Wednesday, December 06, 2006

ALA-APA: Other Strategies from the ALAAPAAFBSAPET

Besides claiming librarians are victims of discrimination, what are some other ways the ALA-APA recommends to raise librarian salaries? Some of the other recommended strategies from the ALAAPAAFBSAPET for raising librarian pay are unionizing (29), taking advantage of living wage movements (33), and acquiring certification beyond the MLS (37). I've got mixed feelings about all of them.

Let's consider these strategies one by one.

This one has no appeal for me at all. I don't want to belong to a union, and I've tried to avoid them. I suppose unions can serve their place, but in my (admittedly limited) experience of them, they promote overall benefits at the expense of the best people and sometimes at the expense of the library itself. Unions are interested in raising the lowest level and equalizing everyone, and as a consequence exceptional people are thrown in to the mix with the dullards who have managed to secure their union job and then stop working. They're great at protecting the mass of competent workers as well as the considerable percentage of layabouts and incompetents, but they discourage excellence. We're all equal in the union! Solidarity forever! We don't think people should be paid more because they're better or because they perform more! Unions are notorious for fighting any attempt to link pay to performance. This isn't going to help the problem of low performance and standards, just exacerbate it. I want more great librarians competing and raising the standards, and unions won't help this at all.

Even though I wouldn't benefit by a union shop, I suppose the majority of library workers might. I'm much more sympathetic to unions for non-professionals, by the way, who often don't have the same opportunities as professionals, and considering the lack of opportunity some professional librarians have, this is certainly a cause for shame.

Living Wage Movements
Taking advantage of living wage movements seems a bit pathetic. If you're a professional librarian making less than the living wage then you need to find another job. For other library workers, I'm not so sure. "Living wage" is such a tenuous concept.

Certification Beyond the MLS
Certification beyond the MLS makes some sense, but I'd be more impressed if anywhere in this document it mentioned the sorry state of library education. The assertions in the document are based on the false assumption that someone graduating with an MLS has proven something and gained some valuable education. We know this is usually not the case. Plenty of bright people make great librarians, but how much were they really formed by their MLS? Why doesn't the ALA face up to the painful truth that library education is a joke and actually try to do something about it? They're trying to blame the problem on gender discrimination and ignoring the more likely truth of intellectual and educational discrimination. Of course employers will pay intelligent and educated people more than others. If you've earned a difficult degree, you'll probably earn more money as well. If anyone with a pulse and get in and through library school, then telling everyone we have master's degrees and should get paid for them doesn't mean much.

Some have suggested licensing exams, similar to the bar exam for lawyers. I don't think that would work, because I think the range of what counts as library work these days is too broad to be encompassed in an exam. That's partly why library education is so incoherent. If there is a core of information that librarians need, then this should be part of a core curriculum in library schools, and perhaps part of the accreditation standards. This also ignores the fact that in some library jobs, there are already other educational requirements to be met. In a lot of libraries, librarians have other advanced degrees, and it's often the case in academic libraries that the knowledge of an academic field and of academic research in general gained while earning that other degree is at least as helpful for library work as a library degree. I can honestly say that it's what I know and can do apart from my library education that has gotten me my library jobs.

I'm curious about other's thoughts on these strategies, because even though I'm skeptical, I don't dismiss them out of hand as I did the attempt based on "pay equity."

Tomorrow I'm going to discuss the one strategy from the Toolkit that I know will work, if only for some. And then I'm probably just going to give up the fight and have a martini.


RBE said...

As a devotee of nearly everything the Annoyed Librarian says, I have two disagreements today. One is about unions. Unions help keep workers from having to engage in an unbridled war of all against all where there is upward pressure, not to perform, but to give the appearance of performance (usually by just putting in more face time, more hours, and doing ever larger volumes of pointless busy work or publishing nonsense that gives the glorified clerkdom of most librarianship the illusion of an academic discipline that actually deals with ideas). Unions don't prevent people from being fired nor do they equalize everyone. They just make sure that performance really means job performance and not a MADD scenario where everybody feels pressure to work long hours beause a few with nothing better to do choose to do so. I live in the South (a region the AL appears unfamiliar with in many ways, such as when she belittles the idea of widespread Christian religious nuttery in positions of power) and by her non-union theory, this should be a region with the best workers (and with the best teachers and students since our teachers have no unions either). I liked belonging to a union not because of the salary equity (which there rightly wasn't - our salaries weren't even that great), but because of clear work rules.

