This article explores academic librarians’ experiences with compensation negotiation, using a combination of survey and interview data. Specifically, we focus on where librarians learned how to negotiate, where they sought or found advice, where they wished they had received information, and what factors would help them negotiate and improve their outcomes in the future. We also discuss the impact of representation or membership in a labor union on negotiation behavior. We share this information to help facilitate a larger cultural shift in libraries: to normalize negotiation through more and better training, increased self-advocacy in the hiring and promotion process, and more transparency in the sharing of experiences and compensation information.
There is a widespread belief – communicated1 and in whispers, in professional venues and behind closed doors – that librarians do not need or want good wages and do not negotiate. We know otherwise. Salary negotiation in libraries has been a topic of interest of ours for close to a decade. As members and subsequent chairs of the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA) Standing Committee on the Salaries and Status of Library Workers, we organized educational and informational resources on library compensation topics and individual and collective negotiation trainings (Dorning et. al, 2014). Through this work, we identified an absence of Library and Information Science (LIS)-specific literature on negotiation and compensation, and spoke with hundreds of library workers about negotiating salary in libraries. In response, we designed a study in 2014 that would capture librarians’ perception of and experience with compensation negotiation in the library workplace, distributing a survey in 2015 and conducting interviews from 2016-2017. During this time, we also continued our ALA and ALA-APA work, and in 2019, were certified as American Association of University Women (AAUW) salary negotiation training facilitators2 .
As our expertise and involvement grew, we spoke to more library workers at all levels of experience, authority, and across all library types about negotiating. We fielded questions and requests for help that touched upon a range of emotions related to negotiating in a library context: fear, frustration, resentment, and unsureness. In organizing and leading negotiation training sessions at ALA Annual conferences and in sponsored webinars, we observed high attendance and enthusiasm, coupled with participants’ urgent requests for privacy, based in their fear of being recorded and/or observed by supervisors. We also witnessed discouraging behavior from more experienced librarians and managers, telling interested participants to reduce expectations or not bother trying to negotiate.
Luckily, we are in a moment of broader cultural change, led by workers and workers’ movements, that is carrying libraries and library workers along with it. After decades of trade union decline in the U.S., we are now experiencing a resurgence of strike action overall (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019), and in organizing and strikes in K-12 and higher education (French, 2019; Tolley, 2018; Herbert, van der Naald, & Cadambi Daniel, 2019). Coinciding with #metoo and a resurgence in interest and activity around the gender wage gap, private sector initiatives, mostly in tech, have been created by workers to disclose salaries, share experiences, and provide support and information to women in companies and industries (MacLellan, 2018). Similar efforts in LIS have emerged in social media discussions and through collaborative documentation of shared salary data (Kayt Emily, 2018; “Library Salaries Inequity- Resources,” 2018; Tewell, 2019). These concurrent and sometimes intersecting movements to improve wages and working conditions across industries, occupations, and worksites engage individual and collective negotiation as vehicles and strategies to improve wages and working conditions.
Our overall goal in conducting this research and sharing this information is to normalize negotiation in librarianship, as one pathway to improving library worker compensation. We are interested in how people acquire the skill sets that produce and enhance successful negotiation, how negotiation impacts salary and compensation outcomes, and how industries and occupations can facilitate training in this area. Academic libraries are a rich site of inquiry, as they span public and private sectors, states, institutional sizes, and staff statuses within universities.
We are heartened by the recent growth in interest in individual and collective negotiation in libraries, and seek to fill the gap in research about how librarians learn and acquire training to negotiate. It is not enough to encourage the act of negotiation; we must also understand what is at stake, what works best, and what can be won through strategic action, individually and collectively.
Bruce Patton (co-author of the seminal negotiation text Getting to Yes) defined negotiation as “back-and-forth communication designed to reach an agreement between two or more parties with some interests that are shared and others that may conflict or simply be different” (2005).
Extensive research across disciplines has generated much insight into negotiation in the workplace. We know that negotiation generally results in better outcomes (Gerhart and Rynes, 1991; O’Shea and Bush, 2002; Marks and Harold, 2011), that employer offers and behavior during the negotiation process can alter the job’s perceived attractiveness (Porter et. al, 2004), and that gender differentials exist in negotiation behavior (Bowles et al., 2007; Dittrich et al., 2014) and role-associated outcomes (Dittrich et al., 2014). Much research assessing negotiation frequency, practices, or outcomes is simulation-based (Porter et. al, 2004; Stevens et. al, 1993; Bowles et. al, 2007, Dittrich et al, 2014), inhibiting direct comparison with survey-based studies3 .
While pay secrecy/transparency is closely associated with salary negotiation, the research encompasses a broader organizational scope beyond the hiring or negotiation process. Bamberger and Belagolovsky (2010) captured pay secrecy’s negative impact on employee performance. Workers tend to assume salary inequities in the face of secrecy, underestimating management compensation and overestimating peer compensation (Collela et al., 2007), and worker perceptions of fair pay are closely associated with pay transparency (Day, 2012). In the absence of pay transparency, workers prefer that the mechanisms for determining compensation be clearly articulated (Hartmann & Slapnicar, 2012).
Researchers have also identified best practices for teaching and learning negotiation. Nadler et. al’s (2003) review of negotiation training literature identified four main learning methods: didactic (learning about the theories), learning via “information revelation” (receiving additional information), analogical learning (reading case studies and comparing), and observational learning. In testing the methods in combination with experience, and comparing to a baseline of only experience, they found that analogic and observational learning methods resulted in better performance, as well as outcomes for both parties. However, the observational group were less able to articulate the methods or strategies they had applied to the process. Participants within the information revelation group demonstrated a very strong understanding of the bargaining interests and positions of the other party, but this did not result in significant improvement in their performance. Researchers concluded that experience alone was ineffective in helping a negotiator conceptualize the task or derive meaning from the experience, and that analogic training helps participants to better develop awareness of the process and improve outcomes. The adding of observational and information revelation methods enhanced negotiation performance and understanding, respectively. The nuanced value of analogic training methods in improving knowledge transfer and negotiation practices had been captured by Loewenstein et. al (1999), who observed that analogic training resulted in better strategic proposals, and that those drawing an analogy from two negotiation scenarios were three times more likely to apply the strategy than those receiving cases separately.
