September 17, 2017

Placements and Salaries 2003: Jobs! (Eventually)

If the economy is rebounding, the library world has yet to feel it. The budget constraints of the last several years are now showing up in salary growth that lags behind inflation and in job searches that seem endless and are three times as long, on average, as last year.

But first, the good news: in another year of increasingly high unemployment (6%) nationwide, LJ‘s annual Placements & Salaries Survey indicates that graduates of American Library Association (ALA)-accredited library and information science (LIS) programs continue to make modest strides in professional positions. The areas of reference and information services and school library media dominate while offices in administration and management show healthy growth.

Of the 1140 graduates who reported full-time placement, 34% indicated that they returned to their employer as professional staff after graduation. Many of these graduates indicated they received salary increases and position upgrades upon completion of their master’s degree, moving from a paraprofessional or technician position to a professional one. An additional 30% of graduates reporting full-time placements indicated they found jobs prior to graduation.

The disappointing news is that in 2003 salaries continued to display sluggish growth for all graduates reporting salary, while salaries for minority graduates decreased significantly, negating the strides made in the previous two years.

Graduates report an average starting salary of $37,975 in 2003, a 1.48% increase over the 2002 average of $37,456, falling below the 2003 national inflation rate of 2.2%. The average increases of 4.35% seen between 1998 and 2002 seem long gone.

Gender gap continues

In 2003, men comprise 20% of the graduates reporting a full-time salary and report starting salaries approximately 7.59% higher annually than women. The difference in average salaries between men and women was $3,071, increasing the gap once again ($2,836 or 7.1% for 2002). Men continued the trend of higher starting salaries in all types of libraries except government facilities.

While men break the $40,000 barrier, at $40,462, women reporting salaries continue to struggle to reach the levels achieved by their male counterparts in 2000. Between 1998 and 2002, men’s starting salaries have experienced annual average growth of 4.5% while women have experienced average growth of 3.73%. However, at the upper limits, women continue to dominate the pay scales. A comparison of average high salaries, by schools reporting gender, shows that women receive an average of $4,528 (8.57%) more annually than men.

Women got 90% of the reported jobs in school libraries and 86% in public libraries, which continues to reflect the patterns of previous years. This may account for some of the disparity in pay, with women continuing to find jobs in the more human service-oriented organizations.

The “other” designation ranges from jobs related to marketing and public relations to those within nonprofit fundraising and curatorial work. The survey suggests that graduates are finding a broad array of jobs in nontraditional organizations such as corporate and private entities as well as positions connected to traditional libraries in records archives and museums. They also tend to fare well in these jobs. The average starting salaries show greater parity than 2002, with a difference of 11.6% between men and women; in 2002 the salary disparity was 28%. Women reporting placement in “other” organizations also reported a 15% increase in 2003 starting salaries ($45,376) compared with similar placements in 2002 ($39,413).

Minorities losing ground

Approximately 15% of the 1,052 who reported full-time salaries identified themselves as members of a minority group. While this shows that more minorities are attaining the LIS degree than in previous years, this group lost significant ground in salary parity in 2003. The average starting salary reported by minority graduates is $36,666 in 2003, 6% less than similar placements in 2002 ($38,886), when they exceeded the general average. For the first time since 1999, the average starting salary of minority graduates decreased and is now $680 below the average starting salary.

Lower average salaries for minority graduates may be indicative of the salary decreases experienced in various library types across the board during 2003. Academic (3.09% less) and government (12% less) libraries showed decreased salaries for all reported full-time placements. Minority graduates make up 18% of the reported placements in academic libraries and 10.7% in government libraries. The encouraging news, however, is that minority graduates reporting placements in public libraries and with vendors indicate beginning salaries ($35,351) slightly higher than the reported averages of all graduates in that category ($34,901). Also, the average for all placements with vendors during the same period is $38,273, with minority placements reporting average beginning salaries of $38,833.

The largest group of minority graduates (32.48%) found jobs in academic libraries, which is somewhat less than in 2002 (40%). Placements were down slightly, with 31.85% finding positions in public libraries, followed by 17.2% in K-12 school media centers (an increase of 3.29% from 2002), 6.37% in special libraries, less than 5% with vendors, government libraries, and library cooperatives combined. In 2003 minority graduates reporting jobs in “other” organizations (7.01%) find the highest average salaries at $46,431, on par with the national average for the “other” category.

The combination of location (Southeast and Southwest) and type of organization may be impacting the salaries of minority graduates. The national average salaries for minority graduates are exhibiting the effects of a soft economy, with two-thirds of the minority graduates finding placements in organizations that are experiencing reductions or slowed growth in salaries and in areas of the United States with depressed economies.

