February 16, 2018

Mary George and Chris Christman | Movers & Shakers 2003

A Partnership for Fair Pay


Mary George and Chris Christman bring radically different personalities to the fight for fair pay for the librarians of Placer County, CA. George thinks of Christman as the clever fox and herself as a Tasmanian devil. Their differing styles might be referred to as “That’s not fair!” and “That’s not legal.”

Now in charge of a branch as well as systemwide children’s services, George is the fiery one, ranting and complaining about unkept promises by county officials. Law librarian Christman is the calm one who didn’t entirely believe her until he went to the law books to see if they had a case. Together, they are variations on the theme of irresistible force – especially since Christman earned a law degree just so he could learn how to think like (and refute) a lawyer.

Their partnership began in 2000, when Placer County officials, off the record, promised the library director that salaries would be increased as much as ten percent after the county reevaluated job classifications. While some compensation was increased by as much as 25 percent, librarians got only a 2.5 percent increase, supposedly based on a market survey.

When this was announced, George asked Christman to help her draft a letter to the head of the Placer County Public Employees Organization Local 39, explaining their refusal to ratify that contract. The letter, which referenced several violations of the California Code, was signed by 40 library employees.

Christman proved that county officials were ignoring California’s fair compensation and gender equity laws, as well as their own job classification schedules, and paying librarians far less than other county employees with equal responsibility, education, experience, knowledge, and ability. He found that the county’s external salary survey had been skewed by comparing library salaries with only those in eight other counties that also underpaid their librarians.

George and Christman befriended union members and educated them about what librarians do and the education and information skills required. George says what really got the union’s attention was how very uncomfortable she and Christman made county officials; the Grand Jury asked those officials to look into the issue of fair compensation for library staff. When they were asked by the county’s personnel office to back off on the gender equity issue, George and Christman knew they were onto something and pushed even harder.

When not engaged in pay battles, George and Christman lead very different librarian lives.

George believes her job is to make her facility customer-friendly and efficient. She abides by what she calls the “alien abduction theory of management”: “If aliens come and abduct any one of us, our library should be so intuitively organized that other librarians and clerical staff could easily adapt, run the show, and feel confident.”

As librarian at the only law library in Placer County for the general public, Christman works with people who really need him: “By the time they hear about our library, they are being sued or evicted. I like doing what I can to help them.”

While not a crusader by nature, Christman is not a good man to rile. When the county required all employees to attend a seminar on diversity and used a case study that stereotyped librarians as blue-haired ladies who resisted learning anything about technology, he sent a stiff note to both the county’s director of personnel and the law firm that sponsored the presentation, pointing out that it is not a good idea to use disparaging remarks about an entire class of people while explaining why it is illegal to use disparaging remarks about entire classes of people.

It’s an improbable association, but George and Christman believe they couldn’t have succeeded without the complementary strengths of the other. Theirs is a partnership that pays.



Christopher Christman

Current Position: Law Librarian, Placer County Law Library, CA

Degrees: MLS, University of Mississippi, Hattiesburg, 1995; JD, McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific, 1990

Mary George

Current Position: Managing Branch Librarian, Rocklin Library; Children’s Services Coordinator, Placer County Library, CA

Degree: MLIS, University of California – Berkeley, 1991