Movius (2008) concluded that negotiation training impacts real-world outcomes, that the learning process environment can impact comprehension and performance, that using multiple case studies during training is superior than a single case, that using case studies and observation produce better negotiation practices than just lecture and information revelation, and that negotiators who perceive greater agency or control over outcomes (self-efficacy) might benefit more with training4 . After observing gender disparities in negotiation outcomes following a training program, Stevens et. al (1993) successfully mitigated the difference by augmenting content training with goal-setting training.
There has been minimal research conducted about salary negotiation and the field of librarianship. However, in recent years, there have been some studies conducted around academic librarians’ experiences with salary negotiation (Reed et al., 2015; Lo and Reed, 2016; Reed and Lo, 2016; Silva and Galbraith, 2018). Reed et al. (2015) interviewed and surveyed entry-level academic librarians on their job search experiences, while Lo and Reed (2016) surveyed a broader swath of academic librarians and discovered that almost half of their respondents were not comfortable negotiating, and that younger people were more likely to negotiate their first professional job offer. Reed and Lo (2016) investigated how library hiring managers perceived and acted in negotiations, finding that employers expect job seekers to negotiate. Silva and Galbraith (2018) reported on gender-based salary negotiation patterns among academic librarians employed by Association of Research Libraries member libraries, and discovered that women negotiated less frequently and were less successful when they did negotiate. However, higher frequencies of negotiation were discovered in managers/administrators and those with longer tenure in a position.
In 2017, we published the results of a survey about general librarians’ experience with compensation negotiation in the library workplace (Farrell and Geraci, 2017). Over 1500 librarians participated in the survey, across numerous library types. This study illustrated that almost half of respondents (46%) negotiated in their most recent position. The majority of those who did negotiate (N=656) received positive outcomes, including salary increases (62%) or better compensation packages (36%). Negative outcomes were minimally reported (2%). This study also examined information that informed negotiation strategy, with the majority of respondents indicating prior work experience or education (58%) and previous salary (54%) as being important. Fewer respondents noted salary data (41%), advice from mentors/colleagues/supervisors (32%), or negotiation literature (30%). Only 7% stated that they drew upon prior negotiation training.
Beyond these studies, the majority of negotiation articles in the library literature focus on providing advice about strategies to use to negotiate salary (Adelman, 2004; Baron, 2013; Dalby, 2006; Havens, 2013; Holcomb, 2007; Kessler, 2015; Kolb and Schaffner, 2001; Martin, 2004; Niemeier and Junghahn, 2011; Topper, 2004; Wilson, 2013), or what to expect during the negotiation process (Franks et al., 2017). Bell (2014) discusses how to avoid having an offer rescinded, while Zumalt (2007) focuses on finding salary data to build the best case. Most articles are written for general library workers, but some are geared toward managers or administrators (Cottrell, 2011; White, 1991).
Many of these articles discuss librarianship as a predominantly female occupation, and urge women to negotiate to combat low salaries (Adelman, 2004; Galloway and Archuleta, 1978; Kolb and Schaffner, 2001), and decrease the gap between women and men who negotiate (Kessler, 2015). However, some articles discuss the need to keep expectations in check, noting small towns (Martin, 2004) or markets flooded with recent graduates (Adelman, 2004) may yield lower salaries. The common trope of librarians “not being in it for the money” appears in the literature with Dalby (2006) declaring “in the library world, salaries are generally low. Most of us are here for the job, not the salary,” and Kolb and Schaffner (2001) ascribing low salaries in librarianship to the fact it is a “service profession” and librarians do not prioritize “monetary compensation.”
Research on the impact of collective negotiation on library worker compensation is limited, but potential frameworks for analyzing individual and collective outcomes could be drawn from Feld’s (2000) exploration of union representation’s impact on library pay and Mudge’s (1987) analysis of Canadian library collective bargaining agreements by outcomes that encompass compensation structures, benefits, and other work arrangements.
This article reports on part of a multiphase study investigating librarians’ experience with and perspective on compensation and benefits negotiation in the library workplace5 . We employed interviews with academic library participants to augment baseline survey findings with more detail, greater nuance and complexity, and to explore individual experiences and extended responses, than what could be derived from a survey instrument alone.
In phase one of the study, we deployed a survey of 50 questions. We solicited participants with an invitation that sought to capture the experiences and perspectives of librarians on negotiating for compensation and benefits in the library hiring process. The terms “librarian” and “negotiation” were intentionally undefined, allowing participants to self-identify for participation. Respondents who did not indicate current or past employment in a library were routed out of the survey.
Questions were a mix of open, closed, and multiple-choice, and focused on generating educational and employment information from participants: education level; years of experience working in libraries; current employment status; position type; type, status, and geographic location of library where they work; size of library community that they serve; representation by a labor union; negotiation experience (i.e. if they negotiated and with whom they negotiated); negotiation outcome; information used to negotiate; and demographics. We administered the survey via Qualtrics Survey Software, and distributed it across a range of library-themed listservs and social media channels in November 2015 – December 2015 (see Farrell and Geraci, 2017). The survey gathered over 1500 respondents and also solicited contact information from participants who would be willing to participate in subsequent interviews. We generated survey reports and cross-tabulations within Qualtrics, with select additional analysis completed within Excel.
