June 27, 2011

Marriage is up, as is pay equity


While the nation’s librarians’ are off at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in New Orleans, we thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at who these librarians really are, and where they’ve been.

Jessamyn “putting the rarin’ back in librarian” West of Librarian.net pointed us to a fascinating post on the Oxford University Press‘s site: “Librarians in the U.S. from 1880-2009,” an analysis of 120 years of census data.

There we learn:

The U.S. Census first collected data on librarians in 1880, four years after the founding of the American Library Association.  They only counted 636 librarians nationwide.  Indeed, one respondent reported on his census form that he was the “Librarian of Congress.”  The U.S. Census, which became organized as a permanent Bureau in 1902, can be used to track the growth of the library profession.  The number of librarians grew over the next hundred years, peaking at 307,273 in 1990.  Then, the profession began to shrink, and as of 2009, it had dropped by nearly a third to 212,742.  The data enable us to measure the growth, the gender split in this profession known to be mostly female, and to explore other divides in income and education, as they changed over time.

Some fun facts to know:

States with the largest librarian populations are: Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Texas and California.

States with the highest concentrations of librarians (or librarians per capita) are: Vermont, D.C., Rhode Island, Alabama, New Hampshire.

Men vs. Women:

  • In the 1880s, men made up 52 percent of the 636 librarians counted.
  • In 1930, male librarians made up 8 per cent of the librarian population
  • Today, 83 percent of librarians are women.

According to the study, “male librarians out-earned female librarians in 1950 and 1990, but by 2009, median wages for the two sexes were within $100 of each other.  The gender wage gap has essentially closed for librarians with college degrees, but among those without college degrees, the gap remains and is 50 percent larger than for those working in other professions.


  • In 1880, one in three librarians were married.
  • In 1920 the rate had declined to less than one in ten, before turning around and rising for the next several decades.
  • Today, the marriage rate among librarians is the highest it has ever been with 62 percent of librarians married in 2009.

“Starting from a very small beginning,” according to the OUP post, “librarians grew into a large profession in the mid-20th Century.  Like other professions related to the media: books, newspapers, magazines, recorded music and movies, the 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.”

And we wish them a lively conference in New Orleans — may they prosper and multiply.

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.