Library hirings slow

BY MEGAN DIAL | APRIL 07, 2009 7:30 AM

UI students hoping to go into the library field are seeing fewer job openings because of the economic crisis keeping retirement-age librarians from leaving their positions, said Jim Elmborg, the director of the UI School of Library and Information Science.

“Before the economy did its recent trick, we had a high placement rate,” he said. “We were graduating students, and they were getting jobs quite nicely.”

But now that’s not the case, Elmborg said. Even so, those seeking the specialization see its merits.

“It’s really a good degree for people who are interested in liberal-arts subjects but then graduate and don’t know what to do,” he said.

He said historically, librarianship has been a career choice for people who are out in the work force for a while and decide to go back to school.

But this idea is changing, he said.

“We’ve seen a real shift in the last couple years in that a lot of students — one in three — are interested straight out of school,” he said.

Genevieve Henricks, a senior at Iowa State University, said she is looking forward to pursuing her master’s of library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign next year.

“I have wanted to do this for a very long time,” she said, adding that she has worked in a library since she was 14.

Henricks said she thinks libraries are especially important when the economy is unstable.

“It’s the only source for information that some people have. It’s really a place for people to look for help in times of need,” she said.

Because libraries are a place people can go to during the economic crisis, Henricks said she is not worried about finding a job after earning her master’s degree.

“A lot of librarians are retiring because they are part of the baby boomers,” she said. “I’m looking forward to learning from them.”

Many librarians retired in the past five to 10 years, before the economic crisis began, said Susan Marks, the director of the UI Human Resources and Diversity Programs in the UI Libraries. Now, the age of librarians employed is younger than it used to be, she said.

But retirements have slowed down because of the economy, Marks said.

“At the moment we’re just focusing on survival with an eye toward skills,” she said. “We’re not — at the moment — planning any searches to hire anyone.”

Elmborg said librarianship is an aging profession, and many people could retire at any time. But when their 401Ks started to collapse at the end of last year, most librarians continued to work, he said.

Marks said because UI libraries are desirable places to work and Iowa City is a nice place to live, they recruit librarians from across the country. She said she doesn’t expect to see a decline in the number of applicants.

Despite the apparent grim outlook, Henricks said she is enthusiastic to begin her master’s and plans to work in youth services and eventually administration.

“I think it’s a good degree to have. I can do a lot of things with it,” she said. “I want to help libraries stay relevant so that they do not disappear.”

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