14 December 2003

Okay, back to NPR

I have many opinions about the segment NPR ran on libraries last week. However, in the interest of retaining some professional integrity, I decided not to post my ranting. Instead, I will post the letter I sent to Eight Forty-Eight's Steve Edwards in response to the program:

Thank you for your segment about the increased use of libraries over the past years (which aired Thursday, Dec. 11). It is true that public libraries are one of the"best-kept secrets" around. However, while Ms. Long chose to highlight internet and electronic resources in her interview, libraries provide so much more -- we provide books, storytimes and other programs for all ages, expert reference help, and a sense of community that is often missing from other segments of society. Trained librarians using careful questioning, can often help patrons find exactly what they are looking for, even when the patrons aren't often sure themselves.

Ms. Long answered the question about why there is a shortage of public librarians by pointing out the demand for information specialists in other fields. While this is a valid point, she neglected to explain why so many of my colleagues are choosing the private sector over public libraries. Quite simply, public libraries, with few exceptions, are not able to pay their employees as well as private employers. A quick glance at the recently updated survey by LACONI (Library Adminstrators Conference of Northern Illinois) shows a startling range of salaries throughout northern Illinois. While some libraries pay well (sometimes well over $75,000 to administrators), many more librarians make shockingly small salaries (under $25,000 to administration, less for other employees).

Many public library employees have earned Masters' degrees in Library Science before being employed as librarians full-time. We have spent much time, energy, and money on our educations in order that we may serve all those who walk through the doors of our libraries, yet are not always fairly compensated for our efforts, especially when librarian salaries are measured against the salaries of other professionals with comparable schooling. Furthermore, the inequity of librarian salaries throughout the state make it difficult to convince librarians to work in certain communities when the willingness to relocate or commute could mean fairer pay. Sadly, this inequity means that communities where parent could afford to purchase books for their children if they so chose are able to afford more librarians and bigger libraries while those communities which need public libraries the most often are unable to pay competitive wages, buy new materials, and expand too-small facilities.

I truly love my job and cannot imagine doing another. I also love the communities I have chosen to work in, which have thus far been communities on the lower end of the economic spectrum. I could make much more money than I do now by working in the city of Chicago or in the north suburbs. However, if we all follow the money, who will be left to serve the communities that need us most?

As long as poor pay and salary inequities remain, I fear there will be a shortage of professional librarians. I passionately believe in the value of public libraries and the potential they have to change lives. Most of us who work in public libraries do so out of love. We joke amongst each other that we didn't go into this profession to get rich. The fact that we love our jobs, though, doesn't make them less meaningful and less worthy of recognition and fair compensation. We didn't go into this profession to get rich, but it would be nice if we were able to stop worrying whether our paychecks will stretch enough to cover our basic needs.



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