Updated February 2015
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Librarians and library staff are critical in the information age. Libraries and library staff provide essential services for schools, universities, and communities. Among those services are: free, reliable, and organized access to books, the Internet and other sources of information and entertainment; assistance finding work; research and reference assistance; and scores of others, including programs for children; immigrants, and other groups with specific needs.
Library staff across the country serve millions of individual patrons who lack access to technology or depend on taxpayer supported library material. In 2012, public libraries circulated 2.42 billion pieces of library material, served 1.5 billion visitors, and offered four million programs. The content below outlines the profession and trends affecting both library professionals and paraprofessionals.
Professional librarians administer libraries and perform services, such as selecting, acquiring, cataloging, classifying, circulating, and maintaining library materials. Professional librarians may also furnish reference, bibliographical, and advisory services to patrons.
The American Library Association, Library Support Staff Resource Center, listed over 50 different job titles for support staff in libraries. Lack of job title uniformity makes tracking these important paraprofessionals difficult. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recognizes two job titles for library support staff: library technician and library assistant.
Library technicians, assist librarians by furnishing the public with information on library services, facilities, and rules; by assisting readers in the use of card catalogs, indexes, and computers, and by answering questions that require brief consultations on standard references. Additionally, they may help catalog books and train and supervise clerical staff. Library assistants sort and shelve books, issue and receive library materials, locate library material for loan, and replace materials in shelving areas or files.
While these job descriptions may seem relatively straightforward, they mask a significant job overlap that has occurred in the library service occupations over the past several years. As technology changes library operations, library support staff — or “paraprofessionals” — have taken on a growing number of tasks that once were the domain of librarians, and in some cases the job responsibilities and content for professional librarians has been significantly altered.
Employment, Education and Earnings
In 2013, there were 194,000 librarians, 39,000 library technicians, and 87,000 library assistants employed in the U.S. Employment in all library occupations has remained flat or declined in the last 10 years.
In 2007, the first year employment levels were reported for library technicians, there were 380,000 librarians, library technicians, and library assistants employed. In 2013, employment had dropped to 320,000, a decrease of 16 percent.
In 2013, 40 percent of librarians were employed in elementary and secondary schools and local governments employed 30 percent. Colleges, universities, and junior colleges employed 17 percent. In May 2013, among library technicians, 52 percent were employed by local governments, up from 45 percent in May 2003. Elementary and secondary schools employed 19 percent of library technicians. Colleges, including junior colleges employed 18 percent of the library technician workforce in May 2013. Local governments also employed the majority of library assistants, 59 percent in 2013, up from 53 percent in May 2003.
A common distinction between library professionals and paraprofessionals is attainment of the Master of Library Science (MLS) degree. Although a few library assistants and library technicians hold a MLS degree, they are not typical.
In 2013, the average annual earnings of librarians were $57,550. This was about average for other professionals in education services. While librarians make about the same as elementary and secondary school teachers, they are also, on average, older than most teachers. In 2013, nearly 45 percent of librarians were between the ages of 55 and 99. The average age for librarians in 2013 was 50, representing an increase since 2006 when the average age was 48.7. The average age for elementary and secondary school teachers was 45 in 2013.
The pay difference between professional librarians and library support staff is substantial. Library technicians earned an average of $33,000 per year and library assistants earned an average of just $25,850.
BLS projected that librarian employment would grow modestly from 2012 – 2022 (11,000 new jobs). However, as noted above, 2013 librarian employment is at the same level as 2003 librarian employment. These numbers cast doubt on the BLS projections. BLS also made growth projections for library technician and library assistant jobs. While BLS projected that these occupations would grow, both have struggled to add jobs.
Unionization and the Union Difference
Librarians had an above average union membership rate, 23.4 percent, in 2014. Library technicians also had above average union membership with 16.2 percent in 2014. Library assistants were close behind with 18 percent union membership in 2014. Union density among all workers was 11.1 percent in 2014.
There is a significant union difference for librarians and library staff. Union librarians earned an average of 55 percent more than non-union librarians in 2013. A union difference of $524 per week. Union library technicians earned an average of 32.3 percent more than non-union librarian technicians in 2010 (the last year of available data). Union library assistants earned 74 percent more than non-union library assistants in 2013. A union difference of $312 per week.
Unions representing members in the library services occupations include the American Federation of Government Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the Office and Professional Employees International Union, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, and the United Steelworkers.
For more information about librarians and library workers, please see DPE’s fact sheet “Library Workers: Facts and Figures.”
For more information about professional and technical workers, visit www.dpeaflcio.org.
The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) comprises 22 AFL-CIO unions representing over four million people working in professional, technical and administrative support occupations. DPE-affiliated unions represent: teachers, college professors, and school administrators; library workers; nurses, doctors, and other health care professionals; engineers, scientists, and IT workers; journalists and writers, broadcast technicians and communications specialists; performing and visual artists; professional athletes; professional firefighters; psychologists, social workers, and many others. DPE was chartered by the AFL-CIO in 1977 in recognition of the rapidly growing professional and technical occupations.
DPE Research Department
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Washington, DC 20006
Jennifer Dorning February 2015
(202) 683-0320, extension 114
 U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Public Libraries Survey, 2012.
 American Library Association, Library Support Staff Resource Center. http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/careers/paths/listsupportstaff Accessed August 21, 2013.
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2010, Librarians, Library Technicians, and Assistants
 Kutzik, Jennifer S. “Bridging the Gap,” Library Mosaics, July/August 1997, pp.11.
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Household Data Annual Averages, Table 11. 2013.
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Household Data Annual Averages, Table 11, 2007 and 2013.
 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Librarians, May 2013.
 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Library Technicians, May 2003 and May 2013; U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Library Assistants, May 2003 and May 2013.
 U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, American Community Survey, Public Use Microdata Sample 2006, 2013.
 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Library Technicians and Library Assistants, May 2013.
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections. Table 1.2, Employment by Detailed Occupation 2012 and projected 2022.
 Barry T. Hirsch and David Macpherson, Union Membership and Coverage Database, available at www.unionstats.com. Accessed February 9, 2015.
 Barry T. Hirsch and David Macpherson, Union Membership and Earnings Data Book, Compilations from the Current Population Survey (2013 Edition), Bureau of National Affairs.