On June 6, Forbes published a list that ranked the master’s in library and information science (MLIS) against 34 other master’s degrees in terms of salary and employment outlook (see “The Best and Worst Master’s Degrees for Jobs”). It analyzed median pay at mid career and the growth of jobs from 2008 to 2018. The list puts degrees for physician’s assistants and computer scientists at the top, and the MLIS, tied with “counseling,” at 27th place.
I can’t help worrying that the article, which had 241,829 views when this page went to press, will deter many people from venturing into our field. I imagine this is how those in lower-ranked colleges feel when U.S. News & World Report’s new list of “Best Colleges” comes out. But as Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently showed us in his analysis of those rankings in the New Yorker (“The Order of Things,” February 14, 2011), we should recognize the limitations of one-dimensional rankings such as these. Inevitably, some factors are given little or no weight. In this case, Forbes doesn’t count job satisfaction, for instance.
We can wonder how satisfied physician’s assistants and computer scientists are—working in presumably large and expensive urban centers. But we do know that people working in library roles have extremely high job satisfaction. Even in the face of stagnant pay and increased workloads as budgets have been ratcheted down, an overwhelming majority like their jobs and would enter the profession again (see Library Journal’s 2011 survey “Rocked by Recession, Buoyed by Service”). Such a benefit is rare enough to find in boom times and it’s even rarer for recent graduates, whatever their degrees, who are having such a hard time finding a job.
Nevertheless, folks living outside of Libraryland are looking at the Forbes list and evaluating the value of an MLIS degree. Part of that analysis will inevitably include salary. So, of course, pay matters. The fact is those who win jobs with their MLIS can expect an average starting salary of $42,556 (“The Long Wait”), moving up to a mid-career median of $59,000, according to Forbes. And nowadays, graduates begin these jobs with a load of student debt on their backs. Librarians should be able to say they love their jobs, and do the work for more than the love of it. What should we do about that?
Make a better case for what libraries and librarians deliver to voters. They are the ones who pay us, ultimately. Identify what an MLIS gives to the professionals it prepares for institutions that need to innovate in the face of ongoing budget challenges. Moreover, let’s be clear about the full range of jobs the MLIS degree prepares a student for—now, in an age dominated by information, big data, and the ever-essential links between technology and the human experience. The next generation of librarians will have friends with MLIS degrees in a wide range of information industries. Tell the whole story about the great work that librarians do, in all of their roles, every day, and the satisfaction it brings. Watch out for the simple one-dimensional measures of value.
Let’s start with this month’s cover story, “Role Call”. In it, Betsy Bird, New York Public Library’s youth materials collections specialist and the “Fuse #8” blogger at slj.com, shares her insight into what it’s like to work with kids in one environment, public libraries. Along the way, she reinforces just how powerful the right match is between a person and his or her true calling.
Rebecca T. Miller