MLS May Provide Edge in Non-MLS Library Positions; Early Career Specialization May Enhance Later Earnings


The salary survey questionnaire developed by the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association: the Organization for Advancement of Library Employees (ALA-APA) was in its second year of data collection in 2007. The survey should assist current and prospective library employees in determining pay scale by geographic region as well as by departments and specializations within public and academic libraries. The survey included six jobs which bear the title of librarian but whose positions are not designated as requiring an MLS. Discussion of these non-MLS librarian positions is the focus of this article.


According to the project directors, the survey information was mailed to a stratified (by state) sample of 3,480 public and academic libraries, including a sample of the membership of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). Of the 3,480 libraries, survey information was sent to 1,497 academic libraries using a proportional sampling procedure that took into account the size of the population in each group by state and geographic region and the expected response rate to the survey. The institutions were asked to complete an online questionnaire, but there was an option for completing a print version as well.1

As the focus of this article is on the academic subsample, a summary of response rate is included only for that sub sample. Of the 1,497 academic libraries asked to participate, usable responses were received from 348, a response rate of 23 percent.2 According to the project directors, the low response rate was due in part to the following factors: the increased number of libraries invited to participate, insufficient notice and inability to ensure that surveys and reminders reached the appropriate human resources and management personnel, particularly in larger libraries. The surveys were sent to the attention of Directors and Human Resources Managers.

The six non-MLS librarian job titles gathered salaries for employees who bear the title or responsibilities of librarian but whose positions are not designated as requiring an MLS, which did not preclude someone holding the position from having and MLS.For the survey’s purposes, the job as described did not list the MLS as a prerequisite; MLS librarian salaries were gathered in a companion volume, the ALA-APA Salary Survey: Librarian – Public and Academic.

Those position titles which do not require an MLS include:

  • Director (non-MLS)
  • Deputy/Associate/Assistant Director (non-MLS)
  • Department Head/Branch Manager/Coordinator/Senior Manager (non-MLS)
  • Manager/Supervisor of Support Staff (non-MLS)
  • Librarian who does not supervise (non-MLS)
  • Beginning Librarian (non-MLS)


According to the data contained within the ALA-APA Non-MLS Salary Survey – which includes 56 other positions besides the six librarian (Non-MLS) titles – a library technical assistant working in the North Atlantic region of the United States earned an average of $39,014 as a generalist and $45,766 in archives and special collections. A beginning librarian in an academic library in the same region earned an average of $35,527, and a librarian who did not supervise earned $37,684.3 If the beginning librarian held an ALA-accredited MLS, the median salary was $33,418 for all regions. Based on this data, one may possibly argue that it may pay more in the long run to begin one’s career in a lower, less prestigious position in a specialized area of an academic library if it provides experience for later professional positions, rather than being hired as a generalist. Beginning wages for entry level MLS librarian positions in 2006 were $41,014 and for women were $40,566.4

Why were librarian positions included in the ALA-APA Salary Survey: Non-MLS? The inclusion was in response to the 2006 survey; the developers had requests from libraries to include these positions within this survey.

It is important to examine these positions which are labeled as librarian, as it may beg the question as to whether there may be a trend away from an MLS or MIS degree and towards other degrees, such as an MBA, for certain types of management-level library positions. The number of respondents was small and therefore no real inferences may be drawn from this data; without more complete information as to why almost half the respondents for the non-MLS position still held an ALA-accredited MLS, it is difficult at this time to draw conclusions as to whether a trend may be occurring to drop the requirement for librarians from an MLS requirement, whether MLS librarians are difficult to recruit by the academic libraries responding, whether librarians in these positions had non-ALA-accredited MLS degrees, or whether there is a trend toward requiring advanced degrees, such as a Masters in Business Administration or a doctorate for Directors and Deans of Libraries.

If one is interested in management, should one consider other degrees besides an ALA-accredited MLS? The time and expense of attaining the MLS as well as an additional degree beyond the MLS makes this an appropriate question. If the data included in the current salary accurately reflects the field, it still pays to obtain an ALA-accredited MLS, but if one is to increase future pay and upward mobility in the profession, it may also be a wise investment to obtain an Advanced Degree. For example, the survey reported that a Director or Chief Officer of the library or library system who held a non-MLS masters degree earned an average of $61,743, while a Director with an MLS earned $64,639 and a Director with an Advanced Degree (a master’s degree or a doctorate) earned $88,745, a average difference of $27,002 (30 percent) between Directors with and without an Advanced Degree.5

This held true for a Deputy/Associate Director position as well; these persons who held a non-MLS position and who managed major aspects of the library operation reported an average salary of $47,328 if they held a bachelors degree and of $73,407 if they held an advanced degree. Interestingly, no one in this group reported holding a masters degree. Again, the number who reported for this portion of the survey was very small (N of 16).6 Department Heads were also remunerated for their academic efforts, reporting an average salary of $48,403 for the ALA-accredited MLS, $40,000 for those who did not have an MLS and $72,457 for those who held an advanced degree.7


Given the low response rate, the data collected may not accurately reflect the population as a whole. The return rate raises questions as to how representative the sample really was and whether the findings of this survey might best be used as a starting point for further investigations and follow-up surveys.

Additionally, without information concerning experience, length of time in the position, age of the degree, field of the degree (if not an ALA-accredited MLS) and more information about the advanced degree(s) held, it is difficult to determine if the large differences in pay for non- MLS positions are due to experience, degree or length of time in the position. As this is only the second annual survey, long-term data collection is not yet available, and accurate inferences and projections are impossible to make based on the data collected. With these limitations in mind, the following conclusions may be deemed acceptable at this point in time:

  • An ALA-accredited MLS was more highly valued than positions which did not require an ALA-accredited MLS; people in management positions which did not require an MLS still earned more money if they had the ALA-accredited MLS.
  • An advanced degree was an asset for Directors and Department Chairs in academic libraries, adding an average of 30 percent to their pay.
  • Gaining experience in specific departments or specializations early in one’s career may influence later salary potential.

If the survey is repeated in 2008 with the intention to provide sufficient advanced notice, and if efforts are made to confirm that the survey is delivered to the appropriate person at each institution, response rates may rise to a more acceptable level. Also, follow-up surveys to gather more details, or additional questions on the survey may clarify the data and provide the researcher with sufficient data. Discussions on the value of the ALA-accredited MLS may need to take place in the professional literature.

1. Jenifer Grady and Denise Davis. ALA-APA Salary Survey: Non-MLS- Public and Academic. Chicago: American Library Association, 2007.

2. Ibid.

3. Jenifer Grady and Denise Davis. ALA-APA Salary Survey: Non-MLS- Public and Academic. Chicago: American Library Association, 2007.

4. Stephanie Maatta, What’s an MLS Worth? Library Journal, v.132, no.17 (October 15, 2007) p.30-38.

5. Jenifer Grady and Denise Davis. ALA-APA Salary Survey: Non-MLS- Public and Academic. Chicago: American Library Association, 2007.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.