Librarians, archivists, money, and a Lost Generation

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.


3 Responses to “Librarians, archivists, money, and a Lost Generation”

  1. 1 Ben
    November 10, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Great post, Audra. I would hope that every library school would teach their students some negotiation skills and explain that getting even a few hundred dollars more than that first job is offering can translate to many more hundreds over the years because of percentage increases in salary. This point was made briefly in passing by one of my library instructors, but I am sure went largely unnoticed by most students. Another professor who helped me prepare for an interview told me that if offered the job, I should not immediately accept – that I should ask if the salary was negotiable and get back to them with an answer, and possibly a negotiated salary figure, in the coming days. This probably seems like such obvious advice to most people, but library students are so desperate for jobs (often their first library jobs), they don’t want to rock the boat.

  2. May 6, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    I know this is late, but you addressed a serious question that could wreak a lot of havoc on our profession.

    “Market rate” – bah! My employer spent loads of money to bring in some consultants to analyze our salaries and try to bring them closer to “market rate”. Still too tight for comfort.

    To me, another important factor is the cost of education: I would bet that most of us younger archivists have started our first “real” jobs with very large student loans to pay off, which sucks away enough of what we do get paid to cause some hardship. I would like to know if younger archivists would feel more motivated if employers would arrange for some kind of loan repayment contribution for a set time period as a replacement to the compulsory retirement contribution. With how much gets taken out of my checks for retirement I would welcome even half of that being sent directly to pay off my loan instead. Of course, right now our retirement deduction is pretend money: a clever way of paying us less.

    Maybe it would be even better if academic libraries set up more of a cooperative system with library schools to pay for people’s education – if not wholly, at least in part . . .

    It all seems to me a classic case of “no single raindrop accepts blame for the flood.”

  3. 3 Audra
    May 6, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    I have heard about systems where public and academic libraries have paid, at least in part, for library school for their paraprofessional employees. It seems like a great idea. I think so many of us are grateful to be gainfully employed (instead of unpaid interns) that we will accept less than what is feasible with our training/knowledge and debt.

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