Let me preface this post with the statement that I didn’t become a librarian in order to get rich. The average librarian’s salary is more than the average salary for social workers, so it was never one of my complaints. I would rather do something I love than make a lot of money, and I would hope that’s a feeling my fellow librarians share (though I’m sure none of us would mind getting the money as well). So I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the figures in Michael McGrorty’s survey, which details the starting salaries for librarians in various metropolitan areas. They range from a low of $24,596 to a high of $52,936. I really appreciate his effort in getting this information out to detail the fact that salaries are even low in metropolitan areas. What Michael failed to detail were the differences in the cost of living in these areas and whether the differences in salaries compensated for differences in cost of living. So I added a few stats of my own based on research from American Factfinder and MSN’s cost of living comparison tool (not the most scientific of sources, but just fine in a pinch). You can see my table as a Word document or as a PDF.

What this shows is that there is little correlation between librarian’s salaries and the cost of living. In some places, $25,000 is plenty to live on, but in other areas it should be considered below the poverty line. New York and Boston are two of the most expensive places to live in the country. And yet, they both offer starting salaries around $35,000 and they both require their library employees to live in the city. Now I could probably live on $35,000 in New Jersey (well… maybe Newark or Trenton or something) and commute into the city, but apparently that isn’t allowed. Where must one live in New York City if they make $35,000? My brother makes a whole lot more than that and still lives with four other roommates in Manhattan! Every time I look at the frequent advertisements for entry-level positions at the Boston Public Library I laugh, because I think of all my friends who make so much more than $36,000 and still can’t afford to live in the city. Then look at Los Angeles and King County. LA and Seattle are expensive places to live — especially Seattle — but there seems to be some recognition of this in the fact that salaries are higher there. And what of Las Vegas? I’ve seen starting salaries for public librarians there in the high $40’s. Certainly it’s not more expensive to live in Las Vegas than New York.

Why in some cities are librarians paid a living wage (or better) and in others they are not? Is it an issue of supply and demand? Is it because some communities place a higher value on library services and librarians? Is it related to the economies of these places (then why would Buffalo offer almost the same salary as NY and Boston when it’s in a far more serious fiscal crisis?)? I’ve seen some of the wealthiest suburbs in Chicagoland that barely pay more than the Chicago Public Library and I’ve seen small rural public libraries that pay better. Is there a common thread? Something that would explain the disparities? I’m not much of an economist so this really isn’t something I can explain. Perhaps one of my more economically savvy readers can enlighten me.

I may not care about being paid a tremendous amount of money, but I do want to be treated fairly and to be paid a wage that reflects the cost of living for the geographical area in which I work.