National Library Week 2021

Library Professionals: Facts & Figures

2020 FACT SHEET

Librarians and other library professionals provide essential services for schools, universities, and communities. Americans go to libraries for free, reliable, and well-organized access to books, the Internet, and other sources of information and entertainment; assistance finding work; research and reference assistance; and programs for children, immigrants, seniors and other groups with specific needs, just to name a few.

This fact sheet explores the role of library staff in the workforce, the demographics and educational attainment.

Library Occupations and Library Usage: By the Numbers

Library Employment

In 2019, there were approximately 184,500 librarians, 36,250 library technicians, and 87,000 library assistants employed in public libraries, primary and secondary schools, institutions of higher education, museums and archives, as well as in libraries operated by private corporations, government agencies, religious groups and other organizations.[1]

Cumulative employment among librarians, library technicians, and library assistants has declined over time from a peak of 394,900 in 2006 to 308,000 in 2019, although total employment is currently higher than the low of 288,600 in 2015.[2]

However, the employment of librarians and other library professionals in elementary and secondary schools has declined even as overall library professional employment has rebounded. In 2019, there were 66,400 library professionals working in elementary and

Graph showing Employment of Library Professionals, 2004-2019
Graph showing Employment of Library Professionals, 2004-2019

Source: Current Population Survey, Basic microdata annual averages, 2004 – 2019. Accessed in DataFerrett secondary schools, down from 94,000 in 2010.[3] 

Library Programs

In 2017, more than 17,000 U.S. public libraries circulated 2.2 billion print and electronic materials and offered 5.4 million programs, attended by 118.4 million members of the public. Children’s programs accounted for 56 percent of all programs offered, serving 79.9 million children and parents.[4]

Electronic media, computer use and internet access are an increasing component of library materials and services, and e-books now comprise 29.7 percent of all collection materials. In addition, library patrons accessed 300,199 public computers 258 million times during 2017.[5]

Libraries provide important training and educational programs for the public. Eighty-four percent of public libraries offer technology training programs, 73 percent provide programs to assist patrons with job applications and resume creation, and 59 percent offer assistance with finding and applying for health insurance.[6]

In a 2016 Pew Research survey, 77 percent of Americans aged 16 and older believed libraries provided necessary resources. Among young people (aged 16 to 29), 84 percent believed libraries provided them with necessary resources.[7]

In 2016, 46 percent of adults said they used a public library or bookmobile in the previous 12 months. Millennials (ages 18-35) had the highest usage rate of any generation, at 53 percent.[8]

Duties and Roles of Library Professionals

While specific roles and responsibilities may change depending on the size and setting of libraries, librarians and other library professionals’ main role is to help people find information and conduct research on a variety of personal, professional, and academic subjects. Library professionals also teach classes, organize library collections, and tailor programs to a variety of audiences, including young children, students, professionals, and the elderly.[9]

Librarians are also often responsible for multiple aspects of management, including ordering books and other materials, purchasing new technology, supervising library technicians, assistants and volunteers, and managing library budgets.[10]

Library technicians assist librarians in the operation of libraries, and their tasks include assisting visitors, organizing library materials and performing administrative and clerical functions. Library assistants have similar roles as library technicians, but may have fewer independent responsibilities. [11]

Where Library Professionals Work

Librarian employment is split between elementary and secondary schools (28.1 percent), public libraries (35.4 percent), colleges, universities and professional schools (18.6 percent), federal agencies (2 percent), and other libraries and archives, including those at businesses, law firms, nonprofit organizations and scientific organizations (17.9 percent).[12]

Among library technicians and assistants, 53.9 percent are employed by public libraries, while fewer (17.7 percent) work at colleges and universities, in elementary and secondary schools (11.8 percent) and in other private and nonprofit libraries (16.6 percent).[13]

In 2018, 34 percent of librarians, 64 percent of library technicians, and 67 percent of library assistants worked part-time.[14]

Education Attainment

In many settings, librarians are required to hold at least a master’s degree in library science or meet state teaching license standards for being a school librarian.[19] Many other library workers, including lower-paid library technicians and library assistants have high educational attainment as well.

