The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about the high (and increasing) number of public middle and high schools going without professional school librarians in the state of New York. Existing positions were being eliminated, new schools were being created without any librarians on staff. I started a discussion on the LIS Career Options LinkedIn group asking whether this was part of a broader trend across the country. The response: absolutely.
The American Association of School Librarians is advocating in the strongest possible terms for the importance and existence of (if not commitment to) school librarians. But the end result so far has been a continued decrease in the number of jobs. According to ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report 2013, school librarians have been the ones to “bear the brunt of staff reductions,” dropping from a total of 54,445 positions in 2006-2007 to 50,300 in 2010-2011. One can only surmise how increasingly dismal these numbers are becoming given the sequestration effects.
My next question to the group was what types of related career paths laid-off school librarians might pursue. Since school librarianship is the LIS discipline I know least well, I imagined that there might be many solid transferable skills that individuals could repurpose for new job opportunities. The response: not so much.
Notes the ALA report,
ALA President Maureen Sullivan has reacted to threats to school library instructional programs by launching a Special Presidential Task Force on School Libraries. The task force is leading a campaign “addressing the urgent need for advocacy for school libraries, as well as the impact of the de-professionalization and curtailment of school library instructional programs on students and student achievement.”
The task force, which continues the work of 2011–2012 ALA President Molly Raphael, will, among other things, collaborate with member groups to coordinate implementation of the campaign, serve as liaisons to key ALA divisions and other groups, and assist in outreach efforts to various external partners.
Advocacy is always terrific, but it needs to go hand-in-hand with reality, in this case the reality of hundreds (thousands?) of school librarians who’ve lost their jobs as well as students and recent graduates of school librarianship programs who have no chance of landing a job in their chosen field. The profession needs not only to advocate for school librarians, but to help them repurpose their skills and expertise so they can find new jobs and/or career paths if that advocacy is unsuccessful. And by “the profession,” I mean the leadership of ALA, AASL, and the 40-plus graduate or certification programs across the country.
In the meantime, how can the rest of us help our unemployed (or potentially soon-to-be) colleagues? Perhaps those of you who know former school librarians who’ve mapped their professional skills could post their stories here, or to the LIS Career Options group. Perhaps someone attending an AASL conference could organize a “transferable skills” brainstorming session. Perhaps a grad student could research and describe career alternatives for former school librarians as a course assignment, then post his/her findings online. Perhaps ALA and/or AASL could award a grant to someone who would research this topic and identify credible re-careering options for former school librarians.
There are things that can be done to concretely and usefully address this situation, but no amount of advocacy is going to help all of the laid-off school librarians or the students and grads who will never find professional jobs in the field for which they studied. They need help figuring what else they can do with their skills, and they need that help NOW.