Pay Equity: It’s More than Living Being a Librarian!

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Lessons Learned from the North Carolina Library Association Pay Equity Study

Paula M. Singer, PhD, Dr. Beverley Gas and Laura Francisco
Originally published in PHR Library Worklife, November 2009

To assess pay equity in North Carolina, the North Carolina Library Association (NCLA) recently completed an ambitious undertaking—a salary survey of every public and academic library in the state. The survey also included every local government and institute of higher education in North Carolina.

The result of this large-scale project in North Carolina was an impressive set of searchable and customizable databases of all survey findings, available to each and every participating organization. According to the findings, pay equity remains a problem in North Carolina. Findings from this project can be extrapolated for other libraries to more effectively seek out and advocate for funding for salaries. Findings from two other pay equity studies are highlighted as well.

During her term as president of NCLA, Pauletta Bracy organized a Task Force on Pay Equity to investigate issues of pay equity for library personnel in North Carolina. “Conventional wisdom,” she stated, “tells us that professions composed mainly of women have been compensated at a lower level than professions composed mainly of men.”

An initial literature search revealed that the salary information available for North Carolina library personnel was dated and that the topic warranted further study. The Task Force’s charge became educating librarians, library staff and library customers regarding the role and value of library staff so that they may be compensated fairly.

The then NCLA President Dr. Robert Burgin and Pay Equity Project Chair Dr. Beverley Gass obtained an  LSTA grant and retained The Singer Group, Inc., to guide the process of project planning and implementation. The goal of the project was to conduct a statewide pay equity study of public library/local government and academic library/institutions of higher education. Although academic libraries and institutions of higher education were included in the project, this article will focus on the findings from public libraries.

A web-based survey designed to collect a broad variety of salary-related information was piloted and then released statewide. The survey was issued to all public library systems, local governments and higher education institutions (including community colleges) in the state. The outcome of this project phase was a set of comprehensive and interactive databases providing salary data for all of the organizations responding to the survey. Data was grouped into two databases—one reflecting public library and local government jobs; the other offering access to jobs and salary data in higher education (academic libraries and the institutions as a whole). The databases are searchable and customizable Web-based educational tools, have enabled library staff to advocate for improved compensation and pay equity. These products were easily accessible on NCLA’s website (, and they could be adapted to individual and/or library needs.

But First . . . What is Pay Equity?
The Equal Pay Act of 1964 prohibits paying different wages to men and women performing the same job. In other words, people performing equal work must receive equal pay. This legislation was enacted to remedy a serious problem of employment discrimination in private industry, and it applies to all employers and labor organizations. To prevail in an Equal Pay Act claim, an employee must prove that she receives a lower wage than a man working in the same establishment (or a man must prove the same in a claim involving a woman). The jobs in question must be essentially the same and require substantially equal skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

Pay equity is defined by the National Committee on Pay Equity as evaluating and compensating jobs (even dissimilar jobs) based on their skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions, not on the people who hold the jobs (men or women). Pay equity is also known as comparable worth and equal pay for work of equal value, and it is a solution to eliminating wage discrimination and closing the wage gap.

Despite significant efforts to realize Equal Pay for Equal Work, the work of women remains undervalued. On average, women employed full-time earn 75¢ to each $1 earned by men. The gap between earnings is even larger for women of color. Because the earnings gap is typically career-long, it also affects pension earnings, thus perpetuating the inequity into retirement. The gap reflects society’s undervaluing of the work of women relative to traditional male work. With minor fluctuations, the earnings gap has remained steady since the late 1950s, when data was first compiled, through 2003 (the last year for which such data is available).

What the Project Tells Us and How Libraries Can Use This Data
The databases created during the project allow participants access to the full spectrum of information collected during the study. The databases are customizable, meaning that library employees and Human Resources staff can compare their library’s jobs with other jobs in public libraries and local government (and academic libraries and institutions of higher education) statewide. The data is intended for a variety of uses:

  • Compensation and budget planning
  • Updating salary plans and compensation systems
  • HR planning, including recruiting, retention and succession planning efforts
  • Assessing pay equity

The project databases have given libraries and library staff the data needed to help make a caseto local officials and funders in the public sector for fair and competitive pay.

The public library/local government survey was sent to all public libraries (79) and local governments (110) in the state. The response was excellent: 62 public libraries (78 percent) and 50 local governments (45 percent) chose to participate in the project. In addition, to bolster the data collected from participants, salary data was added for 11 non-responding libraries and 56 non-responding local governments from the University of North Carolina’s Institute for Government Service’s (IGS) database.1 A large variety of organizations were represented in the data, from libraries with two full-time employees to those with more than 400. Operating budgets for these respondents ranged from approximately $70,000 to nearly $37 million. County and local governments reported these demographic data points as well. The survey included brief position descriptions for each job title, enabling participants to look beyond the position title and to determine whether their positions were truly matches for the survey jobs. Before any data was included in the database, participants’ responses were quality controlled, comparing jobs based on the similarity of education and experience requirements, job scope, level of effort, responsibility and working conditions, ensuring that only matching positions were included.

Needless to say, a thorough breadth and depth of data was created. Libraries that used the database were able to customize search criteria so that they could see only responses from organizations they chose, whether by budget size, number of employees or geographic location. The potential of the database is significant since it allows library jobs in one library to be compared with ones in surrounding local government or other libraries. Using the education and experience requirements provided by each participant for each position, one can make appropriate comparisons for the jobs in one’s organization. So, for example, it was possible to compare an MLS librarian to other MLS librarians or to master’s degree-required positions in local government, such as engineers or planners. Remember, pay equity is about the level of work and responsibility. The work itself does not have to be identical. The table below demonstrates some of the ways in which a select group of positions were compared on a statewide basis.

