Employment Numbers for Librarians and MLS Graduates

Librarian, by Joachim S. Müller


Many thanks to Rob for walking me through pivot tables and filters for analyzing large Excel files, specifically using a 460,000-row file of data on 2013 US employment by location, industry, title, and salary averages. You can find this yourself at www.bls.gov/oes/#data (select “All Data” and “XLS” to download).

For my librarian friends, I checked out the data on librarians, which comes up in four main classifications:

Number of Librarians, by State

Looking just at state level, it seems the five U.S. states with the most library staff are the large and intensely populated states of California (28,000), New York (26,000), Texas (20,500), Illinois (18,500) and Ohio (18,300). I’m a bit surprised Florida isn’t in the top five.

The five states with only around 1000 library staff either have low total population or a widely dispersed population: North Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, Delaware, and Montana. Neither set is representative; I should really analyze librarian:population ratios, which hover around 6:1000 to 11:1000 (so say, 8 librarians to 100 people). But I’ll set that aside. Looking just at the top five states for total library staff:

Top States, by Number of Librarians California NY Texas Illinois Ohio






Library Assistants






Library Science Teachers






Library Technicians






Grand Total






Note here that California and Ohio have a 2:1 assistant:librarian ratio, and NY, TX, and Illinois all have around a 1:1 assistant:librarian ratio. Assistant roles often don’t require a library degree, while librarian roles typically do, so this suggests a high number of unskilled positions relative to the number of skilled positions.

Placement Rates

Further, it’s interesting to juxtapose this with the 2013 self-reported graduation and placement rates for librarians from MLS programs (download the data via link here). Although only 80% of library schools participated in the survey, they reported graduating at least 6100 new librarians in 2013. Using grads by program location as a rough proxy for grads within the state, I find:

  • California: 600 graduates trying to join a workforce of 9200 existing librarians (SJSU, UCLA). That’s high, but SJSU has many out of state folks in the program as well.
  • New York: 400 grads to 11,000 existing librarians (CUNY, underreported)
  • Texas: 800 graduates to 10,000 librarians (UNT, UT Austin, TWU)
  • Illinois: 300 graduates to 6500 existing librarians (UIUC)
  • Ohio: 230 graduates to 5770 existing librarians (Kent State)

6100 grads to 1500 placements shows that most aren’t placed. I don’t know how this stacks up compared to placement from other non-technical and creative BAs and MAs. For the 1500 who did find work, it was in the following subfields: Continue reading

On Fieldwork with Missionaries

My first encounter with missionaries—like that of so many children—involved presents. A Christmas bauble from Burkina Faso, given out to each child at a small church in Ohio. A stick of Juicy Fruit from the American woman in a burqa, for answering the Why Jesus Saves Us question.

Growing up as an evangelical, I knew that missionaries were Out There, Doing Stuff to Save People–and stopping by once in a while to ask our parents for money and give us presents.

Ornaments, by Manda Vixen

Then, in my late teens, I had the chance to live for a summer with missionaries in Eurasia. There I met men and women struggling to stay afloat. They were strong-minded, socially unsettled, persistent, desiring of change — and slow to make converts. Our relationship didn’t last, but I took away a strong picture of Missionary in my mind.

I’m not interested in being a missionary, but after that experience I decided to study them. So, after a year of academic articles and grad school conversations that were critical of the impact of missionaries on society–staying ironic, detached, hipsterish–I returned to Eurasia to study them for real. Interview people, observe them… and perhaps come down from on high and zap these people for their imperializing sins.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

First Fieldwork and Representations

“I’ve been doing this research on missionaries,” I told a colleague after returning from the field. “And I’d like to continue…”

“But then you’d have to be around missionaries,” he responded, grinning over his pint of beer.

I laughed… but inside I was thinking… Continue reading

Shymkent Beer

I recently went with friends to spend a week in Shymkent, the largest city in Kazakhstan. It’s known as the “Texas” of Kazakhstan for its wild ways, large desert landscape, and sprawling population. I’ve made a video/photo montage with Kazakh music, if you’re curious:

And, well, Shymkent Beer is simply one of the best produced in Kazakhstan. Check minute 4:16 of the video to hear the Shymkent Beer song in Kazakh! It basically says, have fun, drink up Continue reading

How a city falls…

I’ve just returned from a trip to south Kazakhstan over the May holidays. Above is my favorite photo from the trip, a shot of the hillside carved away at the ruins of Otyrar.

If you imagine a nice big mud-brick roundhouse with strong cross-beams… and then see the house compressed under the earth over 800 years with the wooden beams rotting away over time… I think you’ll see what we have here. Archaeology is really cool!

(Below are partial reconstructions to help you visualize, and you can see many more pictures of the beautiful nature and culture in Kazakhstan on my Flickr!)