Where are the jobs?

Of the 1,324 graduates (of 1,558) who reported job status, 1,306 (98.6%) were employed in some library capacity. This is a positive increase in library employment overall, though graduate responses show a slight increase in the number of part-time placements compared with 2002, from 12.35% to 13.35%.

The number of graduates reporting that they are unemployed or reporting no employment status increased to 15.2% in 2003, with 216 stating they were unemployed (never got a job and are still looking). However, the number of temporary professional placements has remained stable in 2003, with 10.3% reporting temporary status compared with 10.5% in 2002. Numerous graduates reported holding two part-time jobs in order to garner a full-time income. This part-time pay ranges from a low of $6.50 per hour to $35 per hour, and many graduates indicate a range of 20 to 24 hours per week of part-time employment. Hiring agencies may be protecting their existing employees and positions by adding temporary and part-time positions to supplement overworked professional staff.

As in previous years, institution type has an impact on the salaries offered to new graduates. Table 7 compares the placements and full-time salaries by type of institution. Public libraries experienced another slight increase (up 2.39% compared with 2% in 2002) in the overall average beginning salaries but continue to offer average salaries at the lower level of the scales. However, in 2003, government library placements experienced a serious 12% decrease in the beginning average salaries, landing below public libraries. Academic libraries experienced a 3.09% decrease in the average beginning salaries to $35,512, down from last year’s $36,610, and below the 2001 average of $35,883. Salary decreases may be a symptom of continuing struggles to find public and private funding for library services. LIS schools reported that budget cuts in corporate and government sectors impacted the job search process for their graduates. In many cases government funds are stretched thin to meet the needs of multiple programs and initiatives while grant agencies are becoming more selective in awarding limited funds to an increasing number of applicants.

A silver lining

School media centers experienced another modest increase in average salaries of 1.02% to $40,574 (compared with $40,161 in 2002). For two years running, school media specialist national average salaries have topped the $40,000 level. Table 6 compares the full-time salaries by area of job assignment. Media specialists are among those who receive the highest salaries, peaking at $88,000, ranking just below placements in web services ($94,000) and information technology ($90,000). The highly paid media specialists are career-changers. They report they are certified teachers moving from the classroom to the media center with several years (from six to 18) of teaching experience. However, this success is not shared by all. Several report having taken full-time placement as media assistants, library aides, or library assistants at very low salaries reported here in the hopes that better positions will become available in their school districts. In some instances this is further exacerbated by location and the type of educational position the graduates obtain. Graduates who got positions in rural areas nationwide and in the Southeast report salaries as low as $10,000 annually as media assistants and as specialized education instructors.

There are shifts in the types of full-time jobs graduates report for 2003. Administration, digital services, instruction, and media specialist positions are on the rise, while archives, cataloging and classification, and reference and information services jobs are down. Positions in administration and management look healthy, with 7.28% of the total placements compared with 4.42% in 2002. Eighteen of the graduates report job titles of director of the library, branch manager, and department head and describe responsibilities in financial planning and budgeting, policy development, and human resources.

In 2002, less than 1% of the graduates reported placement in digital services; in 2003, 1.08% reported placements related to electronic resources, digitization and preservation, or electronic and digital libraries. While salaries remained relatively constant between 2002 ($39,167) and 2003 ($39,433) for digital services, more graduates identified their positions as related to digital or electronic services.

Academic year 2003 saw a return to graduates reporting positions in instruction. The last time such jobs were reported was 2001, with an average beginning salary of $41,700. In 2003 the total placements in instruction makes up 1.44% of the placements (up from 0.55% in 2001) but with a significantly lower average salary ($34,663). Several graduates report such jobs with titles like assistant professor or education librarian, indicating that some of these positions hold faculty rank within the institution. A number of the graduates reported dual responsibilities in instruction and reference.

Placements in reference and information services (26.5% of the total) and media specialists (21.47% of the total) continue to dominate job types. In 2003 average salaries for reference and information services ($36,738) fell below the overall average for beginning salaries, down from $37,680 in 2002. Graduates also reported fewer jobs in reference. Some of this may be owing to reclassification and descriptions of jobs (describing electronic reference librarian as digital services/digital librarian) and the increase in part-time positions.

