Librarians have the 4th highest unemployment rate!

Or not.

I initially picked this up for my “what’s interesting today” feature, but then it turned into something completely different.

This afternoon, a table from the Wall Street Journal started to make the library rounds: From College Major to Career. I initially saw it on the ALA Joblist Twitter account, and in the course of writing this post, Library Journal picked it up. However, it doesn’t seem like either of them looked at and thought critically about the source of the data – they are taking it at its (depressing) face value.What we’re talking about is a sortable table that the Wall Street Journal is using to illustrate how what you study impacts future employment and pay. Interesting, right? Especially to us librarians, we are number four on the list when you sort by highest unemployment, and I think it’s safe to say this supports our gut about the profession, and how many people feel they were led astray when they were told that there was going to be a wave of retirements opening up jobs. 15% of us are unemployed! Isn’t the current overall unemployment rate about 9%? Yikes, we are clearly DOOMED.

This is where ALA Joblist and LJ appear to have stopped. [ETA: As noted below in the comments, the Joblist poster did try to find more info.]

Exact unemployment numbers for the field are hard to find. Here’s what I can tell you. According to Library Journal‘s Placements & Salaries Survey, which was released last month, unemployment among new library school graduates is 6.7%. (Note that this is only looking at 2010 graduates of master’s programs, and that is a small sample size.) As a comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 4.2% unemployment rate for “Education, Training and Library Occupations” (PDF – that’s from their Current Population Survey). The truth is maybe somewhere in between. (This of course isn’t taking into account under-employed people and those who gave up on the field.)

What’s really being reported here?

I tracked down what I believe is the report being cited by this table (What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors) and verified that they are reporting on people who have a Bachelor’s as their terminal degree (WSJ hints at this in the headline). There are two problems with this for library science. First, there are very few institutions that offer an undergraduate degree in library science — ALA links to a list that is two years old and has four programs offering a Bachelor’s. Two, there’s a reason for this. Most professional-level jobs in the field, where your title involves the word “librarian,” require a master’s. (Exceptions here include small public libraries and probably some special libraries.) Right away what this says to me is that this is not an accurate representation of what’s going on in the field — but how do you know that if you’re not in the profession? You don’t.

I took a closer look at the report. Library science is in the education grouping. First of all, the sample size represents <0.5% of the education grouping (as you might expect given the dearth of undergraduate programs). As a result, many of the statistics they calculated aren’t given for library science, as the “sample size was too small to be statistically valid.” One of the few statistics they do provide is that that 67% of people with the library science bachelor’s go on to get a master’s — that’s the second-highest percentage in the group and is 11 percentage points higher than the third-ranked degree for that category. So this is not telling the full story of their education, the way it might be for some other professions represented.

In addition, I can’t find that 15% number. The report shows that 93% of “people in the labor force” with that degree are employed, with 83% full time and 17% part time.

This just goes to show why looking at the source is always a good idea. It took me longer to write this post (had to research my points!) then it did for me to glance at a few things in the report and determine that as far as I’m concerned, the numbers in that table (and in that whole report) aren’t accurately reflecting my profession.

5 thoughts on “Librarians have the 4th highest unemployment rate!

  1. Hi Alison,

    I’m responsible for JobLIST’s tweet, and did go to the CEW site before posting looking for more info. I found the “What It’s Worth” report you mentioned, but found in that report that it’s based on the 2009 American Community Survey, whereas the Wall Street Journal story says that it’s based on 2010 census data (they also describe different numbers of majors, 171 vs. 173).

    CEW has published reports based on both undergrad and grad degree info, so it is unclear which the WSJ story is based on without additional information. Of course, I can’t really include all of this in a tweet.

    1. Ah, I didn’t catch the data source given in the report. Thanks for pointing that out. At a quick glance I can’t find a report on grad degree info. It’s a mystery!

  2. “Of course, I can’t really include all of this in a tweet.” Then maybe Twitter is not the best medium for communicating about that article.

  3. In addition, I noticed that “information science” is listed separately, with different scores, in the WSJ article.

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