Also, while I agreee with the spirit of making the MLS more rigorous and selective, I think what we really need is to eliminate the MLS entirely and drop the illusion that this job is any more difficult for an educated person than any office job where you must learn the specifics on the job. I breezed through library school in less than a year with a 4.0 (at one of the "best" library schools) and my MLS had absolutely nothing to do with my competence at any library job I have had (public, academic, and school libraries). Credentials have just become an imperfect proxy for what we really want to know - if someone is reasonably smart and has aptitude for learning. My undergraduate degree at a higly selective school and my test scores were a far better predictor of my success as a librarian than my MLS. There is a huge gulf between the quality of education at D1 "beer and circus" universities and highly selective colleges that I would much prefer a librarian with a solid record at a highly selective undergraduate institution than someone who went to a big state school with mediocre grades and has an MLS.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with rbe re: unions. I have worked as a union member (in a library support position) and managed staff in those positions as a "professional" librarian. The union I belonged to was indeed of the mentality that AL described in her original post. We all got the same raises (not very good ones, I might add) and in fact had no performance evals at all --we were all the same, so why bother? The union protected some pretty bad workers (or non-workers) and there was always peer pressure to do less work so you wouldn't make your co-workers look bad. All this for dues that were pretty high considering what we actually got out of it.

As a manager, I have found the union to be very difficult about any kind of change. I need to have flexibility in terms of work assignments. If people need to take on work that is more complex and have the skills to do so, then I have worked (usually successfully) to get them upgraded. But the hours wasted on fighting with union officials about this stuff add up quickly and serve no one.

The bottom line is that no one would talk about unions for professionals if, as AL has repeatedly and correctly pointed out, the standards for library education were higher. At my current (academic library) institution, we do not require the MLS (though nearly everyone has it) as long as someone has library experience and another graduate degree. And those people are among the very best in the organization. Some of our MLS-only people on the other hand are among the least stellar. ALA doesn't want to improve educational standards because they the guiding philosophy of the organization is "access for everyone", which seems to mean (among other things) access to graduate education for every mouth breather who wants it.

I think in the coming years, more of the forward-looking programs like Michigan and Syracuse will become indifferent to ALA accreditation; their graduates are actually being placed in lucrative private-sector jobs. Why should they care about ALA's stamp of approval? Other programs devoted to "traditional" librarian training will continue along the same sorry path with the same sorry results. I think most of us reading this blog wish it were otherwise. But it won't be.

AL said...

Very thoughtful criticisms from RBE. I'm glad you're providing another perspective on unions besides mine, which, as I admitted, is limited to a relatively few experiences in libraries. I do find it curious, though, the way unions always fight any pay-for-performance initiative. The Union Librarian blog was just noting such a fight with teacher's unions in New York. Since I want to be paid for my performance, I wouldn't be happy in such a union.

Privateer6 said...

Personally I am against unions as I have seen what they have done to the auto industry, taken it so far down that all the major US automakers are having problems. While unions did have an importnat role to play inthe late 19th, early 20th centuries, today they are outmoded, corrupt, and not worth it. For an interesting read on how unions destroyed one pro-union business, read Jerry Strahan's [i]Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats That Won World War II [/i].

As for living wage movements, while it's a nice concept, the economic realities show that raising the minimum wage and living wage movements actually hurt more people than they help. And the people you are hurt the worst tend to be the ones who need the help most. In a nut shell, increased wages = increased production costs = increased prices. Companies "downsize" people, reduce hours on part-timers, or have hiring freezes to keep prices reasonable and keep that profit margin. In the publis sector, increasing wages = larger sales, property, and in some cases income taxes.

Certification beyond the MLS is a good idea, maybe even using the SAA or RMS models. BUT the best idea is to completely revamp the education program. If it's a library school, why not grant specialized library degrees? At my school there are five MLS tracks, but everyone gets the same MLS. Why not create the specialized degrees with strict requirements?

Finally someone mentioned on another post the need to get rid of crazy professors. The one that had the cats emailing about lost reports was ridiculous. I've had my share of those: one that kept giving out the same assignment over and over again, one that showed up late and left early, forcing us to buy his junk to catalogue, and my personal favorite, my internship "advisor" who never showed up to see what and how I was doing, went I sent progress reports to him, he sent them to other prof's instead, and when I completed my internship and sent in all the paperwork. tells me he is not my advisor and he had no idea what I was doing at the internship. Unfortnately another family member has him as their advisor and he hasn't signed the paperwork yet for them to register for classes, and they turnee in the paperwork 3-4 weeks ago!

