The Nation will see a Shortage of Librarians

Wednesday, February 9, 2000

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Just when an uneventful turn of the century is lulling Americans into a sense of disaster-proof security, a dean at the University of North Texas is warning all about a problem that may cause serious stack-ups in libraries throughout the nation.The problem: a shortage of librarians.Dr. Phillip M. Turner, dean of UNT's School of Library and Information Sciences, says, the United States will see a shortage of 20,000 librarians in the next five years in the area of school libraries alone. Furthermore, Turner says school libraries will be the hardest hit by the shortage. Turner predicts that thousands of positions will open up in both public and academic libraries across the country. Currently in Texas, many librarian positions are being filled with unqualified applicants without library science degrees and others remain unfilled, with no applicants at all, he says. Already major cities like Los Angeles and Houston are voicing concerns over the shortage and the problems of filling vacant librarian positions.There are several reasons for the shortage including: better positions for students studying library and information sciences because of the Internet and our booming economy; the fact that a large number of librarians are reaching retirement age; and a national shortage of library science programs to train new librarians, says Turner."With our present economic growth, many students in library science are getting better job offers from private companies, especially new Internet groups," Turner said."The dot com companies are discovering that they need people who can organize and access information and they're snatching up certified librarians for the task. Now an increasing number of librarians are taking corporate jobs," he explains.The fact that persons with library science degrees are getting more lucrative job offers makes the task of luring future librarians into public and non-profit institutions (such as city libraries, elementary and high school libraries, and college and university libraries) more difficult, says Arne Almquist, assistant dean of libraries at UNT."Instead of competing with universities like SUNY Buffalo, we're competing with corporations like IBM for new librarians," Almquist says.Retirement is another factor that figures prominently in the shortage. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, public libraries and universities were in a period of growth. More institutions were looking for librarians and cities like Dallas were building large public library systems. At the same time, many states were changing their school accreditation processes to require certified librarians. On account of that expansion, librarian programs and positions were widely available and the market was full. However, many of the librarians who earned degrees during that period of boom are now reaching retirement age.The library boom of the 60s and 70s also had other consequences. At the time of growth the librarian market became so flooded that library science programs at universities began to die off in the 1980s. The number of programs has declined from 70 accredited programs across the country at the peak of library expansions to 57 unevenly dispersed programs today. Some states like Minnesota have no librarian degree programs at all. Texas still has three programs (at UNT, Texas Woman's University and the University of Texas) to serve the entire state.In order to deal with the shortage, universities capable of certifying librarians have come up with unique solutions. For instance, UNT has begun offering its certification for K-12 librarians completely over the Internet. Turner says certified K-12 librarians are among the most difficult positions to fill. The state of Texas offers emergency certifications, which allow recipients to fill the positions while completing their course work.Even Microsoft mogul Bill Gates is helping in the search for solutions to the problem. The Gates Foundation has made considerable contributions to scholarships to motivate more people to become librarians. Also states like Minnesota are providing state-funded librarian scholarships. UNT is working with officials in Minnesota via two-way video conferencing and web-based classes to certify potential librarians for the state's public libraries.Elsewhere in Texas, Dallas and Houston are providing incentive programs such as tuition reimbursement to staff members at their public libraries who go on to seek library science degrees.In higher education, libraries like UNT's are now offering similar incentive programs to encourage librarians and other staff members to continue their education and specialize in science and other technical areas. "The real shortage for higher education is filling these specialized librarian positions," Almquist says."A good science librarian is hard to find because they are the first to get snatched up by private companies," says Almquist. "We used to get tons of applications to fill science librarian positions, but now we get only two or three applications at best. At present, we have to leave our searches open for months to get a decent pool of applicants."Many libraries (UNT's among them) are now attempting to promote from within by taking a staff member pursuing a graduate science degree and offering incentives for them to also gain a librarian's degree.Libraries across the country are trying to prevent this disastrous shortage from continuing."It's like having a shortage of brain surgeons," Turner says. "These are very skilled and demanding jobs that require a high level of preparation to do them correctly. It requires a delicate balance of proficiency with emerging technologies and good old fashion knowledge about the patron."For more information please call Philip M. Turner, dean of the School of Library and Information Science, at (940) 565-2058 or Arne Almquist, assistant dean of libraries at UNT, at (940) 565-3023.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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