Seriously? Did you read the article before blogging about it?

So, this report about unemployment rates for people with library science degrees made the rounds on twitter a while back, and someone just forwarded a blog post about it to the NMRT (New Members Round Table) list serve. Of course, I should be working on my application for ACRL Immersion, which is due by midnight tonight, so in my classic procrastinator style, I’m finally taking the time to respond to the report!

So, the Wall Street Journal feature that inspired a rash of “OMG” style tweets is over here. It’s a nice, pretty chart listing unemployment rates and average earnings for a huge list of college majors.

Cue the “OMG, library science has the 4th highest unemployment rate!” freak-outs.

Then step back and breathe. Act like an information professional and search for the actual data, which seems to come from this report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Or not — see the first comment below, apparently the study at the foundation of this chart is not yet published. My bad for assuming they were reporting on published findings. So in January, once the uproar has died down, we may finally be able to go examine the data to see if the WSJ article was credible or misleading.

Based on the language used, they’re not talking about those of us with Masters degrees in library science from ALA accredited Masters programs. They’re talking about undergraduate majors. Looking at the ALA’s page about Accredited Programs, they only talk about Masters programs. So who is even offering undergraduate degrees in library science and what are they teaching?

I understand the sentiment — a lot of recent graduates with Masters in library science are out of work or working multiple part time jobs to make ends meet. We hear a lot about budget cuts and hiring freezes. It’s really easy to see that headline and nod our heads in agreement without digging deeper.

But that’s not what this report is talking about!

Data about employment based on undergraduate degrees does not necessarily have any relation to unemployment rates among those who hold a Masters in a given field.

Of the librarians at my place of work, the undergraduate degrees represented include Anthropology, Religious Studies, Spanish, Math, American Studies, Journalism, English, Economics, Biology, and Music. Not a library science major in the lot of us — or at least among those of us that have posted our CVs on the library website!

Yet we all hold Masters degrees in library science and are gainfully employed as librarians. We would be counted as employed in a study of employment rates among those who hold an MLS or equivalent degree, yet none of us count toward the statistics for employment rates among those who majored in library science.

So this study really doesn’t tell us anything about employment rates for professional librarians.

I would love to see a scientifically valid study showing unemployment rates for people with MLS degrees. It would be great to see stats broken down by year of graduation — are recent grads unemployed at a higher rate than less recent grads? Anecdotally, I would guess yes, but that’s just a guess based on the number of grads being pumped out every year by degree programs looking to protect their bottom line, regardless of the job market. Of course, in this economy, such a report also needs to compare unemployment rates across fields — many of us are out of work, but are we significantly worse off than people in other fields?

When that report comes out, I’ll share it and encourage all the Chicken Little dancing you want to do. Assuming their methods are sound, of course! But until then, lets evaluate our sources before telling everyone that the sky is falling.

For what it’s worth, this other Georgetown University report predicts 8% growth in jobs for librarians by 2018 (p. 112 of the full report). And while the salary figures for people with library science degrees look pretty dismal in the WSJ feature, this report points out that those with a Masters or better make, on average, about $17,000 more per year than those with just an undergraduate degree. So we’re not getting rich by any means, but we’re not in that bad of shape there, either.

3 thoughts on “Seriously? Did you read the article before blogging about it?

  1. Hi Angela! Just to clarify, the unemployment data published in the WSJ was not taken out of the Value of College Majors report but was actually released exclusively to the WSJ. The data was part of a report that will be released in January 2012. We received a lot of calls exactly about what you point out: that these unemployment rates are for college degree holders and do not include graduate degree holders. We are looking forward to the release of the report. Thank you for citing our work and for your interest in our reports!

    1. Thanks for the comment — you reminded me to update with a bit of clarification that came up in a discussion elsewhere.

      So, when your new report comes out, will it examine unemployment by graduate degree for those that hold graduate degrees? Simply including those who hold graduate degrees, yet analyzing their employment data based on undergraduate major wouldn’t have any impact on my critique. One’s undergraduate major does not necessarily have any relation to one’s graduate area of study — particularly when we’re talking about librarians! Most MDs might major in biology, physiology, pre-med, or something comparable, but I don’t know a single professional librarian that majored in library science as an undergrad!

    2. The more I think about it, the more I have to criticize this move. Why would you publish findings in such a high traffic location with so little information about your methods? As a researcher, I find that suspect. There is absolutely not enough information in the WSJ article to make it a credible source. It doesn’t even tell us clearly what level of education you’re talking about, I just have to guess from the language (“college major”) that they’re talking about undergraduate degrees. And there are important reasons that credible scientific reports include a methodology section. This move actually made me rethink my esteem for Georgetown University’s CEW.

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