Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Surveying the Salaries

If there’s anything the LJ Salary Survey can tell us, it’s that librarians generally don’t mind needing a graduate degree in order to earn mediocre pay. We must have the greatest jobs in the world.

Seriously, with the median pay for most librarian jobs in the $50,000 range and with around two thirds of librarians being “satisfied” or “very satisfied” in their jobs, what else are we to make of it?

It’s either that librarians have great jobs, or that the sort of people who become librarians are complacent and willing to settle for just about anything. We’ll leave that up in the air.

However, there are some dissatisfied librarians out there, and they tend to be the ones who can’t get decent librarian jobs. Go figure. The worst in the survey seems to be the part-timers. In public libraries, only 23% of them are very satisfied with their jobs, while 32% of the full-timers are.

I’m assuming that librarians who can’t find work at all aren’t included in the survey since they don’t have salaries, but they’re also probably dissatisfied.

Since I haven’t been seeing as many job ads for part-time librarians, I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten. Maybe libraries don’t even need to advertise anymore. They have desperate MLSs lined up outside their doors every morning hungry for work, like longshoremen on the docks.

It turns out that 16% of public librarians are part-time, but only 6% of academic librarians. That’s really striking when you consider that about 40% of college faculty are part-timers. Supposedly that’s a crisis proportion, but it was 25% in 1975, so the situation never been particularly rosy.

Nevertheless, it seems that academic librarians have weathered a storm that teaching faculty have not. I guess it’s a lot easier to hire someone part time to teach low level introductory courses than it is to hire someone to develop an information literacy program or catalog books.

The part-time issue in public libraries is even worse if you’re in reference or circulation, where about 25% of the librarians are part-time.

One head of circulation is “hiring folks with MLSs for part-time temporary work. They are desperate to work in a library and cannot find a job.” That library “hired on about a dozen new people—but all of them are part-time, less than 20 hours per week, and get no benefits.”

A hiring public librarian said the “systems require years of part-time work from credentialed librarians before even considering them for full-time positions.” Who puts up with that?

Yet another hiring librarian asked, “Are there a lot of other professions that require a master’s degree for part-time work?” So the person hiring part-time librarians is wondering this?

No doubt the hiring librarians have good intentions. They probably don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. Even if they did have a choice, they have no economic incentives to hire full-time librarians with benefits. Why would they, when they can get desperate part-timers? Nothing boosts staff morale like desperate part-timers!

While looking for the percentage of college adjuncts, I ran into this story in the NYT about a 42-year-old man “with a wife, a toddler, and mounting credit card debt” who can’t find full-time work as an English professor 18 months after graduating with a PhD from CUNY.

I know we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, and I do. I feel sorry that someone stayed in school until their forties and hadn’t realized that their chance of getting a good teaching job was pretty low. By that age you should be planning your retirement income, not trying to find your first professional job.

Part-time librarians aren’t in quite as bad a position, since an MLS usually doesn’t take 8-10 years to earn. If they’ve graduated in the last few years, they shouldn’t even be surprised at their part-time status, since at least one library blog has been talking about the poor library jobs situation for years.

While not as long a shot as finding a good teaching job with a PhD in English or History, finding the right library job is often a matter of luck. If you’re in a state like North Carolina with three library schools pumping out grads every year and you want to work in a public library, your chances diminish considerably, and yet people keep hoping.

Does everyone go through school feeling like they’re going to be the lucky one?

On the other hand, even some of the lucky ones aren’t happy. Having tenure as an academic librarian is quite a boon, since “librarians with tenure make a median of $72,750 versus $49,596 for those without tenure.” God bless tenure!

But even some of those lucky people complain. One librarian reported feeling that “being on tenure track detracts from being better at my actual job.”

That’s clearly a librarian who should have taken a different job, because when you’re on the tenure track publishing is part of your “actual job.”

Sheesh, quit complaining already. It could be a lot worse.



  1. I figure I was one of the lucky ones. I had what amounts to a public library dream job (supervising a children’s/YA department, think story time and fun activities for teens) and walked away from it. The pay was decent and I loved the job, but I had to take on an onerous commute to get there, regular late hours away from my family, and the institution was going through financial crises like clockwork every 2-3 years. So in the end I gave up the dream job for something closer to home, not in the library field, with better pay and more reasonable hours.

  2. $50,000?!

    I know it’s a median, but $50,000?!

