Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarians and Social Class

A comment on the response from my imaginary library school professors helps highlight something about library school and the profession. I’m just not sure what yet.

A friend and library director was publicly taken to task for not offering $25 an hour for a starting position. In the south. LIS Profs really have no clue.

I’m assuming this is for public library starting positions.

LIS profs probably do really have no clue, because it’s highly unlikely any of them were ever public librarians. While there are library school professors who spent some time as public librarians, that’s hardly the norm as far as I can tell.

Probably more of them were academic librarians, where the pay is generally better, but probably not as good as professors get paid. There’s that extra graduate degree and all to account for.

And that might have something to do with a professor’s belief that people who have put in the time earning a master’s degree should start at $25 an hour, which depending on the hours worked is roughly $50,000 a year.

It ignores financial evidence, though, like that the median pay for librarian, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $57,680 per year or $27.73 per hour.

While one has to consider regional cost of living and type of position variations, it’s probably not typical for starting public librarians anywhere to get the median pay for all librarians.

The mean annual wage for librarians is $59,870, which is very mean indeed if you have things like food to buy and bills to pay. Throw in children or student loans and you’re doomed, right?

Also, it looks like school and academic librarians’ mean wage is about $8,000-12,000 more per year than public librarian mean wages, which just makes them look more mean by comparison. The average hourly mean wage of librarians in “local government” is $25.93.

We love to break things into percentiles these days to examine the poor and excoriate the rich. The good news for librarians is that they’ll never have to be chastised as part of that “1%.” Only 10% of librarians make over $90,000 per year, or about $43 per hour.

The bottom 25% make under $45,060 per year or $21.67 per hour. At least the degree of inequality isn’t that great, which should also make librarians who care about that kind of thing rejoice.

Here we have one of the great political advantages to being a librarian if you want to engage in class warfare.

It’s hard to say how many librarians resent those who are significantly richer and more financially successful than themselves. I suspect the proportion of the profession with an active resentment is small, but disproportionately loud.

They’re the librarians who think that the profession’s mission is to save the poor one library card at a time, or that spending 50 minutes with some first year composition students talking about databases is going to show them how oppressed they are and empower them to overthrow the current economic order.

For all the resentful librarians who seem to think they would be making more money if the world were fairer and appropriately valued things like the ability to search databases or clear printer jams, this financial aspect of being a librarian is great.

They can criticize the rich while knowing that there’s not a chance in hell of any of their librarian comrades ever joining that group.

They can talk about how bad income inequality is without contributing to it much themselves, because look at how poorly they’re paid!

Except, according to the Census Bureau as reported in Wikipedia using 2014 data, a librarian in the 25th percentile of librarian median annual pay would be around the 42nd percentile of median household income in the United States. And that’s just with one librarian.

Wait, that’s starting to sound pretty good.

Two librarians at the 25 percentile in pay living together would have a household income in the top 71%.

Two librarians with the median library wage living together would have a household income in the top 20%.

Goodness, librarians start to look awfully rich by comparison with other people.

Two librarians at the 75th percentile of median librarian pay would be at the 87.87th percentile of median household income.

I take all that back about how the librarians who resent the economic status quo can take comfort in statistics. It turns out librarians aren’t part of the solution, they’re part of the problem.

It gets worse!

The boundaries of social class are hard to determine, but one researcher quoted in the article on household income considers that “a household income of roughly $95,000 would be typical of a dual-earner middle class household,” while others “see common incomes for the upper class as those exceeding $500,000 with upper middle class incomes ranging from the high 5-figures to most commonly in excess of $100,000.”

Two librarians living together making the median or the mean wage for librarians would have a household income over $100,000, placing them within the upper middle class with a little room to spare. In other words, two librarians living together are statistically likely to be in the upper middle class, or darn close to it.

What’s the problem with librarian salaries again? The biggest complaint seems to be that a librarian living alone on her own salary might not quite exceed the median household income for the entire country, although she’ll still be middle class by most standards.

That’s not much to be resentful about. Those households in the top 10% are often dual-income households. The rich pool their resources together just like everyone else. That’s why they live in nicer houses. That a librarian living alone isn’t upper middle class isn’t really a criticism.

I was wrong. What I thought might be some good news for librarians who hate income inequality and the rich so much turns out to be news that librarians are often among the rich by any objective standard.

They won’t ever be in the 1%, but there sure are a lot of them in the 20% and even the 10%, and the bottom 10% of them on their are better off financially than the bottom 33% of American households.

Another reason why librarian jobs are so hard to find. If you’re a little lucky finding a job, and get together with another librarian or someone making even more, you’re an easy master’s degree away from the upper middle class.

No wonder so few librarians want to join the class war. They have a lot more to lose than their chains.



