and an MA in language, literature, and translation (2.8% each).

As to whether 2017 graduates plan to pursue further graduate education after their LIS master’s program, 14% intend to do so, and almost half (48%) are entertaining the idea. These results match the prior year.

Suzie Allard ( is Professor of Information Sciences and Associate Dean of Research, University of Tennessee College of Communication & Information, Knoxville. She is Principal Investigator (PI) or co-PI on grants funded by IMLS, NSF, and other foundations. She is a member of the DataONE Leadership Team and the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations Board of Directors and winner of the 2013 LJ Teaching Award.

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