Home 9 Blog Posts 9 Looking Ahead to 2023: Five Downs and Five Ups

Looking Ahead to 2023: Five Downs and Five Ups

by | Jan 18, 2023 | 0 comments

by Steven J. Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University Libraries

When we get to the end of the year, it seems we have collectively come to express how terrible that just-ending year was. At the same time, we also tell ourselves there is no chance the just-starting year could get any worse. It must better, right? Wrong. It is also the case that for the last few years, the year-to-come turns out just as bad, if not truly, downright way-more awful. Look at what 2022 brought us. War, runaway inflation, a stock market, collapse, a tridemic, political upheaval, gun violence, wilder weather, COVID is still with us and the list goes on. Certainly, little if any improvement over the prior year and arguably considerably worse. Could things go further downhill in 2023? At this point, what else should we expect. Despite this trend of ever increasingly bad years, there are always a few positives that give us hope things might get better – at least less bad than anticipated.

Photo by Behnam Norouzi on Unsplash

What might get even worse in libraryland? We are challenged on multiple fronts. Yet there’s always some reason for optimism. Things could improve. Since we can’t be sure, I thought I’d share a list of five things that are likely to get worse (“downs”) and five things that could improve in 2023 (“ups”). This is a two-part column, with the conclusion coming in the next post. Let’s start with the downs. More about the ups next time.

1. Higher education continues to struggle: No surprises here. It’s well reported that the majority of colleges and universities are facing significant enrollment declines. With the exception of elite universities, highly selective colleges and a few outliers, most of our institutions are experiencing reduced enrollment and tuition revenue. Anticipate more closings of small colleges, more struggling colleges looking for merger partners, more staff and budget reductions, along with other budgetary constraints being put into place, such as hiring and travel freezes. The next year might be when higher education finally comes to terms with a long-predicted demographic shift in which there are too few students for too many colleges and universities. There will be fallout. In 2023 we will likely learn just how bad it will get.

2. Library materials challenges gain momentum: While some reports suggest librarians and their allies are advancing in combatting materials challenges, the short-term outlook suggests to me that things will worsen in 2023. With local school boards and multiple state legislatures pledging to fight wokeness and prevent exposure to hundreds of young and teen reader books on topics such as LGBQT+, racism, sexuality and other controversy-causing themes, the battle for control of libraries will escalate. Expect more states to introduce laws that criminalize librarian actions that defy or challenge book bans. Yes, it’s crazy, but given the current political landscape it’s hard to be optimistic. On the plus side, the materials challenge trend has yet to reach higher education, but academic librarians need to be vigilant about the possibility that they’ll be next.

3. Employment outlook remains murky: As an LIS instructor I’m always hopeful that my students will have good job prospects when they complete their degrees. The majority, fortunately, are already employed in libraries. They seek to further their library careers by moving into professional positions that require the MLS. The job prospects for 2023, particularly in academic libraries, offers little cause for optimism. There are vacancies. Whether owing to departures for new jobs, retirements or moves to other careers, there are jobs to fill. The problem is that many colleges, school districts and municipalities are imposing restrictions or freezes on new hires. Expect some serious rightsizing in higher education in 2023. After that, hiring opportunities for librarians could improve, but it’s anybody’s guess what the offerings will look like.

4. Budgets unlikely to recover: If jobs are hard to come by across all types of libraries in 2023, it will no doubt be tied to municipalities, school districts and higher education dealing with less revenue and resources. Blame it on inflation, supply chains, a decline in home sales, crypto or any other number of factors, but what we are seeing at our institutions and organizations is major belt tightening. Even the most prosperous colleges and universities are experiencing significant losses in their huge endowments. If you want to take a slightly optimistic view, we can tell ourselves that we’ve been through this before, and that the period between 2008 and 2010 was probably even worse. We survived it and eventually recovered. It took time then and it will again. Let’s hope that 2023 is where, financially and economically speaking, we finally hit bottom.

5.  Student basic needs crisis deepens: At a time when enrollment is on a downward trend with no clear indicators of a reverse, higher education can hardly afford to lose students. Financial difficulty is a major contributor to the student dropout crisis. The increase in student food and housing insecurity is a sign of student financial troubles. With the national economy predicted to experience a period of recession in 2023, according to many experts, we can anticipate that the existing student basic needs crisis will impact even more of our students. With their own budgetary challenges, it will be difficult for colleges and universities to provide as much assistance as needed. At my own institution, faculty, staff and students are helping by contributing to our food bank and making donations to our student emergency fund. It may be far from what’s needed, but if each of us can find a way to help we can keep more than a few students from going hungry or homeless – or dropping out.

Just writing these “downs” is bringing me down. Let’s just hope I’m wrong on all if not most of them. I suspect that these 2023 trends will be likely to persist, but perhaps the impact will be less detrimental to our library organizations than I’m anticipating. In the next post, I’ll share my five “ups” for 2023. If this post brought you down too, I’m hoping to bring you back up with some more positive trends for the new year.


About the Author: Steven J. Bell is the Associate University Librarian at Temple University Libraries. His past blogs have included The Kept-Up Academic Librarian and Designing Better Libraries. He started the blog ACRLog in 2005 and was its primary contributor through 2011. Between 2009 and 2019 he authored two monthly columns, “From the Bell Tower” and “Leading From the Library” for Library Journal. You can learn more about Steven at http://stevenbell.info or follow him on twitter @blendedlib

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