Daily Archives: January 5, 2009

Still Waiting For Those Old Librarians To Retire

Editor’s Note: A frequent source of grousing among those newer-to-the-profession academic librarians is that the “impending shortage of librarians” they heard so much about is just a myth. The shortage, no doubt, is predicated on the expectations that many senior members of the profession would soon be retiring. Someone who has closely studied employment and retirement trends among academic librarians over the years is Stanley Wilder, Associate Dean for Information Management Services at the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries. In this guest post Wilder shares some of his latest findings on how the economic downturn is likely to impact academic librarian retirement trends.

Can academic librarians afford to retire in the Bush recession? Already in April of 2008, the Wall Street Journal noted that declines in home values and the stock market were driving many to delay their retirements. This fall’s calamitous drop in home values and investment portfolios can only have reinforced this trend, and my informal canvass of academic library colleagues leads me to suspect that we are delaying our retirements along with everyone else.

Retirement is an unusually resilient cultural behavior, and largely impervious to routine economic fluctuations. The ARL demographic data are a case in point: the portion of the population aged 65 and older has been remarkably stable over the past 22 years (at about 3%), despite recessions in the early 1990s and early 2000s. The stability of this group is all the more remarkable in a population that has otherwise swung dramatically from young to old.

But the Bush recession is clearly not a routine economic fluctuation. What would delayed retirement mean to academic librarianship? The first to go would be the projections of the age profile of U.S. ARL librarians developed in conjunction with my two reports for ARL, which would become obsolete should retirement behavior change significantly. Next, it should be said that delayed retirements would not affect all librarians equally. For example, ARL directors may have already begun to delay: in 2000, 2% were 65 and over, jumping to 9% in 2005. In functional areas of the academic library, catalogers were not far behind at 7% but the impact is negligible on IT professionals, the youngest job category in the ARL data. And racial and ethnic sub-groups within the profession are effected differently. Delayed retirement would have less impact on African American librarians, an unusually young population, but Asian librarians are significantly high with 9% in the 65 and over category.

I have been saying that the anticipated shortage of librarians is unlikely, but a bad economy with delayed retirements would make it harder still to imagine generalized labor shortages in our profession. We are far more likely to see large applicant pools chasing a reduced number of openings. I suspect they already have. Finally it should be obvious that while retirements can be delayed, they cannot be foregone altogether, meaning that the inevitable youth movement may be more dramatic, if somewhat later than anticipated.

None of this speculation matters if academic librarians do not, in fact, delay their retirements. Until we have data to tell us what is actually happening, I would love for ACRLog readers to comment on trends they see in their own libraries or in their region. Have you heard of senior librarians planning to delay their retirements? Do libraries find themselves newly unable to fill vacancies, and has there has been a recent change in the quality and quantity of applicants for those positions they are able to post? Share your observations.

Many thanks to Stanley Wilder for sharing his observations on retirement trends in this contributed guest post!