Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Response to NMRT Question: Salaries and Predicted Librarian Retirements

Earlier this month, the NMRT hosted an online ALA Presidential Candidates' Forum.
This post is my reply to a question about salaries and the predicted wave of librarian retirements.

NMRT Question: The literature touts an upcoming shortage of librarians due to the “graying of the profession.” Yet new librarians, even experienced librarians, face a tough job market and are often forced to take low-paying or part-time jobs. On the other hand, librarians complain about the lack of pay equity in the filed. How can we fight for equitable salaries when the supply outstretches the demand? What will you do as ALA president to address these issue?

There are numerous predictions that the rate of retirement will soon exceed the rate of new professionals entering the field. Library Journal predicted that one in four librarians will reach retirement age (65) by 2009 and that half of the 125,000 current school
librarians will retire within the next 12 years. More recently, we are coming to realize that the projected wave of retirements might occur somewhat later, between 2015 and 2019. Given the uncertain economic situation and slowed retirement planning, not all librarians may retire upon reaching 65. We continue to hear at least anecdotal evidence that new graduates are having difficulty securing entry level positions. What can our professions do to help librarians prepare for retirement, provide employment for the 5,000 new LIS graduates each year, and compensate our employees adequately?
It is likely that multiple strategies are needed to address this employment picture. Here are a few ideas that we might want to explore further.

ALA might help librarians approaching retirement prepare for this life-phase and help ensure that their salary lines remain funded.

Librarians approaching retirement can serve as mentors for LIS students and new graduates, helping them advance more quickly in their careers.

Library practitioners might work more closely with LIS schools to provide students with practical experience and help them become more competitive in their job searches.

LIS programs can examine their placement and career services to ensure that they provide new graduates with job seeking skills, especially those related to salary negotiation.

Libraries can commit to hiring new graduates by reserving full-time positions, including residencies, for new graduates.

LIS students can broaden their career search to investigate possible employment in related fields or in companion information settings. Increasingly, graduates of ALA accredited programs are finding new career paths as in areas such as archival enterprise, usability design, and information architecture.

ALA might study how related fields such as education, nursing, social work, and computer science have dealt with similar workforce issues.

According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, pay equity is defined as “a means of eliminating sex and race discrimination in the wage-setting system.” While we vocalize our support for pay equity within our ALA community, our message has not been heard or addressed by key players. The nonprofit ALA-Allied Professional Association (APA) was established, in part, to advocate for pay equity. ALA members need to support the continuing effort of ALA-APA to define and implement its strategies.

ALA-APA and the ALA Washington Office should direct their energies to supporting national pay-equity legislation, including monitoring the potential impact of legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act.

I have spent the last twenty years as an educator in a top-ten LIS program. I have observed how placement is impacted by the national economy and also by students’ career goals, preparation, and mobility. I have also seen some career paths, such as school library positions, require even greater qualifications. Ninety percent of our graduates are placed within a few months of graduation and many students and LIS professionals around the country use our electronic JobWeb in their job search. However, new graduates still need mentoring through the job search, practical experience, and skills in negotiating salaries to request compensation at least in line with the national salary scale.