The Road to Support Staff Minimum Salary Guidelines in Connecticut

By Sandra Smith Rosado, MLS

Minimum salary guidelines are a positive way to promote the value and professionalism of a career path, as well as to support decent salaries and help workers earn appropriate wages. The Connecticut Library Association (CLA) has supported a minimum salary guideline for entry-level MLS librarians for many years. While it is not a guarantee of a specific salary for a CT librarian, it is a guideline used by many employers to help them choose a competitive salary for a position requiring the MLS. But librarians are only about 1/3 of the library workforce. No minimum salary guideline existed for the other 2/3 of library workers in CT: the support staff. Desperate library directors posting job ads often asked for guidance – if there was a salary guideline for librarians, why wasn’t there one for support staff?

The CT Library Association Support Staff (CLASS) section has always been an advocate for library support staff issues and CLASS decided to take on the minimum salary guideline issue. Started in 1970, the section has been particularly active since 1996, running workshops and then full-day paraprofessional conferences since 1999. Statewide awards for “Support Staff of the Year” and “Supporter of Support Staff of the Year” were instituted in 1999. The section created core competencies for support staff in 2001, encouraged the CT State Library to collect support staff salary data from public libraries in their annual statistics reports and ran its first support staff salary survey in conjunction with the CT State Library in 1998.

The 1998 LTA salary survey was the first step on the road to the minimum salary guidelines. Support staff in all library types were surveyed (academic, public, special and school). Data was needed to make a fair and useful salary recommendation and data on support staff salaries was in short supply, as noted in this summary report of CLASS salary surveys.

Library Mosaics magazine, which ceased publication in 2005, formerly conducted a national support staff salary survey (the last one reported was in 2003). The response rate had traditionally been very low. ALA started a national ‘non-MLS salary survey’ in 2006. This lists salary ranges by 62 library job titles, broken out by state, but the response rates have been extremely low and no hourly rate is reported.

In other statewide data, the CT State Library asks a question about “Library Technical Asst. salary or range” in their Public Library Statistics. In the most recent data (2007-2008), only 46 towns (25%) reported salary as an hourly wage” (Brooks).

Once CLASS had the 1998 salary survey, the section began advocating for a support staff minimum salary guideline. However, it was not that easy! The CLA committee that set the MLS salary guidelines (now called the Career Development Committee) wanted more information before they would tackle this task. It was thought that since support staff jobs are so varied it would be difficult to assign one reasonable salary for all jobs, which can range from shelving clerk to high level positions such as catalogers and department supervisors. Partly to address this issue, CLASS created a list of core competencies for support staff in 2001 which was endorsed by the CLA Executive Board. Another reason setting support staff salary guidelines is harder than MLS guidelines is because there is no minimum criteria to base it on, such as the ALA-accredited MLS degree. Nothing happened for another few years so.

A second, improved, salary survey was run in 2003. The results showed that salaries rose, but one of the problems was that support staff jobs are called by so many different names it was hard to compare apples to apples. (Job titles included library assistant, library technical assistant, library technician, clerk, manager, director and even librarian – not requiring an MLS – as well as many others.) Now CLASS had more salary data, but did not yet have a committee willing to take on the task of recommending a salary structure. CLASS was asked to supply different data – such as sample job descriptions for several levels of support staff.

CLASS was busy with other things, including running the annual support staff conferences with a dwindling number of volunteers. For a while the section almost went out of existence for lack of officers. The group persevered, but there was little extra time or energy to pursue the minimum salary guidelines. Then in 2008 CLASS ran a third salary survey and collected even more data. A summary article of all three salary surveys with data spanning a decade was published (see Brooks article in Resources below) and CLASS decided to work closely with a new chair of the Career Development Committee who was ready to take on the minimum salary guideline challenge. In 2009 one CLASS volunteer performed the mammoth task of compiling three sample job descriptions based on competency sets for an LTA level I, II and III – this was a critical milestone in the process as we could not move forward without it. These competencies were compiled from everything appropriate that could be found online at the time, including:

  • ALA’s Foundations of Library Service Competencies
  • ALA’s Communication and Teamwork Competencies
  • ALA’s Technology Competencies
  • ALA’s Access Services Competencies
  • ALA’s Adult Reader’s Advisory Competencies
  • ALA’s Cataloging and Classification Competencies
  • ALA’s Collection Management Competencies
  • ALA’s Reference and Information Services Competencies
  • Supervision and Management Competencies
  • CLA’s LTA Competencies
  • State of New Jersey Civil Service Commission job descriptions for library workers

The sample job descriptions were approved by the CLASS board and forwarded to the Career Development Committee. Another member of CLASS joined the Career Development Committee to participate in the process of establishing the support staff salary guidelines – this was a good collaboration between two different arms of the CLA organization. Using the baseline information from the three previous CLASS salary surveys and tying it to the three sample job descriptions, as well as taking the established MLS salary guideline into account (which is set based on a variety of professional salary data), a range of three minimum salaries was set by the committee – the end of the road was in sight. This range was presented to the CLA Board and passed, becoming effective July 1, 2012. Fifteen years later, CLASS had achieved its goal! (The guidelines DO help – one support staff tells the story of how her supervisor had been looking for a way to increase her salary but could not find enough data to support the request. As soon as the guidelines were published, the supervisor used the information to convince their fiscal administrators to significantly increase the staff member’s salary to meet the minimum salary guideline!) These new guidelines can be found online (see Resources below).

CT joins only a few other states that have delved into the support staff minimum salary arena. While several states have MLS minimum salary guidelines (such as ME, MA, NJ, PA, TX, VT and WI), only a very few have any kind of support staff salary guidelines (including NJ, which has had such guidelines for over 23 years and ME, which has a model based on a “livable wage”). Now that CLA supports a full range of minimum salary guidelines, from HS educated LTA through entry-level MLS, it is expected that they will all rise together each year in lock-step based on cost of living increases or other economic criteria, in the same way the MLS salary alone has been calculated for many years.

CLASS is planning to run another salary survey this year as it has been 5 years since the last one. Although it will be too early to see if the minimum guidelines have had much effect on actual salaries, the three sample job descriptions can now be used by each survey-taker to identify the one that most closely matches their own job, making the evaluation of the survey results more useful. And in another five years, the support staff salary survey may show that library workers have benefitted from this road trip CLASS began in 1998.