DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jul 25 2011

Librarians in America: 129 years of census data

by Jesse M

I recently came across a very interesting post from the Oxford University Press blog which presents census data and analysis about librarians in the U.S. from 1880-2009. The article tracks the myriad changes in the profession over time, including the growth (and recent decline) in the number of librarians, the breakdown by age, gender, location, and race, and also wage/income data. I will summarize some of their findings below, but you can also review the full article here.

One of the interesting points from the article is how much the library profession has grown over the years. Back in 1880 when the U.S. Census first collected data on librarians, they counted only 636 nationwide. 110 years later, in 1990, the number of librarians reached its peak with 307,273 identifying themselves as members of the profession. Since then, the number of librarians has actually decreased significantly, to 212,742 as of 2009.

Another interesting change over time has been the predominant gender of the profession. While today women comprise 83% of librarians, back in the 1880s 52% of librarians were men. The percentage of men dropped to its lowest point in 1930, to 8%.

The article also discussed the change in librarians’ marital status. In 1880 1 in 3 librarians were married, and the marriage rate had declined further by 1920, to 1 in 10. In the decades since, however, the popular notion of the “spinster librarian” began to fade as marriage rates increased. Today 62% of librarians are married, the highest rate reported to date.

It is apparent from the article that the profession has changed a great deal over the years, although the commitment to serving the community and acting as stewards of knowledge remains the same. Considering the many changes that have occurred over the past 12+ decades, it will be intriguing to see how the profession continues to evolve throughout the remainder of the century.

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