Compensation for Support Staff

American Library Association Office for Library Personnel Resources
Standing Committee on Library Education

World Book-ALA Goal Award Project on Library Support Staff

Issue Paper #5

Most, if not all, paraprofessionals want more compensation. Individuals who think their compensation is reasonable typically express concerns for other paraprofessionals. Library paraprofessionals view themselves as an under-compensated segment of an under-compensated profession. They know their compensation is pegged to that of librarians who are not highly paid and don't have elaborate benefit packages.

Less is known about compensation for paraprofessionals than for librarians. Given all that we do know about salary and benefits in the library field it is safe to say that compensation is relatively low for paraprofessionals. The majority of libraries in this country are in the public or educational sectors where funding is consistently a problem. If salary and benefit packages have been good in the past there is now the potential of erosion and certainly less hope for significant gains than in the past.

It can be assumed that paraprofessional salaries at the local library level are typically lower than those of librarians. While paraprofessional salaries in some libraries are higher than those of some MLS librarians in other libraries it is probably fair to assume that if national level salary data comparable to that of librarians existed, average paraprofessional salaries would be less than those of MLS librarians. Paraprofessionals are also more likely than librarians to be paid on an hourly rather than salary basis and this may have an impact on work attitudes as well as personal finances.

The American Library Association Library Education and Personnel Utilization Policy (LEPU, 1970) recommends some overlap between high level paraprofessional salaries and those of entry level librarians but we don't know how widely this recommendation is implemented.

Even less is known about paraprofessional benefits. Benefits vary greatly from institution to institution. In many organizations policies exist that assign different levels of benefits to different levels of staff. It is likely that many paraprofessionals have fewer or lesser benefits than librarians but we really don't know enough even to make assumptions. Benefits for part-time workers, typically defined as working somewhere under twenty hours a week per year, most particularly health insurance and the right to participate in retirement programs, are also of concern to paraprofessionals and to the libraries which employ them.

Just as librarians suffer from assumptions about the nature of the work done in libraries and the worth of work done by a primarily female work force, so do paraprofessionals. Pay equity studies and court cases have typically resulted in increases in salary for paraprofessionals as well as for librarians although there have been exceptions. Clearly the fact that paraprofessionals, like librarians, are, as far as we know, a female intensive work force affects salary and benefits.

Union activity is another factor that has had an unknown but generally assumed favorable impact on paraprofessional compensation.

The variety of entry level educational credentials required for employment as a paraprofessional and the fact that paraprofessionals tend to learn on the job are also factors likely to affect compensation. (See the paper on Basic Education for further discussion of this issue.) Many paraprofessionals have a higher level of education than required for employment in their position, and while many libraries have come to rely on this, there typically is no compensation built in for "being over qualified." This is true even if that "over-qualification" exists in terms of requirements set at a lower level than actually needed to do a job. In fact, maintaining current job descriptions, including appropriate educational and experience requirements, and classification systems is a major issue for paraprofessionals and for the libraries employing them.

The lack of control many library administrators and boards have over the personnel systems they operate under, and often a lack of input in the design of that system, may also be contributing factors to low compensation for paraprofessionals. Paraprofessional positions are often classed with lower paid clerical workers and factors inappropriate to the nature of paraprofessional work applied in classifying them. For example, library paraprofessionals may be seen by a centralized personnel office as data entry clerks, rather than given credit for applying judgment in the use of bibliographic databases. The issue of the weight or ranking given to factors is also of concern to paraprofessionals (and to librarians, too).

Those who favor increased compensation for paraprofessionals argue that the nature of their positions requires more compensation. Many view these jobs as under-rated because of inadequate measures and/or gender bias. They argue further that these positions are increasingly more complex and demanding, requiring greater skill and knowledge, and often having more responsibility than some MLS librarians.

Others think that compensation for librarians is a more serious issue or argue that only when librarians are better rewarded will paraprofessional compensation improve. Some say libraries simply can not afford to pay staff more. Still others argue that paraprofessional jobs are routine and should not have a higher level of compensation.

Questions typically raised about compensation for paraprofessionals include:

  • How can we convince the administration/library board/personnel department/legislature or personnel consultant that paraprofessionals should earn more?
  • What factors were/should be used to determine the worth of this (these) jobs?
  • Where will we get the money to better compensate paraprofessionals?

Comments on compensation from the paraprofessionals and MLS librarians who participated in the 45 focus groups held as part of the ALA project include:

  • "Low salaries are somewhat conspiratorial. It seems as if there is an effort to keep support staff salaries down, among women especially."
  • "As a library community we need to articulate ourselves and get comparable worth. At an elite college we looked at library jobs but not at sex issues, the library jobs ended up lower on the pay scale than the people who shovel the snow."
  • "The personnel consultant hired to facilitate this [reclassification] doesn't have a clear understanding about library staff . . . It would help if an official agency such as ALA or ACRL would set up guidelines on linking library positions with job classifications."
  • "Most of the paraprofessionals are part-time. They receive no benefits. All of the librarians are full-time."
  • "Professionals get big salary increases every year. Techs get freezing caps . . . and other legislatures must be made to realize . . . "
  • "[It would help to] work with civil service to get merit increases for support staff, monetary recognition."
  • "I'm willing to take on any task and become proficient, but there is no wage compensation."

KW August 13, 1991