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  1. If librarians feel underpaid, imagine how those of us in library paraprofessional jobs feel. I work full time at an academic library as a paraprofessional and after taxes, my annual take home pay is less than 25K. I work in a state that has slashed funding to higher education in the last several years, so there have been no pay raises or cost of living adjustments for at least two years (I’ve only been at the university for one year so am unsure about before that time). Depending on the system, public librarians in my state make about the same as academic librarians, or maybe even more. I’m married and my spouse makes good money so I’m not having to try and support myself on just my salary, but I know library paraprofessionals who are single and live alone. I wonder how they make ends meet, unless they have another job. Sometimes I wonder if the paraprofessional jobs serve as recruitment and money makers for library schools. The paraprofessionals like working in a library, but hit a ceiling and realize they won’t make better wages unless they go to library school and get a master’s degree. In other words, they finally “break” and go enroll in a MLIS program, thus increasing student enrollment and money in those programs.

  2. anonymous coward says:

    There are a few things to think about on this.
    1) Supply and Demand. It impacts the labor market all the way down to the artificial floor of minimum wage. If you’ve got hundreds of applicants for every librarian position, OF COURSE it’s going to drive wages down. Why would you ever increase them if the market is telling you there is no need?
    2) Value of Production. Some jobs just aren’t worth paying more for. This is why we see, when minimum wage is pushed up, it pushes people out of the labor market. It’s worth paying $40k (value is in the eye of the beholder, so if they pay it they think it’s worth it). It’s not worth paying $60k. It’s worth employing someone to do a job for $7/hr. It’s often NOT worth employing someone to do that job at a price point of $15. Same principle, different points in the value spread.
    3) The first two combined. CEOs make a lot of money because the board feels they bring more value than they cost combined with the fact that there is a relatively small pool of people “qualified” to do the job. (This is, of course, their perception, but their perception is their reality.) Same as the NFL. Quarterbacks are paid ridiculous amounts of money because they are the both one of the best 30 or so people at what they do in the world AND they will somehow generate more value than they are being paid. So, some librarians make more than others. Librarians make more than support staff. City Managers make more than Library Directors, and so on. (I am not saying this is always RIGHT or accurate, many support staff possess skills and value that are much greater than higher paid coworkers… but it’s just what it is!)
    4) Definitely regional cost of living. Support staff make, on average, $12-15/hour at the public library where I work. As a single person, that’s a livable wage. With kids and no spouse? Not so much, but doable. So, maybe these positions aren’t for single income, single parent homes. It’s sad, but it’s what it is. Really, this isn’t enough in a double income with no kids home on the west or east coast, surely.

    All of these things are basic economics. We all know these things. It’s worked better and pulled more people out of poverty, and given them better and longer lives, than any other system proposed or practiced. I would suggest, if librarians want more- provide more value using a more specialized skill set… or at least succeed in being perceived to do that.

  3. I just want to thank you for being intelligent and reasonable in your response. Economics isn’t something people understand these days, unfortunately.

  4. Suddenly this so-called “doable” wage is blown out of the water if you have young children at home. Do you know how much day care costs? We have had a handful of librarians quit working because they had babies and could not afford childcare even on their library income combined with their partner’s. (They were in the bottom 25% as mentioned above). Living on one paycheck was more “doable” than living on two while having to pay for childcare.

    When some basic services cost so much, low pay has consequences. Although some would see that as a benefit, I suppose.

  5. Two other issues here:

    It’s one thing to give hourly wage – it’s another to assume that the jobs are FT with benefits.

    Promotions and advancement are hard to come by, so “median” salary is difficult to achieve (let’s not even talk about top of the range)

  6. Grumpy FL Librarian says:

    Median: “denoting or relating to a value or quantity lying at the midpoint of a frequency distribution of observed values or quantities, such that there is an equal probability of falling above or below it.” Therefore, if the information true, half of all librarians make the median or better. That’s math. Median salary is always achieved by half of all librarians. The median may rise or fall, but half are always making it or better.

  7. Basically, I think it comes down to people in this country expect to be able to have a middle class lifestyle in this country if they work hard. Middle class I define as “the ability to own a house, have full transportation independence for 2 adults, have health insurance for the whole family, be able to send approximately 2 kids to college, be able to save enough to not be destitute in retirement, and have enough disposable income to not need to subsist on ramen and hot pockets. People who cannot attain that, realistic or not, tend to get angry, especially ones who shelled out lots of money for an education.

  8. anonymous coward says:

    If we have a 2 income household taking home $48k per year after taxes, ss, premiums, etc. it would allow for a mortgage of $1500 per month, car payments and insurance of $600 a month, $1300 a month for food. Leaves $600 a month for other stuff. What is that other stuff? That’s the question. Is it cable, high speed internet, 2 cell phones with data plans, eating out, vacations away, buying lunch as school vs packing one?

    Median household income has a take-home pay average of $43,391 per year. So, 2 people working full time at a library assistant position in my library would have a combined take-home pay of $49,064. Seems the very definition of middle class, no?

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