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Librarian shortage threatens services

Canton Observer
Thursday, February 18, 1988

Librarian shortage threatens services
By Susan Buck
staff writer

[Caption: 'If we should have even one librarian leave, we would have difficulties filling the position.' — Rebecca Havenstein-Coughlin, Canton Public Library]

Technology, pay scales and a decline in the popularity of public service jobs are creating a shortage of public librarians in the nation, experts say.

In the past five years, public libraries have seen a dwindling of job applicants especially in children's librarian positions and those positions that require extensive technical knowledge.

As computer databases, cassettes and compact discs join newspapers, magazines and books, the United States is confronting a shortage of public librarians to help sort through the glut of information.

In Livonia, Farmington Hills, Plymouth, Canton and Redford, library heads say they have not had to cut back on services, but fewer qualified applicants limits the selection process.

"Eight years ago when I first came here, there were as many as 200 applicants for a full-time reference librarian," said Rebecca Havenstein-Coughlin, assistant director of the Canton Public Library. "I interviewed for days. Last year, we received 15 applications for a full-time children's librarian position, which is a similar professional position."

The Canton Library has seven full-time and 10 part-time librarian positions, Havenstein-Coughlin said.

Canton's young families create many demands for library resources. "If we should have even one librarian leave, we would have difficulties filling the position," she said.

Plans for the opening of a new Livonia Public Library in June places that city in an enviable position especially when compared to Westland, which has no public libraries within its city limits. The Wayne-Westland Library operates from a location in Wayne.

Westland, with a population of 85,000, is the only city among Michigan's 15 largest cities that does not have its own public library.

The Livonia Public Library will hire eight to 12 librarians for its new library. Among these positions, there will be two full-time and two part-time children's librarian positions.

"I would expect that we will have relatively few people applying for the children's librarian positions," said Michael Deller, director.

Livonia has three other branch libraries.

In the past, children's librarians were paid about 20 percent less than their counterparts in some areas, Deller said.

Historically, librarian was considered one of the few acceptable positions that women could hold.

"People felt that a children's librarian position was a dead-end position with no opportunity for advancement. The problem isn't finding children's librarians. The problem is finding children's librarians of the quality we want to work with," Deller said.

The Redford Public Library and the Wayne-Westland Public Library are part of the Wayne County Public Library, which has 15 member libraries. The Wayne County Human Resources Department is responsible for hiring, according to Barbara Gray, assistant director of the Wayne-Oakland Library Federation who administers the Wayne County Library.

The Redford Public Library has been without a young adult librarian since September when that person was promoted to head librarian for the Lincoln Park Public Library, said Marjorie Hoag.

Hiring is expected soon from the three applicants who applied for the position, said Gray.

In the meantime, Hoag and a children's librarian have taken over responsibilites.

No vacancies exist in the Wayne-Westland Library, according to Gray.

In Plymouth, a part-time children's librarian position has been unfilled since Jan 1, according to Pat Thomas, director of the Dunning-Hough Library. The person who previously held the position took a job in a public school library, she said.

"Of seven applicants, only two had the background and experience that we were looking for, and they have already found other positions. I plan to repost the position," Thomas said.

According to the American Library Association, national average salaries in 1986 for those with master's degrees in library science were $20,874 as an average starting salary, $25,552 for reference workers, $28,390 for school librarians and $28,943 for corporate and other special libraries.

In Michigan, the closing of the library science department at Western Michigan University less than a decade ago left the state with only two universities that offered library science studies: the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

And the word is getting out at the U-M that a librarian shortage exists, according to Mary Cary, director of student admission in the Information and Library Studies Department.

In fall 1987 the university registered 301 students seeking a master's degree in information and library studies — the highest ever at the University, she said. In 1984 only 172 students were enrolled in the program.

And library directors are going the extra mile to find the person most qualified for the job.

In 1986, for example, Farmington Community Library director Beverly Papai posted a head of children's services position for the Farmington branch in national library journals. Also, two people were hired for children's positions at the Farmington Hills branch, as a result of an American Library Association Conference in North Carolina, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.