Annoyed Librarian
Search ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

A Little Inconsistency

There’s a serious inconsistency between library education and the job market. Actually, there are several inconsistencies, but today I’m pointing out just one. We seem to have developed a profession which is nationally competitive for the best jobs, but with an educational apparatus more appropriate to supply regional positions with unambitious locals.

Now, no matter how smart or talented you are, or where you went to school, if you’re not willing to move for a job, your chances of getting a good one are reduced significantly. And yet, the salaries even for the best jobs are hardly competitive with comparable private sector positions.

Despite there being so many fewer of them, a lot of library schools function like education schools do. Typically, education schools are there to give the education establishment imprimatur to whatever locals need it to teach in local schools. Rarely are they competitive. Their students and the students those students will teach are usually in the same region.

Library schools also function that way. Even at some of the bigger and better schools, most of the students are going to be in-state students hoping to find a job in the same state. Often enough, they’re hoping to find a job in the university library itself, which is about as geographically limiting as you can get.

And most public libraries resemble public schools in this way. Some public libraries are going to draw candidates from all over the country, especially in supposedly desirable places to live like New York or San Francisco. No one wants to move to some rural backwater they’ve never heard of, though, even if the library advertised nationally and actually paid well, which it wouldn’t. . Libraries in undesirable places often have to depend on local talent willing to work for low wages. Library education and salaries are designed with this model in mind.

But this isn’t how the best jobs or the ones with the most opportunity work. For those jobs, you have to strike when they’re available and be willing to move cross country if necessary. And while the best jobs do pay relatively well compared to others, they’re still not paying the kind of salaries the same people could probably make even as sales managers. Many good librarians take those jobs to avoid the stress of working 80 hours a week in constant fear of losing their financial or legal services job.

We’ve reached the point where even mediocre jobs are nationally competitive, while the salaries and educational structure to support these jobs are reminiscent of some previous era when bored local women who weren’t allowed to work in other places would take library jobs for a bit of pin money.

Add to that the apparent unwillingness to bargain for salaries when they can and the willingness of libraries to hire cheaper second-rate candidates if the preferred candidates won’t work for peanuts. I’ve seen this happen to various librarians who get excited about a particular job until the salary offer comes. It would save everyone a lot of time if all job ads specified maximum salaries for the position, so people would know whether they should even bother.

Sometimes the pay is so low positions stay unfilled for years, or are subject to rapid turnover of desperate librarians moving on quickly to better opportunities. Occasionally the administration at said library is absolutely clueless, and will complain that they can’t find good candidates, but usually if enough candidates turn down offers they start to figure things out.

And then there are the candidates who just don’t bargain. Is this the only profession where the professionals just take whatever is offered? I’ve talked to librarians who think they’ve achieved a real coup by getting a couple thousand extra in the bargaining process.

This is a problem I have no solution for. The most likely chance of change is that non-traditional candidates will start taking library jobs that are so necessary people are willing to pay more. Otherwise, a lot of libraries will continue to benefit from local librarians who consider this a calling rather than a profession, and will continue to work with low wages and bad conditions. I’m not sure where this leaves the rest of us, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a good place.



  1. Agreed. What bothers me is that while there are plenty of other professions with people working for a “calling”, many of those know how to organize and get their worth. Plenty of nurses, teachers and firefighters understand what it takes to get paid, but not us. No, we cling to the idea that somehow the bad pay, terrible conditions and lack of respect are all justified by the great things we give back to the community.

    Sadly, the community doesn’t care because it sees us as cheap sources for entertainment, trivia questions, computer access and babysitting. Since we obviously don’t demand respect, a livable wage, or good working conditions, it means that we should just lie down and allow ourselves to be trampled.

    I am amazed when I get a complaint about not having an item or not offering a particular service. Some of my colleagues will tell me not to worry about it and keep smiling – “Maybe we should look at how to work their request into the budget”. Well, perhaps the right response we should be giving is if the patron wants the service, then they need to pay more for our budget.