I think a complete overhaul of the educatin system and ALA is needed.

rbe said...

I agree that unions can be susceptible to the sorts of weaknesses you correctly identify. But they have also been the source of so many advances in the US that it is hard to dismiss them out of hand. I am all for performance-related salary increases.

In full disclosure, I am one of the overeducated lazy folks you talk about (and perhaps playfully pretend to be). I got into library work because I don't want to do any work (well, that is renumerative work - I spend most of my free time doing plenty of personally satisfying work - high-level athletic pursuits, intellectual pursuits, etc). I realized that, since I am content with a modest salary, I could coast on being naturally smart and do a very good job without the pressures of a corporate-type job. I really don't think I have been underpaid at any of my jobs for what they have required of me. My spouse, also a librarian and AL fan, has far more responsibility at her library job and should make more than I do. So it all depends on the job. What I don't like is when spending alot of hours at work or ones apparent dedication is mistaken for quality of work. It is almost like workplaces are afriad to reward simple competence and instead want to reward effort since we are uncomfortable with folks reaping benefits for things that aren't very hard for them. Being a good reference librarian is no "harder" than being a bad one. But we as a society would rather reward hard work than good work. We aren't comfortable with acknowledging that some people can do well without much effort. And in many library jobs, more effort is just superfluous.

I once had a job evaluation where I got exceeds expectations on all my dimensions of job performance (I had even taken on cataloging and ILL duties - skills I had learned ON THE JOB elsewhere) but then at the end my supervisor said I might be off task too much (doing things like this). I asked why that should matter since I could exceed my expectations in all dimensions and get all my work done and I had a file of positive patron comments about my teaching and my public service. Afterall, the job required an MASTERS DEGREE and paid minimally, which was fine with me since it wasn't that hard for me to do a good job. I asked what I should have been doing when I could finish all of my assigned duties quickly and efficiently during my off-desk time with time to spare. She seemed baffled by my brashness. She observed that it seemed that I would rather not be at work and I pointed out how odd that comment seemed when the rest of my evaluation gushed over my actual performance. I asked pointedly if I was as good or better than any other refence librarian we had that was always on task and she admitted I was. So why should I have to do more work just because I am more competent? We all get paid the same and I don't need any more money anyway. Of course I wouldn't work if I didn't need the money. I made an intentional choice to work a lower paid but still "professional" job that I could easily excel at at the expense of salary because I value my free time more than money beyond a certain point.

AL said...

Another interesting comment, RBE. I've had similar experiences with doing excellent work quickly and then being criticized for not spending more time doing it (not in my current job, I should note). You have a good point about wanting to reward effort and not results, I'm just not sure a union would remedy this. Tenure helps more than a union would. Good management would help even more, but that's hard to come by. I've fought a generally winning fight to be judged on my performance and results, and not on punching a clock or trying to look busy. My downfall is probably that I'm actually quite lazy, and happy to content myself with outperforming most of my colleagues with about half their effort rather than really push myself. Of course, regardless of the result I've been putting a lot of work into this blog, so maybe I'm just fooling myself about that.

rbe said...

privateer6 says:

"As for living wage movements, while it's a nice concept, the economic realities show that raising the minimum wage and living wage movements actually hurt more people than they help. And the people you are hurt the worst tend to be the ones who need the help most. In a nut shell, increased wages = increased production costs = increased prices."

This really isn't completely true, as much as the Chamber of Commerce and the NAM would like you to believe. Most industries can't pass all the costs onto the consumer for many reasons (the market simply won't bear it - there is more to the price of a good than the cost it takes to produce it - demand plays a role and demand is also dependent on price). Think of it in the reverse. Do you think if a company was allowed to pay the absolute lowest rate the market could bare that prices would suddenly plummet? Of course not, because folks have already shown they are willing to pay the current price - it would only make sense to drop the price if demand would increase enough to make up the difference. If companies really didn't have to eat into profits to cover minimum wage hikes, why would they lobby so hard against them? I think we can steer a middle ground between left/liberal grandstanding and corporate propoganda. The trick is to ask for wage increases that force employers who are doing exceedingly well to share some of the wealth, but don't diminish their ability to amass even greater wealth to the point where they want to pick up their toys and quit the game. Unions in large industries quite often make concessions with this in mind and often collude with their employers in decisions that are debatably bad for the public at large for mutual advantage (such as the huge emmissions loopholes for SUV's).

