Service Ceiling: The High Cost of Professional Development for Academic Librarians
By Bridgette Comanda, Jaci Wilkinson, Faith Bradham, Amanda Koziura, and Maura Seale
Academic librarian salaries are shrinking, but conferences and professional membership fees are increasing. How is this impacting our field and our colleagues? During early 2020, we fielded a national survey of academic librarians about their professional development and service costs that gathered over 600 responses. The results of this survey reveal the inequitable landscape of professional development funding for academic librarians in the United States prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has likely served to exacerbate those inequities. In this paper, we describe the results of the survey, and the various inequities the survey responses reveal. We illustrate how the cost of professional development and service is a “service ceiling”, a barrier to inclusion for many in our field, and the implications of this exclusion.
The members of this research team are all academic librarians in a wide range of roles. We are all white women. This scholarship is a strategic act to leverage our privilege as white women to reveal and challenge the stark racial and economic inequities in librarianship, specifically those around professional development and service. We take to heart Megan Watson’s (2017) argument that white women librarians have the opportunity and obligation to examine both whiteness in librarianship and our complicity in maintaining and reproducing it. She calls for white librarians to “unflinchingly deconstruct the inequitable foundations upon which our work is built. In short, we must transform our culture, not simply our demographics, if we wish to become truly inclusive organizations” (159). In this spirit, we aim to open the dialogue about financial realities and how they shape our field through the group we founded; Librarians for Equitable Professional Development (LEPD). For more information about LEPD, including salary disclosures, please visit the Librarians for Equitable Professional Development website.
Gathered around a display case at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, drinking complementary alcohol, the Association of College & Research Libraries’s (ACRL) 2019 All-Conference Reception struck us as…over the top. We had each spent over $1,000 to attend, but mused that much of ACRL felt bloated, generic, and irrelevant to us despite its reputation as the most important conference in academic librarianship. We felt, and still feel, obligated to attend and to submit to present at ACRL. The counterweight to this professional obligation? Low salaries and hefty student loan payments. Did anyone else feel this financial strain and professional pressure to attend the biggest, and most expensive, conferences in our field?
Two months later, we received a very public “yes” to that question as an anonymous Open Letter about Financial Inequalities at Academic Conferences circulated widely on social media. In it, the writer censures the decision by library conferences to not waive registration fees for presenters. They write, “by ‘saving’ money in not reducing or waiving conference fees for presenters, presenting and attendance at the conference is only for those peers who can afford it” (Anonymous, 2019). Financial inequities of salary or institutional benefits cut our field off from new ideas and reinforce lines of exclusion. Besides creating this “service ceiling”, no remuneration for the labor of creating presentations or chairing committees is, as the anonymous writer (2019) puts it, “a purely loathsome sentiment” that devalues the labor and scholarship of academic librarians.
The American Library Association, of which ACRL is a division, is the parent organization to the largest and most expensive conferences and provides access to much service work in academic librarianship, yet there is a distinct lack of meaningful analysis and reflection, internally or externally, about the cost of these activities and how it impacts academic librarians and librarianship. Professional development and service are frequently tied to promotion and tenure, leading us to ask: how much does it cost, out-of-pocket, for a faculty librarian to gain tenure and promotion? For an academic librarian who is not classified as faculty (and thus whose institution might not necessarily provide support), what impact does this high price tag to participation in professional development and service have? And finally, if presenting at and attending the premiere professional development opportunities in our field is increasingly out of reach due to a high price tag, whose voices are left out of the conversation? To answer these questions, we formed Librarians for Equitable Professional Development, an informal organization dedicated to the study and advocacy of more equitable professional development in libraries.
From February-May 2020, we conducted a survey that asked academic librarians in the United States to share how much they spend on service and professional development, and if/how their institutions pay for these obligations. We received 626 responses. Using descriptive and qualitative analysis, we’ve compiled a snapshot into how academic librarians think and make decisions about service and professional development activities, as well as what sort of financial support they receive from their institutions. While the survey was open, COVID-19 grew into a global pandemic. As higher education grapples with the impact of COVID-19 on budgets, we feel that this survey will provide a meaningful look into the “pre-pandemic” professional development and service financial landscape for academic librarians. We acknowledge that as COVID-19 pandemic-related budget shortfalls loom (if they aren’t already affecting us), the conversation around affordability in professional development and service will become even more relevant.
The (lack of) research on financial inequity in academic librarianship
We begin by exploring the limited research on our topic, and then examine salary, student loan debt, and the cost of professional association memberships and conferences to provide context to our analysis. We then look more broadly at how academia’s investment in white supremacy, capitalism and the patriarchy reinforces silence around affordability and financial equity in academic librarianship. This is made evident by the lack of scholarship, conversation, and transparency around the financial realities of professional development.
Although there is much research around the status and professional identities of academic librarians, there is little work on financial inequities in academic librarians’ professional development. We self-published our own analysis of the change in conference and membership costs related to ALA and ACRL from 1999-2020; results show during a period when academic librarian wages were stagnant, some conferences have raised prices significantly (Wilkinson, et al. 2021). Mr. Library Dude wrote several extensively researched, and entertainingly irritated, blog posts in 2015 about ALA membership costs (Hardenbrook, 2015). Blessinger and Kelly (2011) considered the effect of the 2008 recession on funding for professional development for tenure track librarians at Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member libraries, and found that they experienced a reduction in funding for professional development but no corresponding decrease in tenure requirements. Smigielski, Laning, and Daniels (2014) found that professional development funding played a role in the promotion and tenure of ARL librarians, but did not investigate levels of funding. The most detailed research we found, Vilz and Dahl Poremski (2015), investigated support structures for tenure including professional development funding for tenure track librarians broadly, and found that while 97% received at least some funding for various activities, only 48% were satisfied with the amount. The authors do note, however, that with low levels of funding, “tenure criteria are essentially an unfunded de facto mandate” (p. 162). ALA’s “Guidelines for Appointment, Promotion, and Tenure of Academic Librarians” (2010) includes the need for professional development, while the ALA-APA Advocating For Better Salaries Toolkit (Dorning et al., 2014) suggests advocating for faculty status, but neither identify a need for financial support for professional development. Not all academic librarians have faculty status or opportunities for promotion, however, and might not have explicit professional development and service expectations. Leebaw and Logsdon (2020)’s recent survey found that 60% of academic librarians identified as “faculty or faculty-like.” Moreover, faculty status for librarians is declining (Walters, 2016). Finally, we note that understandings of “professionalism” within librarianship are inextricably connected to socioeconomics, but this topic is outside the scope of this essay.
The economics of becoming an academic librarian, briefly
At $64,750, the median yearly salaries for academic librarians are greater than for other categories of librarians (Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 2020c), and salaries have remained static when accounting for inflation over the past twenty years. However, related macroeconomic factors weigh heavily on librarians who have graduated in the past twenty years. Graduate student debt has increased dramatically since 2000; then, graduate degree seekers borrowed an average of $27,800. In 2016, the average amount increased to $37,270 (Webber & Burns, 2020). Graduate students also may have cumulative debt from their undergraduate education (Webber & Burns, 2020). And the cost of gaining an undergraduate degree has also increased: the published in-state tuition and fee price at the average public four-year institution has increased 278% in the past thirty years; at private nonprofit four-year and public two-year institutions, average tuition and fees have doubled (Ma et al.,2020). The 2017 Student Loan Debt and Housing Report found that the median total debt for borrowers between the ages of 22-35 was $41,200. In a 2016 study of librarians, 30.6% had over $25,000 of library school debt, and 52.7% from that group had received no financial aid (Halperin, 2018). Beginning librarians with an MLS working in an academic library made an average salary of $53,953 in 2019; in 2006 (the earliest data available from the ALA-APA salary database) librarians in the same category made $40,761, or $52,625 in 2019 dollars (ALA, 2020a). Current salaries have kept up with inflation, but have grown only marginally. This means a third of academic librarians begin their careers with debt the equivalent of half or more of their annual salary. The debt associated with obtaining the required degrees has risen over recent years, but salaries have not kept pace.
The economics of white supremacy
The persistence of whiteness in librarianship has been a source of concern for LIS scholars for decades (see, for example, this extensive and ever-expanding bibliography (Strand, 2019)). The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) data describe the librarian workforce as 79.9% women and 87.8% white. Black people represent between 6-10%, Asian Americans 3-5%, and Latinx 9.8-10% of library workers, depending on the data source (Department for Professional Employees, 2020; Household Data National Averages, 2019). ALA’s most recent demographic data from 2012 reveals that academic librarianship is also overwhelmingly white, (ALA 2020b).
There is no data that breaks down academic librarianship salaries by race and gender but wage and net worth gaps between people who identify as white, Black, and Latinx in the United States are well documented and intersectional (Parker et al., 2016). Current median weekly earnings for white women, regardless of occupation, are 81.5% of those of white men (BLS, 2019). Black women earn 69.9 cents and Latinas earn 63.8 cents on the dollar compared to white men (BLS, 2019). Jennifer Vinopal has argued that these gaps are crucial: “the library staffing pipeline is rooted in the discrepancies in socioeconomic status based on race and ethnicity, discrepancies which are inherited generationally” (2016). Although academic librarians are likely to have one or more graduate degrees, educational attainment does not guarantee upward mobility for Black people and “the benefits of schooling often flow in unequal measure to Blacks relative to whites” (Parker et al., 2016). Black and Latinx people are more likely to have to borrow money to pursue graduate education (Webber & Burns, 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated racial inequities in the workplace; data shows Black and Latinx people are more likely to have experienced loss of employment or a wage cut due to COVID-19 (Parker et al., 2020). Academic librarians experience rising student loan debt and stagnant salaries, but for systematically marginalized library workers, this is compounded by these broader financial inequities, which impact their ability to not only participate in the development of LIS, but also their ability to enter it in the first place.
The intersection of economic inequities, race, and vocational awe
Academic librarianship does not sit outside of the social inequities mentioned above, but academic librarians frequently refuse to acknowledge them. This is reflected in the lack of salary information in job postings, the precarious “diversity” residency, the lack of meaningful salary data by race, and the absence of both data and research around funding for professional development in academic libraries. These gaps can be tied directly to the interlocking influences of vocational awe and white supremacy in academic librarianship. Jones and Okun (2001) identify “Fear of Open Conflict,” “Individualism,” and “Right to Comfort” as characteristics of organizational white supremacy. Organizational white supremacy scorns any critique of the status quo as complaint, but particularly that which is expressed by workers from marginalized groups, and shuts down open conflict, in order to preserve the comfort of the powerful, while promoting competition among staff. Promoting competition among workers fosters distrust (often especially toward marginalized workers) and makes it difficult for workers to challenge inequities. Drawing on the work of Diane Gusa, Nataraj, Hampton, Matlin, and Meulemans (2020) identify “white institutional presence” in common academic library practices and norms, including, we suggest, silence regarding economic inequities in the workplace. Vocational awe, as theorized by Ettarh (2018), similarly leads librarians to avoid conflict by turning work into a calling and obfuscating issues of low salaries and burnout. Vocational awe binds librarians to “absolute obedience to a prescribed set of rules and behaviors, regardless of any negative effect on librarians’ own lives” (Ettarh, 2018) and is foundational to the profession (Nataraj et al., 2020; Stahl, 2020). Drawing on Victor Ray’s (2019) work, which argues that organizations are inherently racialized, Jennifer Ferretti (2020) has recently articulated the need to bring the insights of critical librarianship to bear on the power dynamics, culture, and organizational structures of our workplaces. Economic transparency, she argues, is a key element of more equitable and antiracist workplaces.
In her 1984 book Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde uses the academic conference as the exemplar of privilege. White women fought for the right to be included in these gatherings while ignoring intersectional factors that left out women of color: “If white American feminist theory need not deal with the differences between us, and the resulting difference in our oppressions, then how do you deal with the fact that the women who clean your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor women and women of color?” ( 2007, p. 112) A similar lack of understanding plagues academic librarianship. Intertwining inequalities work together to create a powerful barrier that blocks marginalized groups from becoming or advancing in their careers as academic librarians, a few of which we’ve highlighted in this literature review. The high price to participate in professional organizations and attend conferences, the scarcity of adequately funded professional positions (tenured or not), the pay gap between white men and all others experienced across all types of work in the United States, and the expense of obtaining graduate degrees cumulate to form a significant negative financial impact for academic librarians from systematically marginalized communities. This paper seeks to begin a conversation about financial barriers to academic librarians’ participation in professional development and service. With this focus, we hope to begin to explicate how these financial barriers serve as gatekeepers for a majority white and largely homogeneous field.
Our survey sought information about academic librarians in the United States: their participation in professional development and service, the level of institutional support they received, and what barriers to participating they had encountered. The survey asked respondents to focus on the past five years at their current institution and was approved by the Indiana University Institutional Review Board (Protocol # 2001988850). The complete survey is available in Appendix A.
We primarily recruited participants through email and social media. We posted the recruitment letter and a link to the survey via email within relevant, national professional organizations and interest group listservs. Additionally, the researchers recruited participants via their personal social media and groups specific to librarianship. The survey sample was not meant to be a representative sample of academic librarians in the United States but was rather a convenience sample, and through social media, a snowball sample as the link was shared and retweeted. By focusing on recruitment through organizational listservs, recruited participants are likely to be active in professional development and service, which is the focus of the survey. However, there were some pitfalls in our recruitment strategy. We were limited to distributing our survey to listservs to which we had access, which meant that the listservs we focused on were more heavily related to certain subgroups of academic librarians. As all of us are white, middle-class women; we are not members of any spaces for marginalized groups within librarianship, and we did not intentionally distribute our survey to these spaces (with the caveat that our Tweets about the survey may have been shared within such spaces). However, this limitation is not an excuse for not working harder to reach marginalized groups within librarianship with our survey. We do not recommend this approach to recruitment. For future projects, we will use an equity lens in our recruitment process and pursue the intentional inclusion of the experiences of marginalized groups. We also plan to broaden the perspective of our research group as a whole through the addition of new member(s) who identify as marginalized.
The survey included three optional open-ended questions. Using an inductive and grounded theory approach, two researchers read through the responses to each of the three questions and engaged in initial coding of the responses. The two researchers then discussed, refined, and created definitions, resulting in a codebook for each question. The two researchers then returned to the questions and selectively coded each response; each response could have between one and three codes, and codes were generally applied in the order they appeared in the responses. A few responses were not coded, because they were unclear or seemed to be responses to a different question. We used SPSS to check inter-rater reliability on the codes, and most were in substantial agreement (see Appendix B). Our analysis relies on primary codes and secondary codes if they are in substantial agreement. Because responses could receive multiple codes, our analysis will discuss response codes rather than number (or percentage) of respondents.
The total number of survey respondents was 626. 80% of our respondents identified as women, and 85% as white, which corresponds nearly exactly to the gender and racial breakdown for librarians as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Household Data National Averages, 2019). Of the 15% of respondents who did not identify as white, 1.7% were Black, 3.8% were Asian American, 5.3% were Latinx. American Indian/Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander each constituted less than a percentage point of our respondents. Respondents were then asked a series of questions about their institution and role. Most respondents were at large, urban, public research institutions, about half were early career librarians, and about half supervise others. In addition, 40% of respondents were classified as tenure-track faculty, 23% were non-tenure track faculty, and 28% were classified as staff. 61% of respondents work at institutions with a promotion system for librarians, and of those, 89% stated that their promotion was contingent on professional development or service (Figure A).
Is librarian promotion contingent upon professional development or service?
We asked participants to disclose the amount of funding received per year for professional development and service. 6% of participants received no institutional funding, 13% received less than $500, 61% received $500-$2000, and 20% received over $2000 per year. When receiving funding, 27% are reimbursed by their institutions following the event, while 64% receive a combination of pre-payment in advance by their institution and reimbursement.
To get a sense of what costs are covered, we asked respondents to report how frequently their institutions defrayed some portion of the costs for common expenses (Table A). Notably, 76% of respondents said that their institutions never cover the cost of association membership dues, while 15% reported sometimes, and only 8% reported that they were covered. 66% of respondents said that their institutions always defrayed conference registration and 33% reported that registration costs were sometimes defrayed.
What costs does your institutional funding defray?
|Conference registration||67% (371)||33% (186)||0.2% (1)||558|
|Training/workshop/webinar (in-person or virtual)||47% (260)||50% (275)||3% (17)||552|
|Professional organization membership dues||8% (46)||15% (84)||76% (419)||549|
|Travel||54% (299)||46% (254)||0.5% (3)||556|
|Accommodations||54% (300)||45% (253)||0.7% (4)||557|
|Meals||40% (224)||52% (289)||8% (42)||555|
|Other||27% (12)||47% (21)||27% (12)||45|
Nearly 38% of our participants reported that they face barriers in accessing their institutional funding (Figure B). A full 81% have self-funded professional development or service within the past 5 years (Figure C). Of these, 84% have spent up to $1000 on self-funding, while 14% have self-funded over $1000. Interestingly, women were more likely to report self-funding than men: 84% of women versus 72% of men. Finally, 86% of our respondents stated that they have abstained from professional development and service opportunities due to the cost (Figure D).
Funding by Position, Institution Type, and Institution Size
Our survey included three options for position type: staff, non-tenure-track faculty, and tenure-track faculty. As seen in Table B, 9.1% of staff receive no funding for professional development and service, which is about double the number of faculty-status librarians with no funding. 38.7% of tenure-track faculty receive $1000 or less.
How much funding do you receive per year from your institution? (Position)
We grouped institutions into four categories: 4-year undergraduate colleges, community colleges, comprehensive colleges (undergraduate and master’s programs), and research universities. 14.6% of community college librarians receive no funding, while 5.3% of comprehensive college and 4.2% of research university librarians receive no funding; the overall percentage of respondents receiving no funding is 6% (Table C). Community college librarians receive the least funding overall, with 61.8% of community college librarians receiving $1000 or less per year from their institution. In contrast, 66.2% of research university librarians receive $1001-$3000 in funding per year, with an additional 10.4% of these receiving over $3000 per year.
How much funding do you receive per year from your institution? (Institution Type)
|4 Year Undergraduate College||0%||20%||21%||39%||18%||2%|
Our survey asked participants to categorize their institution as large, medium, small, or very small, according to the Carnegie classification for higher education (n.d.). There were too few responses in the “very small” category to ensure anonymity, so those numbers are not reported here. However, as seen in Table D, librarians at large and medium institutions received more funding than those at small institutions. 54.3% of librarians at small institutions receive $1000 or less annually, compared to 26.1% at large and 23.9% at medium institutions who receive $1000 or less.
How much funding do you receive per year from your institution? (Institution size)
These numbers are similar when looking at self-funding. 80.8% of all respondents reported self-funding occasionally, with an additional 1.9% responsible for self-funding all of professional development (for a total of 82.7% respondents funding some or all of their professional development). Table E breaks this down by institution type. 93% of librarians at 4 year undergraduate colleges either self-fund occasionally or entirely, followed by 85.1% at community colleges, 83.6% at comprehensives, and 81.3% at research universities. Nearly 8% of community college librarians are entirely or mostly self-funded, compared to 1.9% of all respondents.
Have you ever had to self-fund? (Institution type)
|4 Year Undergraduate College||91%||2%||7%|
The first open-ended question was a follow up to the survey question, “How is funding made available to you by your institution?” If respondents answered “It depends,” we asked them to use the text box to explain further. Many respondents clarified in the text box that despite having a set amount each year, they still had to apply for funding. The most common codes we assigned to this question are in Table F, which includes our definitions and representative responses. The coding for this question includes both primary and secondary codes, both of which were in substantial agreement.
|Code||Codebook Definition||Representative Response|
|Admin decides||Library administration determines whether or not to fund something.||“My dean provides a set amount to each librarian that changes wildly from year to year and isn’t based on rank or the individual opportunities”|
|Amount based||The library funds a set amount of the request based on costs, role (e.g. presenter v. attendee), job description, rank, tenure status, performance evaluation, etc.||“Amount varies depending on requirements to participate (such as committee membership), presentations, applicability to essential job functions–all at the discretion of the dean.”|
|Set amount determined annually||A set amount of money determined annually regardless of process. This can include annual caps amounts based on annual projected needs. This often requires an application and/or approval process.||“I receive a set amount every year, but can submit requests for funding for individual opportunities if particular things come up that would put me over my set amount.”|
|Ad hoc additional funds||When people are granted amounts of money on a case by case basis beyond their usual yearly allotment. This often includes an application process for approval.||“Set amount budgeted every year, with extra absorbed into general library budget if individual librarians don’t use. Also options to seek extra funding if we can justify it is good for our library to be represented at an event.”|
While policies for accessing funding are varied, most response codes (69%) described their institution as having an annual set amount earmarked for professional development by the department or library that may have to be applied for. Some said the amount was inconsistent from year to year, or was such a low amount that it did not meaningfully contribute. Almost 10% of the response codes reported that their administration decided whether or not to fund on a case-by-case basis. Some respondents who described an annually set amount included that additional funds beyond this amount were available on an ad hoc basis. Amount-based and percentage-based funding policies were mentioned by some participants, where the amount or percentage funded was determined by the type of cost (50% of lodging might be covered, e.g, or the role of the staff member requesting (presenting at a conference would receive more funding, e.g.).
