What will happen to today’s new, young information professionals who are unemployed or “underemployed”? A recent article in Business Week dubs these young people as part of a new “Lost Generation.” Research suggests that an “extended period of youthful joblessness can significantly depress lifetime income as people get stuck in jobs that are beneath their capabilities, or come to be seen by employers as damaged goods.” For those of us fortunate enough to be employed, will low pay and limited (or nonexistent) benefits be sufficient to keep us inspired, creative, and energetic?
I am in the midst of my first-ever annual review and I thought I’d share my experience, both with fellow neophytes and supervisors. When I was hired into my current position, my county HR department said that I would start at the bottom of the salary range because I did not have any professional experience (pre-MLIS experience of 6 years did not count) and that I could negotiate my salary after 1 year. In addition, my salary increase would be based on the “market rate” for a librarian in my county — which was a good 20% higher from my starting rate. Good, I thought, in order for me to show my value as a professional and be paid a fair wage.
Not until this week, however, was I informed that the “market rate” is merely a representative figure — not an actual rate that most librarians are paid. Employees start at the bottom and, through merit-based appraisals, receive a percentage of the market rate as an increase in their salary per annum. Many employees don’t actually reach 100% of the market rate, and this year, the highest possible salary increase is capped at 2% of the market rate. That means a perfect appraisal would merit just a few hundred dollars extra the following year, due to the lower rate of pay. For a library director, a 2% increase could mean a few thousand dollars.
The difference between a poor appraisal and an excellent appraisal could mean a difference of a couple hundred bucks for a new librarian or archivist. Why would a government employee work harder than the minimum requirements? Why would a new librarian/archivist want to bring new ideas to the table and challenge him or herself to make changes? With new jobs asking for more and more training and education and experience for less pay, what will today’s information professionals have to gain?
Full disclosure: I got an excellent review. I love my job. I have few resources but full support from my colleagues and supervisor. I am grateful every day that I have a job, especially one related to special collections. But without mentorship and motivation, some new information professionals find themselves feeling lost. A recent post on The New Archivist discusses the feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence that can appear with the challenges of a first job (limited resources, a bit of naivete, overwhelming projects) and it resonated with me. I hope that I can continue to be confident and excited in my second year as a librarian/archivist.