Thursday, December 07, 2006

ALA-APA - On Giving Up the Fight

Okay, last post on the ALAAPAAFBSAPET. Well, probably.

There's one strategy mentioned for raising librarian's salaries that actually works, but only for some: negotiating your own salary (40). The toolkit notes that for many jobs the salary is negotiable. That's true. And if you're desirable, you can bargain for a pretty good salary. Being very desirable, however, I already knew that. One frequent commenter on the AL notes that he left librarianship and doubled his salary. Well, I stayed in librarianship and doubled my starting salary within four years by moving to a better paying library job, and my starting salary wasn't really that bad. I'd like to see better education and more impressive pools of librarians, but that's obviously not going to happen, so it's every woman for herself. (I would say "(or man)," but we know most librarians are women, which according to the ALA-APA is why we don't make much money on average, so if you're a man in this profession, you're obviously a penurious, feminized one. So there!)

I would try to fight the good fight, but I don't think there' s any good fight to fight. The ALA will be hopeless in any effort to raise librarian salaries as long as they focus on fairness issues and grievances, because their argument that librarian salaries are unfair is full of holes. We've been through library school. It was ridiculously easy. We've worked with plenty of incompetent and ignorant colleagues who have that precious MLS. Thus we know that having an MLS doesn't mean one is actually worth anything. We all know there are plenty of library jobs that could be done by a trained monkey, and are often being done by trained monkeys in academic libraries in the form of student workers. In my library the difference between the student workers and trained monkeys is that the monkeys' cages are cleaner.

Make the education rigorous and weed out the chaff. Admit there are a lot of dullards in librarianship wooed by the easy standards. These are the keys. And yet, how can the ALA do this when the dullards help fund all the useless political lobbying the ALA likes to engage in? What am I saying? I help fund this as well! Or at least I would if my university didn't pay my ALA dues.

So I'll take the burden off the ALA-APA, because I don't think they can carry it. The burden is back on us to fend for ourselves, and if the best tools the ALA-APA can offer us are grievances and unionization, then excellent librarians aren't going to benefit much anyway. There's already plenty of salary information available, and after that folks will just have to be on their own. From now on I'll be concentrating on raising my own salary.

The best advice I was ever given on raising my salary is: find a higher-paying position and either leave or get a counter-offer. It's risky advice to take, but potentially rewarding. Because the hard truth is that if no one's offering you more money, then you're not underpaid. If you're working for the salary they're offering and not leaving, then your employer has no reason to raise your salary. The gibberish about "fair pay" in the ALAAPAAFBSAPET should just reinforce how silly such arguments can be. If there are people willing to work at low paying library jobs, then that's what the jobs are worth. If libraries can't afford good librarians, then the institution in charge of the library doesn't value librarians very much and would rather spend the money elsewhere. Making the false assumption that an MLS isn't ridiculously easy and that librarians are the salt of the earth and the defenders of everything good in our country and should be rewarded for being tech-savvy saints, even if no one wants such saints, is just ludicrous.

So I guess that if you want to raise your salary, then be really great and competitive and take risks and negotiate your own salary. This is the cynical conclusion I've been trying to fight off, but am now convinced of. I've been trying to believe the argument that librarians are in general underpaid rather than poorly paid, but this probably isn't the case. The ALA-APA case for overall pay raises for librarians is just too poor to justify that conclusion. The generally poor pay does make it harder for great librarians to raise their own salaries, but not impossible. It also means that a lot of libraries won't ever be able to afford good librarians. But fortunately money isn't everything. There are other perks to librarianship, such as not having to work at the pea farm and being warm and dry. And you could always get out now and save yourselves.

24 comments:

contrarian librarian said...

Look for a push to unionize from the Social Responsibility Round Table. The "distinguished professor" Kathleen de la Peña McCook wrote to SRRT on 11/30/06:

"I think it is time to ask that ALA put the U-word up front and center on the ALA-APA page. By our own analysis over 30% of librarians belong to unons. Only Unions are celebrating Human Rights Day in the U.S. Let's make 2007 the year that ALA includes all library workers at the table."
http://www.ala-apa.org/

========
Union Librarian
http://unionlibrarian.blogspot.com/
AFT Local 7463

anon7 said...

Well, I stayed in librarianship and doubled my starting salary within four years by moving to a better paying library job, and my starting salary wasn't really that bad. I'd like to see better education and more impressive pools of librarians, but that's obviously not going to happen, so it's every woman for herself.

Er...ah...so what exactly is it that you're Annoyed about? I thought you wanted a smaller pool--less competition.

Privateer6 said...

