Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Fall 1999

An Analysis of Science-Engineering Academic Library Positions in the Last Three Decades

Nestor L. Osorio
Science-Engineering Librarian, Associate Professor
Northern Illinois University


This study analyzes the position descriptions of science engineering librarians as they are described by job advertisements. Two hundred and one positions advertised by colleges and universities during the years 1976, 1986 and 1998 were examined. The journals American Libraries, and College and Research Libraries News were the sources for collecting data. Content analysis was used to determine how the positions' qualifications and job responsibilities have changed through the years. The results show a remarkable increase in required, preferred, desired qualifications and job responsibilities for science and engineering librarians. The results also show that job announcements published in three chosen years reflect how technology has changed the role of sci-tech librarians in the last decades. In terms of salaries, it was found that salaries did not increase proportionally with the increasing number of qualifications and responsibilities. Tables and charts are included.


Significant studies about position announcements for academic librarians have been published in the last ten years; mainly these studies have been carried out with the purpose of identifying skills, requirements, job markets, and the changing role of academic librarians due to the introduction of new technologies over the years.

One of the most recent studies of this type using content analysis was done by Zhou (1996). In this article Zhou looks at changes occurring in basic computer skills needed by different kinds of positions in academic libraries. The author identifies qualifications for technical services, public services, administration, branch librarians and specialists as they relate to their computer skills. Advertisements appearing in American Libraries during the years 1974, 1979, 1984, 1989, and 1994 were used. An increased demand for computer-related qualifications over time is observed.

Reser and Schuneman (1992) use a more general approach by analyzing job advertisements for public and technical services positions. In their work, the authors use content analysis to study 1,133 ads published in 1988 and examine computer skills, work experience, foreign language, and education requirements as well as salaries offered. The results show the differences between public and technical services position requirements as described in job advertisements. The authors also calculate the mean minimum salaries by position.

Copeland (1997) did another recent study examining job advertisements for librarians. Copeland analyzes the demand for serials catalogers as it is reflected in content analysis of job advertisements covering the years 1980 to 1995. The study also looks into the changing role of serials catalogers due to increased automation, changes in national standards, and other expectations.

Cote (1989) acknowledging the important changes occurring in libraries and information centers in Canada uses job advertisements as indicators of these changes in a study covering the 1987-1988 period. Cote looks at positions posted at the McGill Graduate School of Library and Information Studies and analyzes the requirements needed at that time for librarians to be competitive in the job market.

Systems librarians' jobs as described in advertisements were examined by Chu (1990). This is another example of content analysis where the author tries to identify qualifications and responsibilities of a library position -- in this case the systems person -- based on the information given in job advertisements.

Although the studies mentioned before either examine specific library positions such as catalogers, serials librarians and systems librarians or make general comparisons for example between qualifications of public and technical services librarians, a study of this kind looking specifically at the qualifications and responsibilities for science and engineering librarians has not been done. In this study, job announcements for science and engineering librarians are analyzed in order to determine how the role of sci-tech librarians has changed in the last three decades and its relationship to the introduction of new technologies in the field of librarianship.


The hypothesis in this study are:
  1. Through the years, as more technology is introduced into the job environment of science-engineering librarians the number of qualifications and job functions has increased.
  2. Salaries for these positions have not increased comparatively as the increased number of qualifications and job responsibilities.


Position advertisements for science and engineering librarians appearing in two professional journals, American Libraries and College & Research Libraries News were identified. The reasons for selecting these two sources are because they are used in similar studies for example: Zhou (1996), Reser and Schuneman (1992), and because these two journals present a good coverage of the job market for librarians nationally. Therefore, positions advertised at a regional and local level were not covered by this study. Similarly, following the techniques used by previous works, to investigate trends in science engineering library positions the author has selected three years: 1976, 1986, and 1998. The first two were selected with the intention of capturing the state of librarianship at the middle of each decade, 1998 was selected to cover as much as possible the new technological changes occurring in recent years.