    I actually have a colleague that is going to college classes so that they can offer better programming! Out of their own pocket! This is on top of student loans and other expenses getting through library school. At some point, good intentions begin leading to bad career choices.

    As a profession, we need to learn how to say “no” and grow a backbone.

  2. About the bargaining– we recently had 2 librarians come speak to my class about the hiring process, one an academic librarian and the other a government librarian. They were asked if anyone ever negotiated salaries or if that is a possibility, and they both told us flat out that they are only allowed to offer a certain amount to a candidate and that there is no such thing as negotiation. They are given an amount from administration, and no one ever questions it. And if a candidate did try to, they would be told there is no flexibility. I’ve always wondered if I am expected to negotiate salary or not, but I figured most places were like this.

  3. It’s always possible to negotiate salaries. In some cases the director can provide a higher entry level to the candidate. Sometimes that’s limited and to offer a higher entry point requires approval from a city or county manager.

  4. horriblejob says:

    I’ve interviewed at Vendors and Private Universities and they seem to expect some salary negotiation although I think the Vendor was going for the lowest bidder.

  5. Bruce Campbell says:

    I might be in the “hot seat” soon negotiating a salary and I think the best way to negotiate is to bring facts, statistics with you, i.e., the average salary for a librarian with your same title at a similar institution (college, public, what have you).

    Present this information and if they don’t budge insist their salary is unfair and below the average.

    I hope it works. It might become a staring contest.

  6. Amen sister!! Unfortunately, it is a case of one or the other. When I took my first professional job in a technical college 2 years ago, I was naive about the salary and negotiation process. I was offered an embarrassingly low salary, which in comparison to my previous salary as a library assistant was big money. However, after 2 years, it looks pretty meager considering my salary is well below the average for librarians in my local area, state, and about 20k less than the other 2 librarians here! Ouch!! On one hand I was able to land a job relatively quickly in my home area and in an academic library, but on the other hand the pay really sucks. However, at my institution negotiation is a dirty word, so it was either take it or leave it. Needless to say, now that I am itching to move on, I am better prepared to fight for a better salary. At least one I feel I deserve.

  7. During one job interview, I was asked my minimum salary requirement, which I told them. Then I was later offered the job for about $15,000/year less than the minimum I had given. After I stopped laughing at the HR person, I hung up without bothering to bargain, figuring I would never want to work for a place that would pull something like that.

  8. Hey AL, how about commenting on the odd musings of this dreamy librarian:

    Her dreams of the perfect bookmobile have something to do with keeping good staff in lousy jobs.

  9. When it comes to standard librarian positions (as opposed to directorships), bargaining is not always possible these days. In some small town public libraries, the salary set by the local government or city council is what is available…period.

    Even when there is some flexibility in salary budgets, there is no need for many libraries to bargain in this economic climate. It is common to end up with a large number of qualified, competent applicants who each have a major in-demand skill.

    For example, the last time my library posted a job announcement for a part-time page position we had over 100 applicants within 3 days, 25% of whom were degreed and experienced librarians or teachers (for a part-time PAGE position that only required a high school diploma). They were all just desperate for a job, no matter what it paid.

    Salary bargaining is always a good thing to attempt, but applicants in the U.S. in this economic climate should not feel bad if it doesn’t work. There are just far too many well-qualified applicants on the market right now.

    – James

  10. I’d question that academic librarian and government librarian about the negotiating. I’ve been a fed and I’m now in an academic library – and both places negotiate salaries all the time. Now, the public library I worked for…not so much.

    And, thank you, AL! I cannot tell you how many times I have argued with people who think they’re going to never have to relocate for a job and then bemoan the sad state of their pay check. When I finished library school, I had a job offer from the public library I was working at to move to a professional position. I also had a job offer from a federal agency – pay wasn’t too much higher but I knew the promotion potential was FAR better there. I took the federal job and in 5 years was making 3x what I had originally been offered by the public library.

