The Salary Question

Negotiating the ins and outs of earning a fair compensation

November 1, 2018

For more than 10 years, David Connolly has interacted with job seekers and employers in his role as recruitment ad sales manager with ALA JobLIST, the online career center administered by American Libraries, ACRL’s College and Research Libraries News magazine, and ALA’s Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment. We asked Connolly for his insights on salary negotiations, including the biggest mistake applicants make regarding salary.

What’s the first thing someone should think about when negotiating salary?

Research. If there is one aspect of job negotiation that is tailor-made for someone with an LIS background, it’s this. Exhaust every available resource to come into any negotiation armed with evidence to support the worth of your expertise and services in a position. Research will give you the facts to refer to during negotiations and, with that, the confidence to take a firm position.

Here are a few tips I offer people for salary research:Median annual salary for full-time librarians: $50,671 women, $57,961 men

  • Several regularly published industry salary surveys focus on different aspects of the workforce. See if your LIS school or library has print copies of recent survey results or access to online databases.
  • Search current and recent job ads for similar positions in similar cities or organizations.
  • Many public sector jobs are required to disclose at least some salary information in publicly available data sources.
  • Consult online salary data aggregators such as Glassdoor.
  • Look for references to salaries, benefits, and other staffing expenditure trends in the organization’s recent annual reports. Is it investing in its staff? Have there been regular pay raises? Have there been layoffs or furloughs?

You mentioned looking for salary info in job ads, but a lot of employers leave that out. Why don’t all employers include salary and benefits information in their ads?

For many of the employers who don’t mention salaries—or offer unhelpfully obscure references like “commensurate with experience”—it seems to be a negotiating tactic. Strategies for any type of negotiation often recommend that you avoid being the first to suggest a price for something. It’s a regrettably widespread practice across most professions. Less frequently, some employers take that even further and request the applicant’s salary history, which can put a prospective employee at an even greater negotiating disadvantage. Several states—such as California, Massachusetts, and Vermont—prohibit employers from requesting salary history information from job applicants.

What should be done about ads that don’t include salary information?

Some job seekers say they refuse to apply for any position that doesn’t provide concrete salary and benefits details up front. But that could mean passing on what might otherwise be an appealing job prospect, which is not realistic for everyone. Employers will change their practices when they believe that it’s costing them good employees, so let them know that you notice when salary information is or is not included in their ads. You can also find a bevy of strategies and background information to negotiate personal salary and effect institutional change in the ALA–Allied Professional Association’s “Advocating for Better Salaries Toolkit,” along with other resources for improving the salaries and status of library workers.

ALA has tackled this issue from several angles over the years. For example, from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, the Association rejected job ads that did not provide salary information. This did not result in changing advertisers’ practices, however; they instead chose other avenues to get their recruiting messages out. Most libraries operate within a larger organization’s HR and recruitment practices and are subject to rules they might not agree with, whether they are part of a municipal or other government, college or university, school system, or corporation. ALA continues to recommend that employers include a salary range with all listings whenever possible. More background on ALA’s policies on salaries in job ads can be found at

What’s the biggest mistake you see people make regarding their salaries?3 out of 5 American employees did not negotiate their salary in their current or most recent job (Source: Glassdoor, 2016)

The most costly mistake some people make is failing to negotiate their salary at the time they’re hired. While there are exceptions, it is nearly always a good idea to counter the initial offer rather than accept what the employer offers without question. If the proposed salary is firm, they will tell you. But if your counteroffer is reasonable, it is unlikely to sour them on you. If they can’t move on salary, say, for budget reasons, see whether benefits such as professional development funding, flexible schedules, or vacation time can be negotiated. I recently heard about an academic librarian who negotiated an improved placement on her university’s daycare waitlist as part of her hiring package.

Any final thoughts about the job search?

There is little unique about the library job search. General job search advice—or advice tailored to the type of organization you want to work for—is at least as valuable as any you find specifically about librarianship. A job search requires intentionally learned and practiced skills, whether it’s effectively preparing your application, interviewing, or negotiating. My advice is to never stop looking for and reading articles on these topics, attending talks and workshops, referring back to your school’s career or placement services office resources, and getting feedback from those who have succeeded before you.

Many ALA units offer webinars, conference programs, articles, and other ­professional development opportunities with advice about the job search, negotiations, and other topics related to career planning. The ALA Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment maintains career development resources at, including a free “Career Development Resource Guide” that was recently released. ALA JobLIST also offers resources for job seekers at, including a section on salary negotiations.


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