Outside libraries

As mentioned, a continuing leader in beginning salaries, the “other” category offers both variety and generous average salaries. LIS graduates obtaining positions in other organizations report an average salary of $46,543 (up 2.86% from 2002), which is approximately 18% higher than the overall average salary. “Other” placements offer challenge and excitement in areas of business analysis, grant-writing and fundraising, and digital initiatives. Graduates describe working in e-commerce, data mining, and data asset management, as well as in community outreach and international relations. Overwhelmingly, graduates noted that “mentoring by influential professors and recognized experts in the field,” “value of real client-based projects and portfolios,” and “networking and contacts both inside and outside of the profession” were significant in finding and gaining nontraditional jobs. Additionally, extensive experience in areas outside of libraries, such as business and computer sciences, heavily influenced employers in making hiring decisions.

Searching and searching…

For graduates who did not return to an employer or who did not find employment prior to graduation, the job search was challenging. The length of time to find employment ranged from less than one month to upwards of 19 months pounding the streets. The average job search took 4.5 months after graduation, almost three times as long as the average for the class of 2002. One graduate stated that library jobs are highly competitive with “too few jobs and too many applicants” despite the suggestion of professional staffing shortages. Obtaining jobs in government libraries in particular was a lengthy process, averaging six months. One graduate noted that “the interviewing process can take over a year in some cases” for government positions. On a positive note one solo librarian advised, “The process of finding a job was grueling, but I didn’t give up.” The right job turned up in an area where she least expected, though her search took eight months. Graduates recommend persistence and perseverance.

Many graduates expressed frustration in not finding salaries that reflect the advanced degree and in not finding professional positions in their regions. For many choosing to complete their degrees through a distance learning model, it has proven to be a double-edged sword in finding employment. The learning opportunity worked well for placebound students, but the inability to move hampered the job search when jobs were few near home. One graduate in the West indicated that “it was impossible to find a job without relocating outside of the state.” Some of the LIS schools suggested that it was much more difficult for the graduates who were conducting long distance job searches.

Either as a result of frustration or of active recruitment, a small number of LIS graduates (2.36%) have returned to school for additional degrees. Several indicated they are seeking advanced degrees in LIS and other disciplines while a few are working on postgraduate certificates in education. The consensus among those returning for additional degrees is that the master’s alone just isn’t enough to get the job.

LIS schools reported the number of job announcements they received for 2003 ranged from fewer than 100 to more than 5000. Many also indicate that with the prevalence of the web it is much more difficult to estimate the number of available jobs. Nine schools reported a decrease in the number of job announcements received; in some instances listings dropped by as much as 65%.

Both graduates and LIS schools reported greater difficulty placing international students within the United States. Respondents noted that owing to tightened visa laws and regulations, employers were reluctant to sponsor international graduates for full-time employment. The average length of the job search for international students is at the top of the range, with four graduates reporting no employment 18 months after graduation.

Experience matters

Perhaps in response to the paucity of jobs, graduates are finding out about job opportunities in a variety of ways. Many of the LIS schools indicate they provide access to job announcements by placing them on student bulletin boards and student e-lists. Thirteen of the schools that responded indicate they have formal placement services available. LIS schools also facilitate graduate placement through career workshops and by sponsoring career days. As a result of the myriad tools for communication available, LIS schools report no major difficulties in placing graduates, with the exception of the international students.

Graduates repeatedly suggested that previous experience in other jobs and networking with local professionals were instrumental in their job search success. One library media specialist summed up the job search by saying, “Prior experience in teaching and technology landed the job!” Many were able to call upon unique skills developed through previous experiences, such as public relations or community service, to complement the more traditional and technological skills they learned in the classroom. A number of graduates also stated that the “theoretical and philosophical foundations learned added depth to their understanding of the profession as a whole.” Overall, graduates agreed that fieldwork or internships along with previous experience had the most impact in obtaining professional placement. And, as in previous years, technological skills and the ability to conduct effective searches were cited as crucial to successfully landing a job.


Stephanie Maatta, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor, University of South Florida School of Library and Information Science, Tampa

Class of 2003: Sarah Bradley Leighton

Before she graduated from the School of Information at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, Sarah Bradley Leighton had already finished short “careers” in development and government relations. She was working at librarianship when she received her Master of Science in Information Studies (MSIS) degree in 2003, as an archives specialist at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the UT campus. Before that she had worked three years as a library assistant at the university’s Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Currently a library technician at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (LC), where at step one of the GS7 level she earns $34,000, Leighton is a truly passionate convert to libraries and archives.

“I do archival processing,” she says. “Collections come in, big giant boxes…sometimes in good order, other times just piles of things. I am assigned to specific collections, and I go through them, sort them, make sure that the paper isn’t disintegrating, that everything is properly housed to protect it…. We build finding aids, collection guides. It is wonderful work. It is like digging into history. I really get to touch the past.” She’s in the job only three months, and she loves it already.

