Magazine article American Libraries

There Is No Honor in Being Underpaid: Librarians Must Stop Settling for Salaries That Qualify Them for Public Aid. (Salaries)

Magazine article American Libraries

There Is No Honor in Being Underpaid: Librarians Must Stop Settling for Salaries That Qualify Them for Public Aid. (Salaries)

Article excerpt

MLS students are taught that librarians have an obligation to support the American Library Association. As members of ALA, they are told that they should join forces with information professionals across the country as advocates for libraries and literacy, as crusaders against censorship, and as crafters of new definitions for information and copyright. In return, ALA will support them by offering opportunities for professional development, networking, and career advancement.

After some time in the workforce, a practicing librarian begins to better understand ALA's mission: an organization that lobbies for libraries as institutions, but not for its members. In other words, ALA is an important lobbying organization, but it is not a professional association--at least not yet (see p. 56-58).

As a reference librarian in a busy suburban public library, I fill the roles of social worker, teacher, technician, and custodian. In professional terms my responsibilities include reference, collection management, readers' advisory, technical services, and computer maintenance and troubleshooting. I am imagined to be a fount of all great knowledge with the ability to access multiple outlets of information, finding answers at a moment's notice. The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2000-2 001 Edition (www.bls.gov/oco/home.htm) says that I "have knowledge of a wide variety of scholarly and public information sources, and follow trends related to publishing, computers, and the media." The description goes on to say that as a reference librarian my work "involves analyzing users' needs to determine what information' is appropriate, and searching for, acquiring, and providing information."

In gritty reality, I work nights and weekends. My workstation is not what one would call ergonomically designed. The equipment I rely on suffers from overuse, therefore requiring continuous maintenance. And, I have learned to work without certain creature comforts, like timely bathroom breaks or drinking water at my desk.

Discounted dedication

For outstanding achievement in this role, the New Jersey Library Association determined a nonbinding minimum-salary guideline for the year 2001 of $34,765 (www.njla.org/salaries.html), a whopping 2.9% increase over the previous year. It doesn't take a financial wizard to understand that, taking into account the state's cost of living, I cannot afford either NJLA or ALA dues. There is some good news, however: According to the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing, my family qualifies for low-income housing.

The income limits described by the council in May 2001 Council on Affordable Housing Newsletter (www.state.nj.us/dca/coah/2001newsletters/0501.pdf) states that the cited statistics are based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 8 income limits. (NJLA's 2002 minimum-salary recommendation is $36,503, a 5% improvement over the 2001 recommendation.)

After reading the newsletter, which I then industriously placed in the vertical file under "New Jersey Housing," I performed an exercise to place the recommended 2001 NJLA salary in a broader context. Examining the "2001 Federal Poverty Guidelines for the 48 Contiguous States and the District of Columbia," as provided in the Federal Register: February 16,2001 (volume 66, number 33) (aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/01poverty.htm), I found that a family of four with a gross yearly income of $17,650, is identified as being at poverty level. So, the NJLA guidelines for 2001 were nearly twice the federal poverty level. How comfortable does that make me feel? How comfortable should that make the federal government feel? Not very, I would hope.

The means to making ends meet

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services fact sheet on children's medical insurance (www.hhs.gov/news/press/2001pres/200110305b.html), most states offer subsidized coverage (namely the State Children's Health Insurance Program created under Title XXI of the Social Security Act), for families with incomes of up to 200% of the poverty level. …

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