Chronicle Careers | The New Library Professional
If you work in an academic library and are under 35, you probably don't have a lot in common with your older counterparts. You are far more likely to work in areas beyond the confines of traditional librarianship, often in information technology. You are less likely to hold a degree in library science. You are more diverse in ethnic and racial terms. And while those of you in nonsupervisory jobs generally earn less than your comparable older colleagues, some of you in high-tech jobs earn much more.
All of those conclusions are based on 2005 demographic data, the latest available, from the Association of Research Libraries, which collects information on the professional staffs at its member libraries.
Viewed collectively, the members of the under-35 cohort are a harbinger of a new kind of academic library professional, one whose traits bear directly on the ability of libraries to thrive amid the continuing revolutions in scholarship, teaching, and learning.
The generation gap in research libraries begins with the large proportion of young people who work at jobs that either did not exist for their older colleagues, or weren't associated years ago with librarianship.
James G. Neal, university librarian at Columbia University, invented the phrase "feral professionals" to describe individuals in such positions. Feral professionals, he wrote in a February 15, 2006, article in LibraryJournal.com, work in jobs that don't require them to have a background in library education, and so "bring to the academic library a 'feral' set of values, outlooks, styles, and expectations." Examples of feral job categories include "systems, human resources, fund-raising, publishing, instructional technology, [and] facilities management."
As an academic librarian myself, I've been writing about the demographics of the profession for the research-library association for years. Using its 2005 data, I have isolated the nontraditional types of jobs that Neal mentioned, and found some dramatic results. For example, people in nontraditional positions accounted for 23 percent of the professionals at research libraries in 2005, compared to just 7 percent in 1985.
But the most compelling aspect of the nontraditional population is its youth: 39 percent of library professionals under 35 work in such nontraditional jobs, compared with only 21 percent of those 35 and older.
It is hard to say which is more significant -- that young people work in nontraditional jobs at a rate almost double that of their older colleagues, or that nearly 40 percent of the under-35 crowd is not working at jobs commonly associated with librarianship. The former speaks to a new generation gap within the library, the latter to the kinds of work the academic library is prepared to do and its future direction....