Number of Public Librarians Falls While Flood of Information Rises

Associated Press

As computer databases, cassettes and compact disks join newspapers, magazines and books, the United States is confronting a shortage of public librarians to help sort through the flood of information.

"A large number of librarians will be retiring in the next five to 10 years, and there aren't the numbers coming in to replace them," said American Library Assn. personnel expert Margaret Myers. She said library schools had 3,538 graduates in 1986, fewer than half the 8,091 degrees in 1979.

The shortfall comes as the public needs librarians trained to help "make sense of our era's information onslaught--the new books, databases, videocassettes, specialist magazines and countless other media that debut daily," Myers said.

Children's librarians, school media specialists, cataloguers and minority service personnel are in particularly short supply, experts say. The shortage causes some library openings to go unfilled. Others are staffed by less qualified workers, and library vacancies remain open longer.

"In some geographic areas it's a crisis: New York, Boston, the East Coast," said American Library Assn. President Margaret Chisholm. "There's such a shortage that it is really affecting services."

"We've averaged 85 vacancies since July 1," said Betsy Pinover of the New York Public Library. Along with lower library school enrollments, she cited new opportunities in corporations, lower librarian pay than other professions, and growth in public library jobs as shortage causes.

With fewer children's and young adult specialists, Pinover said, some libraries have had to cut story hours and curtail school class visits. Branches in low-income areas are operating on "skeleton schedules" and using more paraprofessionals, she said.

"I've heard of jobs in school districts going unfilled or they have to back away from well-qualified individuals," said California State Librarian Gary Strong. "My gut reaction is that at any given point in time there are 40 to 100 openings in California."

Once one of few professions open to women, public and school library careers are now just one of many options.

"Libraries and nursing can not compete with law and banking," said Pasadena Library Director Ed Szynaka. "You could start with a five-figure salary in law that could be as high as you would ever get in a library career."

Corporation Careers

Those pursuing library degrees are finding higher-paying careers in corporations. The library association's Myers said the openings listed at the group's meetings outstrip the number of people interviewing, with more corporate databases and information management jobs advertised.

Public and academic salaries "are not competitive with industrial salaries," said Dean Robert Hayes of UCLA's Graduate School of Library Science. "The industrial salaries will be half again as large as the public or academic salaries."

Facing an oversupply of librarians in the 1970s, following growth in the 1960s, about 15 universities closed their library schools in the past decade, said Abraham Bookstein of the University of Chicago Graduate Library School. The remaining programs have increased recruitment to fill the librarian gap.

California library school enrollments have inched up in the past few years, but more graduates are taking jobs in corporate libraries or working for computer databases.

"A decade ago a third of our graduates went into industrial environments; now it's up to 50%. I anticipate we would see a steady increase," said UCLA's Hayes. "The more who go into industrial work, the fewer who go into schools, public libraries, and academic.

"Five or six years ago when we put out a notice for an entry-level position, we would have 40 to 50 applicants. Today that same notice will generate 10," said Pasadena's Szynaka. His main and branch libraries train paraprofessionals to help fill staffing shortages.

A 1987 California Library Assn. report predicted 364 public, academic and specialized librarian openings in 1988, 256 of them in public libraries. Next year 446 openings are expected statewide in all fields.

While the survey projected that 60% of the openings will be in public libraries, only 28% of the 162 library school students responding to the survey want public library work. Thirty-five percent prefer academic libraries and 26% special libraries.

"Salaries are better in the private sector than in the public sector," said Mary Sue Farrell, California Library Assn. executive director. "Salaries are better at GTE or IBM than working for the City of San Francisco."

Along with the need for children's librarians, the survey also pinpointed "an under-representation of minorities in the profession as compared with the population of California, especially among Hispanics and blacks."

A 1986 California Department of Education study found that more than two-thirds of the state's school libraries had no certificated librarian. Between 1981-82 and 1985-86 there was a 23% decline in the total number of librarians working for California's school systems, the report found.

"For the nation . . . 79% of the school libraries had a certificated librarian on staff," the study found. "California was by far in the worst position of all 50 states in terms of having the largest percentage of school libraries operating without certificated library staff."

"It takes five or six months to fill positions, and it gets harder and harder," said Los Angeles school library supervisor Bonnie O'Brian, with 10 to 12 openings annually. "We have two positions that are not filled by credentialed librarians. We anticipate by the end of the year it will get worse."

With shortages in both children's and school librarians, experts are worried that young people may not gain the skills needed to sort through information that may be found by reading a book or magazine, typing queries on a computer terminal, using a microfiche reader or viewing from a compact disk.

"If you have a school of 3,000 kids and you don't have a librarian there, that's a problem," O'Brian said. "Almost every job people are going into has to do with information. The only place they can learn that is in the school library media center."

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