The “Golden Age” of Librarianship? Changes in the Information Profession from 1947-2014

As a history enthusiast, I really enjoyed learning about the evolution of the library profession in my 9005 Management course and how the profession has changed over the past century. We watched this really interesting vocational video about librarianship from 1947, which gives a good insight about the roles and responsibilities of librarians in the immediate post-WWII era, what kinds of educational requirements are needed, and job prospects for aspiring librarians in the mid-20th century.

In some ways, not much has changed in the past half century in the library profession. In 1947, the educational requirements were a university degree and attend a specialised library school, while in 2014, the same is true except the requirement is now a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS/MIS/MLS). That is not surprising in that educational requirements for many jobs have increased to at least have a basic college or university degree, but the specialised degree in library school is still the minimum requirement to be a librarian then and now. Another thing that remains true in the field of librarianship are the soft skills required to excel in the profession. While the demand for hard skills may change as technology advances, the human side of the profession remains unchanged as librarians need to have excellent interpersonal skills and must deliver exceptional reference services to patrons. Having a love for books/information and people is as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the 1940s, even if librarians now use electronic databases and digital resources.

However, some aspects that are different in the profession are the range of job titles and specialisations that exist nowadays and the availability of jobs during this time of austerity and economic uncertainty. In the video, the narrator describes five main types of librarians: (1) Catalogers; (2) Reference Librarians; (3) Circulation Librarians; (4) Children’s Librarian; and (5) School/Academic Librarians. The video also mentions subject specialists, special librarians (i.e. Hospital Librarian), and Library Administrators as potential job titles but this small pool of traditional library roles is tiny in comparison to the wide range of positions that can be found today. Fellow MLIS blogger Mia Breitkopf writes about job-seeking possibilities for MLIS graduates in her blog “Information Space”. In one of her posts, she lists 61 non-traditional library jobs for MLIS graduates, showing the breadth of job opportunities available for the profession. Many of these newer positions are attributed to the rise in technological uses in libraries and information settings, which did not exist in the 1940s. During my MLIS, there has been a lot of discussion about the death of the library profession due to technological improvements but based on this list, it seems that technology has only helped expand the profession into areas never before thought possible. Some examples of job titles she lists include Information Resources Specialist, Digital Reference Librarian, Documentation Specialist, Metadata Librarian, Digital Archives System Administrator, and Data Management Analyst.

One aspect of the video that was surprising and a little disappointing was that it talked about the healthy job prospects and career opportunities for library students during the 1940s and an increasing need for “thousands of librarians”. In the age of mass budget cuts to library and cultural institutions, free internships, part-time and contract positions, and insurmountable student debt to get an MLIS degree, the job prospects for new librarians in 2014 looks quite different from 70 years ago. It would seem that the “Golden Age” of traditional librarianship (whatever that might have been) has passed and a new age of non-traditional, technology-based librarianship is being ushered into the 21st century. However, this cross-disciplinary approach to managing libraries and information will hopefully benefit new MLIS grads and perhaps the job market is not as bleak as it may initially seem. With a  little creativity and thinking outside the box, MLIS grads can develop the hard technological skills to excel in a tech-heavy information position, while still utilising their invaluable interpersonal skills to serve clients and provide reference services. Regardless of the job title, this is one aspect of librarianship that is likely always going to remain the same.