or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Librarians in the U.S. from 1880-2009

   June 21st, 2011 Brian Herzog

It's not too uncommon for me to receive ideas or suggestions for posts through my contact form. Sometimes they can be pretty sketchy, but this one looks legitimate - and interesting.

Oxford University Press recently release a survey of census data detailing Librarians in the U.S. from 1880-2009. Even if you just skim the graphs, I think you'll be hooked.

While I wouldn't call most of the findings exactly shocking, I was surprised to learn a few things:

  • The number of librarians in 2009 (212,742) is roughly the same as 1974 (the year I was born) - and down almost 100,000 since the peak in 1990
    OUP - Number of librarians
  • My home state of Ohio, which always seems like a hotbed of library activity, isn't one of the states with the most librarians nor the most librarians-per-capita
  • Today, only 17% of librarians are male - by my math, that works out to 36,166 of us. In other words, if we average 6' tall and were laid end to end, we would stretch for about 41 miles

    Librarian Gender
    OUP - Librarians by gender

This part of the conclusion also stood out to me:

[T]he internet seems to be having an effect on the field, as it has faced a significant decline since 1990. That decline seems to have slowed substantially since 2000, as librarians adjust to and find new roles in the internet age and the extensive increase in information that it has brought about.

That's interesting - I had chalked up fewer librarians to wave after wave of budget cuts and hiring freezes. I know people sometimes ask, "we have the internet now, why do we need librarians?" but aside from factual reference questions, my library is still as busy as ever. Our Town Hall has never said, "your stats are down, so you don't need as many employees" - instead, they've said, "every town department is being cut 5%, and probably more next year." Maybe that is why I hadn't drawn a direct correlation between the loss of jobs and the rise of the internet - nor that the decrease in jobs would stabilize once we find our information age niche.

If anything, I could hire more staff specifically to serve as a information technology help desk, to support all our patrons who end up with devices and online services they don't know how to use. Maybe that is the new role we are looking for. Really, I don't think the decline in librarians can be as simple as that, but it is an interesting correlation.

Thanks to OUP for mining and compiling this data - and to Lauren for the heads-up.

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Reference Question of the Week – 3/21/10

   March 27th, 2010 Brian Herzog

2010 censusThis was a challenging question, because it took place over the course of a week and because I kept getting conflicting information.

On a Thursday, my Director asked me where we were keeping our 2010 Federal Census forms. Town Hall had been referring people who to us for a new form after they made a mistake or destroyed the one they received in the mail. I told her we hadn't gotten any Census forms, but I'd look into it.

On the 2010 Census website, I didn't see anywhere to download or request blank forms, so I found their Contact Us page and called our local office (but oddly, the regional offices have since been removed from their contact page). The woman I spoke with there said there will be no generic blank forms people can pick up. She said every Census form has a personalized barcode on it, so if anyone makes a mistake and needs a new form, they have to contact the closest Census Call Center to request a new barcoded form - but that information wouldn't be on the website until Monday.

I emailed Town Hall with this information, and they forwarded back the email that they received saying these forms are available at the library (emphasis mine):

> From: [email protected]
> Sent: Friday, March 19, 2010 9:07 AM
> Subject: RE: Census form
> Hello,
> Before calling to request a form, we ask that you wait until April 12 to allow
> sufficient time for the questionnaire to be delivered to your address. If you
> still have not received your form by April 12, then you may contact one of
> our 2010 Census Toll‐free help lines.
> o English: 1‐866‐872‐6868
> o Chinese: 1‐866‐935‐2010
> o Korean: 1‐866‐955‐2010
> o Russian: 1‐866‐965‐2010
> o Spanish: 1‐866‐928‐2010
> o Vietnamese: 1‐866‐945‐2010
> o TDD (Telephone Display Device for the hearing impaired): 1‐866‐783‐2010
> o Puerto Rico (in English): 1‐866‐939‐2010
> o Puerto Rico (in Spanish): 1‐866‐929‐2010
> You can also complete a Be Counted questionnaire if you have not received
> your form. Beginning March 19 through April 19, Be Counted
> questionnaires will be available in public locations, such as libraries
> within your community and at Questionnaire Assistance Centers where census
> workers will be available to answer questions. Beginning March 18, these
> locations will be posted on 2010Census.gov.
> Direct link: http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map/
> Thank you

The Direct Link wasn't yet working, so I looked around the Census website and found another reference to these "Be Counted" forms on their Questions You May Have page under the question "Is there another way to get the form other than the mail?" When I searched the internet for that phrase, I found a Census faq [pdf] from the Missouri State Government that stated,

The Be Counted program makes census forms available in many different public locations in areas that have been historically undercounted by the census. These locations include community centers, health clinics, convenience stores, churches, businesses and other.

Okay, within that context, the information started to make sense. Chelmsford is a fairly typical upper-middle-class small town, and the residents probably are not "historically undercounted by the census." I emailed other librarians in my consortium, and sure enough, a couple libraries in large cities with significant immigrant, migrant or homeless populations had received these forms.

I tried the http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map/ link again the following week, and this time it listed the Questionnaire Assistance Centers - and as expected, they were clustered in larger cities.

Just to verify I had everything correct now, I called the main Telephone Questionnaire Assistance phone number (866-872-6868). When I finally got a live person* she gave me this summary:

  • everyone gets mailed a census form at their house, and these have
    personalized barcodes on them
  • there are public assistance centers throughout the country, which do have blank Be Counted forms (as well as scheduled times census workers will be available to answer questions). A map of these sites is available at http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map/ - if you're not already one
    of these sites, you can't get any blank forms to pass out
  • if someone needs a form, they can either use the map to find a location to pick one up in person, or else call the Telephone Questionnaire Assistance listed at http://2010.census.gov/2010census/contact/index.php (different numbers for different languages)
  • participating in the Census is required by law: Title 13 > Chapter 7 > Subchapter II > § 221 (also). Anyone who destroys or ignores their Census forms because they feel it's an invasion of their privacy will be visited at home by Census workers to answer the Census questions in person (privacy info and video)

All very interesting. And since I spent a lot of time on the Census website, here's a few of the pages I found most useful:


*The menu system at this number is kind of annoying, but I learned that you can say "operator" at any point to circumvent the system and speak to a live person.

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