Monday, December 04, 2006

AL American Libraries Column #7: ALA APA Talking Points

The American Library Association-Allied Professional Association, besides having a really catchy name, has also produced a document with a really catchy title, the Advocating for Better Salaries and Pay Equity Toolkit. I'm all for better salaries, but "pay equity" sounds too vague to actually mean anything. I'm planning to write a couple more posts analyzing this lovely document, but today I want to look at the "Talking Points" (p. 11-12) for those who are advocating for better librarian salaries with whatever group may be relevant. The Toolkit rightly notes that advocating for salaries is a local issue, so imagine walking up to your library board/ administration/ whomever and making these points for why you need more money. They are a bit better than the top 10 reasons to be a librarian, but not much. In honor of the thoroughness that has become a byword here at the Annoyed Librarian, let's take a look at them one by one. Also, because we have been extensively educated in argumentative fallacies by the Wikipedia, let's try to classify the statements by fallacy. That adds a little fun to the game!

"● Libraries shouldn’t have to choose between paying their staffs fair salaries and buying books, adding hours or updating their technology."

I'm not really sure what kind of argument this is. Sure, libraries shouldn't have to choose between these things, but that doesn't mean libraries don't have to make these choices. Choices always have to be made between scarce resources. There's a whole social science dedicated to this. It's called economics. Perhaps you should learn something about it. And what precisely is a fair salary? How is this determined? If someone will work for those wages, how can we be sure the wages aren't in fact fair? This is the kind of stuff you might discuss in your librarian economics discussion group. I like this because it's actually pointing out someone else logical fallacy: the false dilemma. This statement is not so much fallacious as irrelevant.

"● Starting salaries for systems analysts and database administrators are almost twice those for librarians, who also have a master’s degree—$61,000 a year compared to $34,000."

So what? What about social workers? They also have a master's degree (of sorts), and for a lot of library jobs social worker would be a more apt comparison than systems analyst. This assumes that an MLS means something, rather than being an incredibly easy degree with no coherence and no core curriculum. Investment bankers often have an MBA. Why aren't we comparing ourselves to them! According to this website--which I carefully chose as being the first one that came up when I Googled "investment bankers" and mba--"Starting salaries with an MBA degree range after bonus (associate position) range from $60,000 to $135,000." Now that's more like it! And of course there's the obvious response, "well, why don't you go become a systems analyst, then." Logical fallacy--definitely the false analogy.

"● Nearly 60 percent of librarians will reach retirement age within the next 20 years. At this rate, who will take their place?"

Who cares? We'll just have fewer librarians. Are all those librarians we have now really worth it? Oh yeah, prove it! My response would be, good, then the librarians left will theoretically have more money to go around. Fallacy? Hmmm, possibly Non Sequitur. You be the judge.

"● Everyone loves libraries, but library workers can’t live on love alone. Just ask our landlords, doctors, and families."

Reminds me of another little known "Annoyed Librarian Fact"--Everybody loves Raymond, except the Annoyed Librarian! First of all, everyone doesn't love libraries. Just ask Linnypooh. Most people don't even use libraries. And of course librarians can't live on love alone, but this sounds more like a plea for charity than a pay raise. "Just ask our landlords"--this fallacy is the appeal to pity, technically known as the argumentum ad misericordiam

"● Inability to pay is no excuse for salary discrimination. Achieving equity generally costs less than 4 percent of the payroll budget."

What exactly is equity? I hope this doesn't mean anyone thinks all librarians should make the same wage. Equity with whom? However, they're right--inability to pay is no excuse for salary discrimination. An excuse for salary discrimination is that people pay what the market will bear, and if there are a bunch of library school graduates stupid enough to take a job for $27K, then that's what the market will bear. Maybe if we had higher library school standards and weeded out the chaff then the library school graduates could command higher salaries. Fallacy? A Non Sequitur of sorts, because the second statement doesn't follow from the first. Also, the lack of definition for "equity" make the argument problematic.

"● Computer/information scientists, who are mostly men, earn almost twice as much as librarians who have comparable education and responsibility."

Do they have comparable education and responsibility? The slash between computer and information is interesting, since one computer science professor I know thought information science was computer science for people who couldn't do the math. Are we really expected to believe that a master's in computer science is as easy to get as an MLS, and that duties of a computer scientist include directing people to the restrooms and clearing printer jams for the public? Under logical fallacies, I'm trying to decide if this is a false analogy or a red herring. Probably both.

"● According to the U.S. Census Bureau, men with advanced degrees are paid more than twice as much as women—$87,000 per year versus $51,000 in 1998."