    I can’t imagine what a sad life I would be stuck in if I had stayed in my hometown working for the public library. I’d never own a house; I’d never own a nice car; I’d never be out of debt. All it took to get all of that was a move 500 miles north. I highly recommend it!

  11. When we hire at our university library, the Dean typically looks to hire within a certain salary range, not according to a scale, but based on what we can afford to pay for that position. An applicant thus has some room to negotiate, but the reality is there is only a few thousand to be had before hitting a tacit ceiling. I think that applicants should always try to come in as high as possible, but higher in our world could well be a disappointment.

  12. “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide” by Babcock and Laschever examines how women are acculturated not to negotiate. I found it a worthwhile read.

  13. RE: the comment / link from “librarian” on 10NOV10 @ 4:15pm:

    My word – that “article” is *crap.* Will ALA publish just anything they receive?

  14. And speaking of ALA, my professor just tried to sell my class on joining the organization. A summary of what she said:

    You should join the ALA – not because it’s a nice thing to do – but because it is what makes us different from the people that work at the information kiosk at the mall. It’s a professional organization, and that’s what makes us a profession. It provides us with our standards and guidelines. ALA members are standing on the shoulders of people who came before in the last 150 years.

  15. Spekkio, I’m a young librarian — just five years into my career. I got my start because I could move and gained a lot of pre graduation experience, had a few specialized skills, and then was lucky enough to just squeak by with graduation a year before the recession. I remember being more innocent about ALA a few years ago, but even then your professor’s comment would have made my head hurt. Ouch — how do you make it through class?

  16. re: Cayman, “then they need to pay more for our budget.”

    I had a patron demand that I teach her how to use her ereader. My response was, “What did that cost you? To whom did you pay that $189? Was it to the library or to me? No. Get the person with your money to teach you. Or start giving the library your money and I’ll see what I can do for you next time.”

    You don’t believe I said that? Good for you.

    I’m a terrible negotiator. I would take whatever they gave me, but make up for it later by stealing pens.

  17. I had a professor in my library science program who urged us all to bargain for things, whether it be a decent office, a better office setup, a better-than-the-minimum-listed salary, etc. Then I spent a year and a half looking all over the country for someone who would hire me, getting more and more desperate. When I finally was offered a job, I tried to negotiate a higher salary, because I knew that the salary was lower than what was usually offered (even in towns of comparable size in the same state) for the same position in other libraries. I got shot down immediately and then it was a choice: did I want to hold out and potentially (probably) lose the one chance I had to work in the field I had trained for, or did I want to just take the job. I took the job.

    Does negotiating ever actually work when you’re fresh out of library school, trying to get a job while competing against more applicants than there are jobs? I don’t even know that negotiating would necessarily work for me now, after two years of experience as a cataloger. At the library where I currently work, the salary that is listed in a job add is the salary you are getting – we’re lucky if we can even get the go-ahead to list a job opening in the first place, we’re not going to be able to pay anybody more than the ad indicated. Our office furniture comes from the university surplus – it took developing tendinitis for me to get a *slightly* better desk setup.

  18. I think the problem with negotiating, is that senior management encounter it very seldom, so it’s not in their mindset, and they also have the (usually correct) assumption that the applicant is desperate. The only successful negotiation I know of at a relatively junior level was a colleague who saw a job at for what was basically her job, at a nearby university, but offering a much higher salary. She took it to senior management, and they said no to her request for an increase. So she applied for the job, and got it. Suddenly when she’s quitting, senior management is all anxious to pay her what it takes to get her to stay.

  19. The biggest factor in negotiation is how much they want you versus how much you want the job. If currently employed at a decent job your chances of successful negotiation increase dramatically b/c you may not necessarily leave unless the money is dramatically better. I negotiated a better salary at my current job simply b/c I asked and then defended why I should receive a higher salary. The hiring committee found the extra money despite initially saying there was no negotiating. I did spend 5 years in sales before librarianship though so I know that everything is negotiable!

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE