18 Jun 2014

MLIS Graduates, jobs, internships and the future of the profession

This post is one I published a number of months back on my personal blog. I believe the issues are still as relevant and have decided to publish now on Libfocus.

A number of years back I attended a one day Library Association of Ireland Seminar. It was during our good days, the Celtic Tiger years, and we still believed we were well off and the country still had money. Our libraries were still, relatively, well funded. New librarians were still being hired and working librarians were still being promoted.
I was especially looking forward to hearing one of the Seminar speakers. She was brought over from one of the big UK Library Schools. She talked in passionate depth about the Library courses her college ran. It was all excellent inspirational punched hands in the air stuff. Would almost have encouraged one to go back to school to get another LIS qualification. But it is her answer to one of the audience questions post talk that I still think of. She was asked would there be enough librarian positions to go round for all the LIS graduates that Library schools were and are exponentially producing. Her brutally honest answer? It was not their concern - she argued library schools role is solely to craft educated, qualified, high functioning graduates capable of successfully working in the current and future Library and Information Science field. She stated it isn’t the Departments job to find or create employment for them. Which to be fair, seems to be role of universities today – create strong graduates and send them out into the world to find their own way.
This answer stuck with me. Long after all the other talks, talkers and ideas from that day have faded from my mind, long after the easy money and the plethora of library job advertisements have disappeared it is her answer I remember. I bring this up now because of a recent discussion on Twitter with working librarians and current and recently graduated MLIS students. The discussion has to do with the number of library job-bridge schemes being advertised, as opposed to actual paid library employment. Nine month Internships as opposed to Real jobs if you wish – and if recent news reports are to be believed – soon to be 18 month internships. Recently there was a spate of job bridge adverts for work in the library field. A quick look on Twitter through #jobbridge or #jobfairy or on Libraryjobs.ie will show the number of library ‘jobs’ being advertised.
And this for me leads to a number of questions:
It creates a dilemma for recent graduates. Do they apply for one of these programmes, get much needed experience and knowledge in the field, build networks and perhaps, ideally they hope, turn the internship into a real job. Or do they wait and see if any ‘real’ jobs appear? Do they allow their skills and learning to be used as cheap labour or do they hold back and perhaps never get the experience required to get a real secure job. Do they not do the internship, not build experience, not create networks and make contacts? And when a job does come up will their peer who took the internship get the job because they have the experience etc.
This is just one question raised by the use of interns in the library profession.
Should there be a profession wide discussion on the use of interns in libraries? Because there doesn’t seem to be any discussion at present. Except amongst a few over active Twitter users. It is not a black and white issue – many angles need to be looked at and many voices heard. We need to look at dwindling library budgets, the public sector embargo on hiring, current library staff, soon to be retiring library staff, unions, current unemployed graduates, future graduates, the ethos and philosophy of the profession, the role of the professional bodies, library schools. All these, and others and surely other aspects, need to be included in any nuanced discussion of the issue.
And to finish this post I will ask a few questions:
1 – if there are no library jobs out there, and seemingly not much prospect in the near future, is it worth somebody’s while undertaking library school and getting a library qualification?
2 – if there are no jobs is it ‘moral’ for university departments to keep taking in graduates and taking their money when there doesn't seem to be any realistic chance of a job afterwards?
3 – should libraries be hiring interns for nine months (or soon to be 18 months)?
4 – If interns keep plugging the gaps in the libraries will ‘real’ sustainable jobs ever be offered again?
5 – Are there enough unemployed MLIS graduates looking for employment to enable gap plugging for many years?
6 - Do the people doing the hiring believe that libraries can be staffed solely with interns as some job bridge adverts are advertising? Can a para or non professional qualified person run a library service to the same standard as a qualified experienced professional librarian?
7 - If non qualified staff can run libraries then why bother getting a qualification at all? Why waste your money or time getting the qualification when it is not needed?
8 – what do all these questions say about where we, as a profession are, in 2014? And where do we go?
As to answers? I do some have ideas and thoughts on these questions - but I will hold them off till another post. Don't want to outstay my welcome. In the meantime I would love to hear what other working librarians, recently qualified Grads - employed, unemployed, Interns - library managers have to say on, or think about, this issue.

3 comments:

  1. You raise a lot of interesting questions, most of which are not easily answered. As a graduate of Wayne State University's SLIS program, I have seen a lot of very competent colleagues lose out on jobs because they can't afford to take an internship. It's a sad fact that no- or low-pay internships deepen the class divide, which to me seems particularly egregious considering the broader aims of our field. Still, however, I would hate to see universities turning away high volumes of students. Instead, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle: provide more funding opportunities for students while giving them a realistic understanding of the job situation (and preparing them for jobs outside of the traditional library setting), and foster a strong sense of community among graduates in order to provide better networking and opportunities for students and recent graduates.

    I think that professionals who regularly host interns should also do a fair amount of thinking on this issue, to ensure that they are providing value (if not monetary than in the form of networking, experience, and references) to match the intern's own investment. With more job bridge-type programs being funded, I would be interested to see this cost/benefit analysis become a formal requirement of granting agencies.

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  2. Hi Heidi, Thanks for the feedback. You are correct - there are no easy answers to this - but worth concerns me is that we as a profession don't really seem to be asking the question. We seem happy to kick the can up the road and hope it goes away. And I think this is the wrong way to go about it. We should be asking the questions rather than hoping that things will sort themselves out. Because they won't. If we ask the questions as a whole profession - involving all stakeholders we might come up with some answer.

    The suggestions that you provide would be a good starting point. Networking and mentoring [informal at the very least] is essential for new grads and this is something we can all provide very easily.

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  3. Hi Martin,

    I completely agree with you. One other aspect which is not much talked about is that some library schools take on an impressive number of people to increase their weight in a given university. And if this results in an incredibly high number of job seekers, I have also been shocked by the number of MLIS students who have no academic skills whatsoever. The number of group projects being just as high as the number of students in SILS, anyone here in Ireland can easily earn a diploma and become an 'info pro'.

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