For librarians, the broader problem in figuring out if there is a role for unions for government professionals is the strangeness of applying market principles to the kind of public sector work that librarians do.
Librarians don't actually produce anything with a tangible objective market value, so it only makes sense that our "worth" is much more vaguely defined. We can't point to any numbers and say "we deserve X beause we have been important in creating Y amount of profit. I would have to say that if, for example, public librarians in my city went on strike, the city would function quite well for a long time without them with littel public outcry. I can't improve on the AL's contempt for inflated notions of librarians as world saviors or indispensible service providers.

Privateer6 said...

I have mixed emotions on tenure. While I've seen one great prof leave to go elswhere becuase the other univeristy were granting immediate tenure upon him relocating, some of the tenured profs I've seen, and all but 2 in the library school I will soon be leaving, are totally useless. Mind you there are some great tenured profs, but in the library field they are extremly rare.

As for taking your time versus getting the job over with, I think it depends upon the situation. Sometimes you can easily speed through a job and get excellent results. Other times you need the slow deliberate pace to insure quality.

Sometimes you need to slow down so you don't get ticked off at the management. At one job I had, I and my coworkers busted our butts trying to complete one assigment, in the vain hope that once completed we would be rewarded with a day or two of extra vacation. Management fiddled around, had an
"conference" with an old friend who was in for the Christmas holidays, etc. The management was the ones on our case to hurry up so we can get the extra day or two off and they were goofing around. The next year when the assignment came, we were given the same promise of extra vacation, but we went witht he flow knowing it wouldn't happen.

AL said...

I also have very mixed feelings about tenure, and have known many useless tenured librarians. My tenure comment was addressed to the concern of being pushed to work for show rather than results. Tenure gives librarians more control over their work lives in many instances. What they do with this control determines their worth as librarians. I could take it or leave it, but it does have its good points.

il library student said...

The living wage issue is a non starter. Where most "living wage" proponents put the bar is ridiculously low to be called a "living wage."

If people that promote a living wage were really serious, they'd place the bar at the $13.00/hour and up range. They don't, because the fallout would be too severe.

Increased prices, increased taxes and loss of jobs. I'm going to focus on taxes.

Why taxes? Because government agencies are not exempt from these living wage laws. Money would have to come from somewhere to pay for the increased wages of the lower level workers. And any increases on the low end percolate up through the higher tier jobs, as every tier above the lowest tier has to be adjusted to index to the new lowest wage.

People need to earn the wages they get, through experience and skill advancement, not just because they are a warm body filling a position.

Anonymous said...

Unions are fine for protecting (relatively) defenseless workers from horrific work conditions. So when 13 year old librarians are chained to the reference desk for 14 hours and get one 15 minute bathroom break, bring on Norma Rae.

Unfortunately, unions are simply a way of extracting money from working people and transfer wealth to union bosses, politicians, lobbyists and lawyers.

This, and the co-opting of most unions by Socialists, leaves them where they are today--vesitgal remanants in the industries they destroyed, and a meaningful number only among teachers and other municipal workers, none of whom actually work for a profit making enterprise.

AL's point about the perverse effect of unions is, however, the most pertinent. (cf: Harrison Bergeron--go ahead, google it.)

unemployed librarian said...

All good suggestions. You know, I think we are the only people who are reading the ALA's intellectual output and care enough to suggest improvements.

The ALA would be smart to consider our discussion carefully instead of calling us "blog people" and leave us to our "acrimonic backwaters" as Michael Goreman seems to want to do.

If the ALA continues to ignore this blog, it might be up to us to force our way into the ALA's discussions. We should be the ones making the decisions, not the people in power at the ALA.

My club at Librarians for Better Job Prospects is having limited success at taking knowledge codified by the internet and using it to force change onto the ALA. The fans of the AL should try this as well.

AL said...

Good point, but I will say one thing in favor of the ALA. I started this series because the executive director of the ALA read and commented on a post I'd written about a comment of his, so I assume he's reading. Because he wrote about the ALA-APA, I decided to examine what they've been doing. I wasn't sure what I'd find, and obviously I don't like what I've found so far, but I do applaud the effort to at least try to do something. I've been pretty hard on this ALA-APA document and on a lot of the ALA documents with the hope that some people at ALA are actually reading and occasionally discussing these issues. Perhaps they aren't, though. I also realize I can be pretty nasty at times, but I think my criticisms are solid and worth serious consideration, even when I'm wrong.

