Nontraditional Professionals in Research Libraries

There is an interesting article by Stanley Wilder in the "Careers" section of the February 23, 2007 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education ("The New Library Professional").

Using 2005 data, he notes that 23% of the professionals in ARL libraries are in nontraditional positions (e.g., development, human resources, and IT), and 39% of under-35 professionals are in these type of positions. In this under-35 group, 24% of nontraditional professionals earn $54,000 (or more). Forty-seven percent of under-35 computer professionals make $50,000 or more. (Needless to say, traditional librarians have not done as well salary-wise, leading to equity concerns.) The number of professionals who do not have an MLS has skyrocketed by 142% since 1985.

I wonder if there are significant differences in this trend by ARL library rank, with it being stronger at more larger, more affluent libraries or at libraries in private institutions.

My own experience during the last 20 years or so at a small public ARL library was that it was a constant struggle to get approval for new computer professional positions; to be able to recruit at salaries that, while not truly competitive, were at least not laughable; to upgrade existing positions so that they more adequately reflected job duties and marketplace values; and to retain staff. This was more difficult for non-MLS professionals than for MLS professionals.

More than once I, as an Assistant Dean/Director of Systems, had to take direct responsibility for Web support because of lengthy recruitment difficulties, including one two-year stretch where I did 100% of all Web support work in addition to my normal duties (I also ran the branch libraries for one year of that period). As an Assistant Dean for Digital Library Planning and Development, I had no staff and no prospect of getting any.

At some research libraries, non-MLS professionals may find that they have no career path or a short one. Taking computer professionals as an example, the issue is how far up the hierarchy can non-MLS professionals go before they hit the "must have an accredited MLS" ceiling? Can they become unit heads, department heads, ADs, or Deans/Directors? The answer may vary by library. Another issue is, generous salaries aside, are nontraditional professionals treated as second-class citizens in other ways than advancement (e.g., they may not be given the same level of support for professional travel and activities, especially if MLS librarians have faculty or faculty-like status and are adequately supported in their efforts to move up the academic ranks). Given that 39% of under-35 professionals are in nontraditional jobs, these are important issues to address, especially if Boomer librarians manage to retire en masse as some predict. It would not be a pretty sight to have Boomers heading out the door just as younger nontraditional librarians bump their heads on the MLS ceiling and start considering other career options.

This is a liminal period for research libraries, and, to a significant degree, nontraditional staff will determine their future success.

Source: Wilder, Stanley. "The New Library Professional." The Chronicle of Higher Education, 23 February 2007, C1, C4.

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