SirsiDynix Winner Says Flexibility, Transparency and Commitment are Key to Improving Academic Library Salaries

Interview with Brian Keith, Winner of the 2007-2008 SirsiDynix‑ALA‑APA Award for Improving Salaries

[Editor’s Note: The June issue of Library Worklife, v5n6, will carry an interview with the other winner of the 2007-2008 SirsiDynix Winner, Camilla B. Reid of Augusta State University’s Reese Library]

Brian Keith, Human Resources Officer of the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida, is no stranger to pay equity initiatives. Having a significant history of managing long-term restructuring and market equity projects, he was a likely candidate to make a dramatic difference in the salary and status of library workers. Prior to his current position, however, he had never worked as a professional in a library or academic environment. Despite this, Keith, armed with experience working in other industries and with a team of dedicated and motivated library workers, helped to create improved salaries and a more consistent staff structure for 120 library employees, resulting in a total increase of $785,108.80 in wages and benefits.

As a result of his success, he won the fourth annual SirsiDynix‑ALA‑APA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Promoting Salaries and Status for Library Workers. The award is given to an “individual, group of individuals or institution that have made an outstanding contribution to improving the salary and status of library workers in a local, regional or national setting.”1 Keith, who headed the project, a two-stage market equity review for library support staff, was lauded by the selection jury for his “hard work and political savvy” during the inception and duration of the project.2

During a phone interview, Keith gave his take on the project that has made such an impact on the library community.

LW: What led to the creation of this project?

BK: The purpose of the project was to correct a staff structure that had been in place for a long time. [The previous staff structure] was a series of classifications that was being applied to library work that wasn’t perfectly suited for it. Position classification was neither consistent nor necessarily equitable. We also wanted to look at market equity in pay, because we suspected that the sophistication of the work and the credentials of the staff employees were not reflected in their salaries.

LW: How did you realize there was a problem with the previous staff structure?

BK: Almost everyone who worked here recognized that the classification structure did not serve us. The assignment of folks to different classifications did not necessarily represent the distinction in the work that they were doing. And it wasn’t clear what they would promote into. If you looked at salaries within the classifications, there was a wide variance. We also had people that, considering the degree and credentials, weren’t being paid comparable to the market.

LW: Is it safe to assume that there was resounding support for this project at its inception?

BK: There was resounding interest in it. There was support from the directors and senior management. But because it was necessary to institute a whole new system, people were concerned about their roles in the new system. But senior management offered sustained support.

LW: Did you experience backlash from employees unhappy with the new classification system? If so,  how did you deal with it?

BK: Because we involved employees in the “front end” design of the system, and because we held several communication sessions on it, people understood it. We had surprisingly few complaints about people’s specific classifications, and any employee concerns or hard feelings were resolved on the unit or department level, where the best understanding of those people’s duties resided. It wasn’t as big of an issue as you would think. Both employees and supervisors expressed concern and sensitivity.

LW: The complexity of this project is fairly significant. Did you model this project after any other classification systems?

BK: As far as establishing classifications, we looked at a lot of peer institutions and borrowed heavily from what other academic research institutions are doing. As far as the process by which it was done, that was primarily an internal library process that we created ourselves.

LW: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during this project?

BK: Essentially what we created were six new classifications in which all of our staff employees were assigned. [We created] a progressive hierarchy of classification from scratch with the understanding that this hierarchy would determine salaries. It wasn’t a horrific challenge for me because it was conceptual and intellectual, but I think it was a real challenge for the organization because it required the review of every single staff position. Reviewing these positions, and reviewing them thoroughly and conscientiously, was an impressive undertaking. All I did was give people advice and theory, but those sorts of decisions, those assessments, those reviews and that analysis was really done by dozens of people. That was the most difficult component. All of that heavy lifting was done by other folks, by front-line supervisors and department chairs throughout the libraries.

LW: How have you addressed the project’s long- and short-term expenses?

BK: We acknowledged the libraries’ limited resources, and we assessed how we wanted to be positioned in the market. The only way to make the necessary salary improvements is to properly fund the project. The libraries now shoulder hundreds of thousands of dollars in fixed, ongoing costs that we will have as long as we have employees. The heads of the library accepted that this investment is appropriate. We made a long-term commitment to treat [employees] fairly. It is tremendously expensive and has tightened our budget, but it was considered to be an essential investment.

LW: But the expenses of the project came out of the library budget?

BK: Yes.

LW: Were there any new sources of revenue unearthed in order to meet the project’s objectives?

BK: I wish. [laughs] The university didn’t contribute to this. When we approached the university and got their blessing to move forward with this, the libraries committed to funding the salary improvements with existing library resources.

LW: Has there been a reduction in services as a result of this tightened budget?

BK: We didn’t lay off people to give other people raises. There hasn’t been a reduction in hours. The idea is that our services, through this process, are improved because we are treating [employees] more fairly. There has just been a reduction in budget flexibility.

LW: What is the next step in this process?

BK: Our current dean wants us to make sure we have internal and external equity for faculty employees as well. That is, at the very least, an equally complicated process even though it has fewer people in it.

We are also currently considering how to implement a competency-based training. We are considering the possibility of an advancement-in-place model for staff positions. We must also realize that people’s duties shift over time. If [we] don’t commit to maintaining this system, in ten years we’ll have a system with some of the issues as the system we just replaced.

LW: Do you have any advice for other organizations looking at going through a similar process?

BK: Maximize the transparency of the process. Employees are impacted by these decisions. Also, for direct supervisors to make conscientious decisions, those supervisors need to understand the importance and context of this process.

Also, the decision-makers of the process must be completely committed to the project. Ensure their commitment or don’t go forward. If directors didn’t champion this project, our progress would not have been possible. Someone in my position can come up with ideas all day, but something of this scale cannot be realized without a push from senior management.

LW: What are some of your career experiences that have prepared you for this project?

BK: I was hired as the Human Resources Officer for the George A. Smathers Libraries in 2005. Prior to that, I was also an HR officer, but I worked in different industries. I had analyzed the classification structures and market equity in pretty involved projects like this. I had also been involved in reorganizations and benefits analysis for different employee groups. So, I had some experience with long-term, expensive projects that impacted people’s pay. I think this experience convinced the library that I was right for this position.

LW: Have you had any involvement in libraries prior to this position?

BK: I’m actually an alumnus of the University of Florida and worked here as a student. I’m a patron of libraries, but no, I have never worked as a professional in a library environment before.

LW: You worked in the library as a student?

BK: Yes, but I’m not going to say what year that was! When I was an undergraduate student, I worked in the same building I’m working in now. It’s interesting, and it’s nice to be back.

LW: Final question: How do you feel about winning the Sirsi-Dynix award?

BK: I certainly appreciate the sentiments of the people who nominated me, but they were very much involved in this process, too. I’m happy, but I hope the focus is on the work of the folks at the libraries and that people understand that this is a collegial environment.  It was the work of literally dozens of people and, to be honest, people who made tougher decisions than I did because of their proximity and the implications of the decisions they were making. But I am proud of the work; it was as challenging a professional project as any I’ve encountered.

  1. ALA-APA.  “Brian Keith and Camilla B. Reid named winners of the 2007-2008 SirsiDynix‑ALA‑APA Award for Improving Salaries”  http://ala-apa.org/salaries/sirsidynixaward.html (accessed May 9, 2008)
  2. Ibid.