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.
Information WANTS TO BE FREE!!! Here’s how you live on $35,000 in New York City working for NYPL. I am in my first professional position just one year out of library school. (Pratt Institute ’04) I have lived with my girlfriend for the last 2 years, paying 1500$ ($750 each) for a nice brownstone style apt. in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. I have no plans to own an apt. or save money as almost 50% of my salary goes to rent. I am actually in the process of moving, my girlfriend is going away to grad. school and I am entertaining the thought of paying more then 50% of my monthly salary to rent. The rest of my money goes to food, student loans, credit cards, art studio rental space, entertainment, and travel expenses. Again, I save no money. At the end of each month I approach “even” if you will. The way I see it is NYPL is a giving me great experience plus I get to live in New York City. I do not plan to work or live here forever, but while I am young and hip, I get to kick it in the city with the people of this nation who know what’s going on. NYPL will always have young, hungry new library school graduates who will take a job for $35,000 in hopes that it will become a professional stepping stone. I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to think that you couldn’t live in the city on $35,000 while there are thousands of people living here for a lot less!
I’m glad you’re happy breaking even every month. Some of us like to have a little savings if god forbid something happens to us or there is some unexpected expense (being “young and hip” does not make me immortal). I never said there was no way people could live in NY on that salary, but that there was no accounting for the high cost of living in the salaries for starting librarians in NY and Boston. And that’s great that people can live on less. Perhaps that’s what we should base librarian’s salaries on? The idea that a person without dependents in a professional position that requires a Masters degree should not be able to save any money from their job is ludicrous. But I’m glad you’re happy making what you do in order to live in the city where people know what’s going on. I live in the city with people who have the humility to know that we don’t know everything.
Re: Why do some libraries pay a living wage while others do not. I have a little economics background, so here are my suggestions why:
1. Discrimination — discrimination against women in some areas of work (eg. Law) lead to an increased supply of labor in areas of work that do not discriminate (eg. librarianship). This leads to lower wages.
2. Public Service “Calling” — Some people feel “called” to certain jobs and are therefore willing to accept lower wages. You chose one of these professions.
3. Compensation Packages — some employers offer less in terms of benefits, but offer higher wages.
4. The Tiebout model — basically people migrate based on the ratio of public services to taxes. Employers who have a high PS to T ratio may have to pay more to attract people to their station.
The bottom line, however, is that labor _is_ about supply and demand. If libraries did not get their employees at the low wage, they would raise the price. But you have to consider the big picture. Some people think living in New York is valuable to them, so they don’t care about the wage as much. There are also public services considerations as well (hospitals, schools, grocery, shopping etc.). As one career specialist puts it “if you want a good wage, do something that no one else wants to do.” People want to help people for a living. They want to be pseudo-profs in an academic setting. People don’t want to be sewage treatment specialists — that’s why in my town they make, like 80 bucks an hour.
Another thing to consider is that the Boston/New York case may be just city policy doing what it is supposed to do. The point is that a person living outside New York would not accept a job at such a low wage, but someone who is unemployed and already living in New York would. So the “you must live in the city” policy is a way of finding jobs for New Yorkers.