Beyond the Dewey Decimal
Libraries seek a new breed of information specialists with a taste for public service
Julie N. Lynem, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, July 14, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.
As a child, Nicole Termini spent hours at the public library in suburban New Jersey, searching the stacks for her favorite authors - Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis and Ray Bradbury. Sometimes, she even pretended to check out books and host story time for friends.
So years later, it only seemed fitting that she enroll in San Jose State University's School of Library and Information Science. Termini, 31, expects to graduate with a master's degree in library science next spring.
"I grew up surrounded by books," said Termini, who is working as a page at San Francisco's Main Library. "I felt like I was destined to be a librarian."
Faced with a librarian shortage, public library systems nationwide are hoping to fill vacancies with recruits like Termini. Nearly 58 percent of professional librarians will reach age 65 between 2005 and 2019, according to the 1990 census. More than 140,000 librarians work in public, school and academic libraries.
The median age of librarians is 47, one of the highest of any occupation. Many people choose librarianship as a second career.
With a generation of librarians set to retire, library associations and public libraries are looking for ways to attract workers to a profession that involves much more than shushing chatty guests and using the Dewey Decimal System.
"It's the information age, and librarians are the information specialists," said Kevin Starr, state librarian for California.
Since 1999, the California State Library has received federal funds to help people already working in public libraries pay for their library science degrees, a requirement to work as a librarian. More than 50 already have received their library science degrees, and about 30 will graduate this year.
San Jose State and UCLA offer the only accredited master of library science programs in the state. Students also can participate in San Jose State's master's program online.
The San Francisco Public Library encourages its support staff to earn a master's degree in library science and actively recruits librarians from as far away as Hawaii. The library doesn't anticipate an acute shortage, but many librarians are expected to retire within the next decade.
A former Hawaii resident, Cora Iezza, 49, accepted a position at San Francisco's library this year. Although the cost of living here is even higher than in Honolulu, Iezza said she was so impressed by the library's commitment to the community that she had to say yes.
"I think information service is the profession for the millennium," she said. "And I like public service, so this is the best of both worlds for me."
Iezza's also pleased with the pay. Entry-level librarians in San Francisco earn $53,508 a year, far higher than the national median of $34,000. San Jose librarians start at around $50,000, but those in Oakland earn only $39,234.
Maurice J. Freedman, president of the American Library Association, has embarked on a campaign to help librarians fight for more money and respect. The California Library Association also started a compensation campaign this year.
Freedman is grateful that President Bush's 2003 budget includes a proposal for $10 million to recruit and train librarians. But he said librarians need far more to thrive, and that they should be paid a salary comparable to those in predominantly male occupations that require the same qualifications.
"Everybody loves the library and librarians, but we can't live on love alone," he said.
Despite the battle for pay equity, librarians - at least in the Bay Area - have reason to believe the tide is turning.
Some librarians who left for high-tech careers are now returning, said Marcia Schneider, director of public affairs for the San Francisco Public Library. Others are heeding the call of public service, she said.
San Jose State's library science program had to turn away 200 applicants for the fall.
People used to ask Termini if she needed a degree to be a librarian. Now they just think it's cool.
"The mentality definitely has changed," she said.
E-mail Julie N. Lynem at firstname.lastname@example.org.