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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2015

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Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academic Librarian Positions during 2013: What Carnegie Classifications Reveal About Desired STEM Skills

Kelli Trei
Biosciences Librarian & Assistance Professor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, Illinois


This study analyzes the requirements and preferences of 171 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) academic librarian positions in the United States as advertised in 2013. This analysis compares the STEM background experience preferences with the Carnegie rankings of the employing institution. The research examines the extent to which employers are emphasizing STEM experience beyond academic degree preferences or requirements and also investigates continuous appointment positions and their advertisements. The findings show that institutions with higher research output as defined by Carnegie rankings are more likely to require STEM experience of some kind. Advertisements do not require STEM bachelor and advanced degrees a great deal of the time. Although these employers prefer them, they will many times accept other STEM experience in place of these degrees. Additionally, the study shows that continuous appointment positions are much more likely to be available in high research output institutions and more likely to require a degree in a STEM field. This study reveals new information in relation to the research ranking of an institution and how it relates to required experience beyond a STEM degree as well as the higher desire for a STEM degree by continuous appointment positions.


While job advertisement analyses take many forms, the goal is generally the same: to inform prospective candidates of the skills required and the scope of position as well as to inform the state of the field of librarianship. Many articles in library science literature have focused on science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) subject-specific knowledge which has been generally defined as holding a degree in one of those fields. However, STEM knowledge and experience are not restricted to a degree. There are many ways to garner subject-specific experience, including employment in a STEM field, experience in a STEM library, and college level STEM classes taken while not seeking a degree. Knowledge of the vocabulary in a particular discipline, be it scientific jargon or areas of research, is useful when fielding reference questions and discussing research with graduate students and faculty. Librarians need to be aware of discipline-specific databases, how to search them, and their strengths and limitations. It is unlikely that a degree in a particular field can prepare a librarian for the breadth of study in an entire subject area. On the other hand, STEM-specific databases are unlikely to be encountered unless one has worked in a STEM field, has employment experience in a subject-specific library, or received STEM database instruction in library school. Previous research investigated the requirements of STEM positions, especially whether degrees in a science and technology background are necessary. However, degree requirements have never been juxtaposed with the type of institution or whether the position is continuous appointment (i.e. tenure-track or equivalent).

There are core skills that academic librarians must possess, and STEM librarians have to align these skills with STEM-specific needs. The skills a STEM librarian needs may be especially fine-tuned to a position, but the skills assessed in this study apply to all STEM librarians, although emphasis may vary. These resources run the gamut from extremely specific, such as The Arabidopsis Information Resource (TAIR) database (TAIR 2014), to the very broad, e.g. Thomson Reuters' Web of Science database platform (Web of Science 2014). Although the titles and duties of the STEM librarians can vary, for example, a data librarian versus a health sciences librarian, much of the skills and aptitudes required will be the same. Even an engineering data librarian will be called upon to do reference if the data needs of the researcher require it. A health science reference librarian may similarly be called upon to assist in data management plans for her patrons. A small institution, like a community college may have only one STEM librarian to encompass every field for their students. A large academic university may have Nobel Prize winning scientists looking to their librarians for assistance in research areas even a career scientist would find overwhelming. The nature of scientific research at its core necessitates that a librarian have knowledge of the interdisciplinary nature of STEM.

While search committees may ask for a background in STEM fields, they do not necessarily articulate what skills they expect to accompany this background. Previous studies have not always examined the other types of experience that are both useful and required by employers. Nor have they looked at the research activity of the institutions and how they compare to the level of preparedness expected. This job analysis hypothesizes that institutions with more research output, as defined by Carnegie rankings, will have a higher preference for STEM skills. This study also analyzed continuous appointment positions for their preferences, and the ranking of the institutions offering the employment opportunities. This research finds that the requirement of 'experience' in STEM librarianship employment advertisements encompasses more than academic degrees and identifies other valuable STEM skills. The study reveals that higher research output institutions and continuous appointment positions require more STEM experience in prospective employees.