Next, a list of institutions and position titles for each year was made and duplicate entries were eliminated. A content analysis of each position advertisement was done. Relevant key words or key sentences describing specific qualifications and responsibilities were collected from each entry. These key words and sentences taken from the announcements reveal important aspects of the position announced and were sorted into four groups: required, preferred and desired qualifications, and job responsibilities.

For each year a set of key words and sentences associated with those four areas were collected. Since job announcements use different wordings to describe the same qualifications or job responsibilities the term more often used or a generic term was selected. For example, the term "reference" as a job responsibility would be used for "reference services", "reference hours", or any other term appearing in the announcements meaning the same duty. But care was taken to make sure that the array of librarian's functions were not narrowed into a few single terms, therefore, plenty of room was given when the description of a qualification or responsibility did not mean exactly the same thing. For example, "ability to communicate effectively" and "to communicate with science faculty" were used separately.

The minimum salary posted was recorded. Positions with supervisory or administrative duties were highlighted for the purpose of making them recognizable but they were not treated separately. Announcements were sorted out by the four major geographical regions: South, Central, East and West. Tabulation of the data were made using MS Excel to compare the out put from each selected year and to perform some descriptive statistics.


By analyzing position announcements published in American Libraries and College & Research Libraries News during the years 1976, 1986, and 1998 the following results were obtained:

1. A total of 201 positions advertised were selected and analyzed. Jobs in areas of the physical sciences, mathematical sciences, computer science, biological sciences, nursing and allied health, agriculture and engineering were found. Positions from colleges and universities from all regions of the United States, three from Canada, and one from Australia were also found. All positions -- except one -- were full-time. According to Table 1, All geographical areas of the United States had an almost equal number of advertisements: East = 50, South = 46, Central = 49 and West = 52. In terms of the number of positions posted per year, it is not understood why the total for 1976 is a low 37 while for the other two years it is 90 and 74.

Position announcements by region and year. Average minimum salaries by year
1976 1986 1998
Total 37 90 74
East 8 17 25
South 5 23 18
West 13 23 13
Central 8 27 17
Canada 2 0 1
Australia 0 0 1
Colleges 2 3 4
Universities 35 87 70

Supv/Adm posts 5 15 13
Ave. Min. Salary 12.0 21.3 34.5
CPI (All items) 56.9 109.6 163.0 (1)

Ave. Min. Salary
In Real Dollars 12.0 11.05 12.04
Increases in % - -8.4 0

Table 1
(1) Statistical Abstract of the United States 1998.

2. Zhou (1996) in the conclusions of his findings stated: "The study clearly demonstrated that computer applications have never stopped advancing in academic libraries, nor has the demand for computer-literate librarians." Supported by this conclusion the author in this study looked into the impact of technology on the profession by observing terms and phrases used in job announcements. A total of 499 descriptors were collected; a number of these descriptors were used in different years and in any of the different four selected groups formed (desired, preferred, required and responsibilities). Therefore, 499 is not a number of unique occurrences. Here are some examples of how the announcements have changed:

Terms used in required qualifications for 1976 included: Card catalog usage, and Manual literature searching.
Terms used in Job responsibilities for 1976 included: Machine-readable data base searching, Manual literature searching, and Maintain serials records.

Terms used in required qualifications for 1986 included: Online database searching, ability to communicate effectively, and Knowledge of RLIN.
Terms used in job responsibilities for 1986: Coordinate database searching, Design library training, and Search MEDLINE, AGRICOLA, Compendex, STN, DIALOG, BRS.

Terms used in required qualifications for 1998 included: Database and Internet searching experience, HTML skills, Organizational skills, and Experience with W95.
Terms used in job responsibilities for 1998 included: Oversee Web services, Marketing information services, Manage transition into e-journals, and Expertise in electronic network resources.