Barriers to Funding
We also asked: “Please describe any barriers that prevent you from accessing institutional funding for professional development or service activities.” The most common primary codes were:
|Code||Codebook Definition||Representative Response|
|Austerity||Not enough money overall, if there is any at all. This can include campus austerity measures and rotating who is eligible for funding at any one time.||“Limited budget. I am one of six new library faculty (some positions are new) and it seems that the budget for PD has not increased accordingly.”|
|Low funding||Limits on the amount of money provided that often preclude all but the least expensive offerings from being fully covered. These include low funding caps.||“If the event goes a single penny over we are required to pay for it out of pocket. It means that not everything gets covered and we have to often pay for things out of pocket. I have to pay out of pocket for something I’m required to go to, to keep my job. It’s insane.”|
|Reimbursement||Can be hard to cover funds upfront. Reimbursement processes are lengthy (to the point to accumulating interest on credit cards), difficult, delayed, or otherwise burdensome. Reimbursement systems are hard to use and not flexible.||“Our state reimbursement process is ludicrous. Up until last year, we were required to submit itemized receipts for every single meal. Hotels *must* be the conference hotel or you can’t go over the state rate — even if the hotel you are choosing is cheaper than conference hotel. I use my funds for membership dues, conference registration fees, and plane tickets. And for that last, I’ve had to write paragraphs explaining why I won’t take a flight with a connection that will put me in transit for 12 hours when a direct flight costing $25 more will get me there in 3. I just pay for food/hotel myself.”|
|Unclear, inconsistent, burdensome logistics||Includes opaque, inconsistent, or burdensome processes, unclear, inconsistent, or burdensome criteria, general lack of transparency, lack of financial office/personnel, and general difficulty in applying and/or getting approval.||“The largest barrier is the lack of transparency. On any [sic] given year we don’t know how much money will be granted or available and it is often disbursed somewhat arbitrarily, or at least that’s how it feels since the librarians are left out of the process entirely. Some librarians don’t apply for funding because they don’t think it’s worth their time given how it’s distributed.”|
Unclear, inconsistent, and burdensome logistics for accessing funding was the most frequently cited barrier. 18% of response codes identified austerity-related barriers, meaning that there was little to no funding available, while other respondents reported low caps on funding. Reimbursement issues, such as an inability to pay for costs upfront and lengthy reimbursement processes after, also appeared as barriers. Finally, some of our respondents stated that their position itself was a barrier to accessing funding, with their institutions funding some but not others, as one respondent described: “The funding isn’t equitable across departments; our department is told we’ll be reimbursed for one national conference per fiscal year, while others have no such restrictions. Still, if you ask the right person and they’re in a good mood, they might approve your travel for a second conference.” Some respondents said that funding was claimed too quickly for them to access it. Other barriers to accessing funding brought up by our respondents included internal and external competition for funding; lack of staffing for coverage; and internal inequities within the library.
Lost Opportunities and Missing Voices
The final open-ended question asked respondents to “Please describe the types of professional development and service opportunities you’ve chosen not to pursue due to their cost.” Many respondents gave specific examples of conferences, organizational memberships, and learning opportunities that they had not pursued. The most common codes were:
|Code||Codebook Definition||Representative Response|
|Attending conferences||Includes international conferences, distant/national, not local conferences, and multiple conferences in one year.||“A lot of my conferences I like to attend happen every other year or less frequently than that. Sometimes, all of these conferences fall in the same fiscal year. To make these more affordable for me, I can’t attend three conferences that require flights and hotels. I avoid most ALA and ACRL committees because I can’t afford to attend every year/every conference.”|
|Memberships||Paid memberships in professional organizations, both within librarianship and outside||“Also, I have chosen to not join national professional associations as the yearly dues are also a little more than my budget can handle right now.”|
|Online learning||Webinars, online courses, certificates, seminars, continuing education||“Courses, webinars, seminars, conferences basically anything that costs more than $50.”|
|Training||Vendor trainings, technical training, bootcamps, workshops||“I chose not to pursue attending the national user group conference for our ILS (part of my job is to support this system). I chose not to attend any training beyond that which is free from vendors. I chose not to pursue training related to our ILS, which would have aided in implementing new system features.”|
When asked to describe opportunities they’ve chosen to not pursue due to costs, our respondents frequently reported foregoing conferences at the national, international, and, for some, even at the local level. Leadership and training institutes, such as ACRL’s Immersion Program and association memberships were also named as opportunities not taken by our participants. Twenty-seven respondents walked away from presentation opportunities due to the costs involved, even after their proposals had been accepted or they’d received a scholarship or award. As one respondent described, “I was selected to attend as a scholarship recipient and because the hotel and flight were outside of my price range, I was unable to attend… I would love to be a member of more organizations but I physically can’t be.” Service and leadership opportunities were also foregone by some respondents due to cost.
In many cases, academic librarians who wish to retain their jobs cannot choose whether or not to engage in professional development and service. 89% of survey respondents said promotion was based in some part on it, but their participation is not supported. 85% have at some point chosen not to pursue a professional development opportunity due to cost. In this section, we consider the implications of the high cost of academic librarians’ professional development. In her essay on critical approaches to quantitative research, Selinda Berg (2018) suggests that we also examine the outliers, underrepresented, and statistical minorities in order to develop a more holistic understanding. We agree emphatically with Berg when she states that “outliers are no less important despite their smaller numbers” (p. 231). Although some of the responses referenced here were not representative, we wish to draw attention to them, as they reflect broader societal inequities.
While ALA membership fees have remained stagnant over the past twenty years (Wilkinson et al., 2021), data from our survey leads us to believe that affording membership fees is difficult for some academic librarians. 76% of respondents reported that their funding could not be used to pay membership fees; perhaps not coincidentally, ALA membership has dropped 11% in the past decade. One survey respondent wrote that they had given up their ALA membership:
“Since my institution doesn’t cover membership costs, I would have to pay my own dues…The tiers, the additional costs for interest groups, then paying even more for access to professional development resources, the costs simply aren’t worth the return.”
Members also receive lower conference registration rates, and while registration rates for ACRL haven’t increased more than inflation over the past 20 years, registration for ALA conferences have (ALA Annual’s cost has increased 30% and ALA Midwinter 40%) (Wilkinson et al., 2021). Survey respondents often talked about their inability to attend major conferences, which affected their decision to pursue professional service:
“I elected to not pursue higher level service within ACRL to avoid having to attend ALA… I can’t save for retirement, pay off my student loans, and defray my medical expenses and spend a lot of time or money to engage beyond what I do now.”
Other respondents directly connected their inability to pay for professional opportunities with other economic stressors in their lives, such as a high cost of living (notably, the presence of academic institutions often directly affects the cost of housing; see this chart for selected librarian salaries and cost of living):
“The main barrier is that there is no institutional funding for faculty, except through grants that won’t cover librarian-specific professional development (but may cover sending a cohort to a particular conference focused on teaching, for example)… Given the very high cost of living in my area, I have decided that I simply cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars of my own money traveling to conferences such as ALA, ACRL, or even the CARL conference in California anymore. Instead, beginning this year, I’ve decided to rely on free online webinars.”
