Lawrence Public Library leaders say pay lags that of other libraries

After a $255,000 funding increase from the city for 2017, the Lawrence Public Library is set to give some pay increases to its employees. But library leaders say pay is so low currently that even more raises in coming years are needed.

Whether City Commissioners and Lawrence taxpayers are willing to support such pay increases will be the leading question.

“This is a conversation that the public needs to have, and that we all need to have together,” library Director Brad Allen said.

Allen said he would like to increase pay by about 6 percent each year over the next three years. The end goal would be to increase starting librarian pay — which requires a Master of Library Science — from about $35,000 to $40,000 per year. For non-librarian staff, the goal is to increase pay from $12.75 to $15 per hour.

A living wage

Allen said that $15 per hour is what he considers a “living wage.” He said that increase, as well as the raise for librarians would bring their salaries up to market value when compared to nearby cities. Allen said that at the current level, the library has had a hard time recruiting and retaining high-quality staff.

“There are a lot of librarians who love what we do here; they love this library and they want to come work for this library and they’re willing to take some pay cut to be here,” Allen said. “But people also need to make a living. We can’t pull great people from other places because we are completely noncompetitive.”

Allen became director of the Lawrence Public Library in 2012 after leaving his position as branch manager of a suburban Seattle library. Prior to that, Allen was the adult services supervisor for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

The idea of a national minimum wage of $15 per hour has been a topic of political discussion in recent years. Some large cities, such as Seattle, New York and Los Angeles, have plans in place to gradually increase their minimum wage to that level.

The minimum wage in Kansas is $7.25 per hour. What is considered a living wage is a calculation based on the cost of living in the area, and varies by city. The city of Lawrence requires some companies that receive certain types of tax incentives to pay a living wage of $12.60 an hour plus benefits. There are other living wage calculations that are higher for Lawrence.

A professor of economic geography at MIT developed one living wage calculator. According to that calculator, a living wage for one adult in Lawrence is $9.78 per hour, but that amount jumps up significantly if the household includes a child or another adult. For a household with one adult and one child, the living wage is $21.66. For two adults — one working — and one child, it’s $20.70.

Other libraries

In addition to the issue of whether the library is providing its employees a living wage, Allen said the pay in Lawrence doesn’t stand up to pay in other nearby cities. However, a direct comparison is difficult due to variances in job duties and size of libraries.

Starting wage

Topeka non-librarian staff (two tiers): $10.49 and $15.35 per hour

Lawrence non-librarian staff: $12.75 per hour

Johnson County non-librarian staff: $11.95 per hour

Lawrence librarian (two tiers): $17.06 and $21.06 per hour

Topeka librarian: $20.43 per hour

Johnson County librarian: $22.83 per hour

For instance, the Topeka library has more than one tier of non-librarian staff, while Lawrence only has one frontline staff position that pays $12.75 per hour. While the Topeka library has some clerks who are paid less than Lawrence library staff, they do pay some of their non-librarian staff more than $15 per hour.

The Lawrence library has two tiers of librarians, the lower of which starts at $17.06 per hour or about $35,000 annually. The second-tier librarians have more coordinating responsibilities and start at $21.06 per hour or about $43,000 annually. Librarian coordinators account for only four of Lawrence’s 12 full-time librarian positions, Allen said.

Topeka currently only has one tier of librarians, which starts at $20.43 per hour, according to Stephen Lusk, the library’s human resources director. Lusk said there are some manager-level positions that make $27 to $29 per hour, but because the Topeka library has more than twice as many staff members as the Lawrence library, those positions would not likely be a direct counterpart to Lawrence’s librarian coordinators.

The Johnson County Library’s non-librarian staff members have a starting pay of $11.95 per hour, and starting pay for librarians is $22.83 per hour, according to Christopher Leitch, community relations coordinator.

Budget considerations

In order to fund three years of raises, Allen said it would take three consecutive years of funding increases from the city. More specifically, Allen estimated it would take funding increases similar to the one for 2017 — with about $150,000 to $170,000 going solely for pay increases — to raise pay to competitive levels.

Mayor Mike Amyx said it would be up to the library to do the most with the funding increase it received for 2017.

“We’ve just come through the 2017 budget process,” Amyx said. “We went through being told at what rate (the library’s pay) should be. We understood that that’s what that money would be used for next year, and we’ll be talking about the 2018 budget next summer, so I would suggest everybody just spends their money wisely.”

Amyx said discussing the library’s rates of pay, as well as how it compares to other libraries, will be a part of the 2018 budget discussion next summer.

“That’s something I’m sure we’ll have discussions about,” Amyx said.

Library leaders won the additional funding for 2017 through legal maneuvering. It was found that the city’s charter ordinance governing the library actually gave the city’s library board the ability to determine what the tax rate for the library should be, as long as the rate doesn’t exceed 4.5 mills. Commissioners could choose to change that ordinance in the future.

Allen said that if his plan to increase wages can’t be supported by the city’s budget, he doesn’t think continuing to pay staff at current levels is an option. He said that means raising pay would require decreasing staffing through attrition and possibly decreasing the level of service at the library.

“You have to start making really hard decisions when you are at your efficiency level and you believe that you need to pay people fairly,” Allen said.