Magazine article American Libraries

Can't Get No Satisfaction: LIBRARY PAY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Magazine article American Libraries

Can't Get No Satisfaction: LIBRARY PAY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Article excerpt


A good friend of mine, a public library director out West, has been nosing around for a new job. When I stumbled across a listing for the directorship in Winnetka, Illinois, I passed it along to him via e-mail. I said it looked great-- fine library in an interesting place.

After looking over the Web site, my friend was inclined to agree. However, he noted, "I did some checking. The median house price there is something like $535,000." The salary for the library position was not listed, but most of the starting salaries for director positions in the Chicago area fall far short of $100,000.

I pointed out to my friend that "median" doesn't mean "average" and that any housing market will have bargains. He, in turn, pointed out to me that most lenders say an applicant for a mortgage should spend at most 28% of gross income (pretax) on housing expenses. He didn't think he'd make the cut.

All this got me thinking about library salaries. While nosing around on the Web, I found the wonderful "Salary Calculator" (www2.homefair.comlcalc/salcalc.html). I typed in my current salary and place of work (Castle Rock, Colorado). Then I typed in the name of the last place I'd gone on vacation (Newport Beach, California) and asked the Salary Calculator to tell me what I'd have to make there to maintain roughly the standard of living I have in Castle Rock.

The answer was doubly illuminating. First, I'd have to make almost twice as much out there. Second, based on what people are offering to pay librarians according to various Web sites, I wasn't likely to get it.

Fact is, no matter what part of the country you live in, the pay for library work isn't very good.

First, the good news

There is some good news about librarian salaries. According to a survey described in Library Journal (Oct. 15, 1999), if you're a recent library school graduate:

* You'll probably be able to find a job.

* You'll probably make more than 5% more than last year's grads--a gain that beats inflation.

* If you're a woman (and if you're a librarian, that's likely), as a new librarian you'll make about as much as a man entering the profession, and in the Northeast or Southeast, you might even make more. This represents an impressive stride toward our longstanding professional goal of gender equity.

* The more technological the focus of your job, the more money you are likely to make.

The not-so-good news:

* The average annual salaries aren't that terrific for any librarian. According to Mary Jo Lynch's "Librarians' Salaries: A New Approach" (American Libraries, October 1999), directors make an average of $66,260, deputy or associate or assistant directors make $54,886, department heads or coordinators or senior managers make $47,236, managers or supervisors of support staff make $40,561, and "librarians who do not supervise" make $39,631.

* Your salary as a beginning librarian will be around $31,900, probably not enough, by itself, to buy a house in many areas.

* If you're a library worker--someone paid by the library but without the benefit of a library degree--then that same $31,900 represents the top of your probable wages, according to the Encyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance--2000.

This is something we don't read about much in the profession--the wages of our nondegreed colleagues. I do know, as I find each time I go before our library board seeking to boost these modest salaries, that there is a general public understanding that library workers, with or without degrees, aren't supposed to make much.

There are two reasons for this. First, we live in times when the libertarian, free-market philosophy is in the ascendancy. Who, in the minds of library board members, directly competes with library workers? …

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