The cost to attend a conference extends beyond registration. One respondent described barriers related to travel “The primary barrier is travel costs – coming from a rural college, the closest airports are 2 hours away, and most destinations require more than one flight to transfer. This typically requires an additional travel day with an additional night of lodging.” Additionally, many ancillary costs, such as gas and lodging, have risen in the past twenty years (Wilkinson et al., 2021). Hidden costs exist for librarians with physical disabilities attending in-person conferences. One survey respondent explained, “I have a disability which sometimes requires that I pay for things like rental mobility devices (if not supplied by the conference), or more expensive transportation options. These extra costs are not accounted for so sometimes I have to skip opportunities because the out of pocket costs would be too much for me to eat.” Women are more likely than men to be unpaid primary caregivers (CDC, 2018) and family care was mentioned multiple times as an additional cost: “Given my salary and my family obligations, I cannot afford anything more than a couple hours from home, and I cannot stay overnight ever. So if it isn’t local, I don’t go.” Financial norms around professional development assume a certain type of academic librarian: middle-class or wealthy, abled, without caregiving responsibilities, partnered or married, and living in an easily accessible metro area. Given the systemic financial inequities experienced by library workers from the marginalized groups we described earlier, we suggest that these norms also assume white librarians.
Laborious, complicated, or opaque practices and policies to obtain funding or reimbursement was a key theme in our survey results. These opaque processes are part and parcel of a system that privileges and reinforces white, middle-class values, as A. S. Galvan (2015) points out. This creates a closed and biased system in which funding is reserved for those who know how to navigate these processes — namely, those who are white and financially secure — and shuts out everyone else. It is essentially the hidden curriculum of academic bureaucracy. One respondent explains:
“We have a percentage-based reimbursement model (e.g., 30% of conference registration covered) that is applied inconsistently and capriciously across staff. The overall effect is discouraging…”
Another describes how reimbursement after the event acts as a barrier:
“The mental gymnastics of planning is a barrier. It’s difficult to plan conference/event expenses when I most [sic] expenses will not be reimbursed until AFTER the conference/event. I try to save money by booking accommodations and travel in advance, but often times [sic] this means I am on the hook for interest accrued on my credit card for 2-3 months…”
The practice of reimbursement instead of direct payment emerged as a key barrier in our survey. Only 9% reported that their institution paid all costs up front. For the remaining 91%, this means possibly accruing credit card interest, yet another cost and burdensome for librarians experiencing financial precarity. This model also assumes an open line of credit or extra cash on hand. But this isn’t the case for all academic librarians: “I do not have a credit card that can float thousands of dollars at a time while I wait to be reimbursed. I have been told to get a credit card or ask family for money to pay for professional development opportunities.” Macroeconomic factors such as student loan debt and the racialized and gendered financial inequities that pervade U.S. society also affect academic librarians. But our policies and systems around professional development and service fail to acknowledge this, instead assuming an ideal academic librarian that doesn’t exist.
Ultimately, our survey and subsequent analysis found that levels of institutional support are often insufficient when coupled with the economic constraints faced by many academic librarians. This is often a formidable obstacle for those who need or want to participate in professional development and service, particularly early-career librarians or those facing a tenure/promotion process. COVID-19 is already affecting academic libraries, as budgets are preemptively cut to address revenue loss and anticipated enrollment drops (Friga, 2020) and will likely exacerbate the inequities we’ve described.
Gaps and Next Steps
This paper relies on descriptive statistics and qualitative coding, as we experienced some issues in accessing SPSS remotely during the pandemic; a next step might include a more complex statistical analysis. We also hoped to be able to analyze the survey results through the lens of racial equity, but realized that we did not have enough data from librarians of marginalized groups to draw meaningful conclusions without compromising the anonymity of the respondents, although our survey sample is representative of the profession in terms of race and gender (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). We do feel this question is incredibly important, however, and hope to work with librarian colleagues from marginalized groups in the future.
“I find it really ironic and disheartening that a profession so supposedly devoted to equality enforces such financially restrictive and exclusionary practices. Attending expensive conferences all but insures [sic] greater recognition and faster advancement for those in more comfortable financial positions.”
We, too, are disheartened and disappointed. The results of our survey are clear: there are significant barriers for librarians to participate in professional development and service. The impact of these barriers? A service ceiling that promotes homogeneity (specifically, whiteness, economic security, and ableism) and suppresses diversity. How many librarians are priced out of contributing to our field due to a lack of financial support from their institutions, the high costs of participation in associations, and an overall bleak economic landscape? We fear that without structural change, the privilege of working to shape our field through professional development and service will continue to be only available to a small, elite subsection of our colleagues. Indeed, librarianship continues to fail in recruiting and retaining workers who are from systematically marginalized communities. This, and the inequities we’ve identified in funding for professional development, narrows both the discussions within and future visions of academic librarianship. We do not hear from so many colleagues, including those who work at community colleges, in rural areas, at institutions that serve marginalized groups, or at under-resourced institutions, and so our initiatives and outcomes often leave them out.
ACRL 2021 is an apt example. ACRL announced in fall 2020 that their biennial conference, recognized as the most prestigious event for US-based academic librarians, would be held exclusively online in April 2021. In December 2020, accepted presenters discovered that the speaker agreement forms required them to register for the conference at the $289 early bird rate. ACRL adapted their conference format in acknowledgment of the global pandemic, yet their pricing structure reflects a refusal to acknowledge that the finances of their constituents may have been impacted by the same pandemic. This inconsiderate approach was emphasized by the responses of disappointment to this news on social media (Figure E) and by ACRL-New Jersey’s letter to ACRL. Our research tells us, with resounding clarity, that those in our field desire to participate in professional development and service, but employers and professional associations deny us this opportunity.
