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

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 2013? 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.

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6 comments

  1. This is a discussion which I can only describe as having PLAGUED the last few months of our recently graduated MLIS class. The reality is that most of the opportunities afforded to recently graduated MLISers are in the form of jobbridges. I myself became obsessed with getting on to the live register once our classes finished in order to fulfil the three month obligatory period in receipt of payments to be able to get an internship asap. I failed in this as I had a part time job.
    I’m sorry to say I know people who gave up full time employment in retail and services to get a job bridge with no guarantee of employment after. I was lucky enough to get a paid internship programme in a library abroad for 5months but I still worry about when I come back to Ireland-what then? A job bridge just might not cut it, especially if the term is now 18months. I question a scheme that, in a strange way, encourages people to join the live register.
    I’m glad you’ve raised these questions!

  2. Five years ago I left a fulltime library assistant job to do a MLIS fulltime. Haven’t set foot in a library since graduating. Had one interview in the 5 years for a panel but wasn’t accepted as my Irish wasn’t strong enough. I’ve since returned to education to re skill as I don’t believe that there is a future in the industry for recent MLIS graduates.

  3. Thank you for bringing this up and saying what we’ve all been thinking. Number 4 is the one that troubles me most. I’ve fallen into the ‘wait and see’ category and since that hasn’t worked out I’m emigrating to look for any work, not necessarily library work. The LAI president and committee members should be ruminating on this but I doubt they are as the committee members and their places of employment seem to be the main supporters of jobbridge. A friend got a fully paid internship before the introduction of jobbridge because his place of employment applied for funding from a well known arts funding body. Maybe this source has dried up. Are libraries looking at all funding options before they sign up for Jobbridge or are they just choosing the easiest option that allows them to reap the greatest rewards regardless of the impact on the employee and the market? I look forward to your follow up post.

  4. I graduated with an MLIS from a UK university 6 years ago, and returned to Ireland to look for library work. Even back then jobs were scarce. I looked to the UK and was offered an assistant librarian position from the first job I applied for. I decided to hold out for things to get better in Ireland (they didn’t) and spent a few years doing other work. At the end of a 3 year contract and back on social welfare I applied for a Jobbridge position in an academic library. I looked at it positively: Although they were never going to hire me at the end of the 9 months I would be getting relevant experience and would make the most of the opportunities available, in house training and so on. Although this was Jobbridge I was doing real work and, luckily, getting experience in a specific and increasingly important area in libraries. Nearing the end of my 9 months I looked again reluctantly to the UK where there were rich opportunities. After applying for several jobs I am now working in a UK academic library mainly due to the relevant skills I picked up through my time in Jobbridge. Although there are many negatives about the scheme I think it can be a useful stepping stone if you’re willing to seek work abroad. In my case it was a major sacrifice to leave but in reality I had two choices: emigrate or retrain. There’s a possibility that things will get better in Ireland but certainly not in the immediate future.

    For question no. 1 I’d very quickly say that those who take on an MLIS course without being in a library job do take on a very large risk. A quick glance at any Irish jobs website should give a clear warning to anyone with their eyes open that opportunities are few and far between. An informed personal decision needs to be made. And for No 2: it’s not the job of universities to warn students that they’re making a poor choice of study or profession. The job of universities (nowadays) is to offer courses where there is a demand and to try to remain financially solvent. The seminar speaker you mention was from a UK library school and opportunities in the UK for library employment are far better than they are in Ireland. The other questions you ask make for excellent topical debate and could take pages and pages to discuss. I look forward to your opinions on these!

  5. Unfortunately I don’t think things will be improving in the LIS job market any time soon. In fact, I would say the last 12 months or so has seen a relatively healthy market compared to previous years with quite a number of positions being advertised. I don’t think we can expect to see this level/volume of opportunities very regularly. As much as I hate saying it, I feel the ‘peak era’ of libraries has come and gone, and will never be returning – partly through technological, organisational and other efficiencies we have gained (and in some cases been forced into through the economic situation) in recent times.

    The situation we see today in terms of staffing levels is probably the best we can hope for, as I fear that libraries will continue to have to ‘stand up for themselves’ to many non-library stakeholders. Add to that, the fact that there is very little turnover in the sector, unlike other industries where people move around between organisations and even change careers a lot more frequently. There are a lot of 30-something librarians who will probably not be going anywhere for 20 or 30 years, which is bad news for new entrants also. If you really want it, stick with it and if you have the energy and passion, keep trying to make something happen for yourself and keep your fingers crossed 🙂

  6. Thanks all for the great comments. I particularly appreciate the input from the people whom this directly impacts on – recent graduates. My heart goes out to you all – I follow quite a few recent graduates on Twitter and their enthusiasm is heartening – the lack of positions is therefore doubly disheartening.
    I would also agree that the LAI should be doing more. It would be very short sighted, and self defeating, to look after the present members over future members.
    Anybody doing the course from now needs to go into the course with their eyes open – I am pointing out to any prospective library school student that if going to school, and they wish to get a job, they really need to be looking at archives or Repositories.
    and finally, I also think the golden age is over. Libraries are not going to die out. But libraries as a place of secure long term employment centres for large numbers of librarians are certainly dying out. And perhaps the sooner we as a profession admit [not just realise] the quicker we might be able to prepare proactively for this future.
    And really finally – I agree with Michelle – if you want it, you really need to work at getting what you want… Best of luck to you all…

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