In phase two, we invited academic librarians to participate in interviews by randomly selecting phase one survey respondents with “.edu” email addresses. 29 people responded to the invite. We conducted interviews between December 2016 – March 2017. The interviews were semi-structured, including questions that encompassed broad themes regarding negotiation experience, training, perceived responses by negotiating employers, desired support, and factors that would facilitate or inhibit future negotiation. Audio recordings of the interviews were transcribed and imported into Atlas.ti. We individually read the transcripts to identify and agree on broad themes. Once themes were identified separately, we applied the codes collaboratively, discussing areas of disagreement and reaching consensus before applying final codes in Atlas.ti. We generated co-occurrence tables to capture top code frequencies within question responses, and ran code co-occurrence reports to identify coded text.
Utilizing both the survey and interview data, this article focuses on academic librarians’ experiences with compensation negotiation, and where they learned how to negotiate, where they sought or found advice, where they wished they had received information, and what factors would help them negotiate and improve their outcomes in the future. We also explore the impact of representation or membership in a labor union on negotiation. Appendices include related questions from the survey (Appendix A), interviews (Appendix B), and codes generated by analyzing interviews (Appendix C).
As reported in Farrell and Geraci (2017), 46% of 1,466 respondents reported negotiating salary or other compensation for their most recent library position6 . Academic library workers reported negotiating for their most recent position at a higher rate (53%) than those working in public or K-12 libraries (31% and 24%, respectively), and roughly equal to those working in special libraries (56%).
25% of survey respondents indicated membership or representation (see Figure 1) in a labor union7 , aligning with MacPherson and Hirsch’s (2018) most recent analysis of Current Population Survey data that estimates a 26.2% union membership rate amongst librarians.
We have observed and engaged in extensive conversations within formal and informal LIS circles regarding potential differences in negotiation strategies across union/non-union contexts, regardless of library type. Further analysis of study data demonstrated that union member respondents reported significantly lower negotiation rates overall, with 35% of 354 negotiating salary or compensation for current positions, compared to half of non-union respondents negotiating for most recent positions (see Table 1).
|Are you a member of, or represented by, a labor union?|
|Yes||%||No||%||I don’t know or I’m not sure||%||Total|
|Did you negotiate salary or compensation for your most recent position?||Yes||124||35%||542||50%||8||35%||674|
However, in reviewing union member respondents by library type, those working in academic libraries once again reported negotiating for their most recent position at a significantly higher rate than the overall group, as well as greater rates than those working in public or K-12 libraries (see Table 2).
|What type of library do you work for?|
|Did you negotiate salary or compensation for your most recent position?||Yes||25||19%||83||52%||9||22%||0||7||124||35%|
An initial analysis of survey data in Farrell and Geraci (2017) reported that the elements negotiated by all respondents revealed the top six (descending) as salary, professional development support, housing/relocation assistance, position step/rank, time off/leave, and scheduling. Respondents had the option of selecting all. Analyzing survey responses by respondents’ library type and union status revealed differences in what elements are most frequent in negotiation. All demonstrated greatest negotiation for salary. Union member responses revealed position step/rank as second, while academic respondents reported negotiating housing or relocation assistance second after salary. Academic union respondents, who are likely negotiating across an up-or-out academic rank system as well as a collectively negotiated compensation structure that ties pay to rank and seniority, aligned more closely with overall union responses, ranking position/step as second along with professional development funding (see Table 3).
|Elements negotiated||All (N = 1223)||Academic, all (N = 767)||Union, all (N = 240)||Academic, union (N = 163)|
|Housing or relocation assistance||154||126||24||22|
|Position step or rank||135||82||47||25|
|Time off or leave||92||30||18||7|
Respondents overall, within academic libraries, and across union statuses, identified prior salary/compensation, prior work experience/education, and publicly-available salary information as the top three information sources informing their negotiation strategy. Respondents were informed to lesser and different degrees by negotiation literature, and the advice of a mentor, colleague, or supervisor. Respondents that negotiated rarely reported formal negotiation training (see Table 4).
|Information informing negotiation strategy||All (N=1523)||Academic, all (N=293)||Union, all (N=280)||Non-union, all (N=1198)||Academic, union, all (N=206)|
|Previous salary or compensation||367||81||65||290||45|
|Previous work experience or education||385||80||77||302||54|
|Consulted publicly-available salary data||284||43||47||221||36|
|Negotiation advice or literature||199||39||45||154||37|
|Mentor, colleague, or supervisor||218||43||34||174||24|
|I’m not sure||22||2||4||17||3|
In reporting negotiation outcomes, respondents most frequently secured an increase in salary beyond the initial offer, across all categories (see Table 5). Threats to rescind and rescinded offers occurred in low frequencies across all library types.
|Negotiation Outcome||All (N=776)||Academic, all (N=496)||Union, all (N=139)||Academic, union (N=97)|
|Increase in initial salary offered||405||268||69||49|
|Increase or improvement in total package offered||238||150||38||30|
|No change in initial offer||122||73||28||17|
|Threat to rescind offer||10||5||4||1|
Interviews with academic librarians yielded rich data about how participants learned how to negotiate, where they sought or found advice about negotiation, what resources they wished they had access to, along with what they believe would have enabled them to negotiate more effectively. Main themes associated with each topic are shared with illustrative quotes, edited for clarity.
How Librarians Learned to Negotiate
When asked how participants learned to negotiate, three main themes emerged: 1) utilizing negotiation literature; 2) talking to their peers; or 3) applying experience they had gained from their workplaces.
Some noted that reading articles helped them figure out a negotiating strategy:
There is so much stuff online everywhere about how important it is to negotiate … It was something that I should really think about and be prepared to do. So I read some various articles online about how best to do that and how to approach it.
Others discussed learning about negotiation from reading articles about women in the workplace. These articles discussed gender differences in negotiation, and urged readers to negotiate for improved compensation and career success.
I did a lot of online reading about women in the workplace and needing to be direct. … That’s where I learned that I should come prepared with the facts like degree, and experience, and responsibilities, and to frame it not as the institution doing me a favor. … What the reading did for me was remove the sense that it was the institution doing me a favor, and instead it was a response to a factual presentation. That these are the facts of the situation and this is how I’m asking you to respond to it.
Many reported informally talking to peers (librarians and other academics) to solicit information about the negotiation process, including the nature of the offer, appropriate counter-offers, and best strategies. One participant noted:
I did consult with one of my colleagues who is not a librarian .. but we had been on [negotiation] teams together and I bounced ideas off of him for what he thought my counter should be and the approach I should take … He might have looked at my email draft before I sent it in, that sort of thing.
I always try to talk to other people and ask, ‘What do you think about this? Is it reasonable?’
Some noted that their peers strongly encouraged them to negotiate, and the importance of addressing the gender gap with negotiation, stating it was their “feminist duty” to do so.
Many discussed how other on-the-job experiences had prepared them to negotiate salary; such as advocating for staff within a managerial role; observing negotiations from the vantage point of search committees; or in negotiating with colleagues, clients, or vendors as part of their job.
A former IT professional described the impact of past experience working with clients:
They have … grand ideas and then there is what you can actually do. There are always negotiations that have to happen.
Another described prior sales experience:
I did door-to-door company sales and a lot of that was negotiating: ‘I like your product but I can only afford this much.” And mine would be “You can really afford this if you — this is how useful this product is” and we would just go back and forth about money.
Another discussed their role in vendor negotiations:
One of my primary responsibilities was to negotiate. I was trying to reinforce license agreements for the library. I got a lot of experience with the language of negotiation. It was a lot easier to negotiate on behalf of an organization than to negotiate on your own behalf.
How Librarians Sought / Found Advice about Negotiation
We observed similar emergent themes in asking participants where they sought/found advice about negotiation: 1) using literature about negotiation to prepare to negotiate; 2) relying on data to determine appropriate salary ranges or numbers; or 3) consulting their peers.
Interviewees frequently reported relying on literature for negotiation advice, particularly for participants seeking scripts to use in the negotiation process. One person stated that reading about particular phrases to use was necessary due to how “nervous” they were. Another participant sought specific phrasing to avoid offending the employer:
For the actual negotiation I really just did my homework, might have read a couple of articles on how to phrase things, because I wasn’t sure if librarian culture is different from the culture I came from. I have worked on sounding more librarianish. I didn’t want to offend anyone, but I wanted to ask because I knew that once I got hired,asking becomes much more difficult at that point.
In discussing their use of articles for guidance, many observed the lack of library-specific literature on negotiation, instead relying on content largely oriented toward the private sector or corporate context. Some believed that this guidance was not at all relevant to their experience as a librarian:
I see job advice columns in newspapers and magazines. I often don’t tend to regard those as very relevant to my situation. Maybe this is erroneous, but my impression is that compensation is not as flexible in academia as it is in the private sector.They are geared toward people who are involved in sales or things where they have really solid metrics that are in their control to a certain degree. Because they say something like, bring up how much revenue you’ve brought into the company or something like that, or how much business you’ve made. Librarians don’t quite think in those terms of generating business so to speak. We are trying to get people to use our services — but not in such a — when I get evaluated each year, they don’t ask me how many more hours of research time did you get from professors or something.
Participants used data to augment literature, and discussed a range of data sources consulted, including online cost of living calculators, public salary data, salary surveys from various professional organizations (e.g., ALA-APA, AALL, AAHSL8), as well as salary numbers and ranges listed in current job postings. In one case, a participant noted that using this data caused them to withdraw their job application:
I ended up withdrawing because I looked at other people’s salaries at a couple institutions and I was like there’s no way that I’m going to accept what these other people are making so I don’t even want to go through this process.
Finding completely analogous situations was described as a kind of art, rather than a science, where participants shared their research strategies in arriving at appropriate salary ranges that correspond to their background and experience:
I have to find somebody that’s sort of similar to me in terms of experience, right? So I do the really nitty-gritty looking at people’s individual profiles. I get, when did they graduate? What kind of experience do they have?
Participants sought out peers to learn more about the negotiation process and what to expect, as well as soliciting feedback on whether the offers were reasonable. One participant discussed knowing the person who had previously held the job and how valuable that was:
I knew the person in the previous position. He told me exactly how much money he made and he said that I would be silly to accept anything less and he even told me exactly what management would do. He said they’d walk away from the table, they’d wait a day, and then they’d give you what you wanted and that is exactly how it happened.
Another talked about turning to a network of colleagues to identify a person who used to work at the institution they were applying to:
I happened to have a pretty good network from grad school and one of my colleagues that used to work at the institution that I’m currently working at, I talked to her a little bit about what to expect. She said they pay generously. I had a little more confidence in asking for a bit more.
Where Do Librarians Wish They Had Received Advice or Guidance on Negotiation
Interviewees identified two main entities that they wished had provided negotiation advice during their careers: library schools and professional associations.
Some noted they received career services support in preparing applications and attending job interviews in library school, but did not receive similar assistance around negotiation:
I think it would have been useful in library school. We had a couple of sessions here and there about how to create a good resume, what the interview process is like; but nobody ever talked about the negotiation process, how to research salary, how to analyze the benefits package, how to talk about those things before you accept the job.
Some thought that this kind of instruction would be appropriate for either an introductory class, or as part of a management class.
I wish my library school had — in the management class we had, that would have been super helpful. When they’re teaching you management, you’re on both sides, so you can be on both sides of the equation.
One participant stated they would have appreciated negotiation training in library school:
I think that sometime during library school would be good, particularly because I think you feel very vulnerable as an entry level person. What you need does really seem to change the more experience you get or the more your career morphs.
Participants also pointed to professional associations like the American Library Association as a logical place for salary negotiation training, as they already provide professional development programming. Suggestions ranged from conference or webinar programming, to one-on-one mentoring.
Some discussed the importance of library associations providing library-specific negotiation training. As a law librarian stated:
I think it would be great if AALL [American Association of Law Libraries] offered something like that. The reason the AALL Salary Survey is helpful is because it is so specific to our line of work. I would be more interested in some sort of either a workshop or seminar or some sort of educational opportunity targeted to law libraries. So, to the extent that they are more reputable but more authoritative coming from a group like AALL.
In general, many participants believed that professional associations would be the best place to provide training and discussion opportunities, and facilitate a broader cultural change within LIS industry and occupational communities regarding salary negotiation.
What Would Help Librarians Negotiate
When asked what would help them negotiate in the future, participants pointed to greater access to data, an enhanced understanding the perspective of those on the other side of the “table”, and sharing information about negotiation among a community of librarians.
The majority of participants stated that pay transparency in salaries would be extraordinarily helpful. While general access to average salaries (e.g., survey data) was good, it did not help all that much in crafting an ask9 or understanding what is appropriate on an institutional level. They wanted more specificity:
I think having fairly granular data about salaries, with years of experience and responsibilities broken out in different kinds of library roles, and being able to compare apples to apples in terms of library roles. So if somebody is a library liaison for example, then what are other people at other universities and then cost of living, being able to factor that in also. Starting salaries would be good to know for different institutions around the country.
One person discussed how having access to data is what made their negotiation successful:
More data is always better. …having the information about people in similar situations is really helpful for me; my successful negotiation came from my ability to distinguish myself from the data.
Related to this, some participants also requested more transparency in crafting salary expectations. For instance, having salary ranges listed on job postings. Many participants applauded that salary data is available from public institutions but wanted that same information from private institutions.
Additionally, many participants sought more explicit signaling from human resources or administration that negotiation was expected and accepted, and what was up for discussion. They wanted assurance that if they opened a conversation about salary, that they would not insult anyone or lose the offer.
I think it would be helpful if you have, just more information in general about what’s going on in that institution because how do you know if you’re being bold or not if you don’t know what other people in similar situations are making.
Even more explicitly, one person stated they “would like a crystal ball to know exactly what I could say to get what I want.”
Finally, some participants expressed that sharing information and experiences among librarians about salary negotiation would be incredibly helpful. Particularly, there were opinions that sharing more information would change the perspective that talking about money “is a dirty thing”. Further, talking more about experiences negotiating salary would aid people in seeing that there is, as one participant put it, “really nothing to lose and only something to gain from it.”
What Would Help Librarians Receive Better Negotiation Outcomes
When participants were asked what would help them achieve better outcomes from negotiating, they reiterated the need to have more transparency from administration and human resources, as well as understanding the process, or strategy, of negotiating better, and actually practicing negotiating.
Participants once again wanted to know, at the beginning of the negotiation process, where the hiring organization would have “flexibility.” They wanted honesty about “what the possibilities are and what’s realistic” to ask for in a negotiation. They also wanted more information about their own personal leverage:
Am I their first choice by a mile or am I just one in a pack of very qualified people and they just happen to like me a little bit more? Trying to read that would make a big difference in terms of what I would feel like doing.
Some participants also discussed wanting more familiarity with the process of negotiating, i.e., understanding the back-and-forth dialogue that goes along with negotiating salary:
Knowing they might say no, or they might say, ‘well, we’re not going to give you everything, but here’s our offer’. And just being comfortable with the — ‘okay, well I’ll take your offer and review this’ and just getting more experience and more comfortable with what’s a reasonable comeback for whatever they give you, at whatever stage you’re at.
Related to this topic, participants stressed the need for practice to help them overcome anxiety that they feel about negotiating:
Having an opportunity to do a role play, or have somebody help you work on casting that language, and how to respond to pushback. How to actually be in that moment and do the give and take of it.
Several people specifically wanted to be able to role play with others who are very experienced in negotiating:
Something like role playing, actually practicing things, having the conversation with somebody who does it all the time, and who’s trained to be like a little more on the pushy side about what they want.
Respondents that were members of or represented by labor unions discussed the intersection of the collective and individual negotiations experience, acknowledging that the presence of a collective bargaining contract provided a known formula to guide their expectations and asks. As one respondent said:
They had already exceeded [the number I had in mind] and also it’s a union position. So I knew that they calculated that based on my experience and based on my education etc. I knew the formula that went into it.
While understanding the terms and conditions baked into a contract can provide a known formula for prospective negotiators, they can only leverage them to their benefit if the formula or framework is known or shared:
Specifically back to when I was hired for this job, there was information on the union website that would have been really good to have and I was not pointed towards that and I didn’t have enough knowledge about the union to look at it. So now when I am in a position, like I’m on a screening committee, I tell candidates to go look at it. That was great so far they’re informed about what the pay grades are and where they would be sitting on those pay grades so that they can advocate for themselves more effectively.
Similarly, incoming employees may be unaware of how collectively negotiated terms and conditions are interpreted on the ground. A lack of awareness or misunderstanding of the full scope of parameters and possibilities within the contract can potentially inhibit allowable negotiation, leading to lower lifetime earnings:
When I came to [university], they gave me a copy of the contract and in the contract it spells out for every level, and I accepted and went merrily along and was here probably for about five to seven years when I found out that, no actually that’s the minimum level. And that incoming faculty can negotiate to start at a higher level. I don’t know that I was really in that much of a position of strength that I would have wanted to push back too much, but in either case it’s kind of moot for me because I didn’t say anything except ‘great, where do I sign’.
In the absence of insider information, incoming employees reported feeling like they still benefited from the presence of contract-provided minimums, and that they observed that subsequent steps or negotiated increases balanced their failure to negotiate incoming salary.
My first [position] was when I was a brand new librarian and I did not negotiate at all. And so I had a terrible starting salary which only got better because I was at an institution that had a strong faculty union that I would be part of and basically I got bumped up to a new minimum that was reasonable as a result of that.
Engaging in the collective bargaining process as a rank-and-file activist or elected representative can provide a fertile training ground for negotiation skills, building comfort and familiarity with the process, dynamics, and stakes at hand, that can translate to enhanced individual negotiation practice.
When I moved to my second position I did negotiate and one of the reasons that I probably was more comfortable, well, first of all I was older, but one of the reasons that I was probably more comfortable is that during the time that I was at my first institution, I had become extremely engaged in the union and had been a chief negotiator multiple times for faculty contracts.To say where I learned to negotiate, I would say that it was because of that. Also that’s where it became, if it wasn’t already highly evident, but there was a difference between where you’d end up at the end of your career whether you negotiated or didn’t when you first accepted your position and the real understanding that everything hinges on that initial salary.
By participating in the labor relations process, union member respondents acquired a broader perspective that demystifies and contextualizes the tensions and rituals of the back-and-forth:
I was in union bargaining teams, so negotiating means a lot of different things, because that’s an official process where you put pressure on people generally but then you have a formalized process in a room.
Our research investigated academic librarians’ experiences with compensation negotiation. Facets explored included where they learned how to negotiate, where they sought or found advice, where they wished they had received information, and what factors would help them negotiate and improve their outcomes in the future. We confirmed that many academic librarians negotiate10, and discovered that they are negotiating at higher rates than librarians in other settings. Around half of participants surveyed negotiated for salary or other elements of compensation for their most recent position. Further, those that negotiated their salaries, across the board, received increases. While that is good news, it also means that around half of librarians are not negotiating. We discovered that academic librarians rarely received formal negotiation training or engaged with library-specific guidance on how to negotiate, and craved access to data and support structures to assist them in negotiating more, with greater skill, and to achieve better outcomes.
We also investigated how a collective bargaining agreement or union representation impacts negotiation perceptions or behavior. Despite misconceptions that you cannot negotiate salary in a union environment, our research indicated that librarians still did negotiate individually in addition to negotiating collectively. Participants indicated that unions can be a training ground for learning how to negotiate, that a contract impacts the parameters of what can be asked or obtained, and that the process may vary from those reported by non-represented librarians (potentially indicating a more formal process required).
The differing structural aspects of positions covered by collective bargaining agreements and/or within academic libraries likely account for differing prioritization of various negotiation elements.
While most librarians negotiated for salary, academics also prioritized housing and professional development support, while union members prioritized negotiating position/rank. Academic union respondents aligned more closely with the overall union responses in identifying prioritized negotiation elements11. The presence of a union or contract shifts the scope of librarian negotiations, elevating rank or position type as a more likely element of the ask, due to the financial implications of a higher rank or title. However, we also observed significantly lower rates of negotiation by union member respondents, potentially due to misconceptions as to whether individual negotiation is allowable within a collective bargaining context, or a lack of awareness of contract parameters to negotiate within and across.
Those surveyed pointed to previous work experience or education and their previous salary as the information sources that they relied on in negotiation, with very few academic librarians (2%) indicating formal training as a source. Through interviews, we aimed to gain a fuller understanding of how librarians learn to negotiate, as opposed to what information sources were used during the process. While interviews confirmed a strong reliance on textual resources (unsurprising for librarians!), we also discovered that this overreliance compensated for a lack of formal negotiation training, insufficient information sharing across LIS communities, and rampant pay secrecy by library employers12.
Regardless of union affiliation, the majority of librarians surveyed and interviewed stated that they did not receive formal, structured training. Most interviewees learned how to negotiate from either reading literature, talking to other people in their networks (peers, spouses), and from the repeated practice of negotiating on-the-job. As many of our interviewees pointed out, increased access to formal negotiation training could improve their confidence and skill in attempting to negotiate compensation, and thereby increase the frequency of negotiation in library workplaces, and improve outcomes.
Training, however, is not a one-size-fits all solution, and pedagogical design impacts negotiation skill and outcomes. Our interviewees pointed to practice or coaching as a welcome assist, but we know that structured negotiation trainings should be carefully designed to align with evidence-based best practices to increase negotiation frequency and efficacy13. Practice alone does not make perfect.
Interviewees repeatedly stated that improved access to institutional or position salary data would aid them in negotiation, but we know from the literature that having the data alone is insufficient for negotiation training and improvement purposes14. Receiving additional information during the process (“information revelation”) can enhance one’s understanding of the other party’s position, but the method does not impact overall strategy, performance, or outcomes. We fully support full compensation transparency for all positions and institutions in addition to evidence-based negotiation training opportunities.
Our research indicated that negotiation skills acquisition for academic librarians is currently informal, self-initiated, and network-bound rather than formally present in LIS curriculum or professional development training, which interviewees expressed would be desired. This lack of formal training could mean that even if people are negotiating, they may be unaware of the scope of possible asks and/or effective tactics to deploy during the negotiation process, and are likely leaving money on the table. If the goal is to have more people negotiating to raise the compensation bar for everyone in the library, people will need to receive better training in order to negotiate.
Although our survey was widely distributed across the LIS discipline and represents librarians from a variety of library types, interviews were limited to a small number of academic librarians and represent only their experiences. We hope to expand on this work by conducting more interviews with librarians in other library settings. Survey findings demonstrating differences across library types raises additional questions, such as: Why are academic librarians negotiating at higher levels than other librarians? How do aspects of library employment practices and workplaces impact negotiation practices? Do conditions of the library workplace mediate the effect of union membership on salary negotiation outcomes? Other variables that we did not address in detail here, but came up as themes in the interviews, such as gender, length of time in librarianship, supervisory status, size of institution, and institutional funding structure, could also impact these findings, and we aim to examine these topics at a later date.
