Where have all the librarians gone?
They've gone to dot coms, one by one
By Mary Lord
June 12 2000
Checked out a school library lately? You may be in
for a shock. Creaky old card catalogs have given
way to computers; massive rows of encyclopedia
volumes have dwindled into single CD-ROMs or
disappeared into online databases. And while
books still abound, it's getting harder and harder to
find that other familiar fixture: a qualified librarian
(now known as a "media specialist").
For a century, school libraries have been nurturing
young minds and broadening the public's horizons.
But low pay, coupled with increased workloads, has
rocked what industrialist Andrew Carnegie called
"democracy's cradles." As the Information Age
roars into high gear, and as new studies have found
a compelling link between academic achievement
and strong school libraries, the keepers of
America's repositories of knowledge are bailing out.
By 2005, researchers project a need for nearly
25,000 media specialists.
Long time passing. Some were eliminated in
budget cuts, along with bus drivers and custodians.
Many others have jumped–like their peers in public
libraries–to lucrative perches as corporate
information specialists or dot-com data sleuths.
"Many library-science students are getting much
better job offers from private companies," says
Philip Turner, dean of the library science school at
the University of North Texas.
Retirement is thinning the ranks as well.
Pennsylvania, for example, expects to pension off
nearly a third of its school librarians over the next
five years. While the shortage is most acute in
urban schools, where lower pay and poorer facilities
make recruiting difficult, even more-affluent districts
feel the pinch. Plano, Texas, public schools, for
instance, limped through an entire school year with
two vacancies, and Kansas's acclaimed Blue
Valley School District–whose libraries were twice
voted best in the country–now must lure media
specialists with $1,000 signing bonuses.
Even then, it's a hard sell. "The job's too hard,"
says American Association of School Librarians
President M. Ellen Jay, the media specialist at
Damascus Elementary School in Maryland. She
cites a nearby district where only four teachers
among thousands accepted the county's offer of
free library-science school tuition. "Why leave [a
job] where you are responsible for one grade or
content area to master all manner of topics and all
manner of technologies–for the same teacher's
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