Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Pay Equity from the ALA-APA

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.


stacy said...


I have long been an advocate of implementing a licensure program for MLS grads - similar to all of the licensing processes other professions have. I support having to pass a test and maintain CE hours in order to keep working. (And I'm not talking about that bogus "AHIP" certification from the Medical Library Association - that's the worst load of crap ever.)
Of course it seems the profession would just rather keep complaining about pay and inequity and lack of respect rather than coming up with some new idea that would require shaking the field up. UGH.
Thanks for your very well-written response to the toolkit - I hope you can stick with the analysis for a bit longer!

janitorx said...

Your analysis is very convincing!

I sometimes wonder if librarians would be better off having a system akin to teachers. My reasoning is mostly based on the premise that teaching and librarianship tend to attract similar types. Read: A certian percentage of low academic performers. Teachers have annually particpate in x amount of continuing education, professional development. In turn, they get step increases with each year of service. Contrast that with librarianship where directors who earn exponentially more than the rank-in-file librarian have no idea about emerging trends (yeah, most of them suck, but you get the idea)! We can argue that teachers have to put up with this BS, but maybe it's what we need to raise the attrition rate in this field. If I meet another librarian who says they took 7 years to get a bachelors b/c they fucked around or meet a librarian who likes reading mysteries and looks at me askance b/c I love 19th C Russian literature, I am going to punch someone at the next conference I attend!

Really, I don't meant to sound like an intellectual snob. I'm just tired of the low standards because it is why I believe our salaries are low.

AL said...

Interesting suggestions here. A licensure program would, I think, have to suffer from the same incoherence as library education in general, though. How many things could we really say everyone working as a librarian should know?

Perhaps I'm cynical, but I don't think I would find anything modeled after school teachers very attractive. Yes, library directors make a lot more than the average librarian. But getting pay increases merely because one has put one's time in is no better. Any program based on time served instead of quality of service is going to deter the best people. Continuing education is another matter, but in a lot of academic libraries this is already normal.

janitorx said...

I really despise how our field awards longevity.

Some academic libraries, even those with tenure track positions, will only fund a portion of one's travel for a conference. Some will not even fund state conferences! At my community college, it's neither encouraged nor discouraged. I've had every conference and/or workshop fully funded, but I think that's because I'm the only person who tries to keep up :)

AL said...

Whereas I've had every conference or workshop I've ever attended almost completely funded. On the other hand, I made that a requirement of the jobs before I would take them.

janitorx said...

I was shocked to find out these poor tenure track librarians have to pay part of their way! But, they willingly pay and do not complain. A few years ago, I had one position where I was going to have to cough up a certain percentage. I told them "no" and they caved in. Five months later, I found another job. This same place would not count my 2nd master's degree towards promotion. Faculty status, my arse!

I wish more librarians played harball when negotiating an offer.

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting is that LJ produces articles like this one: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6388298.html entitled "Keep Your Student Workers." It essentially says that the work is so low-quality that students can do it as well as librarians: "in return, they will offer great service with minimal professional staff input and financial resources".

When the job can be handled just as well by students, and more cheaply, then ALA can't reasonably complain about pay equity and what librarians offer. I worked as a student worker and now as support staff at this library (saving up for grad school that will not be library sciences-related), and I'm blown away by the sheer ineptness of some of the people working here.

It does beat working as a secretary, though. Inept as they may be, they are nice (maybe too nice for their own good).

il library student said...

Oh my. That LJ article certainly was pie-in-the-sky thinking.

At the academic institution I worked at, human resources set the pay scale for all student positions across campus. Library jobs were always lowest on the pay scale, even though we tried to get it raised, as our students did more on their shifts than student computer lab monitors, who just kept an eye on things and cleared the occasional paper jam from the printers.

Anyway, since we couldn't pay any more than what HR told us we could, we tended to get two kinds of students: the ones that loved the library and the ones that were passed up by all other campus departments or had been let go by other campus departments due to laziness, irresponsibility, etc.

The ones that loved the library and were good, conscientious workers were in very, very short supply. The workers we did get called in all the time, came in and plopped down and just started doing their homework, or got on the phone and started calling friends.

My boss, their overall supervisor, treated the shiftless ones way better than the good ones. Drove me nuts while I was there.

Anonymous said...

You are my hero. Looking forward to tomorrow's post.

Anonymous said...

You still need to fix the ALAAPAAFBSAPET link on yesterday's post.

Not sure why my initial comment was swiffered. I really am interested in whether people commenting have looked at the damn thing.

Given the broken links, I was guessing at least some hadn't. And while I think your analysis is fun (and mostly right), that worries me some.

(BTW, how many non-spam comments do you delete?)

AL said...

Thanks very much for noting the broken links. Don't know how I missed them. I fixed both links. I deleted your first comment only because it was about a problem that I then fixed, rather than an entry in the discussion. I'm leaving this one to explain.

Also, I delete very few comments, and I haven't had much of a problem with spam yet. I tend to delete only comments on problems that I've since fixed or comments that just creep me out, which I get occasionally, especially from one of my admirers.

Anonymous said...

two points, sort of related together:
first, I wonder if a special/corporate librarian might have a little different take? without checking at SLA, I thought I heard that was a somewhat more "rewarding" gig (Your Mileage May Vary). but second, this ALA-APA promo seems to be pitched at Public and Academic librarians, and the "cash value" of their services has _never_ been an easy case to make. In fact, I'd go one step further and argue that the PLs are living off the "social capital" of an earlier age.

AL said...

I think most things the ALA does are for public libraries and librarians. All that DOPA and CIPA, etc. and virtually anything published in American Libraries. Public and academic libraries rarely generate money, so it's hard to base their worth on the bottom line. What standard of value could one really have except what the market will bear?

Anonymous said...

I left public libraries a year ago to work in a law library. Looking back, I don't know how I ever suffered the indignity of public librarianship for so long.

My salary is much better. There is nary a slack-jawed moron in sight, and the only dick I've seen over the past year is my own.

The reference work is challenging, and the users of our library actually value the research we are able to do with and for them.

Life is good!

Anonymous said...

PS... As well, I have not heard the ALA mentioned in over a year. Now that's a fringe benefit I can really appreciate!

Privateer6 said...

PBI Librarian is that you s anon 7:59?

Getting back to the topic, I think that librarians really need to look at their red-headed step brothers, archivists and records managers, to develop a certification program. If memory serves me correctly, it's been a while, you take exams covering the basics of the profession to get certification. OH yeah, you also need some time in the field. You can get conditional certification IF you don't meet the field requirements, but you won't be fully certified until time is served.

As for standards in public libraries, think about all the bs policies that ALA indoctinates with. You can't throw out homeless people who are harassing and scaring patrons. You can't kick out the pervs looking at porn on the net. Sheesh how do you expect the public to feel about libraries when they are uncomfortable with them?

P.B.I. Librarian said...

LOL..no, that wasn't me, but it sure does sound like me!