Monday, June 11, 2012

Forbes Flubs

Recently Forbes put a list of 10 best and 10 worst master's degrees on-line. They made the mistake of rating a Master Degree in Library Science as the worst. I take issue with their selection for obvious reasons. However, rather than just poo poo the state of libraries and feeding our self-image complex, I'm going to take umbrage with the poor reporting of Forbes.

According to Forbes:
"Library and information science degree-holders bring in $57,600 mid-career, on average. Common jobs for them are school librarian, library director and reference librarian, and there are expected to be just 8.5% more of them by 2020. The low pay rank and estimated growth rank make library and information science the worst master’s degree for jobs right now."
True, library salaries do tap out in the mid-range, and true like all public sector jobs, librarians aren't going to be in any great demand until Keynesian economics comes back into vogue (keepin' my fingers crossed for 2013). However, is getting a library degree really such a terrible idea?

According to those that track the numbers, getting an MLIS is probably a better option then getting a MBA, or MA in Journalism (Regretting your life choices now Forbes?). For instance newly minted librarians have about a 6.7% unemployment rate, not bad in this economy (Library Journal). New MBAs on the other hand have a unemployment rate of approximately 14% (Business Week), and a new MA in Journalism has a 16% chance of being unemployed (2010 Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Grads).

Average salary wise librarians can't compete with the lucky MBA's who find jobs,they make an average of $79,806, according to a Business Week piece. But a new librarian makes about $5,000 more than a new Journo, who only pull in an average of $36,200. Library Jounral's annual 2011 placement report breaks salary down by region, but eyeballing it showed an average starting salary of about $42,000 for new librarians.

Of course cost of degree matters as well. A library science degree costs between $10K and $40K (2006), while that MBA will set you back an average of $60,000. Graduate degrees in Journalism are comparable to an MLIS in cost, but again there's a significant salary tradeoff, and that trade off continues over time with Journalism degrees starting salary decreasing, along with the overall prospects of the profession.

Running business well relies on having good information. Forbes as a business publication should probably be doing a better job checking it's facts. You can make an argument, as Forbes does that MLISs are a bad degree, you'd be using the wrong information to do it though. I suggest Forbes hirer more librarians to help it's reporters, after all it's like Neil Gaiman says, "Google can bring you back 100000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one."  #Truefact

I guess I got the right degree after all.

Edited 10:02PM 6/12/12 - Fixed Typos


  1. I take issue with Forbes's assertion that most MLIS holders will enter standard, traditional library job after grad school. In my program at University of Washington, my class was split 50/50 on whether we expected to find to work in a building with the word "library" on it, and that was at the beginning of the program before our classes started. Now more and more we as students are listing skill sets or programs we want to be involved instead of academic, corporate, public, or school libraries (or archives, special collections etc).

    Personally I'll work for a large corporation, a small library center corporation, some level of government job, academic, or public as long as I get to do the sort of information work I love. I find my range of choices liberating and a huge asset to the degree that people outside of the field do not realize.

    The world will always need librarians and we aren't all in buildings labeled "library".

  2. Forbes certainly assesses the basis on which to pursue a master's degree in a very limited way -- seems the core and most significant factors in their assessment are salary and employment prospects. While both of these factors are important, a graduate degree, particularly in library and information science can be interdisciplinary; it can include strong expertise in technology, development of a perspective on how that technology can best be used to meet user needs and interests, and digital media in just about all mediums -- it depends on one's concentration in a library school. As experts in information, information behavior, information organization, information policy, and credibility, it seems that even those exceptionally fortunate MBA's would do well to have information specialists on hand and salary. These few points relate primarily to employability and potential salary.

    However, a career and a life is more than salary and immediate employability. The MLIS is a professional degree or career choice. Over a period of 25 years, I'd like to see longevity studies that look at factors such as health, morale or self respect, job satisfaction, continuing education, and intellectual curiousity or enthusiasm. LIbrary and information science is a challenging, wonderful profession that includes so many facets and concentrations that identifying 3 particular concentrations does little justice to the field. Are professionals in business concentrating on only 3 facets in business? I think not. Business offers many facets and some professionals with MBAs will earn consistently mid-range to high salaries. On the other hand, many businesses do not have such economic promise -- and in the long term -- how do factors of health, morale, job satisfaction, and enthusiasm compare.

    I think Forbes does a disservice to all people by assessing career choices on the limited basis of salary and employability. What good is a high salary if one is unhappy or one's health is compromised -- not all people are meant for the same professions. The trick is to feel one's passion and go with it. I happen to love books, education, literature, and special collections. I have no doubt that I'm in the right profession and will not only achieve a good living, but also experience the satisfaction of excellence as those who love what they do attain -- all this says nothing of a fulfilling life and health.

    It's essential to strike a balance.

  3. I love this article and it makes me feel better. However, I really want you to correct that homophone typo in the last paragraph. You want it to say "hire" and not "higher". It's such a good piece that I don't want that to detract from it. Thanks for writing this!

  4. Thanks for the correction. I struggle with a writing disability. I'd rather fix typos then have people ignore me because of them.

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