Thursday, December 16, 2004

The 10 Year Crunch - Half of Vancouver Law Library Staff to Retire by 2015!

The demand for Law Librarians and Library Technicians in Vancouver has never been higher, and now like so many other professions there is a looming shortage.

The question "Is retirement in your near future?" was addressed in the most recent Vancouver Association of Law Libraries webpoll. The results showed the number of Law Librarians and Library Techs looking at retirement at a reasonable 4 percent over the next 3 years. That number will increase to almost 18% within 5 years, and a whopping 49.9% within 10 years.

A further breakdown of the survey results showed the number of Law Librarians and Law Library Managers looking to retire within 10 years at 54%, and the number of Library Technicians at 41%. Overall, these numbers would seem to be closely aligned with Mary Jo Lynch's 2002 study published in American Libraries that said 68% of Librarians will retire by 2017.

To begin by pointing out the obvious, the ranks of our senior Law Librarians are dwindling. Over the next 5 years, the staffing of Law Libraries will seem like normal attrition. Then it's going to hit - a serious lack of qualified candidates. Librarians in general will be scarce, and (I don't think I'm going out on a limb here) Law Librarians with experience will be worth their weight in gold.

My personal opinion is that we will still be able to find Librarians. Salary wise, Law Libraries are near the top of the Librarian food chain, and we can likely recruit from other related industry Libraries. The real problem will be finding anyone with Law Library experience.

If you've recruited a law librarian in the past 5 years (FWIW, I've recruited 2), you know that your best chance of getting a good candidate is finding someone at another law firm. Your second choice is likely a senior corporate librarian in another industry. Your third choice (or maybe your second) is that amazing new MLIS graduate who's taken the legal bibliography course at the local library school. Then you look at everyone else.... And the biggest factor of all in your recruiting efforts? timing. With a small community like ours, when people are happy they tend to stay put. If there is a shuffle going on among the other firms, you might pick off a candidate. If not, you'll be looking at the above mentioned alternatives. My point being here - it can be difficult to recruit right now - and that's before taking away half of the qualified people.

The other issue worth considering is, how many years of practical training does it take to bring a new graduate Librarian (or Library Technician) up to speed? While this is dependent on the individual, I'm not sure how much we can depend on new graduates knowing when they first start out. Simply put, so much of this profession is experience.

So who must pay attention to this? Well first of all - VALL. We (I speak as a member of the Executive) have to prepare our membership. Mentoring and training are going to be more important than ever. Next up, UBC SLAIS. The legal bibliography course needs to be offered regularly, and we need to support it (be it Teresa Gleave or another local Librarian who takes on this huge task). And finally, the local Library Tech programs - UCFV & Langara. Your graduates are going to be asked to do more and more. As Law Librarians get drawn into more sophisticated tasks, Library Techs are going to have to fill in the gaps.

One last disclaimer, I know this poll isn't exactly scientific, but with a 45% percent response rate (a sample some election pollsters would love), I just don't think this is something we can ignore.


Blogger Joanne said...

I sure do like the sounds of this info Steve :-)


11:23 AM  
Blogger nick said...

Intriguing figures, interesting comment. May I give another perspective? As a previously-unemployed - and now just under-employed - law librarian, my experience over the past year since I returned to Canada from England has been that it’s still very much an employers’ market at the moment. I don’t think I recognize this ‘high demand’ you mention. Things may change in the future but I would argue that there won’t be a shortage of candidates for a good while.

Now clearly I am giving the applicant’s side of the picture and don’t see the range and quality of applications for a given position. But my discussions with librarians and library employers in Vancouver gives me some basis of fact. Firstly, Vancouver is a desirable place to live and law librarianship is seen as a desirable career with challenging environments and good benefits. The two together should generate more than average interest from potential candidates. (The places that really should worry are those not seen as a desirable place to live, and are already experiencing population outflow – dare I mention Saskatchewan and Manitoba). Because turnover in Vancouver is probably not enough to fill this interest, there is likely to be pent-up demand. Law librarians, and other librarians who want to work in the law field, may have gone elsewhere and/or may be working in other library-related areas or may have left librarianship altogether. Many of these people will be waiting for a suitable opening in Vancouver to appear. The risk is that these people have been discouraged in the past by fruitless applications and have stopped considering Vancouver librarianship as a possible option. These are the people you will need to attract when that great wave of retirements starts to wash through the market.

Another point is the fairly parochial nature of the local librarianship market (I use the term advisedly, as a UBC SLAIS professor has described the market to me that way). Most, if not virtually all, hiring here seems to be done through personal contacts. UBS SLAIS provides students with internships in the local library community and I’m sure employers are much more likely to hire these students once they come on the job market. Filling higher-level positions is done through internal appointments or, as you indicate, by cross-hiring from other library organizations, law or otherwise, and I suspect mostly
Vancouver-based. There is nothing specifically wrong with this process so long as it’s an employers’ market. Having worked in library management I would usually prefer to hire a ‘known’ candidate over an unknown one whose resume I see. But one fallout is that potential applicants from outside the local community such as myself (UK librarianship degree, 12 yrs law library experience) find fairly thin pickings here – no ‘high demand’ for us. While I do not rule out other limitations in my own resume I am aware of others who are, or have been, in the same position with qualifications and experience from another province or another country. Because we haven’t come up through the system and aren’t ‘known’ locally, our applications tend to slide into the waste bin and not onto the shortlist. We become frustrated and decide to leave the field or the location, and once elsewhere we may be difficult to entice back. Some of us may take part-time, temporary or non-qualified work and yes, timing is important, but for us it’s a waiting game – waiting for that right combination of job requirements, and simple luck.

Now I realize that I am, in all my comments above, not disagreeing with you. Much of the problem I describe may be endemic to the Vancouver/ B.C. job market as a whole – it’s simply not very big. What I am suggesting is that employers need to look beyond the local experience market for potential candidates and to consider qualifications and experience gained elsewhere. They need to start doing it now so that librarians are tempted to stay in the field in Western Canada. If they don’t, when the 10 year crunch comes there really will be a shortage. For my part, and not wishing to sound callous, I say ‘roll on the retirements!’ They can’t come soon enough for me.

Nick Collings
Photo/Circ Dept
BC Courthouse Library

3:49 PM  
Blogger Steve Matthews said...

Nicely put Nick! ...and hence my comment that the most important part of recruiting (and job hunting) is "timing". When the market is tough, it's tough!

Make sure you come out to VALL, and stay involved. Good on you to get your 'foot in the door' and be under-employed, rather than waiting it out.

Best of luck!

4:07 PM  

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