Literature Review

Several earlier studies investigated expectations for STEM librarians' knowledge, their qualifications, and the state of the applicant pool. These investigations seem to assume that STEM degrees are required. Vazakas and Wallin (1992) discussed recruitment strategies for science and technology librarians, and stated that there was a known shortage of STEM librarians. Their study also highlighted a problem with some library subject-specific classes being taught by non-qualified personnel. The authors, however, recognized the extreme breadth of coverage in a science library and that sometimes backgrounds outside of STEM are useful in navigating this expanse.

Dewey (1986) commented on an expected preference for a science degree and noted difficulties in attracting students due to salary discrepancies. This analysis covered 112 advertisements and compared filled positions to their application requirements. It became evident at this point that the librarians desired did not exist; though 81% of the advertisements required or preferred a background in science, only 62% hired those with experience. Another study maintained that librarians with a science background were preferred by employers, as 59% required or preferred an undergraduate or graduate degree or one year experience as a science librarian (Brown 2006). This was a very large decrease from the 81% reported in 1986 and was also combined with STEM library experience.

Due to the expanse of subject knowledge represented in an academic librarian position and the apparent lack of incoming librarians with STEM backgrounds, some studies found that the majority of science and technology library jobs do not require a STEM degree. DeArmond et al. (2009) reviewed 42 academic science and technology job advertisements from various sources within January 2008-May 2009 within the United States and Canada. Her analysis also included seven advertisements from 2007. The study defined jobs as general science, chemistry, earth sciences, and health sciences. They coded 29 variables found in the required and preferred qualifications sections of the advertisements. A subject bachelor's degree was preferred or required 40% of the time, and an advanced degree 29% of the time, while 69% required subject specific knowledge of a scientific discipline. In the field of chemistry librarianship, 83% still required or preferred a scientific bachelor's degree of some kind. The paper concludes that while a science and technology background is an asset, it is not a requirement for librarian positions. Perhaps the shift to more varied STEM-specific requirements is also related to the increase in responsibilities academic librarians in general. An earlier analysis of 201 science and engineering academic library jobs advertised in 1976, 1986, and 1998 observed that required and preferred qualifications as well as job responsibilities were rising over that time period based on a steady increase in terms related to job responsibilities and qualifications. (Osorio 1999).

Bychowski et al. (2010) used DeArmond's 2009 study as a launch point. They collected 64 job advertisements from the beginning and end of a ten year period (1998-2001 and 2008-2010, respectively) and found little difference in requirements for STEM librarian positions. The subject areas analyzed were general science, chemistry, biology/health science, geosciences, geographic information systems (GIS), and physics. The advertisements only included those at institutions offering graduate degrees in the given subject area. Using DeArmond's variables, researchers coded the positions and found a 13% increase in the recommendation for subject specific knowledge or experience. While the preference for familiarity in science increased, they noted a decrease of 8% in required or preferred subject-specific bachelor's degrees. There is an obvious concern with the ten year gap in this study and the lack of knowledge of trends during that missing time.

Baker et al. (2013) sought to determine qualifications for entry level science and technology librarians. The study covered a six month period in 2000 and reviewed 50 unique advertisements which found that the most common requirement was an advanced library degree. They presumed that the lack of required STEM degrees implied that employers assumed that there would be few candidates with that qualification. The study also noted the vagueness and sometimes confusing nature of advertisements, and after contacting institutions, found that sometimes this was intentional to attract more applicants.

Studies focused on the health sciences uncovered similar trends. An analysis of 247 Medical Library Association (MLA) advertisements for health science academic, special, and hospital positions found that although 50% desired subject background, 60% were entry-level positions and did not request previous work experience (Wu and Li 2008). It is unclear whether the subject background was required or merely preferred. The article noted, paradoxically, that while less than half of the position descriptions required previous work experience, these did require skills acquired from such experience. An analysis of 1,042 entry level librarian positions, defined as any position requiring an MLS or MLIS degree from April 2006 to May 2009, found only 12% of the total advertisements required subject expertise of any kind. Although science librarian advertisements were found to require the most, they found this was only over 5% of the time (Reeves and Hahn 2010). Another large study of 957 academic library advertisements from 1996 found that jobs requiring or preferring advanced degrees beyond a MLS were less than 40%. The number of jobs, however, which required previous work experience was 59.6%, indicating a shift in what is now seen as most beneficial to the library profession as a whole (Triumph and Beile 2014).

