Good News

Better Pay at Live Oak Public Libraries in Savannah, Ga.

Editor’s Note: One of the employees of Live Oak Public Libraries passed by the ALA-APA exhibit booth at Annual Conference. I told her about the mission and asked if she had any questions. She told me, “We’re doing just fine with our salaries!” Of course, I had to know more and share it with you. It’s rare that I meet a library worker who has this response!

JG: Can you give me a synopsis of what’s happened at Live Oak Public Libraries to increase salaries for library workers?

CF: Realization hit the Live Oak Public Libraries more than 5 years ago. A shortage of librarians would soon be upon us. But, we also knew that libraries did not live by librarians alone. It was a jungle in the job market as we searched for skilled, customer-focused employees with a strong work ethic. We knew that to get and keep the best we had to be very competitive in many respects. Compensation would have to be a prime weapon, along with excellent benefits and an employee friendly atmosphere. Since it was much easier to sell a compensation plan for our professional librarians to our funding sources, we set out to achieve that goal first. After researching future trends and comparing our salaries to the State pay scale, we approached our main funding source. After much explaining, providing research and proof with supporting documentation we were able to put our librarians on a Step Pay Plan with annual increases according to experience as professional librarians. Due to the scarcity we were going to be facing, we had to be able to catch their attention because most candidates who visit Savannah fall in love at first glance.

The second step affected the rest of the staff. It took another five years of planning and designating monies to be able to put all other staff on a Step Pay Plan that rewarded them for years of service. Both plans are designed to also provide Cost of Living (COLA) increases.

“I am very appreciative of being reclassified and being put on a step to reflect my many years of service.”—Pearl Smulevitz, Clerical Assistant

JG: Please describe your library, i.e. number of staff, patrons served, budget, etc.

CF: The Live Oak Public Libraries serves a three county area in southeast Georgia, with Savannah as the base. There are 19 branches and a bookmobile staffed by 177 employees, 32 of which are professional librarians. The staff also includes professional support positions in the areas of Finance, Human Resources, Marketing & Development, and Facilities. There is a combined budget of approximately $8.5 M.

JG: What or who inspired the push for increasing salaries?

CF: The Library Director understood the need and had the vision to put together a plan.

JG: What kind of research was done? To which groups did you compare your staff?

CF: In the original research a national study was done, with emphasis on surrounding Southern states from which we felt most likely to pull our candidates, especially since Georgia does not have an ALA-accredited MLS program in a public college.

JG: Did you find there were wage gaps between genders as well as between similar classifications?

CF: No, not gender gaps, but we saw a gap between our professional librarians and the paraprofessionals who worked side by side with them. These paraprofessionals (Library Associates) were doing some of the same work as the professional librarians, but did not have the MLS. Their salary was approximately half of that of the librarians with a required educational level of a bachelor’s degree. We were able to have their jobs reclassified to a salary range that was equal to 75% of the librarians’ pay scale. As an aside, we also have a scholarship program for staff with bachelor’s degrees who wish to attain their MLS. Our Foundation will pay 90% of the cost of the degree for qualified applicants.

“After being on the staff for 34 years it is wonderful to have my position reclassified and put on a step to reflect my years of service. I appreciate all the hard work that made it possible.”—Joyce Beaupre, Clerical Assistant

JG: What kinds of alliances did you forge to make this happen?

CF: We worked with the HR Director for the County, our main funding source, and the County Manager.

JG: What arguments were used, if any, to convince them to become allies?

CF: With the supporting documentation they could see the coming trends and the necessity for the change because without proper funding we would not be able to hire and retain quality staff.

JG: How long was this process?

CF: It took approximately one year to get the first plan into place. It took another five to put the support staff on a Step pay scale.

JG: How did you communicate with the staff during this process?

CF: We let employees know at every turn what we were attempting to do in their favor. We sent e-mails, started a staff newsletter, and even conducted “Brunch in the Branches,” a quarterly event in which the Library Director and HR Director visited each branch to provide information and answer questions, along with food, of course.

JG: Were any staff involved in any way? If so, which ways?

CF: The Library Deputy Director and Human Resources and Finance Directors worked diligently to determine what money would be needed, how the salaries would be determined, what was available and when the steps could be put in place.

JG: Was your community involved and how? How did you communicate with them? Did you involve any media outlets?

CF: No, this was entirely internal.

JG: What method(s) has your library used to implement the increase in salaries?

CF: All staff are now on one of two step-based compensation plans, each containing 19 steps. One plan is the regular salary plan and the other for professionals/librarians. Each person has been placed on the appropriate step according to the number of years of experience in their field. Each year they advance one step and, if there is additional money available, the steps are also increased.

JG: Are there other elements of compensation that have been improved, such as benefits?

CF: Yes, as health care costs have increased, the library has been able to absorb the additional costs and not pass them on to the staff. We will continue to do so as long as financially possible. We are reviewing other benefits that we will be able to provide to our staff either for free or at a nominal cost, depending on the financing available.

JG: What trade-offs had to be made and still have to be made in order to ensure the increases, if any?

CF: We have had to tighten our belts and contain any spending that is not absolutely necessary.

JG: Have you seen other consequences, expected and unexpected, as a result of your library’s success?

CF: The employees realize that to maintain these increased salaries, benefits and relations they are responsible to the organization and are expected to live up to the expectations of the organization. We value what our employees give to us, and compensate them at the best level we can and they in return are happier and more productive.

“The compensation step that I am receiving makes me feel that I am valuable to the organization, and that the organization feels that I am worth the money I make.”—Pat Bradley, HR Technician

JG: How far do you have to go?

CF: We have to find additional benefits and be open to changes in employee needs. We must continually think what we can do next for them, such as purchasing computers through payroll deduction, discounted memberships in the YMCA or Sam’s Club, etc. The more we can give to these employees, the more they give in return, the longer they stay with the organization and we have a win-win situation.

JG: What suggestions do you have for readers who would like a similar success in their libraries?

CF: IF you can’t do it all at once, do it a little at a time, but do it. Turnover in employees is more expensive than is realized, not only in lost time but also productivity. Fighting to compensate employees appropriately is a good business move.

Candy Frawley is HR Director at Live Oak Public Libraries, Savannah, Ga.

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