As I'm wading into the exciting ALA-APA Advocating for Better Salaries and Pay Equity Toolkit (ALAAPAAFBSAPET), I'm getting a better idea of how they think librarians should raise their salaries. (Sorry I'm getting through this so slowly. I promised myself to make this my bedtime reading until I got through it, with the result that I haven't slept in four days. I can't sleep without reading a little something first, and by avoiding this document I also unfortunately avoid sleep.) In my last post, I claimed that "pay equity" was more or less a meaningless term. Here's what the ALAAPAAFBSAPET has to say on the matter (see p. 13 under "Tough Questions and Answers"):
"Q. What is pay equity? A. Pay equity means that all people receive equal pay for work of equal value regardless of their race or gender. This is an important issue for library workers because, as with many other predominately female fields, wages are often less than those paid for comparable work traditionally performed by men with similar education and experience."
Okay, so "pay equity" means that the reason librarians don't make much money on average is because librarianship is a "predominantly female field," which doesn't pay as well as predominantly male fields "with similar education and experience." I'm afraid I'll have to resort to my list of argument fallacies again on this one. First of all, it could be that women get paid less because they are women, but it could also be that women take jobs that pay less. This could be the reason so many women were librarians in the past--fewer opportunities for jobs that pay well, so they became librarians. If a man became a librarian, they could make him a director so that the pay would be decent. So it's just as likely that women became librarians in the past because they were kept out of higher-paying jobs than that librarians were paid poorly because they were women. Correlation does not imply causation. Keep repeating this.
Regardless of injustices in the past (and I believe there were serious work and gender injustices in the past and still some today) this doesn't explain the state of today's librarian pay and it doesn't help at all to show that library jobs are actually valuable. And then there's the false analogy and the problematic assumption that the work is in fact equal.
"Q. Why is pay equity needed in libraries? A. Libraries provide essential services in today’s information society, but often are unable to pay a living wage to their employees. For example, systems analysts and database administrators, who the Department of Labor classifies as comparable to librarians, earn almost twice as much—$61,000 a year starting out compared to $34,000 for librarians. Library support staffs are similarly underpaid. Low salaries penalize library workers who often are the sole support for their families. They also penalize library users by making it difficult for libraries to recruit high quality staff."
There's a lot of gibberish to unpack in this one. If libraries can't afford to pay their employees a living wage, are their services really essential? If the services were really essential, wouldn't people pony up? And if the argument is to be based on providing essential services, then wouldn't it make more sense that the more essential the service, the higher the pay should be? Thus librarians should be making less than garbage collectors. You might think I'm making a joke, but if you had to choose between never having your garbage collected and never going to your public library again, which would you choose?
The sad truth is that for most people libraries don't provide an essential service. Think of all the library bloggers trying desperately to find a way to get people to use the library. They're so desperate they've redefined libraries as a place to provide the essential service of videogaming. They're so desperate because libraries aren't that essential for most people; that's why most people don't use them. Sure, a lot of people like the idea of libraries, but they don't really care about the reality because they never visit them. The best justification for a public library that I know of is the one on the Boston Public Library: "The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty." Gaming and pop CDs and blockbuster movies just don't cut it.
Then let's consider the job comparisons. Systems analysts and database administrators! But why not social workers? The Department of Labor might classify systems analysts as comparable to librarians, but is that really the case? There's a lot of stuff in this toolkit about the way jobs are classified and compared. You can judge for yourself. But there is a problem of definition here. Database administrators administer databases. The job is definable. But what does a librarian do? It can't be defined, because librarian is a meaningless term these days. How about the average public reference librarian? Is that like a systems analyst? How about a children's librarian? Is that like a database administrator? I can tell you, my job is certainly not comparable to a systems analyst or a database administrator. What exactly does the average librarian actually do?
And then this stuff about low salaries penalizing library workers who are the sole support for their families. Well, that's very sad, but why is that a reason to raise salaries? More appeals to pity, but they don't work. The obvious response is that if you're not making enough money, then get another job that pays better. If you can't get any other jobs that pay better, then you're not underpaid. I'm not saying that our society shouldn't help people who are poor, but the library is not a welfare agency. The welfare agency is a welfare agency. This is just making the claim that library workers should be paid more because they don't make much money, not because they provide value. Begging the question.
The low salaries do penalize library users by making it hard to recruit high quality staff, but guess what--nobody but librarians care if the staff is high quality! If anyone cared, they'd put more money into libraries. The same is true, I think, in academic libraries. If the faculty get what little they want from the library, they don't care what happens to the librarians.
"Q. If women want to earn more, can’t they choose jobs that pay more? A. More women are choosing higher paying occupations formerly dominated by men. But society still needs libraries and expert staff to run them. We believe women (and men) should have the right to choose any occupation and know that they will be paid fairly for the work they do. "
Is this the best they can come up with? I love that little "(and men)". Very cute. But it's still just more gibberish about being "paid fairly for the work they do." How do we know they aren't being paid fairly for the work they do? I'm interested in more pay, not fair pay. The "fair pay" argument is based on the unproved claim that librarian is comparable to systems analyst. "Fair pay" sounds great, but means nothing.
I may be getting to the point of giving up this fight entirely. If this is an example of "tough" questions and answers, then there's no hope for librarian salaries in the mass. No, let's not admit library school is a joke, raise accreditation standards, institute rigorous curricula, impose actual entrance standards on library schools, reclassify the moron jobs as non-professional, and weed out the chaff. No, let's claim that the BS MLS is actually comparable to a real master's degree and that all people called "librarians" are essential and comparable to systems analysts and then whine because we're all just victims of discrimination. I'll conclude this tomorrow, but I've just about come to the conclusion that librarians are fairly paid, and the poor attempts at argument from the ALA-APA aren't helping to change my mind.