Public Libraries’ Investment in Public Relations

As Seen Through the ALA-APA Salary Survey—Non-MLS: Public and Academic

If residents are unaware of a public library’s services, they cannot take advantage of those services, and return on investment (ROI) necessarily suffers. This return on investment (ROI) is critical to public libraries; a demonstrable ROI allows library advocates to explain why and how the library is so important to the community it serves. For these reasons, public libraries are increasingly finding their investment in public relations functions a critical aspect of routine library operations.

Libraries can maintain a high public profile in a number of ways: quality presentation through publications and news articles, an excellent Web presence and the sense of community fostered through volunteer service. The ALA-APA Salary Survey of Non-MLS Library Positions offers a look into how libraries are investing in these aspects of library operations. This article explores positions in public libraries related to public relations functions—Public Relations Officer, Graphic Artist, Web Content Administrator and Volunteer Services Coordinator—and attempts to compare the relative value of these positions among libraries who report having them.

The Public Relations Officer is defined as one who administers policies and programs related to library promotions and who maintains relations with the local media and community groups. For the almost 100 public libraries reporting a PR Officer, they predominantly (82) require a bachelor’s degree. On average, PR Officers earn between $37,622 and $55,400.1 The six libraries requiring at least an associate’s degree reported an average salary of $33,993 and a maximum of $44,640. For the eight requiring at least a high school diploma, the average was $47,931 and the maximum $89,406, higher than the maximum for those requiring a bachelor’s degree. This higher wage may be attributed to a smaller sampling pool (the average of 8 salaries is far less representative of a population than is the average of 107 salaries).2 But the higher average salary for a worker with less formal education may also indicate local market demands for this position rather than the importance of education credentials.

Across the five sizes of public libraries, from those serving less than 10,000 to those serving a population of 500,000 or more, the median salary for Public Relations Officers was $43,950. The mean was almost $4000 more, at $47,908, probably due to the maximum salary of $124,380 skewing the average higher.

The Graphic Artist creates layout and design for the library’s various promotional materials. For the Graphic Artist position, only 50% of approximately 100 positions reported required a bachelor’s degree. The relationship between the PR Officer and the Graphic Artist varies between libraries. Libraries may choose to have one professional in both capacities, or hire a Graphic Artist as an affordable alternative to employing a PR Officer who would command higher wages. The survey excludes librarian-held PR roles that might be reported in another position category. The average salary range for a Graphic Artist employed by a public library is $30,061 to $44,724. The minimum salary reported was $15,395 and the maximum was $60,749. The mean and median were close at $38,921 and $39,333, respectively.

Geographically, the 107 libraries reporting a PR Officer were fairly evenly spread across all regions. Three regions had 20 to 24 PR officers each, while the Great Lakes and Plains region had 40. Both Ohio and Illinois reported 12 PR Officers. The states with next highest number of library-based PR Officers were California with eight and Florida with six. The 103 Graphic Artists were also fairly evenly spread geographically but with a similar concentration of 45 of these positions in the Great Lakes and Plains regions. Most Graphic Artists were located in Illinois and Ohio with 14 and 11 positions, followed by nine of these positions in California. The numbers might not be significant; most public library responses to the survey came from the Great Lakes & Plains region.

The highest maximum salaries for PR Officers were $124,380 in Ohio and $100,185 in Indiana; Illinois, with as many PR Officers as Ohio, reports a high wage of $72,301. The lowest maximum PR Officer salaries were $21,088 in Rhode Island, $31,158 in Delaware and $31,485 in South Carolina.

The Web Content Administrator manages Web site content to support and promote services, and studies content elements that will enhance the value of the site. Public libraries reported a total of 28 Web Content Administrator positions nationally, fully 50 percent of these in the Great Lakes & Plains Region. The Web Content Administrator wage range between an average minimum $35,477 to an average maximum of $52,136 falls between that of the PR Officer and the Graphic Artist.3 The highest maximum salary reported for a Web Content Administrator, however, was in Arizona at $84,906. The highest possible salary for that position in Arizona is $89,274.

Public libraries in the Great Lakes & Plains Region report higher wages and a greater number of positions for PR employees than does any other region in the nation. But again, most public library responses to the survey came from the Great Lakes & Plains region, so it might be premature to conclude that Great Lakes & Plains Region libraries place a higher premium on public relations that do other areas of the country.

The role of Volunteer Services Coordinator, as defined by this survey, is similar to that of Human Resources Coordinator: recruitment, screening, orientation and performance evaluation. The community volunteer program, serving behind the scenes as well as in public areas, is one of the best kept public relations secrets in public libraries today. These community volunteers, who assist with shelving, serve as docents or greet first time visitors, are the library ambassadors to the community. They carry into the community a personal account of the value of the library and their observations on the library impact on users. And they can personally attest to the library’s financial woes and the need for continued full community support of the library. The Volunteer Coordinator, who typical earned $31,996 to $44,483, was paid far less than the Public Relations Officer ($37,662 to $55,400), somewhat less than the Web Content Administrator ($35,477 to $52,136) but higher than the Graphic Artist ($30,995 to $47,271). 52 public libraries reported the Volunteer Coordinator position, 21 in the West and Southwest Region and 16 reported in the Great Lakes and Plains Region. Thirty of these positions require a bachelor’s degree, while 17 require only a high school diploma.

The mean salary for Volunteer Coordinators was $38,869, with a median of $39.725. Interestingly, the lowest maximum salary possible was reported by the Great Lakes & Plains region, at $39,953, though the maximum salary actually received by an incumbent exceeded that amount by almost $20,000. Presumably, the library paying $58,594 did not report a salary range.

In all, 567 public libraries and 269 academic libraries responded to the survey, reflecting a 24.5% rate of survey return. Although this article was not prepared to analyze positions in the academic libraries surveyed, it is interesting to note that among all responding academic libraries, only 12 reported having PR Officers (compared to 107 in public libraries), 18 reported having Graphic Artists (compared to 103 in public libraries and one reported a Volunteer Coordinator (compared to 52 in public libraries). Fifteen reported having a Web Content Administrator (compared to 28 in public libraries).

Public Relations is a function critical to public library survival even though, in some local communities, these positions may be difficult to defend. Challenged libraries are at even greater risk if they ignore the importance of public relations in routine library operations; excellent public relations could spell the survival of a public library in competitive circumstances.

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# Returns







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No. Responding

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  1. “The Range of Average Minimum and Maximum Salaries is a mean from those libraries that reported a minimum (beginning) and maximum (cap) range for each position.” In: ALA-APA Non-MLS Salary Survey 2006, page 4.
  2. It is noteworthy that the majority of respondents elected to include the minimum educational requirement, making comparisons reasonable between tables analyzing salary data and tables analyzing salary data by minimum educational requirement.
  3. In all four defined regions. The survey provided data breakdown for four define regions: North Atlantic, Great Lakes &Plains, Southeast and West & Southwest.