Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
July 2003

Professional Compensation

Last summer (June 2002) Dr. Maurice J. Freedman (director of the Westchester Library System in Ardsley, New York), then in-coming president of the American Library Association said, "We know that everyone loves libraries and we have often said that libraries can't live on love alone. Librarians are worthy of love, too, as well as respect, and just and fair compensation as well." Freedman made the compensation issue an important part of his presidency.

Before discussing what is professional compensation, the question arises, "What is a professional librarian?" I discussed this topic with the head of a library technical education program at a community college, which is a two year program that includes courses in the organization of materials

I asked the director, "Given the fact that librarians are already low paid, why would a student go for a program that pays even less?" She answered that some people do not want the professional responsibilities or do not have the ability to manage, analyze or co-ordinate a library program. If I take her answer and turn it around, the librarian has the intellectual and education background to manage, analyze, co-ordinate, and plan the activities and program for a library. The non-professional is task oriented; the professional is globally oriented.

Sharing and helping are part of our job description. Part of our general education teaches us the tools and vocabulary of scholarship, but no one is an expert in everything. By understanding how knowledge works we can formulate queries to ask our colleagues.

Last month a coordinator of a resource center at a Jewish educational institution asked for broad guidance on methods of cataloging, organizing and circulating materials. They also wanted advice on writing policies for circulation and purchase of a computerized library management system. The requester wanted, "any and all information you can provide about how to proceed."

I answered her with three short sentences, "You need to hire an expert to help you analyze the situation and advise you on options. There are many possibilities that you need to consider. It is really unfair to ask for free advice." I was trying to be very matter of fact and non-judgmental.

In the training of a professionals such as librarians, lawyers, doctors, historians, etc. students are taught the vocabulary of the discipline and enough critical thinking skills so that they know how to search for the information they need. It is a mistake to think that any well-meaning person can perform professional tasks. Without the proper resources even a qualified professional can not perform well.

Freedman's message is clear; librarians should be compensated for their expertise, counsel, guidance and power of analysis. I seethe every time I hear a request for guidance in organizing a library or information service. I teach my students what is out there and how to determine proper questions to ask.

We all depend on experts and specialists. If a person who goes to a lawyer for a business solution or a doctor for a health matter, they see a return and pay the bill (or makes sure insurance pays). The person who goes to a librarian for help sees a return, but the person or entity who pays the bills does not see the return. Even after graduating library school, a librarian takes several years of mentored supervision and constant study for a neophyte to be an expert and master librarian.

Administrators, city officials, tax payers, and others who pay the bills for the library do not see the expertise of librarians and the value of libraries. One of the ideas behind writing this column for the since 1997 is to show non-librarians the expertise of librarians. Even though I get lots of positive feed back, some school administrators still don't "get it."

I hear stories of librarian cut backs to save money. I hear of cut book budgets. I hear of lack of money to pay for basis services. Yet when people want books, information, or bibliographic guidance they run to the library.

Many kinds of questions are appropriate for HaSafran or other listservs. Questions about cataloging, reference, and where to find answers are appropriate to ask of colleagues. Questions that require analysis or guidance for a particular situation should be directed to paid consultants. I talked with one of my neighbors, who is a lawyer, about what is the line between professional advice and general information. First, he said that if the situation is urgent (fire, flood, natural disaster, etc.) one has an obligation to help our fellow Jews and colleagues. If the situation is a friendly discussion about principles and ideas, this is not a consultation. If you are asking for profession advice for a particular situation, then you must pay for that advice and consul.

I hope that I have not offended anyone. I really believe that all of us have expertise that we must share and all of us deserve to be compensated for that expertise.

We are members of a helping and scholarly profession that prides itself on networking, sharing ideas, and helping readers, librarians and libraries wherever they might be, regardless of their financial circumstances or professional credentials. Most librarians entered the profession because they love books, information, and knowledge and want to share that love with others.

To be a good librarian takes education, experience, and a never ending learning process. Librarians have to be able to deal with any kind of information in every kinds of media that people produce, save, and need in the future. Financial compensation should be fair and at the level of other similarly trained professionals. They should be paid at least on the same level as person who has a masters in a education, computer science or business.

I end with another quote from Maurice J. Freedman, which was part of his June 2002 presidential address. Librarians should and must be paid 21st-century salaries if Americans are to enjoy 21st-century library and information services. It wont be easy, but I am confident that by working together and using our collective power we will succeed!


Note: After the original publication, I received some feedback that is worth repeating. One librarian said that libraries and librarians will be perceived as important when administrators stop thinking of them as "extras" and start believing that libraries, librarians and books are an essential part of our educational system.


Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: http://home.earthlink.net/~DDStuhlman/liblob.htm.

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 ©2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised July 27, 2003