This is shocking, shocking!!!!!! Here I thought that the ALA, based loosly on the medieval guilds where people had to learn skills and get certified by the guild before advancing, was supposed to look after the interests of librarians, and they now want to form a union. So inaddition to havoing to get an ALA accredited MLS and pay dues to them, they want to start another organization that will create a new set of standards and take out money. That's wonderful.

OK Sarcasm off.


After thinking about ALA, the ALA-APA relationship and everything else with the professional organizations of the library profession, I need to quote some Star Wars: "Whose the more foolish, the fool or the fool that follows him."

Maybe, just maybe, that's the reason why ALA has NOT inproved standards, to keep members in an oraganization that is slowly losing its importance in the profession. ESPECIALLY if this union idea comes about and gets approved.

AL said...

Er...ah...so what exactly is it that you're Annoyed about? I thought you wanted a smaller pool--less competition." Good point. Despite my relative success and contentment, I'm still part of the library profession, and I'm annoyed that the profession and its education and its main professional organization representing American librarians have such glaring flaws.

anon7 said...

So inaddition to havoing to get an ALA accredited MLS and pay dues to them,

As far as I know, belonging to ALA is not mandatory for anyone. There are unaccredited MLS programs, and there are libraries that will hire people with unaccredited MLS degrees, or even no graduate degree at all.

I think it's time to face up to the fact that if librarians are "underpaid," it's because that's what the job is worth in that particular market. There's an old saying, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." The same could be said of many librarians. Some public libraries support new and established authors. The librarians do research that facilitates the writing, but they don't do the writing. In academic settings, the librarians may support important research in medicine, physics, or mathematics, but they don't do the actual work.

I think it's time to face up to the fact that librarians get paid what they get paid because that's what their function is worth. Some of us who could be doing other things choose to work as librarians because we have a very broad range of interests, we like the variety that working in a library offers, and we don't want to work in a cubicle. Other people may seek library work because they can't do anything else. The balance between those two kinds of librarians is what it is. Library graduate programs are not going to attract more of the "better, smarter" people until the salaries increase, and the salaries aren't going to increase until the communities at large realize the real value of their libraries.

The "real" value of libraries is difficult to quantify, but I would start with looking at how much private industry invests in R&D each year and how much of that is charged to their internal research libraries' staff. I'd look at how much a writer would have to pay to hire somebody to do what his or her local reference librarian provides "for free." Those are the kinds of numbers that get the attention of a library board or town council or whatever the equivalent is in an academic setting -- the return on investment.

anon7 said...

By the way, you folks who keep talking about how easy library school was, must have all been liberal arts majors. I was a math major, and I can can count on one hand the number of papers I wrote in four years of school. Getting used to writing every week--every day, in some cases--is hard work, trust me.

rbe said...

Excellent, excellent post. My feeling about many library jobs is that once you are better than adequate (that is, do your various tasks faster and more thoroughly than most others) there isn't any use for more effort. Like being the best trash man you can be. If you are picking up the trash as fast as you can and not missing anyone's house, then what would extra effort even look like? Being a librarian takes somewhat more expertise than that, but you get my point. My soft spot for unions in this profession is not so much for salary support, but rather so we don't get stuck with corporate-type responsibilities (that seem to involve the appearance of good work rather than work) while correctly earning non-corporate salaries for jobs that simply don't require corporate applications of effort to do well. It wouldn't bother me at all to have others promoted ahead of me or paid more if they actually did more or had better skills, but the bottom line is many libraries just need folks to do a set number of fairly unchanging tasks (or easily learned tasks) every day and if you can do those well, the job is pretty easy. I just don't like the creeping corporate/consumer ethos weasling its way into library jobs that don't lend themselves to the corporate model. I am happy to be relatively low paid, but don't ask me to act like a corporate worker either - just let me do my job competently as required of me - the work I am contracted for - for 35-40 hours and then go home and not think about libraries again until the next day. I actually didn't get paid well at my union job and that was fine with me. I worked with a very good staff and good management that were hard workers (and many didn't even have the MLS) and were better at keeping work and life separate than any other group I have worked with. Maybe I had a unique experience with a union shop.