In 2018, 53.5 percent of librarians held a master’s degree or higher. 22.4 percent held a bachelor’s degree and 22.8 percent had an associate’s degree or completed some college coursework.[20]

In the same year, 14.3 percent of library technicians and assistants had a high school diploma or equivalent, 36.9 percent had an associate’s degree or completed some college coursework, 37.8 percent had a bachelor’s degree and 8.3 percent had a master’s, professional or doctoral degree.[21]

Women and Library Professions

In 2019, women accounted for 81 percent of all librarians, and 82.1 percent of all library technicians and assistants, which was above the average of 73.6 percent for women employed in all education and library professions.[22] This represents a slightly more balanced workforce than in the past. In 1995, women were 83.9 percent of librarians, and in 2003, women were 84.4 percent of librarians.[23]

Women represented 71 percent of graduates in Master of Library Science (MLS) programs in 2017-2018. However, Black women only accounted for 7.4 percent of all MLS graduates, while Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander women made up 12.5 and 3.5 percent of the 2018 class, respectively.[24]

Libraries and Library Professionals during the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 virus spread across the country in March 2020, public life began to shut down, including most, if not all, public libraries. In response to the crisis, many library systems have adapted to provide virtual programs for children and highlight the many e-books and other digital downloads available in their collections. Other libraries deployed their 3D printers to produce face shields and other personal protective equipment and extended the availability of free wi-fi so visitors could access the internet from library parking lots.[25]

There is no doubt that the services library professionals provide are essential for members of their communities, especially those who are the most vulnerable. However, as many states and localities have begun to lift stay-at-home orders and resume in-person services, many library professionals are being forced to risk their health without sufficient personal protective equipment and lackluster health and safety plans. In many localities, library budgets are on the chopping block as tax revenues have declined during the pandemic. This has left many library professionals’ positions in question, even as more Americans are forecasted to require access to the many essential services that libraries provide, including internet access, job search assistance, and educational programs for children.[26]

To continue providing these and other important services, the federal government must provide additional aid to local and state governments. And as the COVID-19 virus continues to be a health hazard in our communities, library administrators need to include library professionals and their unions in decision-making about the short-term and long-term future of libraries and library services.

If you are a library professional looking for more information about organizing a union to secure your rights in the workplace, please get in touch with DPE at www.dpeaflcio.org.

 Related reading:

August 2020

[1]U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett. Current Population Survey. 2019.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Ibid.

[4]The Institute of Museum and Library Services. (2020). Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal year 2017, Volume I Accessed at https://www.imls.gov/research-evaluation/data-collection/public-libraries-survey/explore-pls-data/pls-data

[5]Ibid.

[6]Bertot, John Carlo, Brian Real, Jean Lee, Abigail J. McDermott & Paul T. Jaeger. “2014 Digital Inclusion Survey: Survey Findings and Results.” Inforation Policy and Access Center. University of Maryland College Park. October 1, 2015. Accessed at https://digitalinclusion.umd.edu/sites/default/files/uploads/2014DigitalInclusionSurveyFinalRelease.pdf

[7]Horrigan, John B. “Libraries 2016” Pew Research Center, September 2016.

[8]Geiger, Abigail. “Millennials are the most likely generation of Americans to use public libraries.” FactTank. Pew Research Center. June 21, 2017. Accessed at https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/21/millennials-are-the-most-likely-generation-of-americans-to-use-public-libraries/

[9]U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Librarians.” 2019. Available at: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm

[10]Ibid.

[11]U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook, Library Technicians and Library Assistants.” 2019. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/library-technicians-and-assistants.htm

[12]U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett. Current Population Survey. 2019.

[13]Ibid.

[14]Hirsch, Barry T. and David A. MacPherson, Union Membership and Earnings Data Book, Unpublished Manuscript, 2019.

[17]U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 11: Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, Annual Averages, 2019. Accessed at https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.pdf

[18]U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett. Current Population Survey. 2018.

[19]U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Librarians.” 2019. Available at: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm

[20]U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett. Current Population Survey. 2018.

[21]Ibid.

[22]U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Annual Averages, 2019, Table 11, op. cit.

[23]U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Annual Averages, 1995, and 2003, Table 11, op. cit.

[24]U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics. Tables 323.40 and 323.50. 2017-2018. Available at https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/2019menu_tables.asp

[25]Fallows, Deborah. “Public Libraries’ Novel Response to a Novel Virus.” The Atlantic. March 31, 2020. Available at https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2020/03/public-libraries-novel-response-to-a-novel-virus/609058/.

[26]Poon, Linda. “Coronavirus Tests the Limits of America’s Public Libraries.” Bloomberg CityLab. June 24, 2020. Available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-24/how-coronavirus-is-changing-public-libraries.

Page Updated

March 29, 2021