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Why We Need a Salary Survey
The View from Auburn University

Like many academic libraries, Auburn University participated in the 2016 Library Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion survey conducted by Ithaka S+R with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  Due to particular circumstances, I ended up being the lead person to gather and compile the data for my library, rather than our Library HR manager.  It consumed a few hours of a dean’s time, but provided me a front seat to interact with colleagues working at all levels of my library who were able to opt-in / opt-out of providing a few data points that we do not routinely track in our employee management systems.  The initial results of the 2016 survey for ARL libraries are available on Ithaka S+R’s website.

What impresses me about this survey is its inclusion of all library employees, not just those with library degrees and professional rank.  The initial results confirm what many of us might have predicted:  Despite decades of efforts to recruit more people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, higher up in the organizational chart in academic libraries, leadership roles are overwhelmingly filled by white people.  We still have much work to do to build a profession that reflects the makeup of our user communities.

This process led me to think about another nagging issue within Auburn’s library:  Salary compression.  Like many academic libraries – and I think this is especially true in rural areas, where employment opportunities are few – many staff people at Auburn have been in their roles for long periods, in some cases for decades.  An extreme example, we have several employees who have recently been recognized for forty plus years of service to Auburn.  Salary compression is a frequent problem in such cases, compounded by Alabama’s high level of poverty and other economic markers.  And because there are no other research libraries in our area, finding appropriate and comparable salary data to use in making a case for increasing salaries has been quite challenging indeed.  This is the case in other libraries as well.  A colleague recounted how salaries of the library stacks maintenance team – a dedicated group upon whom we all rely for many things, from important day-to-day maintenance and big-dollar renovation projects – was being compared against entry-level clerks stocking shelves at the local big-box discount retailer.  This was not an appropriate comparison, in my view.

This is where a couple of important partnerships came into play:  Auburn is a member of ASERL, the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries, a regional consortium of 38 libraries across ten states that have longstanding trust relationships based in highly effective resource sharing programs and professional development programming.  ASERL is a very valuable vehicle for Auburn Libraries, and we as an organization contribute a significant amount of time and effort to supporting ASERL’s collaborative endeavors.  I am serving my third term on the ASERL Board of Directors, and innumerable members of Auburn University Libraries staff participate in myriad ASERL activities throughout the year.  One of the things I most admire about ASERL is it is very entrepreneurial, very responsive and willing to take on new projects to member needs as they arise.  Through our ASERL relationships, member libraries can be engaged to consider new projects, from deploying new technologies to advocacy to re-thinking how libraries serve their communities.

ASERL also enjoys an excellent working relationship with Ithaka S+R, the leaders of the 2016 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion study.  ASERL has hosted many useful webinars and other presentations to promote Ithaka’s work over the years.  These sessions have proven to be mutually beneficial – ASERL members gain important new knowledge and insights into emerging issues impacting their work, and Ithaka’s work is in turn enhanced by greater input and participation from ASERL members.

It is through these important professional relationships that we were able to revise and re-issue the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion survey to add a field for salary information.  The revised survey was re-posted to ASERL libraries in August 2017.  Approximately 25 ASERL libraries are providing data for this new effort, including some who did not participate in the initial 2016 survey.  We believe this is the first comprehensive library salary survey in a generation or more; perhaps the first ever.  The submission deadline has recently closed, and Ithaka S+R staff will soon be busy crunching the numbers.  We expect to have initial results before the end of the calendar year; the participating libraries can also opt to contract with Ithaka S+R for a more thorough analyses of their data as desired.

Why am I devoting my time and my library staff’s time to this?  Because I think this offers a unique opportunity to secure salary data that provide a level of comparability and quality that is unavailable from any other source.  Because I have great trust in my ASERL colleagues and the quality of work from Ithaka S+R.  And because I think the results will provide the information that can be used to successfully argue for improved salaries for the hardworking staff and librarians at Auburn University.  This is time and effort well spent; and while the initial results may point to some unpleasant disparities, the data is designed to be used to help resolve those issues.

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