Maybe the ALA-APA should read How to Lie with Statistics, just to make sure they don't think they're actually saying anything significant with this statement. The obvious response is, so what? "Advanced degrees" would cover everything from MD/PHD to MSW. This doesn't mean anything at all. This is the sort of statistical gibberish rife in the library literature, though. All those English majors who couldn't get jobs and so went to library school are now quoting statistics at us. This would have to be controlled for type of degree, job experience, years in the workplace, and probably a few other factors for it to have any relevance at all. Logical fallacy: definitely a non sequitur, and probably a red herring as well.

"● Libraries are the mind and soul of their communities, and librarians are the mind and soul of the library."

Poppycock! The "mind and soul" indeed. We are full of ourselves today, aren't we. In addition to just being gobbledygook, basing arguments for better salaries on silly metaphors isn't usually a good idea. No logical fallacy, because no attempt at logic.

"● Libraries work because library workers make them work."

This is the sort of statement that sounds clever until you start to analyze it. Okay, great. And gas stations work because gas station workers make them work. So what? Logic fallacy: Begging the question, perhaps?

"● You can’t have good education without good libraries, and you can’t have good libraries without good staff."

Possibly, but it really depends on what we're talking about. In academia, the first clause is probably true, but definitely arguable. What exactly is a good library, for example, or even good education. One could probably get a fine college education with a library of 20,000 books, if they were the right 20,000 books, and with minimal library staff. And if we're talking about school libraries, I suppose I would agree again for the most part. But what about public libraries? Can we really have no good education without them? That doesn't seem like a very strong argument to me. Not a logical fallacy. This could be put in strict syllogistic form. It's a valid argument with questionable premises.

"● Today’s librarian is a technology-savvy, information expert who can enrich the learning process of any library user—from early reader to graduate student to young Web surfer to retiring senior citizen."

Do all, or even most librarians fit this description? Look around at your colleagues. Would you really classify most of them as technology-savvy information experts? Me, either. What logical fallacy would this be? Hasty generalization. The claim that because a lot of librarians do actually fit this description, then it's an accurate description for "today's librarian."

"● Librarians are the ultimate search engine. They are trained experts in helping others find the information they need—in books, in archives, and on the Web."

But people don't want the ultimate search engine if they actually have to interact with it. They want stuff quickly and online. If librarians were like that chap in Tron, then maybe people would want them. But this is another hasty generalization. The Annoyed Librarian may be the ultimate search engine (this is another Annoyed Librarian Fact), but that doesn't mean you are.

"● Students from schools with school library media specialists score higher on achievement tests."

Keep this in mind: correlation does not imply causation. Just keep repeating it until you get it right. Fallacy: Cum hoc ergo propter hoc.

"● In schools and universities, librarians teach information literacy skills that students will need to succeed throughout their lives."

Well, some reference librarians do. The rest of you are just out of luck. Not so much a fallacy as a half truth. Consider this instead: "In schools and universities, librarians surf the web and eat chocolate." True, but hardly likely to raise our salaries.

"● In a world that’s information rich, librarians bring valuable expertise. They connect us with our past, enrich our present and prepare us for the future. Library workers put the high touch in high tech."

This is all so precious. We "put the high touch in high tech." That's a catchy little phrase. Too bad it doesn't really mean anything. Librarians can bring valuable expertise, but this whole past, present, future mumbo-jumbo isn't very persuasive. Another hasty generalization of sorts, I suppose.

The toolkit notes that arguments for higher salaries have to be made locally, not nationally. These talking points are supposed to help you persuade your local group holding the purse-strings that your salary should be raised. If these are your best talking points, then I wish you good luck, because you're going to need it.


Anonymous said...

"● Inability to pay is no excuse for salary discrimination. Achieving equity generally costs less than 4 percent of the payroll budget."

What exactly is equity? I hope this doesn't mean anyone thinks all librarians should make the same wage. Equity with whom?

- a couple of points later, this seems to be clarified, especially if you have a handydandy jargon decoder:
"● According to the U.S. Census Bureau, men with advanced degrees are paid more than twice as much as women—$87,000 per year versus $51,000 in 1998."

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the stats on the degrees men have vs. what women have. I suspect the men have more degrees in the physical sciences and engineering and the women have degrees in English/education/social work, etc.

Sorry, but the fact is that if it has calculus in the curriculum, you get paid more. (Lawyers are an exception.) You work harder for a degree, you get paid more. Those are simple facts of life.

There is no comparison in the education between a librarian with a masters degree and a chemist with a masters.

With rare exceptions, librarians became librarians because they couldn't do the math and science and they are reaping what they sowed.

AL said...

I didn't have my handy-dandy jargon decoder, anon at 9:55, but I think you're probably right. And as we know, all librarians are women, so that makes perfect sense.

janitorx said...