“It is important to work at a place where you are passionate about the mission,” she says, adding, “It is easy to feel that way about the Library of Congress.”

Between 1997 and 2003 Leighton worked in development at UT doing fundraising and alumni relations for the McCombs School of Business. After that she completed a stint with the Texas Land Title Association, working with companies that do title research.

Where it all began

A graduate of Smith College, Leighton holds a BA in both Latin American studies and Russian civilization owing to her strong interest in language, cultural studies, government, and history.

Her first library experience was as a State Department intern at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas. She provided reference and other services at the Economic Commercial Section Library. Her next job was as a library aide at the U.S. Consulate American Library in St. Petersburg, Russia. Leighton’s enthusiasm, born at these posts where she helped local businesspeople with information needs, is infectious. She also interned with the Central Texas Chapter of REFORMA, the national organization to promote library and information services for Latinos and the Spanish-speaking, in which she maintains her membership.

Leighton aspires to increased responsibility in libraries and archives, where she deals directly with the public, providing access to information lessons in “how to use the amazing tools” like those made by LC and the National Archives.

Leighton is grateful that UT offered the flexibility that allowed her to work nearly full time while studying. “If you are just going to school you can’t get your hands into library work and understand how to apply what you are learning.”

The year-long job search

Leighton’s search for her current job was typical of recent LIS graduates. It took her more than a year to get placed. “Really get in there and try to find work that you would like to do,” she advises fellow students, recommending library work in tandem with school, even volunteering for a few hours a week. “Some people really like to be in the back, cataloging. Some like to be in front at the reference desk. If you don’t volunteer or work part time…you could start a job, realizing too late that it isn’t where you want to be.

Test out some duties, make some choices.”

“Fixing the First Job” by Ria Newhouse and April Spisak (LJ 8/04, p. 44-46) rang true for Leighton. “The part about the pay was true, but the other part about the ‘old guard’ was more telling. New librarians will run into resistance. I have experienced that kind of reaction. There is an old guard in this field. It is not just age, or turf. It is a remarkable method for avoiding quality improvement by insisting that we do a task one way because that is the way we’ve always done it.”

Leighton’s jobs in public affairs and development might have been better paid, but she says, “More money doesn’t make a bad job easier to go to each day. A big pension at the end of a career doesn’t make you want to get up in the morning. Sometimes when you come out of library school with this degree you think it should throw you into the next level, make you capable of better money.

If I am passionate about my work and I believe in what I am doing, then, in time, that is a greater reward.” –John N. Berry III

Survey Methods

We are pleased that several schools that were unable to participate in the past have done so this year, including Cal State-Long Beach, Drexel, Emporia, Kentucky, McGill, Missouri-Columbia, Pittsburgh, Rhode Island, and Southern Connecticut. Greater representation of LIS schools and graduates is reflected in more accurate placement and salary statistics.

We received responses either through the institutional survey or individuals representing 43 of the 56 LIS schools surveyed in the United States and Canada and from 1,598 (37.5%) of the reported 4,260 LIS graduates. Thirty-six of those schools polled their graduates, with Michigan sending in compilations in summary form. Hawaii, Iowa, North Texas, and UCLA provided only the institutional survey. Responses from Albany, Catholic University, and Tennessee were student-initiated, with no institutional response.

Schools were provided with the choice of responding by either paper or e-survey, with most choosing the electronic format. Some graduates and schools reported incomplete information, rendering some data unusable. For schools that did not complete the institutional survey, data were taken from graduate surveys and thus do not fully represent all graduating classes.

Make Sure Your School Gets Counted

Deans, Directors, and Chairs If you are a faculty member or a director and your school did not respond fully, now is the time to get started on the 2004 data. There are three stages in the annual LJ Placements & Salaries Survey.

  1. The school must provide the name and email address of the person who will serve as its contact and determine whether the school prefers to use the web or print version of the student survey. Do this online beginning in January 2005. Announcements will be forwarded to each school with the web address and other updated information.
  2. Submit the Institutional Survey. The school’s contact tells LJ the number and gender of graduates, the placement activity, and what areas were easier or harder to place for graduates during the year currently surveyed. This can be done after December graduation or late winter graduations.
  3. Get the 2004 survey to graduates. Direct graduates to the web survey or distribute and collect paper surveys and then mail in copies. Numerous outreach efforts will be made through new librarian electronic lists to encourage graduates to contact their schools to participate.
  • For Graduates If you are a 2004 graduate, make sure that your institution has your current email and mailing addresses. Ask to be included in the 2004 LJ Placements & Salaries Survey. Please answer all questions: the most frequently omitted information covers gender, salary, and type of institution/library.
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