Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Job is More than a Paycheck

The Kentucky state bird: the cardinal

There's been a lot of talk on social networks about a recent job posting for a library director opening in rural Kentucky that will pay the successful candidate $7.25 per hour. I didn't get involved in the Twitter conversation, but I'll admit it: I had the same initial reaction of outrage that a lot of people had. "Minimum wage? For a job that typically requires not just a bachelor's degree, but also a master's?!!"

I'm admitting my gut reaction here so that you know I understand why some people said the things they did. I haven't made minimum wage in decades. To be honest, I don't know that I ever did. I've also predominantly lived and worked in fairly affluent parts of the country, with the exception of when I lived in a part of the Rust Belt that barely noticed the beginnings of the economic downturn in 2008 because things there were already a financial nightmare. I'm clearly biased.

And that bias is the thing I've been thinking about as I mull over how to add my voice to the conversation. For sure I want to show my support for the library and outgoing library director in question, but there are people who have already written better than I could. Further, I've been emailing and tweeting with Dolly Moehrle (who has written a guest post for LtaYL in the past) about ideas of how I can, more concretely, help. I highly recommend you click through to see what Dolly wrote at her own blog in a post called "The Kentucky Challenge," and if you can please add your voice. So rather than write a "me, too!" post, I decided to take a different tack.

Instead I want to talk to you about how you decide where you want to work. I don't mean public versus academic, although that is an important consideration. No, I mean where in the country (or world, even). I've moved a lot for school and for my career. Delaware, my current state, brings my total states up to seven, although I've lived in Massachusetts more than once. There have always been a lot of factors that go into how I decide where to apply, such as the politics of the state and access to nerd culture and how good is the hiking. But one of the most important things I research is how much it will take me to maintain a standard of living in the area near the library/college, and will the library/college be able to afford to pay me that much. And that's before I even consider the kinds of benefits provided by the institution, like educational opportunities and health benefits.

One other thing that is crucial to me: will I be valued and respected in my role? Funding is frequently out of the hands of the administrator, either within or above the library. Doing more with less is a fallacy, but fit and feeling like you contribute are values that are worth more than money most of the time. One of the best paying jobs I had in the past was dreary and unfulfilling and I felt utterly unappreciated.

I'm not saying you should apply for the Kentucky job that caused all this furor. Actually, I think that search might be closed now, but when it was open people immediately saw the minimum wage and disregarded all the other factors. I'm just saying that before you write a job opportunity off because of money, do your research. A job is more than a paycheck. We're librarians, after all. Research is what we do.

1 comment:

  1. I'm conflicted.

    On the one hand, I agree that pay is not the only factor to consider when looking for a job -- and it can be an acceptable tradeoff to exchange low pay for a professional opportunity. For example, the current director of that library in Kentucky commented on Jason Griffey's post and cited how the library offered her a professional opportunity that would be rare for other MLIS students (as she is/was at the time) to get.

    Another example of a trick I've seen in action: working in Alaska turns out to be a good way for a mid-career librarian to make the jump from public libraries to academic libraries -- and that can be a difficult transition to make, otherwise. To put it another way: hate the cold? Consider Alaska anyway!

    On the other hand, another commenter on Jason's post mentioned other advantages of Kentucky including the natural environment. And that's fine -- but sunshine and mountain vistas don't necessarily pay the bills.

    I worry about narratives that push down librarian wages -- and wages in other helping professions. I also worry about narratives that focus on individual responses to structural problems. Though sometimes such responses are the best available right now -- and I support Dolly's efforts.