The recently published Library Journal annual “Placements and Salaries” report, written by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Suzie Allard, once again provides fascinating insights into how new graduates are faring in the LIS job market. (Shout-out to Library Journal for continuing to annually undertake and publicly share this information with the profession.)
The good news: to quote Dr. Allard, graduates are looking at “a healthy job market characterized by rising salary levels and work that calls for both traditional and nontraditional skills and roles.”
Salaries are increasing. Among the nearly 700 responding graduates willing to share salary information, the average full-time salary was $48,371, an increase of 2.9% over the 2014 average salary (which also saw a 2.9% increase). It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the lowest and highest salaries ($19,000 and $165,000) reflect a number of variables (see below), including the fact that many LIS graduates were already working for their employer or were in a second career, with the potential seniority that conveys. Translation: the “average full-time salary” of $48,371 should in no way be construed as an average starting salary.
Key take-away: Salaries have started heading in a positive direction, but it’s reasonable to expect that for most LIS jobs, especially in traditional LIS fields, a roughly 3% annual increase will be the benchmark for the foreseeable future.
Where you’re located continues to impact pay. MLIS/iSchool students already know that trying to land a job where your school is located (if it’s a great spot) is tougher because of the increased competition from all your fellow grads who also want to stay there. This competitive environment also tends to depress salaries. But geography in general is also a major factor in pay ranges. Broken down by region, here’s where the best to worst areas are for average LIS salaries, according to the report:
South Central: $46,125
Key take-away: Needless to say, the cost of living in specific areas for each of these regions strongly influences whether these are subsistence or able-to-afford-a-mortgage wages. So you’ll want to check cost-of-living indexes as well as salaries before committing to a job offer.
Gender differences exist, but not with consistent results. One of the fascinating aspects of the report is how gender effect play out. For example, the average salary for women was $47,759, a 5.3% increase from the previous year, while men’s average salary of $51,602 was a 3.2% decline. Men continue to see higher salaries in almost every category, but women’s average salaries are a bit higher than men’s in the Mountain and Southeast regions.
When considered by type of library, men’s average salaries consistently outrank women’s, by 8.45% although men make up only 11.8% of the placements. Similarly, in academic libraries men out-earn their female colleagues in the Placements report by 8.4%. School libraries reflect a similar pattern: although 93% of school librarians are women, their male peers’ average salaries are 2.7% higher. And special libraries show the greatest gender salary disparity, with men compensated at a 29.9% higher rate than women.
Key take-away: Women need to learn from the success of their male colleagues and focus on improving their starting-salary negotiating skills. Will it always make a difference? No. Will it often make a difference? Yes.
In the right role, tech skills boost salaries. Two of the three highest average salaries (a full 20% higher than the overall average salaries) are tech related: information technology ($58,438) and data curation and management ($58,438). After teacher librarian ($58,148), the next two highest-paying jobs were also technology-focused: data analytics ($56,793) and user experience (UX)/usability analysis ($55,167).
Key take-away: With the exception of school librarian, all of these jobs can be found in both traditional and non-traditional LIS careers. Large public and academic libraries are now using these tech-based tools to support a wide range of decision-making. Consequently, students needn’t worry that strong tech skills will mandate special library or corporate-type careers for them if their hearts are set on public or academic libraries. Instead, it will be important to focus on larger, better-funded public and academic libraries.
Grads were using multiple approaches to finding, landing jobs. When asked about their job-hunting process, grads not staying with their current employer indicated that they began the search process about 5.5 before they graduated, and despite that diligence it took about 4.7 months to land a job. Notes the report, “A recurring theme for success was gaining practical experience to augment coursework and to help develop professional networks.”
Other tactics included completing practicums and internships, developing professional networks (both on the ground and through online platforms such as LinkedIn), creating e-portfolios that could demonstrate key elements of competence, and attending colloquiums.
Key take-aways for students: Do not graduate without having gotten at least a minimal amount of practical LIS experience that you can put on your resume. Also, take advantage of every opportunity to build your professional network while in grad school – this is when people are the most willing to talk to you, to offer advice and connections, and to help you in any way they can.
I asked Dr. Suzie Allard, the report’s author (also Professor of Information Sciences and Associate Dean of Research, University of Tennessee-Knoxville College of Communication & Information), if there were any surprises for her in this year’s survey results. She offered what I consider to be critical insights for the profession, our grad schools, and most especially our grad students:
In the two years that I have participated in the analysis, I find two things striking. First, helping graduates prepare for their job search is important and, while many schools offer guidance in this area, this preparation needs continuous attention from the start of the academic program so that grads are armed with job seeking skills (in addition to their professional skills) as well as realistic expectations about search processes and outcomes.
The second item is aligned with this. Speaking in broad generalities across all the institutions, it is impressive how the expertise gained from the degree is applicable in both traditional and less traditional environments and how this flexibility provides grads with many options and opportunities. In my opinion, the results suggest that when grads have been prepared for the job search, it allows them to think about their expertise in terms beyond just job titles and this focus on specific information expertise and skills opens up new avenues for seeking employment. Among the grads in less traditional environments, the comments I have read suggest satisfaction in being able to use their information skills to add value at their workplace even if it wasn’t where they imagined they might end up.
I thought that Dr. Allard’s comments were not only insightful, but also an encouraging vote of confidence in how many new opportunities LIS skills continue to create.