    • Sadly, I’ve been in the field for 8 years and don’t make much above that ($52,000). And I’m academic — full time, full benefits. Some of that is my fault — I didn’t do a good job of negotiating a decent salary at the get go. But I doubt my employer would have agreed to much more than what I was offered to be honest. Oh well, at “least” I have a job. And one that I truly enjoy 90% of the time.

    • I know… I don’t know many public librarians who make that, at least outside of cities where it may as well be minimum wage.

  3. Bobbi Perryman says:

    I guess since I come from a poor background $50,000 seems like plenty to me. At $45,000, I’m making more than my parents or siblings ever have and I’m happy with that amount. I also love my public library job and would rather have it at my currently salary than a job I don’t find as fulfilling at twice as much.

    • Ha! 45k is a dream. My system doesn’t even pay what the NON-DEGREED LIBRARIANS make. We have 5 branches and serve over 50k in our community, but we only make $31k before taxes! BEFORE taxes! :( It’s a sad day when you can’t afford to live in a nice place and save money because your job that you had to earn a Master’s degree for won’t pay you anywhere near the median!

    • 5 branches for a community of 50k? That’s probably why the salaries are bad. We serve a similar amount of patrons with 2 branches. A lot of the funding that would go to salaries must be going to upkeep of the buildings (and additional employees that would likely be unnecessary in less branches).

  4. The $50,000 salary seems like an unobtainable goal when everywhere I look I can only find part-time positions with no benefits. And that is not a problem exclusive to libraries- try finding full time work anywhere these days. It’s not easy.

  5. SPENCER says:

    This is being looked at all wrong. It’s a simple supply and demand problem. The schools churn out MLS graduates and no one retires. It’s not that people stand for it, it’s that they were sold a bill of goods.

    There will NOT be a flood of librarian jobs hitting the market any time soon. Most professional positions in the public realm can be well serviced by capable library assistants and support staff.

    It’s a leaner world where we’ve learned to do more with less- and once that happens it doesn’t often go back.

    • I work in an academic library in smaller library that for the most part, has staff that is flexible and willing to multitask. The exception is the reference librarian who seems to exist in a world of her own and doesn’t want to do her part to help out. I know she’s running out of tasks to do because she bought to my attention that we needed to look for a record that she put on her to-do list at least a year ago. I told her I’d take a look when I had some time, which may not be for a while and if I really feel like engaging in that wild goose chase.

      We got space and funding secured to free up space and all but the reference librarian moved and shifted items. My boss, the director, participated too. Now it’s just students moving books because it’s not a productive use of the permanent staff’s time during the summer.

      We’ve been told that the latest version of the campus libraries’ strategic plan is to reduce the physical footprint of the library. That means that smaller departmental libraries with mostly standard sized books and journals could be at risk of being closed and moved into larger libraries. The departmental libraries that have larger holdings and more specialized holdings are safe because there isn’t the storage space for some of the specialized holdings (large maps, etc) outside of their current homes. The one I work in is safe because of the specialized nature of the collection and the time consuming nature of switching some of the holdings. This also means they are going to look at existing staffing levels to determine how many permanent staff each library and individual departments within the larger libraries need. The ones that are already running on a leaner mode are okay, but it’s going to be a rude shock for some people when they are told that they have to absorb the work of a retiring colleague instead of that colleague being replaced. Another scenario that I see happening is HR revevaluting if the task currently being done by a paraprofessional could be done by a student, undergrad and graduate, part time person, or temporary person. There’s a number of positions at the main library that have incumbents that are close to retirement or past retirement age that are doing positions that could be done more efficiently and cheaply by students. The library school students would be getting professional experience and part of their tuition paid for and the library would be getting cheaper labor.

    • Frumious Bandersnatch says:

      It all depends on what you’re willing to consider “well serviced”. Professional positions cannot be serviced equally well by non-professionals…that’s why they’re “professional” positions. Administrators who won’t, or can’t, budget for appropriately paid and trained professional staff need not kid themselves by thinking it doesn’t make that much difference. We can’t continue to simultaneously assert the authority and professionalism we offer as the reason to choose us over Google, then cut all the authoritative professionals to save a buck.

    • Honestly, those retiring are not being replaced. Or are replaced with part-time librarians. But I do believe that way too many LIS schools exist and too many enter with pie in the sky dreams.