3. Table 2 shows that a consistent increase of items (descriptors) listed in job announcements over the years was observed. For required qualifications an increase from 29 to 56 between 1976 and 1986 represents an increase of 93%, an additional increase of 30% is observed by 1998, with an overall increase of 152%. Preferred qualifications have an initial increase of 60% with an additional increase by 1998 of 54%, the total increase was in this case 147%. In Desired qualifications a 113% increase was first observed followed by and additional 41% for a total of 263%. Finally, Job responsibilities increases from 40 items to 71 items between 1976 and 1986 with another 41% increase by 1998. In this case the total increase from 1976 to 1998 was 150%. These results agreed with the first stated hypothesis, therefore, it is acceptable to say that the number of job qualifications and job responsibilities for science and engineering librarians has substantially increased in the last three decades.

Number of qualifications and responsibilities by year
Group Items observed by year
1976 1986 1998
Required qualifications 29 56 73
Preferred qualifications 15 24 37
Desired qualifications 8 17 29
Job Responsibilities 40 71 100

Table 2

4. In terms of the second hypothesis, it was found that the Average Minimum Salary in thousands was 12 for 1976, 21.3 for 1986 and 34.5 for 1998 (Table 2). Without taking into consideration the real cost of a dollar these figures represent salary increases of 77.5% between 1976 and 1986, 62% between 1986 and 1998. The total increase was 187.5%. Thus, the minimum average salary of science engineering positions posted has increased by 187.5% from 1976 to 1998. But, when the consumer price index (CPI) is taken into consideration as shown in Table 2 , then, the minimum average salary increase for science and engineering positions posted in the two selected journals during the years 1976, 1986 and 1998 offer a different picture. In actuality the average minimum salary decreased in real dollars by 8.4% between 1976 and 1986 and between 1976 and 1998 the real increase is near 0 %. In summary, when the consumer price index is taken into consideration the average minimum salary either decreased or stayed the same from 1976 to 1986 and from 1976 to 1998. These later results agreed with the second hypothesis, therefore, it is also acceptable to say that salaries for these positions in the last three decades have not increased comparably to their increased number of qualifications and job responsibilities. The figures for 1986 salaries are in closed agreement with figures obtained for 1988 by Reser and Schuneman (1992) in a more general study about public and technical services positions.


Graphs 1 and 2 show the dramatic increase of items related to job qualifications and responsibilities found in job announcements in the last three decades. The bars in Graph 1 compare them by specific groups and through the years, Graph 2 is a time series showing how duties and qualifications of positions for sci-tech librarians have been impacted by technological innovations. Graph 2 also shows how the average minimum salaries for these positions in real dollars have changed through the years.

[Job Responsibilities and Qualifications]
[Time Series: Job Responsibilities, Qualifications, 
and Salaries]


This study analyzed three years -- 1976, 1986, and 1998 -- of job announcements for science and engineering librarians published in American Libraries and College & Research Libraries News. It investigates how technology has influenced in the qualifications and responsibilities for this kind of positions.

The findings validate the first hypothesis: a remarkable increase in required, preferred, desired qualifications and job responsibilities has occurred in the last three decades.

The results also shows that the second hypothesis is correct: salaries in the last three decades have not increased in real dollars proportionally to the significant increase of qualifications and job responsibilities expected during the same period of time.

Finally, the study shows that by selecting key words from job announcements it is possible to determine changes occurring in science engineering librarianship due to the introduction of new technologies during the selected period.


Chu, F. T. 1990. Evaluating the skills of the systems librarian. Journal of Library Administration 12(1): 91-102.

Copeland, A. W. 1997. The demand for serials catalogers: an analysis of job advertisements, 1980-1995. The Serials Librarian, 32(1/2): 27-37.

Cote, C. 1989. The library job market as seen from Quebec. Canadian Library Journal, 46(6): 165-168.

Reser, D. W. & Schuneman, A. P. 1992. The academic library job market: a content analysis comparing public and technical services. College & Research Libraries, 53(1): 49-58.

Statistical Abstract of the United States. 1998. 118th ed. Superintendent of Documents, Washington D.C. 395.

Zhou, Y. 1996. Analysis of trends in demand for computer-related skills for academic librarians from 1974 to 1994. College & Research Libraries, 57(3): 259-727.


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