How you know there are too many archives students
This post branches well off of the one that Maureen just wrote, so you should take a look at that one too. But while she talked primarily about Ph.D. students, I’m going to talk about master’s students.
Since I’m a recent graduate of UNC, I’m still on all the School of Information and Library Science listservs. Its registration time there, and so naturally emails have been flying around. But a series of emails from the SILS office caught my eye. The SILS office was asking first year students in the archives and records management concentration to consider dropping some of the classes that they were in so that second year students could get into them and saying that the first year students will have a chance to get into these classes next year. Registration difficulties are nothing new; anyone who has gone to college has experienced them. But asking people to drop classes is a sign of deeper problems, especially since UNC recently started an Archives and Records Management Concentration.
First of all, this is a problem for a school that lists “small class sizes” as one of the perks of going there; small class sizes are great, but not if it comes at the expense of people actually being able to get into a class. Its not like SILS is a small program, being “home to 309 master’s degree students, 60 doctoral students, 24 undergraduate majors, and 15 minors.” Maryland is slightly larger, having 420 master’s students and 20 doctoral students, and they want to grow their Ph.D. program and their Master’s of Information Management Program. Library schools across the board are graduating more and more students every year. In 1999-2000, 4577 student graduated with their MLS; in 2007-2008, that number became 7152. And that, of course, doesn’t count people who come to this profession with a degree in Information Science (like myself), a degree in history, or people who don’t have a masters degree.
And while the number of students are increasing, it doesn’t seem that the amount of professors is increasing. About half of my classes at UNC were either taught by an adjunct faculty member or by a Ph.D. student. Graduate school was the first time that I had ever had a Ph.D. student fully teach a class (although that’s probably saying more about my undergraduate institution than UNC). But I also realized that the adjunct faculty were doing a better job teaching. Part of it was probably due that I appreciated their practical knowledge, but part of it might have also been the fact that they got to concentrate on one class per semester, while the full faculty members (there are two of them for archives at UNC), had to deal with the new archives and records management concentration, their Ph.D. students, teaching multiple classes, their research, getting tenure, and all the other things with which a professor must deal.
And then there is the fact that the number of student jobs is going down as well. I was lucky enough to get a 20 hr/wk job processing and pick up a reference internship over the summer. But I know that at least two of the student positions that were available in special collections when I started at UNC are no longer there, casualties of the economy. The tradeoff has been less job opportunities available for students but now there is an official Archives and Records Management concentration that students can have on their resumes. And this official concentration will lead more people into wanting to do archives, creating more competition for less experience opportunities.
While library schools are graduating more and more students every year, their rhetoric remains them same. Pittsburgh, in their informational PDF, has this gem: “58% of librarians in the United States are projected to reach retirement age between 2005–2019.” First of all, that is a huge time span. But also, as everyone who has looked for a job knows, librarians reaching retirement age doesn’t mean that people are actually retiring or that those jobs are still around after the person retires.
The job plight of archivists reminds me of the housing market. Right now, there are too many houses on the market that haven’t been sold, and yet developers continue to build more and more houses, selling people on the American Dream. There are a lot of archivists who are unemployed and underemployed right now, and yet library schools keep churning out more, telling them that jobs will be there because all of the old archivists are going to be retiring in the next 15 years. I’m not saying that library school shouldn’t be selling themselves as being able to get their students jobs. However, the other side of the story is needed as well, and library schools need to acknowledge its existence.
Disclaimer: I really liked my time at UNC, especially my job and the the other students. If it seems like I’m picking on them, its because its what I know.