Time for Librarians to Fight Dirty

I recently saw a posting on a librarians’ discussion list for a professional position at a public library at a small community near me. It’s a lovely town and I’m sure that is part of the appeal of the job. However, the salary being offered was $16 to $20/hour for a part-time job [in an area where apartments cost at least $1,200/month]. I was horrified – that’s what I pay someone to mow my yard or walk my dogs. This is not the salary for a position that requires a graduate degree; it’s a salary appropriate for a position that requires no more than a high school education.

This job must go unfilled, at least by a professional. We librarians should not forward these kinds of job listings or encourage other library professionals to apply. The head librarian needs to go back to the town council and tell them that the library is unable to fill a professional job at this low salary and will need to either reduce services or obtain additional funding for the position.

Info pros need to learn the Washington Monument Gambit. What does the US Department of the Interior do when its budget is cut? It closes the Washington Monument – a popular tourist destination staffed by National Park Service rangers – and suggests frustrated voters head over to the offices of their Congressional representatives to voice their feelings.

Librarians need to fight as dirty as park rangers. If we are not given the funding we need, we have to ensure that our organization’s stakeholders feel the pain. Instead of absorbing budget cuts by curtailing professional development, paying professional librarians absurdly low salaries, or eliminating essential resources, we need to fight back.

We have to talk about the tangible value libraries and information professionals bring to an organization or community. (See a white paper I recently wrote on the ROI of Digital Content at is.gd/bates_ROI.) We have to identify the people who can most effectively advocate for additional funding and engage them in ongoing conversations about the role of the library.

And we have to make sure that no employer can expect to pay professionals with graduate degrees $16/hour, regardless of the charm of its clientele.


Libraries and digital content purchasing

data-streamI recently conducted a flash survey to learn the key issues specialized libraries are facing regarding the purchase of digital content such as value-added online services, ebooks and online journals. What I learned surprised me… a lot!

When I asked the survey participants an open-ended question about their biggest concerns regarding their digital content budget, I expected a fairly wide range of answers. Instead, over a quarter of them said that their largest frustration is that their vendors raise rates every year for the same content, whereas the library budget stays flat, forcing them to cut back somewhere else just to maintain the same level of content as the year before. Significantly fewer respondents mentioned lack of budget support from management and concerns about selecting the right content and getting a good ROI from their digital content purchasing.

I also asked about the most important factors when selecting or changing digital content vendors. It wasn’t even close — cost and content were mentioned by most of the respondents, with considerations such as functionality, ease of use, vendor relationship or contractual terms being mentioned far less frequently. Interestingly, although many online vendors tout their exclusive content, not a single respondent mentioned exclusive content as a consideration. (Email me if you’d like a copy of the survey results.)

Bottom line: It’s not the bells and whistles, advanced features, a great account rep or exclusive access to Widgets Daily. Librarians buy digital content based on whether they get the content set they need at a price that fits within their budget. Offer them something with a better ROI and they’ll switch.