Data Highlights: Median Pay of Select Library Positions Compared to Government Positions

Below is an example showing the types of comprehensive comparisons that are possible at the local level. For purposes of this data, the minimum of the salary range represents the minimum amount a jurisdiction or library reported paying an employee in the identified position; the range maximum is the highest amount (not including any longevity payments) reported for the same position. Often, library systems and government jurisdictions define pay ranges by steps, so, for example, in a 20-step scale, step 1 would be the minimum and step 20 the maximum.

Sample Statewide Data Comparison of Median Pay:

Pay range comparisons were also possible with the database created during the Pay Equity project. According to survey results, on average the minimum pay of a librarian is 19.6 percent or $8,073 per year less than that of a senior planner; 22.2 percent or $9,405 per year less than that of a civil engineer. On average the maximum pay for a librarian as reported in the survey is 8.9 percent or $5,037 less than that of a planner and 17.7 percent or $10,988 less than a systems administrator.

Participants also make comparisons based on specific geographic locations. For instance, in Durham County, the average librarian with an MLS degree earns $20,837 less than a civil engineer (with a bachelor’s degree) and $19,908 less than a systems administrator (bachelor’s) working for the county government. In Wake County, a librarian (MLS) earns $1,954 less than a PC technician (associate’s degree) and $10,389 less than a senior planner (MS).

Interesting comparisons were also made by looking at the same position in public libraries and local government. IT positions such as systems administrator or web developer are often paid quite differently in the library versus the government of a given jurisdiction. For instance, a systems administrator working for a public library earned an average of 6.7 percent or $3,293 less than a systems administrator working for a city/ county government in North Carolina. Interestingly, approximately 25 percent of participating library systems required the systems administrator position to possess an MLS degree; no county or city reported an MS requirement for the same position.

Several of the positions listed in the survey that went to local governments, non-profit agencies or other nonlibrary employers are not identified as traditional “library” positions. What does a Planner or a Public Works Director or an Engineer have to do with market rates for library positions? More than you might think. Many libraries are beginning to focus on the importance of pay equity, just as the ALA-APA has developed its “Advocating for Better Salaries and Pay Equity Toolkit.”8221;

Pay Equity: One Suburban Public Library
The Singer Group also assisted a suburban library system with a pay study designed to assess the equity of the library’s positions with those of their local county government. In this case, no other employers were included in the market study; the focus was solely on ensuring pay equity with the local county government, a source of much comparison of salaries and competition for employees. In conducting this work, The Singer Group met with library HR staff and county HR staff and matched library job descriptions with county job descriptions. In one example encountered during this project, a planner position in the local government requires a master’s degree, as does the professional librarian in the library system. The planner and librarian both may be hired directly after achieving these degrees. In addition, a planner and a librarian have a similar level of responsibility, independence, supervisory responsibility and/or job complexity. Of course individual cases may differ, but in many public library systems this is an accurate match in responsibility for a professional librarian. This, in a nutshell, is pay equity. This particular library system went on to match all of their positions with similar-level positions in the county government, then advocated (and obtained!) funding to ensure that the salary ranges were also equitable.

Pay Equity: Regional Library Consortium
More recently, The Singer Group worked with a regional library consortium representing nine county libraries. A survey of all public libraries, local county and municipal jurisdictions and community colleges in the area was conducted to assess pay equity. In this case, private sector employers in the region were also included, to broaden the scope of the survey and to provide helpful pay information to libraries about some of their competition for employees. Again, the resulting databases are accessible and customizable by all participants, and those databases have provided the member libraries with critical data for presentation to funders at the beginning of the economic downturn. In the North Carolina as well as in the studies described above, the resulting databases were something that could be used by participants to assess pay equity in their own jurisdictions. Many of The Singer Group’s current and recent clients are opting to include a sampling of positions of the types discussed above in their salary surveys to do a check-in, if not a full assessment, of pay equity.

Back to North Carolina: Is Pay Equitable?
Based on the North Carolina project findings (as well as in our other projects), there was a difference in pay and in pay ranges between jobs that were public library based as compared to those in local government, even for the same position, such as PC technician, systems administrator and web master. The study also showed a difference in pay for jobs that require similar education, experience, skill, effort and responsibility when comparing jobs that are predominately female versus those that are more often held by men. It becomes clear from the analysis that traditional “women’s work” (i.e., librarianship and working in a library) is undervalued starting at the first job on the career ladder.

A Final Word:
Using the data mined during the pay equity project in North Carolina, public libraries have evidence to present a strong case to local and school officials regarding funding for higher salaries. In addition to the salary databases, a MS PowerPoint tool kit with examples and talking points was made available to North Carolina libraries to assist them in these efforts. The databases provided full and detailed instructions in their use.

To help make the case for funding, your library can and should:

  • Ensure that job descriptions are well written and reflect actual duties.
  • Have senior level library staff serve on local government compensation committees and ensure that local government HR personnel are fully aware of the scope and depth of library jobs.
  • Ensure that members of the public fully understand the value of the role and contribution of public librarians and library personnel. Emphasize education and experience required of librarians, library associates and other staff. A much stronger, louder and more vociferous case needs to be made by public libraries for equity in salaries.
  • Use the toolkit developed with this project to combat the “Male Premium” in public sector jobs when advocating for libraries with state and local elected and appointed officials. The toolkit can be found at
  • University of North Carolina School of Government County Salaries in North Carolina Survey—2006, compiled by the MAPS Group for the Institute of Government.

The Singer Group is a management consulting firm that helps public, private and social sector organizations reach full potential through forward-thinking human resources and organizational development strategies that get results.

To schedule a complimentary consultation, contact Paula Singer at 410-561-7561 or email


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