Oh, I'd also like to note that I'm grateful that people take the time to comment so thoughtfully, even if they disagree with me.

Anonymous said...

One thing I haven't seen mentioned here is an article I read last year (I think) about a survey which showed that union workers tend to have less job satisfaction than non-union workers, despite having extra job security, outlined expectations, etc. This may or may not be relevant, but I suspect many people go into librarianship for job satisfaction before money. Of course, I'm still making more money than I did as a secretary, which definitely gives me more satisfaction. But if I absolutely hated my job, I'd go back to being a secretary for less money. (and declare bankruptcy, I guess - students loans and all...)

shade said...

I've noticed a funny disconnect in the way librarians are seen in different sectors. As librarians doing the expected work of being librarians, there seems to be a lack of respect and therefore pay (within and without). But I keep seeing small inklings that librarians who choose to work in the private sector can make money from their chosen career. How is it that on the one hand our education can be derided and on the other be valuable? I made the mistake of gaining my MLS in the same town that I wanted to live in (more fool me) but I easily found employment at a large corporation here. So, I'm not doing the job I really wanted to do (i.e. library work) but I'm making better money putting my research training to work for a corporation. I guess my question is - why is a library education worthwhile if working for a corporation, but not as an actual librarian? And let me say before another does - I certainly don't make what the MBAs and CPAs make, but better than I would have at the local library.

Privateer6 said...

I have to disagree with you about the living wage because I've been affected by it in a negative way. Last time the minimum wage went up, I was working two part time jobs while I went to college. Guess what happened to me, my hours were cut at both jobs. I was cut from 20 hours per week to 8 at one job and from 18 to 10 the other. At one job they also "downsized," fortunately I was there long enough to make the cut. At the other job, they had a hiring freeze. So not only were my hours cut there, but I had more work to do.

My opinion on why private sector librarians get paid more than public sector is that the company sees the value in hiring a librarian AND is willing to pay appropriately for it. Let's face it government employees do not make the best salaries, unless you're a politician, and while librarians rate above archivists, they rate lower than janitors, teachers, construction workers, and garbage men.

stacy said...

i was a tenure-track librarian for a few years and my issue with that whole scene is that the field of "research" in librarianship seems just as pointless as the education to get the MLS. i try really hard to stay current and active professionally but then i see these "research" articles in our journals and the titles just make me want to fall out laughing. no wonder faculty in other academic disciplines look askance at tenure for librarians. (and yes i am published so i have contributed to that body of knowledge)

so here's the main thing that is bothering me - what do we do now? those of us who have gotten through the MLS program and are working as librarians - how do we keep our outlook positive and keep showing up for work every day when it seems like it's a constant battle? or is that a fight better left to the individual? just wondering how the rest of you muck through when things look dreary.

AL said...

"how do we keep our outlook positive and keep showing up for work every day when it seems like it's a constant battle?"

Habit? Martinis? I've always found that a hefty amount of self-delusion always helps me get through the day.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to be brutally honest, 'cause I'm a lurking anonymous librarian:

I could really care less if salaries for librarians tanked or went up and I think it's ridiculous to worry about it. I care about my own job, my own pay, and yes, about how well I get served at our local I care at least a little about their salaries as well. Now, everyone else? I could care less. If they want more money, they can organize or negotiate, but I just don't care what happens to them.

About the quality of our librarians: again, I could care less. Yeah, I'm sure it sucks to work with dullards...but who doesn't? I don't care what industry you're in...there's idiots everywhere.

About the quality of our librarians: seems pretty good to me. I mean, I can't think of a single time during my life when I went into a library and thought, "You know, these guys suck, I think we need to make things more competitive in library school 'cause the service around here stinks..." I've always found what I was looking for, the people were helpful...I mean, I didn't give a single thought to their professionalism or commitment. They did their job. End of story.

It's not a hard job (as you so wonderfully point out so often)and I don't think it needs to be reformed.

Now, if they come seeking to cut MY pay (which is very nice and handsome I must say...) then I'll go all nuts about equality and unions and such...

...but until that time, I'm not going to worry about it.

~Selfish, self-serving anonymous librarian.

AL said...

I've been trying to be less selfish, but it's not working out very well.