I became a librarian for a few reasons (in spite of the fact that I had the grades, test scores, etc. to do most anything else). 1)I don't live my job - my job is a way to make money, nothing more. If I could cut grass for my library salary, I'd be sorely tempted to do that instead. If I inherited enough money to pay myself my librarian salary out of the interest for life, I would never work again - I'd do plenty of WORK, but I wouldn't go in to a job every day. 2)I derive my self-esteem, validation, and enjoyment from what goes on away from work (In my 30's I am a regionally competitive athlete, I read alot of books, write non-library-related articles, etc.). 3)I happen to naturally have the skills that make a good librarian and I can do a good job without alot of effort and I still get health insurance and wnough money to cover my expenses and save a little besides. If you ask me about my aspirations for my future, none will be framed in terms of my job (I am more concerned with what I am going to run at a given race or when my new books from Amazon will arrive than getting praise at work). What I don't like is corporate-type work obsession trickling into this profession - we get paid low salaries for a reason and I will defend the perqs that we buy with those low salaries. We don't need to confuse good competent work with actual ecstatic personal enthusiasm - and I find misplaced enthusiasm (such as you see often in management and at conferences)is often mistaken for good work.

AL said...

anon7, interesting comment on library school being easy. I was definitely a liberal arts major--double major as a matter of fact--then years of liberal arts graduate school. Writing the papers in library school was almost done in my sleep. The hardest part about library school for me was showing up and taking the time to do what felt like an enormous amount of busy work.

AL said...

RBE, when I think of how I view library work compared to the enthusiastic librarians I'm reminded of a scene from the movie Patton. Omar Bradley says to Patton, "George, there's one major difference between us. I do this job because I've been trained to do it. You do it because you LOVE it." I'm definitely more like Bradley. I do the job because by talent and education it comes very easy to me and I can do exceptional work with very little effort.

And I agree about the corporatization. I have one colleague who is just amazing, but he seems to work all the time, and he's definitely not paid for it. He thinks we should all work like crazy all the time with no incentive at all as far as I can tell.

anon7 said...

just let me do my job competently as required of me - the work I am contracted for - for 35-40 hours and then go home and not think about libraries again until the next day.

Precisely what I was looking for when I left the cube farm. I want to be able to distinguish my life from my job.

AL said...

I for one would LIKE to have some deeper purpose in my work, but don't usually find it. Rather, I should say, I'd like to find purpose in my labor, but don't. Fortunately, I can find purpose in my other activities, which I usually consider my real work anyway.

janitorx said...

Apart from book reviews I wrote for my collection development class, the papers I wrote in library school put me to sleep!

Using an offer to leverage for a higher salary in one's present position does not always work. Sadly, the institution will just let you go. Most library directors just want compliant, warm bodies who will at least be completely servile to all those who enter the library's doors. Tenure track librarians have to do a little more, but from what I can tell, it doesn't seem to be terribly difficult to get published. Most tt librarians can bang out and successfully publish a minimum number of articles to keep their supervisors happy. My conclusion: the field is pretty lame!

We have way too many librarians who view their jobs as a mission to free information, and therby, save the world. I blame LIS profesors for this drivel.

anon7 said...

I for one would LIKE to have some deeper purpose in my work, but don't usually find it. Rather, I should say, I'd like to find purpose in my labor, but don't.

I gather you're working in an academic library--I think there's a tremendous amount of "deeper purpose" in your work. There's no telling how your assistance to a faculty member or a student is going to bear fruit. My interest is in public libraries--I like to think of all the life-long learners who use our resources for "free," the children who are learning a love of books, the home-schoolers who couldn't do what they do without us, the woman who taught herself a marketable skill using our resources...the list goes on. It's a hell of a lot more worthwhile than what I was doing at my last two jobs, which was enabling the military-industrial-entertainment complex.

janitorx said...

I for one would LIKE to have some deeper purpose in my work, but don't usually find it.

Same here. When I attend conferences and meet other librarians, I feel like I am in the minority.

AL said...

All worthwhile purposes, anon7. I guess any deeper purpose I'd find would have to be in building research collections and helping people use them. Preserving the historical record for posterity. I have the satisfaction of knowing that a hundred years from now some historian will benefit from the work I'm doing now. It usually doesn't get me that excited, though.

anon7 said...

It usually doesn't get me that excited, though.

"Exciting" is overrated. Until you've had to sell your soul to make a living, you will never appreciate what a sweet deal you have--doing something worthwhile, helping people improve their lives in more ways than one, and making a decent living besides. It doesn't have to be exciting. I've done exciting--I'm very happy now with "interesting, varied, never dull."

Anonymous said...

"From now on I'll be concentrating on raising my own salary." I like your bottom line, AL ... take on the responsibility yourself. Don't rely on someone else to do it for you.

Anonymous said...

Look, ALA's a joke compared to organizations like the California Teacher's Association.

CTA has nearly 300,000 members paying nearly $500.00 a year: that's a lot of political clout!