This analysis evaluates the pervasive idea that STEM subject degrees are the most important additional requirement in an academic STEM library position, and what other subject-specific experience is of interest to employers. This study associates the qualifications with the Carnegie rankings of the corresponding institution and whether the position is continuous appointment. Other than Osorio's study in 1999, previous analyses with a STEM-focus had small sample sizes. This study of 171 announcements is a thorough look at the employment opportunities advertised in one calendar year.


As the purposes of this study were directly related to scientific experience desired by employers, it focused on the types of experience described in the job requirements. The analysis was restricted to job advertisements for academic librarian positions in the United States during 2013. The collected advertisements were from the following mailing lists: University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) job listserv, Special Library Association (SLA) Science-Technology Division and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Science and Technology Section (STS) listserv. The GSLIS job board posts advertisements that are sent to the administrators, as well as advertisements from all major library associations web sites, regional library association sites, other regional employment sites, library job list sites, general regional employment sites, school libraries and media centers, information technology employment centers, and general employment web sites (Brooks 2014). The extensiveness of the GSLIS job board resulted in an overlap with all jobs observed in the other lists and as a result, the GSLIS board became the primary source for all advertisements. After the author collected all the advertisements related to academic STEM librarianship in the U.S., she removed any duplicate advertisements. This study excluded one job entirely due to the lack of any listed requirements, culminating in a total of 171 unique advertisements.

This collection of advertisements attempted to list all STEM library jobs, including the life sciences, agriculture, environmental science, health sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Some studies chose to exclude health sciences jobs from the STEM arena. However, the health sciences and biomedicine frequently cross over with the fields of chemistry, engineering, and the life sciences, and therefore were part of this analysis. The study included data science positions if expressly administered by the library at the institution and directly related to STEM fields. Many of the mailing list entries did not have the full job description. As some of the jobs were old enough to lead to inactive links, the author searched the Internet for the full advertisement either by title or by specific lines from the shortened description and located in cached Google pages, job sites, or the Internet Archive: WayBack Machine.

One of the purposes of this paper was to associate requirements and preferences to the type of research institution. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching assigns Basic Carnegie Classifications based on types and quantity of degrees awarded, as well as program size and or specialization. The data used in the classifications is from 2008-2010. The classifications identified in this study are as follows:

The job advertisements contained ten instances in which the schools did not have an assigned Carnegie ranking. Therefore, the analysis of rankings information did not include these; however, the overall analyses of requirements still contain those ten.

The following information was collected from each advertisement:

This study also compared the frequency of continuous appointments to the scientific information experience required or preferred by those positions. For the purposes of this research and due to the varied nature of continuous appointment librarian jobs, the analysis included continuous appointment advertisements that specifically mentioned the terms "tenure" or "tenure-track" in regards to the appointment.

The analysis counted scientific work experience as required or preferred if the description expressly stated working in a scientific field. The study distinguished this data from jobs that mentioned experience in a science library or in a library expressly serving scientists and quantified the data as science library experience. Researchers created a Microsoft Access database with the information, and ran Structured Query Language (SQL) queries on the database to calculate required and preferred skills, as well as to compare Carnegie rankings. Many advertisements required or preferred one or multiple options. Therefore the study defined scientific experience, as a whole, as requiring or preferring the following:

Results and Discussion

A MLS remains the most required degree for an academic science librarian position and 100% of the advertisements preferred a MLS. The number drops a bit with 83.3% requiring a MLS, though 94.7% require it without other advanced degrees. It is important to note that not all of the jobs requiring MLS degrees strictly specify accredited institutions. While a bachelor degree in a STEM field was preferred or required 41.5% of the time, it was listed in the requirements 21.6% of the time (Table 1).

Table 1: STEM Bachelor Degrees in Job Advertisements

Requirements % Required % Required but Accepting One or More Substitute STEM Skills % Required or Preferred

Bachelor Degree in STEM Field (All Jobs)




Bachelor Degree in STEM Field (Continuous Appointment)




Much of the time, other STEM experience would be accepted in the requirements in lieu of a BS, for example, the job would require a BS in a STEM field or three years in a STEM library. A bachelor's degree was only expressly required 5.8% of the time. Similarly, advanced STEM degrees were required or preferred 39.8% of the time, listed in requirements 17.5% of the time, and expressly required in only 2.3% of advertisements (Table 2).

