Special Presidential TF on the Status of Librarians

Status Issues

Issues of status and salary are frequently spoken of synonymously, and indeed they are closely related. But to see the two as the same is to overlook that the status of a profession leads to many results other than salary levels and that salaries are determined by many factors other than the status of a profession. Indeed salaries are related to status; in fact salaries are probably more an indicator of status and a result of low status rather than a cause of status.

In its discussions, the Task Force has identified a number of issues related to status and salaries or factors that some members feel may cause librarians to suffer from low status and low salaries. It recognizes that these are not documented carefully and that there has been little research to support its perceptions. We share these here in order to provide a catalyst for discussion, and we hope that many of our colleagues will share their reactions to them.

The Task Force was not intended to carry out a prolonged research process to verify its perceptions but only to provide recommendations that might overcome the problems of low status and related salary issues.

  • While libraries are seen as a social good and community asset, there is not an understanding of the librarian’s role in delivering these. Library customers do not differentiate between the types of staff in libraries, seeing the person behind the circulation desk, the person behind the reference desk, and another service staff as equal. Libraries may exacerbate this problem by staffing service points with various levels of staff. To the public, therefore, there is not a clear sense of what values a professional librarian brings to the information transaction. In many other professions the roles of professional (lawyers, doctors, nurses) are clearly differentiated from those of supporting staff (paralegals, medical technicians, licensed practical nurses). This is not to say that the role of these supporting staff is not extremely important. It is only to say that the roles of librarians and supporting staff are different, but that the difference is not easily perceived by the library customer.

  • In many occupations, supply and demand within the labor force affect salaries to some degree. If this is true for the library profession, one could expect that when there are more librarians than positions, salaries will be deflated or flat; at times when positions outnumber available professional librarians, salaries will be increased because of the more competitive environment. Were this the case, this might lead to salary differences within the profession as shortages of one specialty resulted in escalation of salaries in that specialty without affecting overall salary levels. In academic libraries, area studies librarians and science/technology specialists may serve as examples of this.

  • Status may be related to position titles. “Librarian” is a title that carries with it much of the public perceptions of that role developed over the last century. There is a perception that librarians who opt to enter the corporate world in positions requiring the same competencies, but with a different job titles (information specialist, information officer, knowledge manager, etc.) enjoy higher status and higher salaries than librarians in more traditional roles.

  • For some time now, many regional and state associations have set recommended minimum salaries for librarians. Since these lack the force of law or statutory requirements, these locally recommended salaries have failed to bring about higher salaries except in a limited number of instances.

  • The services that librarians offer are provided without cost to the end user. Are there any professions that enjoy high status and salaries where the product or service is provided without cost? While providing access to information without regard to the user’s ability to pay is a value of the profession, at least that part of the profession supporting the non-profit world, does this value work against the increase of status and salary for librarians, and if so, how might this be countermanded?

  • The lack of a widely recognized certification program, requiring some evidence of the continued growth and development of professional knowledge and competency, may put librarians at a disadvantage both in status and salaries relative to the many professions that require evidence of continuing professional development for continuance in or advancement within the profession.

  • The lack of widely recognized and supported measures of the impact of librarians on library services and therefore on the economic and societal benefits gained by their presence (not just the presence of a library) has led to low status and depressed salaries. Research either to develop measurement tools or to measure economic benefit has been lacking.

  • The placement of libraries, and therefore librarians, within organizations has been inconsistent. This placement within organizations directly contributes to status and establishes the peer groups in which libraries and librarians will be compared and measured. In academic institutions, if librarians have faculty status and libraries report to academic officers, than it is more likely that status and salary issues will be comparable to faculty status and salary issues. If they report to administrative officers, than they are more likely to be compared with professional groups within the overall administrative hierarchy. If they report to information officers, they are more likely to be compared with other information professionals, especially computer professionals. No matter which of these pertains, however, there is no assurance that ultimately supply and demand will not determine the status and salaries of librarians, in much the same way that liberal arts faculty enjoy lower status and salaries than their colleagues in business and engineering schools.

  • The public’s lack of a clear understanding of the role of librarians has led on more than one occasion to the appointment of non-librarians to significant librarian positions. The appointment of non-librarians to positions that require a professional knowledge of information and information services is an all too frequent occurrence.

The Task Force does not pretend that it has defined or described every issue related to the status of librarians, but the issues shown above reflect a cross section of those issues. We would welcome your adding to these or anecdotal or other information related to them.

27 November 2001