ALA's got, what, nearly the number NATIONWIDE? And the dues are, what, 50 bucks...if you want to pay?

ALA's a weak toothed old granny crowing about how nice it would be if we all got along and played nice.

CTA sizes you up, and then starts kicking your ass until you bleed.

No wonder librarians have shitty salaries...they cannot get themselves organized!

My mother, a PE teacher, was listening to some jerk science teacher blab on about, "How come kids have to learn about health/PE? It's a waste of time...blah blah...science is so much more important...blah blah..."

...and my mother, rather than debate this idiot, looked at him and said, "The reason we teach PE/Health is because we have reps up in the state capitol who have demanded that it be taught!"

Now, you can sit around and say, "Well, here's how the world SHOULD work...only important subjects are taught...I decide what's important...blah blah.." but the REALITY is there is a political process that decides what happens:

if you don't play the game...if you can't get organized or raise enough money to push through your views...than you're SOL buddy.

I don't see anyone but car washers bitching and moaning about what a raw deal they have...if they want a better deal, they better get out there and create it...either they do what AL said: negotiate a better salary, or they organize themselves and push for better salaries for all.

anon7 said...

negotiate a better salary, or they organize themselves and push for better salaries for all.

Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

Spend a few months of a year at a public library where the staff belong to the municipal employees union. It's a whole 'nother zeitgeist. It might work for the hourly staff, but the salaried employees? Never. The software field has been having these same discussions for years. (Yeah, it used to be highly paid work, but so much of it has been outsourced and oversea'd in recent years that most of them are now worse off--in terms of job security--than library workers. Most library jobs have to be done "in person," unlike most software work.)

anon7 said...

I was definitely a liberal arts major--double major as a matter of fact--then years of liberal arts graduate school. Writing the papers in library school was almost done in my sleep.

Ah, then you probably know what a "response paper" is without even thinking about it. I never saw the term until this semester, and even then I didn't realize that it was a term of art until it was too late.

Anonymous said...

Many, if not most public library positions are unionized. There is no negotiating your salary in that climate, it is simply not possible.

AL said...

Then I suspect that very little can be done to raise the salaries of those librarians. If the union can't do it, then the ALA-APA certainly won't be able to. That's the cost of unionization, the benefit, I suppose, being the added security. Free agency, as it were, brings more risks and more rewards. As I've noted before, I know about academic libraries, but not that much about public ones.

Jessica said...

I completely agree with you about the standards being too low in MLIS programs, and some of our colleagues being "low" as well.

I currently work part-time at a small-ish public library. I like my library, and I love my job. But I make SHIT for pay, even though I do more work in 15 hours per week than most of the full-timers do. I work with one woman who makes A LOT OF MONEY, yet she is unable to do anything comupter-based - including operating e-mail and answering her dept's reference questions. Her collection development skills are nil, she's said that she will NOT learn any of this "technology stuff" and she knows that no one will call her on it as she's union has been there 15 years.

In my area, there a almost no full-time reference positions. I would love to go academic, but it's nearly impossible when you don't have an academic background to start with.

But, yes, it's my own damn fault - I won't relocate at this time. So, I'll suck it up until I can't suck it up any longer.

Dale said...

A few comments:

1) I was tremendously lucky to attend an academically rigorous library school program, where, by chance, Kathleen Heim (at the time her name) was dean. It was not easy, and I had a challenging liberal arts background and had already worked in libraries.

2) I agree with the basic arguments of the post. That is, the best way to good pay in libraries (and, I think, in any civil service type job) is to be willing to move to make more money. I've seen it many times.

3) There are sometimes valid points about fairness. However, these usually need to be worked out in the context of the funding agency (university, city, hospital, county, or whatever). The comparable jobs need to be chosen carefully and accurately.

4) Complaints about ALA doing this or that, as though ALA has a "life" separate from its members annoy me. Anyone can join ALA. It's not only for librarians. It's not the American Librarian Association (something many people forget), it's the American Library Association. Sometimes people in ALA drive me nuts. Sometimes it seems that we, members of ALA, make some fairly odd decisions. But it you don't like the decisions of ALA and you think it's a good thing to have one national voice for libraries, jump in a change the organization. There's a lot of inertia, to be sure, but it's fairly easy to make changes in ALA. Really.

and last
5) It is simply not true that most public librarian jobs are unionized. It may be that most cannot negociate salaries, but when one considers the entire United States, an awfully lot of librarians work in "right-to-work" states and are certainly not in unions. However, they may be in a civil service environment that amounts to the same thing. In some parts of the country that most is certainly true. And often librarians don't even ask about salary or benefit negociation.