Holding steady. That’s the overarching picture of salaries for new graduates from MLIS programs, as captured by LJ’s annual Placements & Salaries Survey. Every year, LJ takes the pulse of the profession through this national survey, and each year we suss out the significant issues conveyed by the numbers and the respondents’ verbatim replies. Steady, of course, can be relatively good news in a challenged economy. Still, I don’t like it. I want to see salary growth in this evolving and crucial profession. More important, the bulk of our new graduates need better salaries to survive and thrive—and the profession needs those wages to retain, and continue to attract, the best and the brightest.
The most exciting news this year jumps out of the job descriptions. The deeper integration of tasks related to things data and digital reflects the dynamism in this field—at every institution type. The new roles include emerging technologies librarians, e-learning librarians, social media managers, and digital content managers. (See all the data and analysis in “The Emerging Databrarian,” p. 26–33.)
Librarians have been incorporating this type of work into their jobs for some time, of course, but it is heartening to see this complexity expressed in a robust way in the jobs awaiting new graduates. To me, the emerging digital librarian is an expression of the flexibility inherent in library work. It’s exciting to see the field adapting to new technologies, big data, and more. The job description of the librarian is expanding—this is a good thing.
If you’re not sure, stories like the MIT Technology Review’s recent feature “How Technology Is Destroying Jobs” serve up plenty of food for thought. This piece proposes the likelihood that every profession will be radically impacted by computing and robotization, which are replacing jobs faster than we can create new ones that can be done best by humans. The challenge represented by this concept cannot be ignored.
Librarians have long been in the forefront of incorporating automation where possible to free human capacity in order better to focus limited public resources. This allows them to bring creativity to bear on patrons’ needs and develop responsive services that fill gaps and build communities. That’s the human touch that is represented in the range of services libraries provide, from handing a child a book to read and creating a social media strategy to digitizing a collection and so on. The answer is not to shy away from technology but to continue to answer the key question of where technology can be used so that people can do more and better work. The profession’s future may very well depend upon doing what librarians keep doing already, only more swiftly.
Which brings me back to salaries: that flexible human intelligence, deployed across libraries small and large, should be valued at a higher rate, whether the librarian’s responsibilities touch these new technologies directly or not. The advocacy on pay, however, is abysmal. It’s been a decade since Mitch Freedman created a fever pitch on salary improvement and pay equity when he was president of the American Library Association (ALA). We need more of that kind of leadership. The onus remains on ALA to help address this head on.
The average salary, at $44,503, sits at a statistically insignificant $62 below the average for 2011 graduates, basically static—but the average is just one number in this complex story. I am excited by the innovation in our roles seen this year. I am encouraged by the earning power in the hands of those on the high end. Yet I am concerned about the professionals who after graduation are battling to break into earning a livable wage (and likely have student loan debt, to boot).
I want the money these graduates earn to reflect what they contribute to their communities: creating a culture of lifelong readers and learners, bolstering schools and academic settings, supporting adults as they grapple with the realities of life and work, and helping us all be more agile in the increasingly digital era.
These graduates are worth every penny we can give them—and more.