About librarians settling for craptacular salaries:
When you are indebted to a student loan lender such as Sallie Mae, you do not have the luxury to take 5-9 months to land the best possible job right out of library school. Even when some of my LIS friends held out, they still came up a bit short. If their salaries cracked 30k (this was in 1997/1998), it was because they lived in a major metropolitan area. Unfortunately, I had to take whatever was offered at abysmal pay. Then, I made several jumps before obtaining a decent salary. Fortunately, my loans are paid due to a benevolent, loving soul!

I cannot tell you how much it bothers me that I went to a top 40 liberal arts college, have a subject masters degree from a major research university, have an MLS from a top program, but none of that crap matters. I am not saying I am special and am entitled to a lot more, but I know I am not the only one out there with strong credentials who is a bit frustrated with the state of librarianship as well as some of our slacker colleagues.

Compared to my rigorous humanities MA, my MLS was a joke. I worked 30 hours a week, went out several nights a week, exercised every morning at 6 am, and still earned nothing lower than 2 A-'s. I think these programs need to have higher standards. My current state's program pisses me off! They are more or less open enrollment and one can obtain an MLS solely via distance ed. I had the misfortune of briefly working with one of these recent grads. She was horrible and only lasted here for a few months. She's now at the local public library enjoying her 9k cut in salary!

Also, I just read an article published in a refereed journal by a new librarian in our state. The writing was beyond poor; it was rife with convoluted syntax! Also, her writing had the tenor of obfuscation for the sake of seeming like a techie. I hope that makes sense!

janitorx said...

This is what I meant to say:

"who is not only a bit frustrated with the state of librarianship but also with our slacker colleagues."

I hope I can still submit an article for the Journal of Annoyed Librarianship :)

AL said...

Please do submit! Oh, and I suppose I should say that the "stupid enough to accept a professional librarian job for $27K" doesn't really mean I think people who do so are stupid. Perhaps I should have said "desperate" instead.

anonymous anonymous said...

My favorite "fact" is this one:
"Nearly 60 percent of librarians will reach retirement age within the next 20 years."

Uh, yeah. Of course. There aren't very many professions about which this can't be said. Doesn't it seem likely that 60% (sorry - nearly 60%)of current doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. will retire in the next twenty years? By 2027 all of the Boomers and a significant portion of Generation Xers are going to be retired. So what? They'll be replaced by the next generation.

It's the cycle of life. See Ecclesiastes, or the Lion King.

Anonymous said...

AL is completely on-target with this analysis. MLS programs are an academic joke. Mine was essentially open admissions and I learned virtually nothing. As long as this continues, why should pay rise? If the barriers to entry for a given field are low and the skills are not especially valued, the market is not going to reward those in the field. It's as simple as that. And while I do understand the dilemma recent MLS grads find themselves in, I would be tempted to forgo a first job that pays $27K and take something else. If you find yourself (God help you) still longing for a career as a librarian, then go back on the library job market. But if people keep accepting low paying jobs, employers will keep creating them.

janitorx said...

I totally agree that it would make more sense for newly minted librarians to forgo the crap library salary and get a higher paying library job, but that non-library work experience does not count! You would still be considered an entry-level employee. Also, other librarians would regard you with suspicion for not working in a library for a few years post-MLS. Personally, I think this is totally absurd, but librarians are wierd about this sort of thing. I had a friend jump the library ship to a position in academic admin. and her offer to continue to teach BI was flatly turned down!

Anonymous said...

"● Students from schools with school library media specialists score higher on achievement tests."

"Students from schools with more than one BMW dealership in a ten mile radius score higher on achievement tests."

"Students from schools in which 75% of the students have eaten a meal in a restaurant with waitstaff and tabelcloths score higher on achievement tests."

"Students from schools in which a largee majority ahve flown on a comemrcial airplane score higher on achievement tests. Those who have been on a private jet score hgihest, on average"

Huzzah, 635i Cabriolets for everyone, now off to the restaurant then on to the jetway fror a ride on the G4. Test scores will soar!

Privateer6 said...

Ok I have not read the full ALA-APA report, but from the crappy excerpts I've just read, these people live in lala land. Stats can be manipulated very easily, but you need to do it in a way that makes sense AND support your argument. None of their stats support their arguments.

Sad thing is this: the people who wrote this are the leaders of the ALA. If they cannot create a rational argument using stats that any undergraduate freshman could write, then God help us and the profession.

janitorx said...

I swear I must have lost some IQ points at last week's state library conference:
I totally agree that it would make more sense for newly minted librarians to forgo the crap library salary and get a higher paying non-library job, but that work experience does not count!

Sarah H. said...

I've always thought that a basic statistics course should be mandatory in library school.