5 Things to Know When Taking a Librarian Job Abroad

Below is a guest post I wrote for Hack Library School; please leave your comments on the post there


When you’re worn out by your studies and dreaming of your future post-MLIS life, many library students start to imagine what it would be like to travel somewhere far, far away. With a beach, ideally, and palm trees, and a small waterproof hut for our books and technology. If you’re looking outward to the rest of the world for library opportunities, the first thing I’d do is to encourage you to go for it! If you’re looking, Heidi Dowding has shared a great list of international LIS job sites to get you started, Chris Eaker lists some more, and Laura Sanders overviews the international school experience.

Boats on river in Astana, Kazakhstan.

In any case, after you’ve applied and started getting interviews, there are several things to keep in mind.

1. The Job Titles Aren’t the Same

I’ve covered this before on my blog: titles layer differently in Asia than in a western institution. A senior manager may sit at a desk and lend books like astudent assistant would in an American library; a general director may manage thelibrary director. I’d always recommend you submit an application first and ask questions later if they’re interested in you. You may want to inquire about the meaning and place of your title in the hierarchy, so that you don’t take an ‘assistant’ role that actually involves substantial team management, or a ‘management’ role with ten people who directly watch and give instructions to you!

2. The Workplace Culture is Different

Workplace culture, as I’ve suggested in other places, is a tricky concept. But I don’t find culture mostly in food or clothes – I see it in hidden assumptions about life in the library. Working in Kazakhstan, at times beliefs peek out from underneath a conversation, suggesting that professional women still need to have a child to be fulfilled; that everyone needs to be watched by a supervisor at all times; that long hours are more important than what you do with those hours; and sometimes that promoting local culture is a primary goal of libraries. If you work abroad you’ll be an “expat librarian,” and many of the frustrations we face come when we’re not prepared to deal with differences in implicit expectation, values, and beliefs. It’s helpful to come to work prepared to listen closely and accommodate your colleagues’ assumptions, as well as to share your own background assumptions about the library in a respectful way. Just because you learned an attitude towards work in library school in Chicago doesn’t mean it’s “right” for your new workplace in Shanghai.

3. Your Responsibilities May Differ

Here in Kazakhstan, a core part of the librarian’s role is sometimes to closely guard an inventory of books and ensure that no book is ever without your supervision. Libraries are silent places of study – I have fond memories of my former boss standing up to announce “shumno, rebyata!” (“quiet, kids!”) when whispering commenced among university coeds. In centers of library training like America, Europe, and Malaysia/Singapore, you may have learned to give specialized research or education support. When moving into places like the post-Soviet Union, you could find most of your time spent in counting books, or back-dating and filling out checkboxes on a form. Do go for the interview – but ask carefully about the responsibilities and what percentage of your time is likely to be spent on which tasks. Again I’d emphasize that it’s worth it to go abroad, but your career trajectory and tasks may be *different* from a US-only library career track.

4. Your Job is to Provide Training

Chances are, if you’ve been hired from a ‘developed’ country to work in a ‘developing’ country, part of your job is to provide professional development to local colleagues. This may be the case even if some of them have western MLS degrees and are just as experienced as you. Sometimes the argument that ‘locals need training’ is the only way management can be persuaded to hire foreigners that would add diversity to an already strong team. Most countries (including our own) require incoming workers to be ‘highly skilled’ and have restrictions on hiring any skilled expatriate workers who could take a job from a local; showing you have some niche training that you can share with others may be of help.

5. Contracts and Benefits May Be Flexible – or Surprisingly Inflexible

It’s common in post-Soviet workplaces to have mandatory set hours: contracts may state that you’re working five or six days per week, 9:00am-6:30pm, with an hour and a half in there for lunch. However, the reality may be that you skip your lunch and stay until 7pm, you come in on the weekend for a Saturday spent raking the lawns, or everyone takes a leisurely breakfast and tea break during work – it’s hard to tell beforehand. Sometimes vacation days or bonuses can only be takenafter the first year of work. A good question to ask in a Skype interview is whether they’ve had other expat librarians work with them, and if you can contact those people; or if there have been past misunderstandings with expats and what you could do to avoid that. A question like this may give you a good clue to likely areas of tension, and allow you to sign up for your first post-MLIS job aware of the cultural differences – and ready to enjoy life abroad!

Comments? Your own experiences? Leave them here

Pop Culture: Incongruously Played Songs

A year or two ago, I spent the summer trying in vain to be linguistically immersed in one language (Kazakh) in Almaty, a large multi-lingual city (Russian, English, Kazakh, Uzbek…). As I filled out Kazakh worksheets late at night, male voices rumbled in the garden below. Someone in a lower apartment turned on their mp3 player and opened the window.