Table 2: STEM Advanced Degrees in Job Advertisements

Requirements % Required % Required but One or More Substitute STEM Skills % Required or Preferred

Advanced Degree in STEM Field (All Jobs)




Advanced Degree in STEM Field (Continuous Appointment)




The advertisements required or preferred experience in a STEM library 55% of the time, which was the highest individual STEM skill listed (Table 3). It was also the most frequently listed skill in the requirements, at 28.6%. The least listed required experience was experience working in a STEM discipline outside of a library environment.

Table 3: Frequency of STEM Experience Mentioned as Required or Preferred

Requirements Total % Listed in Requirements % Required or Preferred

STEM coursework



Experience working in a STEM library



Experience working in a STEM field



All of the jobs that preferred or required bachelor's degrees in STEM disciplines also preferred or required one of the other science experiences. Though the advertisements required individual STEM experience skills in under 30% of the postings, 60% of the positions required some kind of the defined STEM experience, and it was preferred 89.5% if the time.

As other studies have indicated, the idea that a STEM degree is required for employment in an academic science library appears to be unfounded. Whether this is due to a lack of qualified candidates or other factors remains unclear. STEM educational background and experience working in a STEM field are therefore extremely valuable assets to bring to an interview whether resulting in a degree or not. Most importantly, while a degree may not be necessary, demonstrating some expertise in a STEM discipline is frequently required. Experience as a scientist or an educational background in the sciences does provide unique skills such as familiarity with the scientific research process as well as awareness of resources and the breadth of coverage in a given discipline. The ability to speak with researchers on their level can provide great opportunities for outreach and engagement. STEM library experience is highly valued and can empower new librarians in some or all of the following skills: conducting STEM reference interviews, familiarization with trends in data creation and management, collection development, instruction expertise, and other services needed to promote STEM scholarship in an institution.

Carnegie rankings indicate schools with Basic Class designations of science baccalaureate programs, masters' institutions, and institutions with higher research output are more likely to require STEM experience from their applicants than other institutions. Table 4 depicts the quantity of advertisements divided by Carnegie Basic Classification.

Table 4: Carnegie Basic Classification Breakdown in Job Advertisements

Basic Classification Count % Requiring STEM Experience

Research Universities (very high research activity)



Research Universities (high research activity)



Master's Colleges and Universities (larger programs)



Special Focus Institutions:--Medical schools and medical centers






Baccalaureate Colleges-Arts & Sciences



Doctoral/Research Universities



Special Focus Institutions--Other health profession schools



Master's Colleges and Universities (medium programs)



Baccalaureate Colleges-Diverse Fields



Associate's-Private For-profit



Associate's-Public Suburban-serving Multicampus



Associate's-Public 4-year, Primarily Associate's



Associate's-Public Suburban-serving Single Campus



Associate's-Public Urban-serving Multicampus



Special Focus Institutions--Schools of engineering





Most jobs located in this analysis were posted by research universities with very high research activity. The number of special engineering schools, associate granting institutions, and general baccalaureate schools had fewer advertisements. As some of these jobs came up in the analysis only once or twice, any conclusions about their STEM requirements are difficult to draw. Their low representation indicates that they either have fewer positions available or are not hiring as frequently as other institutions. Table 5 contains the percentages of required STEM experience, as defined in the methods, broken down by individual Carnegie Basic Class rankings combined into six broad categories.

The lowest instance of required STEM experience is reflected by the combined associate college rankings at 20.0% and the highest was in the combined masters' institutions at 80.0%. There is a general increase as the research output of an institution rises, with a dip for the combined high, very high research, and doctoral granting universities. Special focus institutions only show a slightly higher percentage than associates' degree institutions. Doctoral institutions job advertisements only require STEM experience 33.3% of the time. The baccalaureate schools for arts and sciences, masters and high or very high research activity institutions all range from 60-100% in required STEM experience for potential librarians. The majority of special schools are medical schools and these job advertisements only require STEM experience 26.6% of the time. This may be explained by the high activity of librarians within the Medical Library Association (Davidson and Middleton 2006) and the influence that has on the preparedness of new librarians. The only Carnegie ranked institutions that do not require some STEM experience more than 50% of the time are the Baccalaureate Colleges (Diverse) and Doctoral/Research Universities.