Yet, we see promising avenues in our work and elsewhere to combat the service ceiling. To start this process, we must reckon with the ways that white supremacy is embedded in our profession’s professional development and service norms. We erect barriers that (often indirectly) prevent women, academic librarians from marginalized groups, and less well-resourced colleagues from participating in professional development and service opportunities, which in turn negatively impacts their ability to gain promotion or tenure. White supremacy creates a professional culture that silences conversations about financial equity that might shed light on the issues presented in our research. An important step in removing the silence around finances in our field is insisting on financial transparency and accountability at the professional association level–the ALA Midwinter 2020 budget fiasco particularly highlights the need for transparency by organizations that continually raise prices without disclosing how those costs are distributed across the organization (Schwartz, 2020). Sliding scale pricing, reparations-aligned pricing, simplified membership fees, virtual participation, and incentives in the form of reduced or comped registration and/or membership for service or participation would all go a long way to making professional development in our field more accessible and equitable. At the personal level, creating a more transparent atmosphere about our individual financial realities can help reduce the implicit pressure to self-fund. We’re taking a small step in this direction by making our salaries public, and encourage our colleagues to be similarly open about their financial privilege and struggles.
Because financial inequity in LIS professional development and service is linked so heavily to systems of oppression, we recognize the need for this conversation to continue in multiple directions. Our group, Librarians for Equitable Professional Development, hopes to build on this exploratory research, moving from a single project to a collection of strategic endeavors. More research on this topic needs to be undertaken with marginalized communities in LIS; LEPD would like to partner with these communities and collect data about their professional development and service experiences. Another example of future work we envision taking on is advocating for our major professional organizations to “open their books” to allow us, or other researchers, to audit how membership and conference fees are spent. The end goal isn’t just questioning the fiscal soundness of elaborate receptions at ACRL. Ultimately, we need our workplaces and professional organizations in librarianship to recognize and dismantle their oppressive, inequitable professional development and service practices. Failure to eliminate the service ceiling is racist, ableist, and propagates a scholarly environment of homogeneity and mediocrity. Our entire field suffers because of these exclusionary practices.
The authors would like to thank our reviewers, Lalitha Nataraj and Kellee Warren, and Ian Beilin for preparing the article for publication. We would also like to thank Craig Smith, the Assessment Specialist at the University of Michigan Library, for his help with drafting and revising the survey.
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Academic Librarian Professional Development and Service Costs
Informed Consent Statement for Research Protocol # 2001988850, Indiana University
You are invited to participate in an online survey on the financial costs related to academic librarian professional development and service in the United States. This survey’s purpose is to investigate financial equity in LIS academic libraries professional development. Professional development includes conference attendance, professional service and its ties to tenure/promotion, and presenting at conferences & meetings. Read the full recruitment letter. PARTICIPATION
Your participation in this survey is voluntary. You may refuse to take part in the research or exit the survey at any time without penalty.
WHY IS THIS STUDY BEING DONE
The purpose of this study is to investigate financial equity in LIS academic libraries professional development. This research project is conducted by: Jaci Wilkinson, Head, Discovery and User Experience, Indiana University (Principal Investigator)
HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL TAKE PART?
We are hoping to collect responses from approximately fifty participants but we are not capping the number of responses.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN DURING THE STUDY?
You will be asked to take a survey asking about your professional development costs and your position. It should take approximately 10 minutes to complete.
The possible risks or discomforts of the study are minimal. This survey asks questions about the support available for librarians’ professional development at your institution, which may cause you to feel a little uncomfortable answering these more sensitive survey questions. BENEFITS
You will receive no direct benefits from participating in this research study. However, your responses will help us learn more about financial equity for professional development across a wide range of academic libraries, which is currently very underrepresented in LIS research. WILL MY INFORMATION BE PROTECTED?
Your survey answers are confidential. No identifying information will be asked of you. As such, no names or other identifying information would be included in any publications or presentations based on these data.
WILL I BE PAID FOR PARTICIPATION
You will not be paid for participating in this study.
WILL IT COST ME ANYTHING TO PARTICIPATE
There is no cost to you for taking part in this study.
If you have questions at any time about the study or the procedures, you may contact the principal investigator, Jaci Wilkinson, at firstname.lastname@example.org . For questions about your rights as a research participant, to discuss problems, complaints, or concerns about a research study, or to obtain information or to offer input, please contact the IU Human Subjects Office at 800-696-2949 or at email@example.com .
You may print a copy of this form for your records. Clicking the Next button in the survey indicates that you have read the above information, you are 18 years of age or older, and you voluntarily agree to participate in this study
Q30 Are you employed as a librarian at an academic institution in the United States? o Yes (1)
o No (3)
Skip To: End of Survey If Are you employed as a librarian at an academic institution in the United States? = No
Q3 How long have you been at your current institution?
o0-5 years (1)
o6-10 years (2)
o11+ years (3)
Q4 Are you in a supervisory role at your current institution?
o Yes: supervising mostly staff/faculty (1)
o Yes: supervising mostly students (2)
o No (3)
Q5 What best describes the institution where you currently work?
o Community college (1)
o4-year undergraduate college (2)
o Comprehensive college (undergraduate and master’s programs) (3)
o Research university (4)
o Other (5) ________________________________________________
Display This Question:
If What best describes the institution where you currently work? != Community college
Q9 What is the estimated size of your current institution? (From the Carnegie Classification description for size and setting: four-year category.)
o Very small (fewer than 1,000 enrolled) (1)
o Small (1,000 – 3,000 enrolled) (2)
o Medium (3,001 – 9,999 enrolled) (3)
O Large (at least 10,000 enrolled) (4)
Display This Question:
If What best describes the institution where you currently work? = Community college
Page 4 of 15
Q33 What is the estimated size of your institution? (From the Carnegie Classification description for size and setting: two-year category.)
