November 17, 2017

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Librarians and the Changing Job Market | Consider the Source

Did you see the fascinating graphic in the New York Times article by Gregor Aisch and Robert Gebeloff  titled, “The Changing Nature of Middle-Class Jobs?”

The graphic focuses on American jobs that pay $40–80,000 a year (adjusting to the current value of a dollar) and presents, occupation-by-occupation, the gender makeup of that workforce. It also examines whether the number of jobs in various categories have grown or declined between the years 1980-2012. The overall message is hardly news—traditionally male industrial work is rapidly declining, while work that is significantly female in areas such as health, is increasing. In a related article by Gebeloff, Dionne Searley, and Eduardo Porter, the accompanying headline captures this shift: “Health Care Opens Stable Career Path, Taken Mainly by Women.” Where do librarians fit into this picture? And what can we learn from the shifts in other fields?

No one will be surprised to see that “librarians, archivists, and curators” are significantly female, or that job numbers in those professions are slipping. But those figures are almost flat, declining only slightly. For my purposes I’d rather not lump those three professions together, but it is rather heartening to see a picture that is fairly level rather than rapidly falling. Anecdotally, I have been hearing about large school systems in, for example, in New York City and in the San Francisco Bay area, which are rushing to hire school librarians.

There are other intriguing bits in this data that might be useful. One area of strong growth is the increase in elementary teachers—up nine percent over the period. I knew that we were experiencing a demographic bulge in the first years of the 21st century—the Baby Boom Echo Echo (grandchildren of the Boomers)—until the 2008 recession made many families put budget and planning ahead of growth. I’d like to see some data on whether the growth in these teaching jobs matches the demographic curve. After all, if you look on the decline side, you’ll discover the number of high school teachers is down five percent.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the 12 percent growth in “other teachers and counselors”—since this group is neither elementary or high school teachers or university professors nor therapists or social workers (all counted in other categories). If other means middle school—well, that is interesting—but the sample may be both too small and too jumbled to be useful. What is clearly useful is the plus side of the chart—with nurses, technologists, and managers at the top. Institutions all see the need for these trained professionals. To my eyes, school librarians are trained professionals, educators skilled at using technology. A librarian’s skill set is the adapted-to-the-school-version of all of these growth professions. They are digital learning leaders.

There has been a shift—the librarian is no longer a person who warehouses objects. She is a manager, a technologist, an investigator, a technologist, an explorer, a curator, and a creator. I don’t see a need in this chart for what it is that librarians do, but I do see a need for professionals to announce themselves, to make who they actually are clear to administrators. And, as the New York City and San Francisco examples suggest, schools systems are ready to listen.

That’s what I see in these lines. What do you see?

Marc Aronson About Marc Aronson

Marc Aronson is a Rutgers University lecturer in the School of Communication and Information and the author of many notable nonfiction titles for children and young adults including, The Skull in the Rock, winner of the 2013 Subaru Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His book The Griffin and the Scientist (with Adrienne Mayor) will be published in April 2014. He was the first recipient of the Robert F. Sibert medal from the American Library Association for excellence in nonfiction writing for youth.

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