February 17, 2018

Benefiting from Your Benefits | Not Dead Yet

Cheryl LaGuardiaOkay folks, it’s time to talk about one of those things they usually don’t cover in library school: job benefits. As any employer can tell you, the cost of your benefits is considerable (or at least, usually it is, if you have halfway decent benefits, and most libraries do provide at least that). Which means your employment provides you with stuff to which you may not pay a lot of attention…until you’re up against a problem and really need that safety net.

What am I talking about here? A multitude of things, health benefits being the most important of all. It is to be hoped that you receive some health insurance through your library employer. Depending upon your personal circumstances and lifestyle, you may know more or less about just what your health benefits are, and you may use them not at all, or a lot.

When I asked some friends and colleagues recently about what’s important to them about their health coverage, one laughed and said, “You’re talking to someone who just fell off her bike.” Another friend has, in the past year or so, had a “slight” concussion (did I mention that at 40-plus she plays ice hockey?), and another has been having quite a bit of physical therapy because of a motorcycle accident. Another friend has been getting into poison ivy perennially, and then there’s the friend with sundry joint pain and the separated shoulder (this may just be the one playing hockey). Another, yes, fell off her shoes. And these are my healthy friends! So… health benefits: no brainer, good thing, important thing. And something to pay a lot of attention to when you’re thinking of accepting a job.

There are other benefits you should consider when you’re job-seeking and when you’re offered a position. These can have higher or lower importance depending upon your time of life, career phase, and personal situation, and they include benefits such as:

  • 401(k) or 403(b) plans,
  • vacations,
  • sick leave,
  • rent-controlled/subsidized housing,
  • tuition remission (for yourself and/or children or spouse),
  • elder-care subsidies,
  • transportation subsidies,
  • professional development support,

and many more (a good list is provided in the article: “Employee Benefits,” by Mary Jo Lynch, Director, ALA Office for Research & Statistics.

If you’re just starting out as a librarian, and your library offers a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, and none of your colleagues has yet hectored you about starting one, then consider me that hectoring colleague: please start one! As early as you can, even if you can only contribute the minimum amount allowed. Had-I-But-Known I would have started one earlier than I did.

A friend and colleague with a business background finally convinced me to begin a 403(b) and thus I learned the wonders of pre-tax savings and compound interest. This same friend and colleague counsels a group of us annually to put whatever increase in salary (if there is one) directly into the 403(b) plan (“counsels” may not be a sufficiently emphatic term…). As he says, “it’ll only feel like two-thirds (or thereabouts) of what you’re putting in.”

Another friend stayed in a particular position because she wanted to be very actively involved in professional organizations and library and information conferences, and the library at which she worked provided excellent professional development funding. Based on that, she traveled to national and international conferences, made a name for herself as an expert in her specialization, and was able to pick and choose from a variety of job opportunities for her next career move.

I also know someone who mapped out a career strategy whereby he moved to different kinds of libraries based on the benefits that would be most useful to him at different points in his life, staying at one place that gave tuition assistance to employees while he got a degree, moving to another place that provided tuition remission for his kids and staying there until they had graduated from college, then moving on to an administrative position at another library that didn’t offer tuition remission for his kids when he didn’t need it anymore.

Yet another friend moved to a position where he got into a federal benefit plan. It’s probably the job from which he’ll retire, and the retirement benefits he’ll get are very good.

One friend and colleague makes extensive use of the Center for Wellness at her place of employment. She takes health-related classes (yoga, meditation, massage, and Reiki) and credits the center with helping her find a very good work/life balance.

Ultimately, I think the greatest benefit I’ve found from working in libraries is loving what I do. I know how lucky I am in that, and I recommend it as the ultimate benefit to seek. Hope you all find it!

Read eReviews, where Cheryl LaGuardia and Bonnie Swoger look under the hood of the latest library databases and often offer free database trials

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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  1. One thing that you didn’t mention is the defined benefit pension aka the old-fashioned kind of pension. They’re worth seeking out.

  2. Michael says:

    As one that has retired from a defined benefit pension employer, I can say that the defined benefit is currently helping with health coverage costs while I continue to work at another institution. I will second the mention of the greatest benefit being ‘loving the work!’

    Is there going to be a follow-up article about things to watch out for when one considers retirement?

  3. Brian Coutts says:

    Great column Cheryl. We figure the benefits package for our librarians is worth about 34% on top of their salary. This includes state retirement or TIAA-CREF, medical, dental, campus health/wellness, life insurance, disability insurance, pre-tax Medical savings accounts, travel support, etc.