Solving Worker Struggles

Former Georgia Tech dean recommends ways to alleviate labor challenges

June 27, 2022

Catherine Murray-Rust speaking in the "Creating the Future Library Workforce" program at the ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C.
Catherine Murray-Rust, retired dean of libraries at Georgia Institute of Technology, speaks at the "Creating the Future Library Workforce" program at the American Library Association's 2022 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C., on June 27. Photo: Greg Landgraf

In a world where library workers are frequently overstretched and undercompensated, Catherine Murray-Rust, retired dean of libraries at Georgia Institute of Technology, encouraged the audience to form a plan for change at “Creating the Future Library Workforce,” a June 27 session at the American Library Association’s 2022 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C. “One of the most important parts of any library isn’t the building or the collection—it’s the people who work in it,” she said.

Murray-Rust offered four questions, adapted from the Harwood Institute: What are your aspirations for the library workforce community? What challenges do you face in meeting them? What changes are needed in your community to reach those aspirations? And how are you committed to reaching those aspirations?

Low compensation is a major problem across the library field. While Murray-Rust said that she did work to improve salaries in her 12 years at Georgia Tech, she noted that it required constant effort. There are also few opportunities for librarians to be rewarded and recognized without becoming a manager or a supervisor. “That’s something we can do something about,” she said. “We can move to team-based systems where things are not so hierarchical.”

Better support and training—including more internships and scholarships as well as shorter and less expensive terms for formal library education programs—would all help, Murray-Rust said. So would improving job descriptions and job classification systems. “Look at your job descriptions and see if you can talk about the lovely things you will do, rather than just a list of clerical tasks,” she advised.

A final factor is the opportunity to speak truth to power. “One of the things that’s going to make a big difference is teaching people how to stand up and be advocates,” Murray-Rust said. She acknowledged that can be difficult to learn without having readily available mentors. But allies and champions in the community, potentially including foundations, Friends groups, and trustees, may be able to provide that support.


Illustration of three people running toward an open door with office files and boxes in their hands

Quitting Time

The pandemic is exacerbating attrition among library workers

Illustrations depict five library jobs that are currently on the rise. From left to right: There is a man holding a magnifying glass, representing user experience librarians. A woman stands next to a lightbulb that is filled with gears and a plant, representing sustainability librarians. Game pieces of different colors represent directors of equity, diversity, and inclusion. A laptop with human arms represents open educational resources librarians. And finally, a person on a ladder lifting a slice from a pie chart represents data visualization librarians. These illustrations were made by Adobe Stock user Nuthawut.

5 Library Jobs on the Rise

Emerging roles and titles reflect libraries’ core values