- For individuals: All library workers should negotiate on principle, and be open to sharing experiences and outcomes with peers. That means that librarians with racial, gender, socioeconomic and/or positional power should use their privilege to change institutional and occupational cultures around negotiation by negotiating themselves, sharing experiences and numbers openly, and creating and holding space for discussion and mutual aid.
- For managers (supervisors, hiring managers): Expect candidates and employees to negotiate. Managers can normalize negotiation by using their position to advocate for higher salaries in general and for prospective candidates when participating in the negotiation process as an employer representative. Those seeking to infuse social justice, feminism, and equity, diversity, and inclusion in their managerial and supervisory practices should consider how their approach to the negotiation process speaks to their commitment to economic justice. Those negotiating for themselves should be similarly receptive in a hiring context.
- For employers (libraries as institutions or as part of larger institutions): Share position salary ranges when posting jobs. Commit to salary transparency on an organizational level. Base offers on transparent salary schedules or scales, not a candidate’s past compensation. Perform regular pay equity audits. For academic libraries with institutional policies restricting pay transparency in the hiring process, advocate for change organizationally, and aim to share this information with candidates as soon as possible as the search progresses.
- For unions: Ensure that salary schedules and Collective Bargaining Agreements are publicly available to prospective and current employees. If not included on the employer website, place in a central location on the union website that is not walled off from non-members.
- For library schools: Incorporate formal salary negotiation training in career services support as well as into professional development curriculums.
- For library associations: Commit to negotiation training and sharing salary survey data as an individual member benefit. Articulate minimum salaries and best practices for wages. ALA’s commitment to hosting AAUW salary negotiation trainings for members is a great start.
- For all library workers and LIS stakeholders: Advocate for yourself, for your colleagues, not just the library and libraries. And when you do, share your experiences and strategies with colleagues. Championing a culture shift within libraries and librarianship around compensation requires individual and collective negotiation and action. When colleagues ask for your support, engage in solidarity actions like salary disclosure, attending rallies, and signing petitions. It is time to embrace economic justice as a core value of librarianship. If Democracy, Diversity, Intellectual Freedom, Professionalism, and Social Responsibility are “Core Values of Librarianship” (ALA Council, 2004), then surely we can incorporate the recognition that we work for pay and are entitled to dignity and the ability to support ourselves and our families.
When we began working on salary negotiation issues in LIS, we repeatedly encountered the sentiments “but I can’t negotiate”, “librarians don’t negotiate”, and “we don’t do this for the money”. Simultaneously, we heard about the difficulties that nascent, new, and experienced library workers face in supporting their families, paying off student loan debt from MLS programs, and in contemplating lifelong careers in modestly compensated positions. In recruiting new librarians and promoting librarianship and library work as a viable career path, those of us in the field now must work to ensure that this work is good work in an economic sense – that it is well compensated and can support families. Benchmarking library compensation levels by looking to librarian salaries alone is insufficient, as librarians may be one of the more well-compensated employee groups in the library. Raising salary thresholds for all workers in the library, especially the lowest-compensated occupations, is essential.
Our overall goal in sharing this information is to normalize negotiation in librarianship, as one pathway to improving library worker compensation. Our research reveals that talking about money and sharing experiences about negotiation is still a “closed-door” topic among colleagues. It is time to throw open the doors and speak freely. Library workers should feel comfortable negotiating, have access to evidence-based training, and openly share strategies and experiences with others in the field without fear of retaliation or shaming. We hope that more and better training, increased transparency with the sharing of experiences and with compensation information, will facilitate greater frequency of negotiation and increased self-advocacy in the hiring and promotion process, in a manner that complements and augments the gains to be won through union organizing and collective bargaining. Ultimately, we hope this will facilitate a larger cultural shift in libraries that shatters the well-worn trope that library workers do not and should not care about getting paid, and replaces it with a shared vision of library workers with individual and collective agency that expect and ask for more.
The authors would like to thank the many survey and interview participants for sharing their experiences and feedback, Curtis Lyons and Claire Stewart for funding the transcription of interviews, Ian Beilin and Leo Lo for their thorough and thoughtful review, and Sofia Leung for guiding the article to completion.
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Appendix A. Selected Survey Questions
- Are you currently employed in a library?
- Yes, full-time (permanent)
- Yes, full-time (temporary or contract)
- Yes, part-time (permanent)
- Yes, part-time (temporary or contract)
- What type of library do you work for?
- Public library
- Academic library (postsecondary)
- School library (K-12)
- Special library
- Are you a member of, or represented by, a labor union?
- I don’t know or I’m not sure
- Did you negotiate salary or compensation for your most recent position?
- What compensation elements did you negotiate for? (Check all that apply)
- Step or rank
- Benefits for self or family (examples include medical/dental coverage, retirement contributions, disability or life insurance, flexible or health spending accounts)
- Housing or relocation assistance
- Scheduling (examples include flexible scheduling, a specific schedule, or telecommuting)
- Time off or leave (examples include vacation or family leave, or paid time off)
- Professional development (examples include time off or funding for conference attendance or classes/coursework, subsidy of professional memberships)
- I don’t remember
- Other ________________________________________________
- Outcome (check all that apply)
- Increase in initial salary offered
- Increase or improvement in total package offered
- No change in initial offer
- Threat to rescind offer
- Offer rescinded
- If you negotiated, what information informed your strategy? (check all that apply)
- Previous salary
- Previous work experience or education
- Consulted publicly-available salary data
- Negotiation advice or literature
- Negotiation training
- Mentor, colleague, or supervisor advice
- I’m not sure
- Other ________________________________________________
Appendix B. Selected Interview Questions
- Tell me about your experiences negotiating salary or compensation in libraries.
