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Librarians and the Gender Pay Gap

Librarians and the Gender Pay Gap

Librarians work in a pink-collar profession. With 82% of the library workforce identifying as female in 2017, the field is overwhelmingly dominated by women. This isn’t news to most of us working in a library, but conversations about how this impacts our lives aren’t commonplace. That needs to change.

According to a 2016 study, “occupation and industry now constitute the largest measured factors accounting for the gender pay gap.” In other words, jobs in professions dominated by women pay less, accounting for 51% of the gender pay gap across all industries. What does this mean for us? Pink-collar professionals’ low monthly paychecks don’t just lead to less spending and saving power month-to-month — they also lead to serious consequences for our long-term financial security in the years after we leave our jobs. Women are way behind men in saving for retirement partly as a result of the gender pay-gap. And because women live longer than men on average, retirement costs more for us. As a result, women today have a much higher risk of living in poverty in our old age.

Pink-collar professionals like nurses, librarians, social workers, and teachers are looking at a major long term problem, particularly as the American government looks to make cuts to safety nets for the elderly, like social security and Medicare. What are we doing about it?

The Allied Professional Association of the American Library Association provides resources to help women negotiate for higher salaries on their website, and that’s a crucial first step. Women Don’t Ask provides in-depth research on the differences between men and women as negotiators, and offers strategies for identifying opportunities for negotiation and tips on how to do it. Librarians and all pink-collar professionals must practice the strategies that are now commonplace among women in the corporate sector, and employers must welcome negotiating as part of the hiring and interview process.

Unfortunately, however, librarians in particular lack tools that other professionals use to negotiate and make the informed decisions when considering new job opportunities. Websites like Glassdoor and Salary.com provide salary and benefits details, but many of our employers are not listed at all, and the data that is available doesn’t address workplace policies and equity issues that have such a tremendous impact on women’s ability to succeed. Fairygodboss addresses these issues by providing a platform for women to leave anonymous reviews about their employers, but only a handful of libraries have records in their database. It’s as if the rest of the working world doesn’t even realize that librarians exist.

Negotiating for higher salaries is also important because librarians and many other pink-collar professionals must invest in advanced degrees to achieve professional status. At $10-$37k per year, a masters in library and information science does not come cheap. (It is also basically unusable outside of the library profession.) Despite the fact that the median salary for masters degree holders in America is $70,000 annually, the average salary for librarians is $48,225, putting us a whopping $22,000 behind our peers in other fields every year. Asking young people to take on a five-figure debt load to enter a profession that offers little hope of paying it off in a reasonable amount of time just doesn’t make sense, and sets barriers to anyone who's coming from a position of economic disadvantage to entering the field.

[Related: Student Loans Are a Women's Issue — Here's Why]

Like so many industries, the library world is working hard to improve diversity in our workforce, but it will be impossible to do this without addressing the pay gap. Investing in a degree that offers no portability across industries for work in a poorly paying field is really only an option for individuals of means. Considering the effects of systemic racism on financial mobility for people of color, it should be no surprise that nearly 75% of MLIS degrees are awarded to white people.

Research definitively shows that our labor is undervalued because women do it, not because the work we do and the services we provide are actually less valuable. Our work is valuable, period. And contrary to some of the literature out there, negotiating for better wages does not require a justification of the value of librarianship as an occupation. We deserve access to the information resources we need to make informed decisions about our careers and our lives. We deserve workplace policies and compensation packages that support us in meeting our goals as human beings. Raising a family, owning a home, continuing our education, saving for security in retirement, or splurging on a well-earned vacation are achievable goals when we know the value of our labor, and negotiating to ensure that we are compensated fairly.

Reporting our salaries and reviewing our employers on Glassdoor is an important step toward addressing the pay gap. Women librarians can do one better if we also leave reviews with Fairygodboss and build a database of information about the benefits, policies, and culture in our workplaces. Sharing our experiences with these sites is easy, and we can get started now – no endless conversations about who-what-when-where-how-why in committees, no grant writing, no surveys, no reinventing the wheel. These tools are available to us if we invest in building them for our community. 

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Erin Schreiner is a bibliographer who works with book collectors and institutions to plan and execute projects to describe, study, and share their collections. She also publishes regularly on special collections materials and the rare book world.


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