  6. I have worked as an academic librarian and an educational media specialist/school librarian, but not as a public librarian. I believe all librarians with an MLS degree deserve better pay. However, these are lean times and many are grateful just to have jobs. There are over 120,000 public libraries in the U.S. alone. They provide valuable services to patrons. I am now a retired librarian and full-time writer who values my local library. For an interesting article full of library statistics, check out Galleycat at:

    • If you got the 120,000 figure from that Galleycat link, I wouldn’t trust their stats. It’s wildly inaccurate. Per the Institute of Museum and Library Services FY11 data, 17,586 library outlets. That’s main libraries + branches. If you’re looking at library systems, there are 9,305. Nowhere near 120,000. There might be 120,000 libraries of all types, if you’re adding together public, school and academic, but I haven’t looked for that number.

  7. I have been working on an article, so I have been looking at salary surveys by out by LJ and the stats that LJ releases annually. Not the most objective and complete source of information from what I have seen. As others have mentioned, LIS programs graduate tons of students every year, and there are just not enough jobs (part-time, let alone full time jobs) for all these grads. There are very few entry level jobs, and librarianship is the only profession that I can think of that requires a graduate degree, and expects people to volunteer to get actually library experience if they are unable to find a full-time job.

  8. Bonegirl06 says:

    $50,000 is a decent salary where I live, which is north of Pittsburgh. Sure it won’t get you far in New York City, but I don’t know…It doesn’t seem bad to me especially with benefits. If you work in an academic library you can probably also take advantage of tuition remission for yourself and family.

  9. Malcolm says:

    I am soooo fortunate to be working as a site supervisor (aka branch manager) for a medium sized public library in New Mexico. I do not have a library degree (in fact, my degree is in Political Science) but I have managed to work my way up through the system. I do not make $50k (I’m at about $40k) but I am full-time and a city employee with great benefits. So, I feel sorry for those who have invested so much to get a master’s degree and then have to try and find a good paying position. I have a stack of page interest forms (pages get minimum wage in my system and aren’t city employees but long term temporaries) and yes, there are some applicants who have a master’s degree in English, Library Science, or a related field.

  10. No matter how you cut it, our profession is undervalued. We are at a crisis point, and it’s going to take some divergent thinking to improve a bad situation. A couple of ideas. Promote libraries and librarians better than we do now. Sometimes I get the feeling that our promotional stuff is targeted at us. If McDonald’s can get puny hamburgers over with the creative use of media, how much more should we able to do promoting librarianship and its value to society. Let’s get away from the frivolous gibberish we throw around. Every message about what we do has to express in a compelling and engaging way how important we are to the social, political, cultural, and economic future of this country. Finally, library schools have to turn the tap off. We are flooded with MLS degrees. Library schools have to be much more selective and set higher competitive standards for acceptance. Pretty soon the schools will base their admissions on how well somebody can draw a figure from a matchbook cover.

  11. I’m curious how this all compares to government salary data; has anyone run the comparison? ( or for the direct dataset).

  12. I worked four years at a Louisiana Academic Library. There, the only part-time workers were student workers who had to be full time students; I was one of these. Everyone else was full time.
    Now, at a Louisiana Public Library, I get 16 hours. However, here, we have subs (which I am) who can fill empty positions to gain a total of 40 hours a week. Unfortunately, because I am “technically” 16 hours, I get no benefits.
    There are 250 employees in this library system. Out of this, about 115 of us are subs, some of which have 0 hours and can work as little or as much as they choose through subbing.
    That is 60 percent!
    The other 40% can sub if there are under hours (ex. 30-hour employees can get 10 sub hours)
    which makes it hard to get hours in general. The first to respond to the emails gets the hours.
    I currently don’t have a MLIS but to be a manager of a small branch you only need 9 hours of LS plus a BACH in anything. So you don’t even necessarily need a masters degree in LA to be full time. It just helps.
    And once you are hired, you can stair-step into jobs. Most libraries (and jobs in general) promote from within. So if it is a matter of hours, you can work your way up.

  13. $50,000 is GREAT! It’s also about $19,000 more than I make as a librarian in Ohio.

  14. Quote: “I know we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, and I do. I feel sorry that someone stayed in school until their forties and hadn’t realized that their chance of getting a good teaching job was pretty low. By that age you should be planning your retirement income, not trying to find your first professional job.”

    I am shocked at this “ageism” biased statement.

    Many face atrocity and disaster within their private lives, while numerous others are tossed around by the tragic forces of fate.

    Not everyone may live in the sublime enchantment of sailing directly into a master status career at 23years of age.

    Perhaps you should read any one of the numerous books on the acute frailty and diversity of our human existence?

    Many have witnessed the complete collapse of everything they ever took for granted costing many precious years of their lives.

    In the end, it is a stale old formula lacking charity that you applied to that man when you could have reached for something profound within the same word count.

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