- Where did you learn how to negotiate?
- Where did you seek/find advice?
- Is there a person or program that you wish had advised you on negotiation?
- What would help you to negotiate in the future?
- What would help you [be better, have better outcome, etc.]?
Appendix C. Interview Codes*
|Data||Includes all forms of data, such as institutional data, occupational data, cost of living data, salary data|
|Disposition||Attributing negotiation skill or talent as innate to one’s disposition, personality, or innate talent|
|Ed: LIS||Library school or LIS program|
|Information sharing||Sharing data, information or experiences about positions, employers, or negotiations, between people or a community of practice|
|Job market||Discussion of the relative strength or weakness of the LIS market for employment, in relation to an individual’s leverage within negotiations|
|Job postings||Employment advertisements that may include position descriptions and salary information|
|Leverage||An individual negotiator’s strength or position within the negotiation process, in relation to their skillset, marketability, and the desirability of the employer’s offer|
|Literature (books, articles, online)||Books, articles, or online resources (LIS or non-LIS)|
|Mentor or professor or supervisor (current or former)||An experienced, non-peer advice provider within a field, workplace, or educational program. Not a friend or family member.|
|Negotiation process||Indicating an element or the dynamics of the back-and-forth process of negotiating salary in an individual employment context|
|No/None||No answer or response|
|Ed:non-LIS||Non-LIS training or educational program|
|On the job experience||Indicating experience derived in a former position (LIS and non-LIS), encompassing any element of negotiation as an employee, employer, or in representing the library in vendor relations|
|Peer||Friends or colleagues, of equal or similar status in the workplace or the field|
|Practice||Referring to repeated or cumulative experience in negotiation, as well as mock negotiation exercises|
|Professional association||Referring to a formal professional association, LIS or non-LIS|
|Signal scope||Verbal or non-verbal communication from the other party that indicates the allowable scope of negotiation|
|Spouse/family||Encompassing family or relatives|
|Training||Formal educational experience, outside or beyond a degree program|
|Union||Labor or trade union|
|Learn||Where learned to negotiate|
|Seek/Find||Where sought/found advice on negotiation|
|Wish||Person or organization they wished had advised them on negotiation|
|HelpNeg||What would help you negotiate|
|HelpBet||What would help you be better|
*Question codes were applied to interview text to uncover themes across question responses.
- Examples in LIS literature include Dalby (2006) and Kolb and Schaffner (2001). We received multiple direct communications when recruiting for a survey of librarians on salary negotiation, insisting that librarians could not negotiate, and observed these sentiments repeatedly as individuals in the field and in leading related committees and programming within ALA. [↩]
- ALA has expanded programming, offering AAUW Start Smart trainings as part of the Placement Center. Through the Start Smart and Work Smart initiative, AAUW has committed to train ten million women to negotiate salaries by 2022, with the goal of closing the wage gap. (“Work Smart Aims to Train 10 Million in Salary Negotiation by 2022,” 2018 [↩]
- Studies relying on survey and interview methodologies often focus on communities of commonality, such as women university administrators (Compton and Bierlein Palmer, 2009) or school psychology staff (Crothers et al., 2010 a,b), MBA graduates (Curhan et al, 2009), newly hired employees (Marks and Harold, 2011), and recent college graduates (O’Shea and Bush, 2002). [↩]
- Most training literature evaluates the efficacy of various methods on in-person negotiation scenarios. In recognizing the challenges inherent to electronic negotiation (missing voice tone, body language or other nonverbal cues), researchers have developed automated training modules to augment traditional in-person negotiation training methods (Melzer, Reiser, & Schoop, 2012). However, further research is needed to determine the impact of this training delivery method on negotiation outcomes. [↩]
- In both phases of the research, measures were taken to ensure participants’ anonymity. These procedures were approved by the University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board for the protection of human subjects in research on October 29, 2015 and the Cornell University Institutional Review Board for Human Participants on November 9, 2015. [↩]
- As reported in Farrell and Geraci 2017, we were contacted by multiple individuals during the data collection phase, claiming that it was impossible to negotiate in libraries. [↩]
- For the purpose of this article, we will use union membership and representation interchangeably, despite the difference in meaning. [↩]
- American Library Association-Allied Professional Association, American Association of Law Libraries, and Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries. [↩]
- “Ask” is a term commonly used in negotiation training and literature to describe the requests or demands of a party during the negotiation process. We intentionally use “ask” to describe a current or prospective employee’s requests or demands during the hiring process, as it allows us to consistently use a neutral descriptive term that sidesteps judgment or framing activities or affect that we have not actually observed. [↩]
- Study findings indicated a lower rate (53%) than Lo and Reed’s rate of 68%, but surveyed a larger population. [↩]
- We see overlap across the two groups in negotiating across an up-or-out academic rank system as well as a collectively negotiated compensation structure that ties pay to rank and seniority. [↩]
- Informally, we can say that through our organizational work and event facilitation experience, we have heard that library employers are reluctant to participate in formal salary surveys, that association job list administrators have difficulty requiring organizations to post salaries, that managers and supervisors would like to post jobs with salary ranges but that their institutions will not let them, but that alternately, that posting ranges reduces their “flexibility” in hiring. [↩]
- As per Nadler et. al (2003), practice is best accompanied by analogical and didactive elements, to provide a theoretical and comparative foundation to augment otherwise decontextualized role-playing or observation. [↩]
- As per Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2010; Collela et al., 2007; Day, 2012, pay secrecy negatively impacts employee performance and perceptions of fairness and justice within an organization. [↩]