o Very small (fewer than 500 enrolled) (1)
o Small (500 – 1,999 enrolled) (2)
o Medium (2,000 – 4,999 enrolled) (3)
oLarge (5,000 – 9,999 enrolled) (4)
o Very large (at least 10,000 enrolled) (5)
Q6 Select the description which best describes your institution:
o Public (1)
o Private (2)
o For-profit (3)
Q8 What setting best describes your institution?
o Rural (1)
o Suburban (2)
o Urban (3)
Q10 How is your current position classified?
o Staff (1)
o Tenure track faculty (2)
o Non-tenure track faculty (4)
o Other (3) ________________________________________________
Display This Question:
If How is your current position classified? != Tenure track faculty
Q26 Does your institution have a promotion system for librarians? o Yes (1)
o No (2)
o Not sure (3)
Display This Question:
If How is your current position classified? = Tenure track faculty
Or Does your institution have a promotion system for librarians? = Yes
Q27 Is librarian promotion contingent upon professional development or service?
o Yes (1)
o No (2)
o Not sure (3)
Q11 Are you a member of any library or subject-area professional associations? Select all that apply below and list any additional organizations in the “Other” area.
▢ ALA (1)
▢ ACRL (2)
▢ AASL (3)
▢ A state library association (4)
▢ AACU (5)
▢ SLA (6)
▢ Other (7) ________________________________________________
Q12 How do you identify?
This question is being asked to identify any potential association between gender identity and professional development or service funding.
▢ Woman (1)
▢ Man (2)
▢ Transgender (3)
▢ Gender non-conforming (4)
▢ Genderqueer (6)
▢ Non-binary (7)
▢ Prefer to self-describe: (5)
▢ Prefer not to say (8)
Q31 Select one or more racial/ethnic categories to describe yourself:
This question is being asked to identify any potential association between race/ethnicity and professional development or service funding.
▢ White (1)
▢ Black or African American (2)
▢ American Indian or Alaska Native (3)
▢ Asian (4)
▢ Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (5)
▢ Hispanic or Latinx origin (A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American descent, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race) (8)
▢ Prefer to self-describe: (7)
▢ Prefer not to say (6)
Q13 Professional Development and Service Support
This section of the survey asks about your experience with institutionally-provided financial support for professional development and service opportunities from the past five years or your most current position (in case you’ve been in your current position less than five years).
Q15 How does your institution provide professional development funding?
oInstitution directly pays (4)
o Reimbursement in advance (2)
o Reimbursement AFTER the the professional service or service event/opportunity occurs (1)
o A combination of reimbursement and payment in advance (3)
Q16 How much funding for professional development and service do you receive from your institution annually, on average?
o No funding (1)
o$1 – $250 (2)
o$251 – $500 (3)
o$501 – $1,000 (4)
o$1,001 – $2,000 (5)
o$2,001 – $3,000 (6)
o More than $3,000 (7)
Skip To: Q18 If How much funding for professional development and service do you receive from your institution an… = No funding
Q17 How is funding made available to you by your institution?
oI receive a set amount every year. (1)
oI submit requests for funding for individual opportunities. (2)
oIt depends (use text area to explain further). (3)
o Not sure (4)
Q29 What costs does your institutional funding defray?
Always (1) Sometimes (2) Never (3)
Conference registration (6) o o o Training/workshop/webinar
(in-person or virtual) (7) o o o
membership dues (8) o o o Travel (1) o o o Accommodations (2) o o o Meals (4) o o o
Other (5) o o o
Q18 Are there any barriers that prevent you from accessing institutional funding for professional development or service activities?
o Yes (1)
o No (2)
Display This Question:
If Are there any barriers that prevent you from accessing institutional funding for professional dev… = Yes
Q19 Please describe any barriers that prevent you from accessing institutional funding for professional development or service activities.
Q20 Self-funded Professional Development and Service
This section of the survey asks about your experience with self-funding for professional development and service opportunities from the past five years or your most current position (in case you’ve been in your current position less than five years).
Q21 Have you ever had to self-fund a professional development activity or service? Please consider any time you have self-funded, even those beyond a 5-year time frame.
o No (1)
o Yes, on occasion. (2)
o Yes, my professional development and service is completely self-funded. (3)
Skip To: Q24 If Have you ever had to self-fund a professional development activity or service? Please consider a… = No
Q22 Which activities have you self-funded? (Select all options below that apply).
▢ Conference (presenting + attending) (1)
▢ Conference (just attending) (2)
▢ In-person training (3)
▢ Distance training (e.g. webinar) (4)
▢ Professional membership dues (5)
▢ Other (6) ________________________________________________
Q23 How much have you spent of your own money on professional development and service activities in the past year?
o$0 – $250 (2)
o$250 – $500 (3)
o$501 – $1,000 (4)
o$1,001 – $2,000 (5)
o$2,001 – $3,000 (6)
o More than $3,000 (7)
Q24 Are there professional development and service opportunities you’ve chosen not to pursue due to their cost?
o Yes (1)
o No (2)
o Not sure (3)
Display This Question:
If Are there professional development and service opportunities you’ve chosen not to pursue due to t… = Yes
Q25 Please describe the types of professional development and service opportunities you’ve chosen not to pursue due to their cost.
· Primary code: .702 (Substantial agreement)
· Secondary code: .619 (Substantial agreement)
· Primary code: .778 (Substantial agreement)
· Secondary code: .571 (Moderate agreement)
· Primary code: .931 (Almost perfect agreement)
· Secondary code: .631 (Substantial agreement)
Another aspect–for LEPD–
How much have people spent in time and treasure on grassroots involvement with REFORMA, BCALA, AILA, APALA, CALA? Attended conferences, participated in panels, contributed to scholarships?
Both BCALA & REFORMA have virtual celebrations of 50 years in 2021.