If you offer me a choice between going to a conference program and observing the work of a committee or board…I’ll pick the committee’  and board stuff almost every time. You’ll find debate, controversy, and loads of interesting discussions.

Yesterday, I observed the ALA Executive Board. They had a pretty interesting agenda, including a report on librarian demographics. It was fascinating stuff and merits discussion amongst a wider audience.

The demographers have not compiled their findings into a final report, and it will probably be a while before we see their interpretations. I’ll walk you through the slides, but keep in mind…while the numbers aren’t completely raw, you might consider them still medium-rare. As such I defer to the ALA Office for Research & Statistics when it comes to explaining all the charts and graphs. And keep in mind these caveats: this data represents particular snapshots and projections. It can be difficult to predict trends.

[Update: I hope you’ll open the exec board doc with the charts and look at it alongside my comments. There’s a lot more to see than what I mention.]

Slide 3: Credentialed Librarians by Age, 2005

These numbers are from census data, meaning this represents librarians throughout the US. There is an obvious bubble in the Baby Boomer age group, but interestingly, the numbers are concentrated in the first half of the Baby Boom. One of the demographers mentioned that the number of MLS degrees issued peaked in the 1970s. As the Boomers aged, they continued to join our profession, so the number of librarians in this age group continued to grow across the next thirty years. Note these numbers are for’  2005, so projecting forward, 40% of librarians are age 54-63.

Slide 4: GM Auto Workers by Age and Sex, 2006

This is here as a comparison to other professions and industries. The same Baby Boom bubble is apparent, but you’ll also notice the steep decline around age 45. Seniority rules mean that workers under 45 are most likely to be laid off, so they’re simply not present in the GM workforce.

Slide 5: Credentialed Librarians by Gender and Age, 1980 & 1990

These are snapshots of the profession in 1980 and 1990. In 1980, the Boomer bubble occurs around age 30, and overall the profession appears fairly young. In 1990, the Boomer bubble has moved to age 40 and grown a bit in the meantime.

Slide 6: Credentialed Librarians by Gender and Age, 2000 & 2005

By 2000, the Boomer bubble has reached 50, and in 2005, it’s at 55. Since 1980, the profession has aged significantly.

Slide 8: Credentialed Librarians by Gender and Age, 1995

Same stuff we just saw, this is here to make the next couple of slides possible. Can you spot the Boomer bubble?

Slide 9: Credentialed Librarians Growth 1995-2005

Alrighty. The light blue represents the 1995 numbers aged forward 10 years.’  The purple shows’  people who have entered the profession since 1995. Remember, this represents a sample, so it doesn’t mean that there were no 39 year old males or 54 year old females who became librarians from 1995-2005, it just means there weren’t any in this sample. If you look past the choppiness, you can still get a general idea of what is going on…librarians enter the profession at many different ages.

Slide 10: 1995 Credentialed Librarians Aged to 2005

Once again, same data from slide 8 aged to 2005, but this time (represented in light green) we’re looking at individuals who have left the profession (through retirement, death, career change, etc). The demographers mentioned that men tend to enter the profession earlier, and they follow more traditional (i.e. earlier) retirement patterns than women.

Intermission. Switch gears, we’re blazing ahead to the future.

Slide 11: Number of Credentialed Librarians by Age 1980-2006

Once again, we’re looking at snapshots of the profession at particular moments in time. This chart shows quite clearly that young librarians were prevalent in 1980, and we can watch the Boomer bubble (and the profession overall) age as we progress to 2005.

Slide 13: Projected 2015 Data

There’s the 2005 data from the last slide, alongside three different versions of what 2015 might look like. The first is based on the changes that occurred from 1980 to 1990, the second on 1990-2000, and the third on 1995-2005. While the projections are generally similar, note the differences in the 65-70 and 70+ categories. (There’s a funny dip in the 50-54s for the set on the right. Yup, it’s weird, and nope, the demographers aren’t really sure what’s going on.)

Slide 14: Percent of Credentialed Librarians Age 60+

The left half of the graph represents actual numbers, the right half are all 2015 projections, based on different rates as in slide 13. From what the demographers said, I got the impression that the 1995-2005 scenario is mostly likely. You can see that from 1980-2000, the number of librarians aged 60+ was fairly constant at 10%. In 2005, it jumps to a little over 15%, but in 2015, we’re looking at 27-30% at age 60+.

Slide 15: Estimated and Projected Credentialed Librarian Retirements by Decade

This chart illustrates the impending wave of librarian retirements that we’ve been hearing about for a while. We’re already four years into the 2005-2015 projections. Of course, in recent years we’ve witnessed that Boomers are delaying retirement.

Slide 17: Projected Retirements of 2009 Domestic Working ALA Members

This slide represents just ALA members.

Slide 18: Anticipated Member Retirements 2009–2020

More ALA member-only data. The graph on the left is actual 2009 numbers, while the middle and right graphs are projections. Like slide 10, the projections show 2009 members aged forward to 2015 and 2020, with light green representing anticipated retirements (or people leaving the profession for other reasons). Notice the growth in the 70+ category.

Slide 19: Credentialed Librarians: Hours Worked by Age and Gender

I think we’re back to census data, but don’t quote me on that. This slide shows a general trend towards part-time work as librarians age. (Again, this is a sample, not everybody, so there’s potential for a certain choppiness. Yes, there are’  probably 70+ year old males somewhere who worked 33 hours a week, it just happens that there weren’t any in this sample.)

Slide 20: Census Credentialed Librarian vs. ALA Membership Age Distributions

This might be one of the most interesting charts, but also the hardest to interpret. Here we compare total librarians compared to ALA members. My notes say that this is data for 2005. I think the member data used is from 2009, adjusted backwards for 2005. Note these are percentages; I’d like to see the actual numbers. At first glance, it looks like younger librarians are more likely to be ALA members. Of course, students enrolled in library degree programs aren’t credentialed, and therefore not included in the census numbers’  (those are the blue bars). I’d like to see library school students included in this data somehow. The difference between ALA members and total librarians might also be affected by the definition of credentialed librarian. It looks like the turnaround point for ALA membership is age 40, but when asked about this, the demographers mentioned that ALA’s drop in market share with regards to membership begins around age 30. (I’d really like to see more data there.)

Alright, that’s a lot to digest. Interesting to consider it alongside discussions about how to make ALA more responsive to younger members. What do you think?

One Thought on “Librarian Demographics

  1. Thanks for writing this up Heidi!

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