“This is my fate… oh-oh-oh-oh… I’m yours… don’t hesitate…” I catch Jason Mraz singing Continue reading

On Library Ethnography

Here are the slides from my webinar today for the New Professionals group (@npsig) at IFLA:

In this presentation I highlight the benefits of ethnographic methods for understanding what users actually want and do in the library, some of the research projects I’ve been working on in Kazakhstan, and the more interesting results of ethnographic library studies.

Audio for my presentation (and the even more amazing presentation by Hugh Rundle) should be up at the NPSIG blog in a week or so!

Zara: “I brought home love”

Low in a cardboard box in the entryway, Yucca shoves himself into the corner of his cage. Before him, fine hands scatter chopped lettuce (a precious commodity, here) and fill a dim platter with water.

Stepping back from the turtle, Zara returns to her perch by the kitchen table. Crouching on a small chair, she flicks though her iPad, browsing American crime shows dubbed into Russian, K-Pop videos, infant beauty contests from South Korea.

She nibbles at wasabi crackers and tea.


“Chai popyom!” she calls out. Its time to drink tea. I extricate myself from my computer. Slowly.

“Look!” Zara smiles when I enter the kitchen. “Popugaichiki! Do you want them?”

I look over her shoulder at the small parrots in the picture. “Will they be noisy?” Continue reading

Astana in Motion: Easy Wiggle GIFs in Photoshop

I often snap a bunch of similar shots when out taking pictures, and although usually I delete the duplicates, sometimes I catch a nice effect when flipping through the pictures quickly:

Ishim River

Winter along the Ishim Winter, Astana

I’m sure you’ve seen it, but ‘wiggle GIFs’ create a sort of vibrating stereoscopic effect by combining two or more pictures into one image. Having skimmed a bunch of internet tutorials to figure this out, I’ve finally sorted how to make my own GIFs. If you prefer videos, I recommend this one on Vimeo; if you like text (like I do), check my summary below. This is for Adobe Photoshop CS6/Windows; if you haven’t got that, just look around online for a free GIF maker!

Making Wiggle GIFs

1) Open photoshop. Go to menu File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack Continue reading

Kazakh Proverbs for Your Wedding: Equals With Equals, Cow-Patties with Carrying-Sacks

It’s a muggy day in July when my Kazakh teacher, Aryslan, promises that I’ll have a free day tomorrow — he needs to go home to his village and prepare for his brother’s wedding.

Small spread of food at a Kazakh house

Toidyn bolganynan, boladysy qyzyq,” he says. Everything that happens at a wedding is interesting: the party (“toi”) always involves disputes, things missing, excitement, and surprises. But it’s a lot of work, he tells us: “Maybe the ceremony is only five hours, but the preparations take a month!”

When I ask for more, he starts listing proverbs that a visitor to Kazakhstan should know, especially if they’re invited to a celebration of any sort:

“If you go to a feast, go full!”   Toiga barsan, toyip bar!

I nod and laugh. I’ve just been to a Kazakh wedding that was at least eight hours long, and that was after a significant delay. Aryslan smiles. “Kazakh weddings always start late,” he says, “and that’s why you should go full.” The guests will eat all night long, but you may need to wait several hours before the feast actually begins.

Aryslan comments that his Korean and American students never give wishes (tilek aitu) as Kazakhs do. We say a quick “congrats.” Kazakhs and Russians give rounds of well-wishes, as rows of people are called up to give their speeches and toasts.

“No expenses, no profit.”   Shygyn shyqpai, kiris bolmai.

If you don’t put out all the stops, you won’t get back in profit. “The Kazakh wedding isn’t for the family,” Arsylan says. “It’s for the guests.”

“But what do you get back?” I ask.

“Gifts and presents. Or they invite you to their wedding,” he says. I laugh and show him a website: that’s exactly what the American anthropologist Cynthia Werner said after studying Kazakh weddings twenty years ago: even when money was scarce, people used weddings as a way to circulate gifts and help each other out.

If you couldn’t pay for gifts or help out at weddings, the anthropologist said, you wouldn’t get invited to as many feasts in the future. Help was repaid with help. Those who couldn’t afford it were left out.

Aryslan nods, unsurprised. “A lot depends on money,” he nods, adding:

“If rich people are in-laws to rich people, a camel walks between them.”   Bai men bai quda bolsa, arasynda tuie juredi.

Aryslan explains that wealthy Kazakh families give elaborate wedding gifts to each other. Poor people have to give lesser gifts. And because of this,

“Equals with equals, cow-patties with carrying-sacks.”   Teng tenimen, tezek qabymen.

The implication is that it’s not good to marry too far above or below oneself.

I frown. “Cow patties?”

It turns out that Kazakh nomads once Continue reading