Magazine article American Libraries

Editorial

Magazine article American Libraries

Editorial

Article excerpt

We've Buttered Our Bread. Must We Lie in It?

Beginning this month, while editor Leonard Kniffel is on sabbatical (AL, Feb., p. 30) American Libraries begins a series of guest-edited issues in which AL contributing editors present features around a theme of their choosing. We start the experiment with four compelling articles acquired by "Internet Librarian" columnist Karen Schneider on the basic "bread and butter" issues facing the profession, leading off with a look at the dismal state of librarians' salaries.

Amid all the debate about action plans and core values at ALA's recent Midwinter Meeting, scant if any attention was paid to the salary topic. Some would say that's an improvement from conferences that saw much discussion of the matter but no action; but it's sad to see that such a crucial issue has apparently fallen off librarians' radar.

As James LaRue observes (p. 36-38), the historical and continuing reason for the low pay (and status) accorded librarians is the fact that they're in a female-dominated profession. However, the wider range of options available to women has created shortages in other feminized professions, such as teaching and nursing, forcing employers to offer higher pay. It's conceivable that our salaries could follow suit as current librarians retire or move to more lucrative fields, and potential replacements fail to materialize; but it seems more likely that the people holding the library purse strings will be willing to allow services to suffer irreparably before they let that happen.

Of course, the issue of salaries is closely tied to that of overall funding for libraries. And there does seem to be a growing awareness of how severely underfunded libraries have become. A February 6 Washington Post editorial decried the fact that book collections are suffering as libraries devote more of their budgets to technology. But without adequate salaries, librarians--the ones who choose those books and maintain that technology--may become an endangered species.

The effort to convince the public of our worth is tied to our struggle to keep libraries in the public consciousness as the misconception grows that all the world's knowledge is available on the Internet. …

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