Only 21.0% of the jobs were continuous appointment positions. A much larger percentage of these types of positions listed a STEM bachelor's degree in the requirements, 44.4%. Of this percentage 8.3% required a STEM bachelors with 36.1% accepting other STEM experience (which sometimes include an advanced STEM degree). The advertisements only specifically required advanced STEM degrees 2.8% of the time, which is very close to the advertisements as a whole, but advanced degrees were required or preferred a large 63.9% of the time. The analysis compared continuous appointment positions to the Carnegie rankings of available jobs, and are highlighted in Table 5. The continuous appointment positions required and/or preferred the other STEM experiences at nearly the same rate as the jobs as a whole (Table 6).

Table 5: Continuous Appointment Advertisements by Carnegie Basic Class

Basic Class # of Tenured Jobs

Very High Research Universities


High Research Universities


Masters Large Programs


Masters Medium Programs


Doctoral/Research Universities


Baccalaureate Colleges (Diverse)


Associate's (Public Urban-serving Multicampus)




Table 6: Frequency of STEM Experience Required or Preferred for Continuous Appointment Positions

Requirements Total % Listed in Requirements % Required or Preferred

STEM coursework



Experience working in a STEM library



Experience working in a STEM field



The class offering the most continuous appointment positions, 47.2%, were institutions with very high research activity. High research activity institutions were represented 25% of the time, large masters' granting universities were 16.7%. Only one job each was identified from a medium masters' granting institution, a doctoral institution, and a diverse baccalaureate program and multi-campus urban institution.

Although traditional continuous appointment positions are represented in less than a quarter of these job advertisements, of those, those advertisements mentioning STEM bachelor degrees twice as often; a STEM degree is a definite advantage to employability. It is unclear if this is related to the scarcity and rigor of a continuous appointment position, resulting in those employers attracting more qualified candidates, or if it is related to the actual research requirements of the position. Based on this study, those librarians interested in pursuing a continuous appointment position should keep an eye on those advertisements coming from Carnegie ranked RU/VH (research universities with very high research activity) and to a lesser extent research universities and those with larger masters' programs.

An unexpected finding of interest is that 29.2% of advertisements expressly require expertise in scientific resources. While more than a quarter of the job advertisements asked for that specific knowledge, 32.0% of those did not desire any STEM experience. Much like Wu and Li's MLA study before this, it begs the obvious question of where job candidates would acquire these skills. The optimistic answer would be in library school, but more investigation is needed. Due to the high desire for librarians with STEM library experience and knowledge of STEM resources, library school is an excellent place to begin the process of molding would-be STEM librarians with specified skills, and encouraging the attractive skill of experience in a subject-specific library, especially to those who may be lacking an educational background in science and technology fields.


It is certain that subject-specific experience in science and technology fields remain attractive to employers and is necessary to be competitive in the field. Whether this experience is defined by a degree, prior work in a STEM library, or other STEM experience seems less important. What is important to employers is the demonstrated understanding of the needs of STEM users. It is clear from this study that some STEM experience is generally necessary to secure a job as an academic science or technology librarian. Regardless of the size of library or aptitude of its users, STEM librarians are called upon to perform everyday library activities, such as reference interviews or collection development in a subject-specific way. STEM experience of any kind allows them to begin to understand the scholarly process unique to these disciplines and how to align their skills. Studies may now move away from simply looking at subject-specific degree requirements and focus more on what makes STEM librarians successful in their positions. This disconnect between required proficiency with specific resources and the lack of requirement for subject-specific experience ought to be explored further. Future work should include an investigation into the availability of STEM resource education and concentrations in library school. Curriculum analyses of STEM specific classes would help cast light on the likelihood of preparing job candidates that do not have any of the various subject-specific experience highlighted in this study.


Thanks to Carly A. Hafner for database design and SQL analysis.


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