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Are there still jobs for librarians?

Amelia Swan

Carding and shelving have been replaced by information management involving everything from media arts to information science.
Are there still jobs for librarians?

The development of information technology has reshaped no profession more extensively than that of librarianism. Known now as information management, knowledge management or library science, librarianship has extended well beyond the galleries, libraries, archives, schools and museums where librarians were once to be found dwelling amongst shelves of leather tomes. 

Now an information management graduate can expect to find work in a host of newly hatched professional roles: electronic database, records and archive management, IT specialisations, specialist research roles, information analysis, community office and data wrangling are now the terrain of trained information specialists.

How do graduates fair in the changing information environment? 

Presently in Australia, there are six undergraduate courses available, eighteen post graduate courses and seventeen diplomas for library technicians. I spoke to the director of an Information Management program, a recently graduated information manager and a librarian who has worked in libraries for twenty years to ascertain what are the present trends in employment and the changes they perceive in the profession.  

Dr Sue Reynolds is the director of RMIT's Information Management program. Her program offers an undergraduate degree, a graduate diploma and a Masters of Information Management. When asked how her program accommodates the constant change in information technology, Reynolds said:

‘The program is continually under review and adjusted to be at the leading edge, or even anticipating the future, while continuing to deliver the capacities required by the information professions (librarianship, archives, records management, data curation etc). The changes to the program are currently being reflected in both course content and course name changes to better indicate the course objectives eg. Digital Curation, the Digital Environment, Information Discovery...Librarians must continually develop and evolve their skills in response to new technologies and new information demands.’

Reynolds said that the future of librarianship will be increasingly for information professionals to work outside the physical bounds of the library ‘to be embedded with their clients more directly and by providing more mobile services’.

Mary Mavroudis, Information Specialist at a university library for the past 18 years, similarly perceived fundamental changes to her role. ‘The model when I graduated was that we sat behind a desk and waited for people to come to us, there was a sort of authority and safety in that!’ she commented with laughter. 

‘Now that has gone. We are no longer the intermediary between the student and information. We are expected to move out into the library and directly liaise with clients in more of a business model.  In fact, many librarians spend four hours a week, no longer in the library itself but in designated schools to help train students and support academics in research and compiling book lists.’

When Mavroudis began study the internet was just beginning. Article searches were done by index volumes, articles were photocopied and all searches were done through print catalogues. She recalls, ‘Databases were all DOS based and were charged by the minute so were taught to structure searches and work fast, now searching is completely different. The emphasis now is on teaching students how to access information themselves. I have received training in my workplace to learn how to manage large groups, create lesson plans and practical skills to help conduct classes because we weren't trained to teach when I was studying’.

As a graduate of the Graduate Diploma Information Management two years ago, Greg Edifier's educational experience was vastly different to that of Mavroudis'. IT skills, how to run technology learning programs, electronic database knowledge, team building and report and business writing have all come to the fore in contemporary times. 

Edifier said, ‘The course was much more varied than I thought it would be and I liked that it covered things that had wider application than working in libraries. It was really useful to learn about training and how to give people guidance in computer applications, as that is what I do mostly now.’

Edifier found employment as a hansard with his qualification and found many of the skills he acquired in his course useful to his present occupation, ‘in particular archiving and records administration which one needs to have in all public sector jobs.’

Though Edifier says he would ideally have chosen to work in libraries, he found it difficult to enter the profession without taking a big reduction in salary, which as a father of a young child he did not feel a position to do. 

'As regards to finding work in libraries, it seemed like you have to start at the bottom with a focus on client service rather than research or cataloguing tasks’. Mavroudis similarly described ‘an unfortunate situation in which fully trained librarians end up working on the information or loan desks as the opportunities for more advanced roles do not become available because people higher up stay as work conditions are good.’

Reynolds commented that once initial experience in the profession is gained there is much opportunity in the field beyond what was once technically associated with librarianship: ‘The government website joboutlook.gov.au suggests that job openings are remaining at replacement only levels but records, curation and archive management positions are predicted to grow very strongly...Graduates should take note of the new titles being given to information management positions and search beyond "librarian".’

The role and practices of the librarian or information manager are in transformation. However, numbers of libraries and usage of libraries in the community show no decline, which is a tribute to the way libraries have adapted to the new information needs of the community. 

As non-profit public service institutions that support life-long learning, libraries appear to continue to operate very successfully as a singular resource for the elderly, members of ethnic minorities, rural communities and marginalised members of society. In addition, library resources attract business to an area, build community, provide often the only source of free internet access, support those looking for work and help people find the ‘right’ information rather than ‘any’ information.

‘Librarians have moved away from being curators of collections to curators of information and deliver information in many new different ways, beyond the physical library building,’ said Reynolds.

Far from the stereo-type of librarians as rigid maintainers of the old order, it appears in contrast that librarianship professionals have been keen to embrace previously undreamt search possibilities and information access that digital technology makes possible and, as a result, their role is increasingly secured in the contemporary workplace.

About the author

Amelia Swan is a Melbourne-based arts writer. She studied History of Art at Edinburgh, Scotland and came to Australia in 1994. The latter studies gave her a background in the history of European art from ancient archaelogy to the present day. Contemporary art has been her focus in recent writing, in particular Australian multi-media work and sound art. The intention of her writing is to support contemporary artists in Australia with responsive and descriptive writing to the end of strengthening a sense of cultural context and dialogue within Australia and internationally.

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