The issue of increasing salaries for librarians and library workers is a major agenda item facing this month's ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. ALA leadership will again tackle finalizing the organizational details for the Allied Professional Association (APA)--a separate entity that will address issues aimed at improving salaries. But, what should library workers themselves do to help this effort? And, in light of today's economy, is now the time for seeking more money?
American Libraries invited two longtime librarians to discuss the need for better salaries and how to accomplish this goal. Leslie Burger, director of the Princeton (N.J.) Public Library, is a member of the Association's Task Force on Better Salaries and Pay Equity. Beverly Lynch, professor at the University of California/Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, was ALA president in 1985-86. Burger and Lynch participated in a December 2 Conference Call with AL Associate Editor Pamela Goodes. It has been edited for clarity and length.
AL: Is the idea of organizing nationally to increase salaries for librarians and library workers a good one in light of today's economy?
BURGER If we are in a downturn, like we are now, where people are losing their jobs, it seems selfish or imprudent to be thinking about trying to make a big push for librarian salaries. But I don't think there is ever a perfect time to try and draw attention to an issue like this. In many ways, our jobs become even more essential during an economic downturn.
LYNCH The question, as I see it, has a couple of points in it. One is the phrase "organizing nationally." I feel very strongly that public, academic, and school libraries embrace common skills, knowledge, and abilities, but the environments are very different. Organizing nationally sounds like a union activity, and if that's what it is, I am not interested in ALA participating or organizing nationally. I think ALA President Mitch Freedman has used the presidential bully pulpit brilliantly in focusing our attention on the issue of salaries. We should recognize, however, that this is not the first time in ALA history that this has been an issue, but I would agree that in the last 20 or 25 years we have not paid as much attention as we should have. Organizing nationally, if it's a union movement, no. But it is timely that ALA is being focused again on salaries.
AL: Should ALA's efforts focus more on professional librarians rather than support staff or vice versa? Would attempting to address the salary needs of both at the same time dilute this effort or would focusing on one at a time be more productive?
BURGER ALA needs to focus on both at the same time. What ALA can do is exactly what Beverly said: Use the power of the presidency, use the bully pulpit, to draw attention to this issue. What ALA can't do is get into individual work environments or job situations and try to advocate for salaries, at least under its current structure. Because there is such separation in many libraries--whether they are academic, school, or public--between the library professional and the library worker, it would be a mistake for our professional association to separate those two issues right now. It makes sense to raise awareness around both issues, and they're confusing for many people, including the general public, who don't understand the differences that we create in our own institutions between library professionals and library paraprofessionals.
LYNCH The type of library environment may make a difference. For example, in many public library employment environments there is a single civil-service salary scale. When you are talking about that kind of environment, when you go from the director all the way down through the salary scale to whatever is the lowest-paid job, then you are talking about raising the salaries of an entire body of workers. Sometimes …