Other view: California's librarians are long overdue for a raise
Maurice J. Freedman and Anne M. Turner -- Special to The [Sacramento] Bee
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Monday, November 25, 2002

From this fall's paid family leave legislation and dating back to Proposition 13, California has long initiated policy changes that make the rest of the country take notice. We librarians know this because we preserve, catalog and circulate history. This year, we hope to make some history ourselves by focusing on raising our salaries.

Library workers from throughout the state gathered in Sacramento the other day to discuss our future. Each year, more than 35 million men, women and children visit California's public libraries. We public-sector librarians serve serious readers and hobbyists, toddlers and graduate students, medical researchers and entrepreneurs, immigrants and senior citizens -- anyone who brings us their questions, problems and dreams.

Like most of the country's 136,000 librarians employed in public, academic, school or special (corporate, medical and legal) libraries in the public and private sector, California's have reinvented themselves as highly skilled search engines. We have mastered the sophisticated knowledge-management skills needed to keep up with the waves of information that wash over us daily. We provide equal access to a world of resources as we bridge the digital divide for those who don't have Internet access otherwise available.

But in seven years, nearly one in four librarians in the United States will reach retirement age. Who will take our place? It's hard to say when the skills we well-qualified candidates have mastered in the Internet age are hardly matched by our salaries.

According the American Library Association's 2002 salary survey of both the public and private sector, starting librarians -- mostly women with master's degrees -- earned just $35,000, compared with starting systems analysts or database administrators, mostly men with master's degrees, whose starting salaries, at $61,000, were nearly double.

The California Library Association uncovered a similar pattern in a statewide survey. At every level of service, the library workers earn less than employees in comparable public jobs, such as city planners or civil engineers. The disparity between average starting salaries for library and nonlibrary public employees ranged from $3,200 to $12,500.

State library directors, with a required master's degree, are paid less than parks and recreation or child support services directors, where education beyond a bachelor's degree is not required. Perhaps that is because civil engineers and city planners are predominantly men, and their work is valued by most elected officials.

Californians cannot continue to claim they value libraries while underpaying the staff. Today, we serve more people than ever for less than the cost of one hardcover novel per capita -- divide the state's library budgets by the number of people served and the answer is $25. In a state with some of the nation's highest housing costs, California's library workers cannot continue to live on love alone -- just ask our landlords.


About the Writer

Maurice J. Freedman is the president of the 64,000-member American Library Association. Anne M. Turner, who recently completed her term as the 2002 president of the California Library Association, is director of the Santa Cruz County Library System. She can be reached at turnera@santacruzpl.org. Web site: www.ala.org.