ALA-APA Salary Survey and the New Librarian

Many librarians are drawn to this field because they love libraries, but do their libraries love them back?

Even entry-level librarian positions require at least six years of education beyond high school, an undergraduate degree and an MLS. Furthermore, many academic or specialist positions require advanced degrees or other training. Current economic instability and general trends toward deprofessionalization may lead many prospective librarians to question the value of this degree. Is an MLS worth the time and expense?

According to the 2007 ALA-APA Salary Survey: Librarian – Public and Academic, a beginning librarian with an MLS can expect to earn anywhere from $22,053 to $88,156, with a mean starting salary of $41,334 for public libraries and $48,365 for academic libraries. The range is due to the variation of salaries in different parts of the country, as well as to library size and type.

This may not seem like a sizeable starting salary for a job that requires a masters degree (for example, a graduate of an MBA program earns an average of $79,700 after graduation)1, but the mean salaries are substantially higher than the $30,502 starting salary one could expect to earn with a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts (including psychology, political science, history and  English).2 And, as one would expect, the beginning salary of a librarian with an MLS degree is also more than that of a non-MLS librarian.

Compared to the MLS positions, beginning non-MLS librarians earn between $23,192 and $56,243, with a mean salary of $34,132 for public libraries and $32,320 for academic libraries.3 This represents a difference in mean salary of over $7,000 per year in a public library and over $16,000 per year in an academic library. Assuming all other factors are equal (or ceteris paribus, for those familiar with Latin or economics), it may make sense to go back to school. MLS tuition and fees, as well as relocation or commuting costs, should be considered in the light of potential earnings. The difference in salary between an MLS and a non-MLS position may allow a librarian to earn back educational costs within a few years.

The difference between an MLS librarian and support staff positions, such as clerk and LTA positions, is only slightly more pronounced. Across the board for all types of library work, clerks and LTAs in academic and public libraries earn a weighted average of $29,872.96 per year, with LTAs making slightly more—$32,867.10 for academic and $32,010.48 for public—and clerks making slightly less—$28,231.49 for academic and $27.452.20 for public.4 However, it is important to note that the ALA-APA Salary Survey: Non-MLS—Public and Academic does not differentiate between beginning clerks and LTAs, and those with more experience. So while the beginning librarian salaries are for those hired in the past six months, the clerk and LTA salaries are for all library workers holding these positions. Therefore, some variation in the salary range may be attributed to tenure, specialization and regional cost of living.

However, it is clear that, on average, more education does lead to a higher salary. LTAs average more than clerks, and MLS librarians average more than non-MLS librarians. The good news for library school students, prospective students, and new graduates is that this trend continues for experienced librarians as well.

According to the 2007 ALA-APA Salary Survey: Librarian – Public and Academic, each step of increasing responsibility, from more experienced librarian positions to management or to dean/director positions, results in an average salary increase of several thousand dollars per annum. In fact, each upward step through the positions surveyed entails at least a 6% salary increase, with an average potential growth in salary from a beginning librarian position to a dean/director position of 81% (from $45,167.61 to $82,000.82). And that figure is based solely on the mean of the salaries reported. If the expected future earnings potential is the maximum salary reported—Director/Dean/Chief Officer in an academic library, earning $225,000 per year— then this increase in salary is nearly 5 times the average starting librarian salary.5

The relative consistency of mean salary increases within the field seems to indicate that employers value education and experience. However, the inconsistency between the value placed on an MLS degree and other professional degrees, such as an MBA, is something that still needs to be addressed. Although data does indicate that librarians have ample opportunities to earn greater compensation, perhaps the discrepancy between MLS salaries and the salaries earned with other professional degrees is simply the opportunity cost we pay for doing something we love. Not a bad deal, in my opinion!

Elizabeth Nelson is a Knowledge Analyst at UOP, a Honeywell Company. She may be reached at elizabeth.nelson@uop.com.

  1. ALA-APA Salary Survey: Librarian—Public and Academic. (Chicago: ALA-APA, 2007).Holtom, Brooks C. and Edward J. Inderrieden, “Investment Advice:  Go for the MBA,” BizEd v. 6 no. 1 (January/February 2007): 36–40.
  2. Most Lucrative Degrees for 2007 Grads, http://money.cnn.com/2007/02/08/pf/college/lucrative_degrees_winter07/index.htm (accessed Mar. 18, 2008).
  3. ALA-APA Salary Survey: Non-MLS—Public and Academic. (Chicago: ALA-APA, 2007).
  4. ALA-APA Salary Survey: Non-MLS—Public and Academic. (Chicago: ALA-APA, 2007).
  5. ALA-APA Salary Survey: Librarian—Public and Academic. (Chicago: ALA-APA, 2007). The average public library director salary was $77,200 and the average academic library director/dean salary was $88,902.