Sunday, June 29, 2014

Statistical Analysis - Library Assistants

I attended PLSA Quarterly a while ago and while there saw a presentation of some information gathered as part of a survey on the future of the workforce in SA public libraries.

I remember one particular conversation after that presentation with another Librarian who was, possibly significantly in the case of this conversation, older than I am - for reference, I'm 30. We were discussing information that suggested many of the younger staff in public libraries do not intend on staying in libraries for very long. My own interpretation of 2011 Australian Census data shows an interesting trend that might well support this.

There are three library related ANZSCO occupations - Librarian, Gallery, Library and Museum Technician and Library Assistant. There is no Library Officer occupation listed, my best guess based on raw numbers is that these are included with Library Assistants.

The patterns for Librarians and Technicians are very similar, generally speaking the older age brackets have increasingly high percentages of the jobs until a drop-off around the expected retirement age. Library Assistants are a different story - they peak twice. The number of very young Library Assistants 15-24 seems quite reasonable, however beyond this numbers drop and don't start to climb again until age 40, from here on in they stay quite high until retirement age arrives.

But what happens over time? Unfortunately there are only two data sets, 2006 and 2011, available to me. Between the two censuses the Library Assistant population dropped by nearly 400.

Please note that the x axis scale has changed for this table - while not consistent with the rest of my analysis (both what you have seen and not) I wanted to emphasise the trends to make them clearer.

In my last post relating to this analysis I noted a sideways shift in this chart for Librarians between 2006 and 2011 suggesting that these might be predominantly the same people five years later. Library Assistants show this same trend - except for that early career peak. While the numbers there have dropped, especially at either end, that peak is still in the same place it was last time. Young Library Assistants numbers are quite good into the early twenties but they drop away sharply before thirty. This takes us back to the conversation I opened with, and from here on my opinions are based on anecdotal and observational evidence.

In the conversation that I mentioned at the head of the post I was discussing the number of young library staff indicating they intend on leaving the industry with another Librarian. They suggested that it might be largely explained as those wishing to start families. Based entirely on observation, most young female library staff I have known who have started to work in libraries have not left - they have taken maternity leave and returned quickly. There are exceptions and a small part of this drop may be accounted for this way but I don't believe it explains much of it. My experience working in libraries and talking to other young people working in libraries throughout Australia suggests something else is responsible for much of this drop.

Several young library staff I have spoken to enjoy working in libraries and see them as immensely worthwhile but they are often ambitious and see little prospect for advancement or even, in the case of trainees and those on graduate programs, retention. Looking at the trend in the rest of the graph, who can blame them? As time passes I've seen many of these young people move on to areas which they believe have better prospects. Of those who have stayed, the prevailing opinion remains that opportunities to advance are severely limited.

Prospects are not hopeless, and a little over half of these staff do stay. All the same we have a concerning trend here. If we want to change this trend and retain more young staff - through analysis we can see the rest of the Library Assistant (and Technician. And Librarian) population isn't getting younger and will eventually retire - we must act.

There's more to this that I'm still teasing out and I will eventually share what I find. Much of this analysis is for a presentation at the Intelligent Information Pop-up Symposium.

Should you have any opinions stories of your own I'd love to hear them - feel free to comment here or, if you prefer to share your story confidentially, contact me via a direct message on Twitter.

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