Librarian salaries: a brief personal recounting

Recently on Mastodon, there was a small bit of back and forth about inclusion of salary or at least, salary range, in job postings for librarians. It caught my attention for a few reasons:

  • This is an issue I really care about, and
  • The discussion was prompted by a job ad at The University of Chicago Library, where I worked for many years early in my career.

The University of Chicago Library was criticized for not including a salary range, and I think that’s a fair point even though it is something outside the library’s control. It got me thinking about my own salary journey over the past thirty plus years.

My first job out of grad school, and my first full-time job ever, was at The University of Chicago Library way back in 1992. I started out as a serials cataloger and my salary was $26,900. I was promoted from there into other roles over the years and when I left in late 1999, I was making about $55,000.

I didn’t leave just because of or primarily because of wanting a higher salary, but it sure helped that my new job offered me a starting salary of $75,000. I was hired as a systems analyst for a startup company called Endeavor Information Systems which many years later became part of its chief rival, Ex Libris. I don’t recall my salary when I left that job (and my job went through a name change to business analyst) to go back to academic libraries.

My next job was at Taylor University and my salary was in the low $40,000s, so a precipitous drop. That was a big struggle to make ends meet on a single income and with a growing family. Through a complicated set of circumstances, I worked there for only about 3 1/2 years before returning for a short time to my previous job at Endeavor. Then I jumped ship to take a job at a Fortune 100 company, Abbott Laboratories.

I don’t recall my starting salary at Abbott but it was higher than anything else I had before. I moved into more senior roles over several years, and at the end of my time there, I was making well into six figures for salary. I finally felt like I was being paid fairly, but even so, I was deeply unhappy and decided to change jobs yet again by returning to academia.

My starting salary at my next job, at another small liberal arts college, was in the mid-60,000s so yet another very steep drop. Again, it has been quite difficult to make ends meet at times. I won’t say how much I currently make but let’s just say it is a far cry from my peak salary even after more than ten years. This is a big part of why I’ve chosen to work as a part time teacher for the an iSchool graduate program so as to supplement my regular income. We are still reliant as a family on my income alone.

In the end, what does all of this mean? I’m not sure. But perhaps openly talking about this will be of help to someone else. Salary for librarians is incredibly important and on average, ridiculously low, as are salaries and wages for other library workers, which are significantly lower still. I’ve never been super motivated by salary in terms of job satisfaction, though, which I think the brief recounting of my salary history demonstrates.

We need better pay and we also need more transparency around salaries. I am thankful that the state in which I live recently passed a law requiring transparency. It’s an important step forward for all.

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