In my last post, I ended with a question that should be easy to answer. If their library is outsourced to LSSI, and their pay and benefits are going to be cut, what should librarians do?
The easy answer is, quit. Find another job.
Wait, some of you might say! That’s not so easy to do, especially in this economy!
And here we come to the crux of the matter. If librarians threatening to quit, or even quitting, mattered at all, such outsourcing probably wouldn’t happen.
Before discussing that, let’s take a detour through some of the comments about that article from Monday. It’s a discussion of librarian salaries, supply, and demand that illuminates some of the problems librarians have with economics. Here’s a snippet from the comment thread:
With $35 Million in revenue and 800 employees, this is not a very profitable company, this breaks down to about $43,000 per employee. Makes we wonder what the average wage is…
Shockingly low for people with Master’s degrees.
As someone in grad school currently at an ALA accredited program (although I am not specializing in LIS specifically), that number is actually higher than the current expectations of most of my classmates pursuing librarianship positions at least for entry positions.
I’m not a fan of privitization in this case, but the average salaries are, unfortunately, not “shockingly low.”
Oh, sorry, my response was an answer to “I wonder what the wage is,” as opposed to commentary that $43k would be low. But, as an MLIS making less than 43k right now, I stand by my belief that librarians are underpaid for the level of education that it requires.
Supply and demand
Alex Duryee Collapse
Wages and positions have been decimated recently while demand is soaring. FT positions are cut to PT, or have more FT duties added on (with no increase in pay). Meanwhile, library use is seeing remarkable growth, esp. as many realign themselves as community centers (job help being a huge service now).
We’re seeing some bizarre inversion of supply and demand, with fewer positions/funding for more use.”
One commenter thinks librarian wages are “shockingly low for people with Master’s degrees” and later reiterates that “librarians are underpaid for the level of education it requires.
This kind of thinking about salaries is much too prevalent in librarianship. It’s similar to the ALA-APA arguments that librarians should be paid more because they have master’s degrees.
The problem is, that’s not the way the economy works. Just as having an MLS doesn’t mean the world owes you a library job, having an MLS doesn’t mean the world owes you a specific salary.
A lot of librarians are tricked into this kind of thinking because the world they know best is the public sector world free from competition, where salaries are awarded for credentials and seniority rather than accomplishment.
Public school teachers provide a perfect example. In many places, they get pay raises for completing an M.Ed., which is possibly even easier than an MLS. They also get paid more and get more job protection based on seniority. It explains why teachers aggressively resist any attempts to link their pay to student performance.
Plenty of library systems work that way as well, either because of union or civil service contracts. It’s a kind of thinking endemic to the public sector.
If librarians are to be competitive, the first thing they have to get out of their mind is that the MLS means they’re owed a job. The second is that a “master’s degree” translates into pay. Where you work, what sort of work you do, and how good you are at it help determine your pay. The most important factor is how much someone will pay you to do the work you do.
Another commenter notes the truth: low librarian salaries are the result of supply and demand. It’s pretty simple economics, which makes it troubling that another commenter, a librarian, gets confused.
Library use is up. Library funding is down. A contradiction? Is this a “bizarre inversion of supply and demand, with fewer positions/funding for more use”?
No, it isn’t. The supply and demand that determines librarian salaries has absolutely nothing to do with how many people use libraries. It has to do with how many librarians are willing to work at a given salary. If libraries can find librarians willing to work for $40,000, or even $30,000, then that’s what the librarians will get paid. If libraries aren’t offering higher salaries, then librarians aren’t in more demand. It’s really that simple.
An increase in library use doesn’t translate into a demand for librarians. Partly, that’s because most librarians are insulated from the market. Librarians don’t get bonuses because of meeting external targets. If more people use the library, that doesn’t mean you get a bonus, though if your changes are responsible for that increased use, you might be able to parlay that into a better job.
Another part of the answer is included in the comment itself. If libraries are transitioning into community centers or job placement centers, then they have less need for degreed librarians. It doesn’t take a master’s degree to be able to help people fill out job applications or get email accounts. If your work is deprofessionalized, so is your salary.
And if full time people get cut to part time, or get duties added with no increase in pay, and they don’t quit, then they’re not underpaid. They’re paid what the supply demands, and maybe a little more.
If no one will pay you more to provide the service you provide, then you’re not underpaid. If you don’t like your pay, but can’t quit or find another job that will pay more, then you’re not underpaid.
It’s the way the world works. If it makes you feel any better, I don’t like it, either.