Librarians want more pay, and they're learning to ask for it

By Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Tired of the stereotype that they are bifocaled matrons who do little more than shush noisy patrons, librarians say they want salaries more like the skilled information specialists they have become.

At the American Library Association national convention in Atlanta this week, the group inaugurated a new president who ran on a platform of higher salaries and modernizing the image of librarians.

"We must overcome the stereotype of the librarian as the selfless, dedicated and devoted worker, who is in the profession to do good and will accept any pittance of pay," new president Mitch Freedman wrote in a letter to the 64,000 members of the association.

His comments to the convention about lousy pay met with thunderous applause, and the cheering librarians said they're serious about lobbying for higher salaries.

A librarian with a master's degree starts at about $38,000 a year. Systems analysts and database managers start at about $61,000 a year with an advanced degree, and librarians said businesses are actively recruiting librarians for those types of jobs.

"Librarians are seen as these wonderful workers, so devoted. They don't realize what we have to know about computers, the Internet, the same skills that are well compensated in the business world," Freedman said.

The ALA recently produced a worksheet for librarians who don't know how to go about asking for more money. The pamphlet encourages librarians to be aggressive in selling their talents as "the ultimate search engine."

Among the suggested talking points for salary negotiations: "Everyone loves libraries, but librarians can't live on love alone. Just ask our landlords, doctors and families."

The problem is largely one of sexism, according to the ALA and many librarians. The field is dominated by women, and librarians say men doing similar work make double or triple in the private sector. Even government employees -- auditors and computer workers, for example -- make more than librarians for the same sort of work.

"We don't have good people who want to stay in libraries," said Mary Rinato Berman, who works for the Westchester Library System in Ardsley, N.Y. "Librarians are so trained, they're going off and making a fortune."

Joan Goddard of San Jose, Calif., said the work is more rewarding than a business career, "but that doesn't mean we should have to take a vow of poverty to do it."

Librarians at the conference warned that without major pay hikes, the nation will find itself in a librarian shortage because women have more career options and can make much more money in other fields. The ALA estimates half of all librarians will retire in the next 12 years.

"Salaries need to be sufficient to attract new blood, and they're not," said Phyllis Young of the Los Angeles County libraries.

They said the answer is to better promote themselves as ingenious multitaskers who assist job searches, genealogy research and tax filing and still have time to put on a puppet show.

"We don't just hand out Harry Potter books," Berman said. "We throw open the library doors every day and help people get the information they need. Information is useless unless you can get it. That's where we come in."

Maurice Freedman, the newly inaugurated president, of the American Library Association (ALA) poses, Monday, June 17, 2002 , during the ALA national convention in Atlanta. Freedman ran on a platform of higher salaries and modernizing the image of librarians.
--AP Photo