Show me the Money: Salary Negotiation

Dear [Hack Lib School Reader]

We would like to offer you the position of Fancy Pants Librarian at AwesomeTown Library. We are willing to offer you an annual salary of $MoneyDollars. Please let us know if you accept the offer and we will begin the process of filling out your paperwork.


HR Director at AwesomeTown Library

These are the words all of us are waiting to hear, right? Our time spent slaving away over classes, internships, practicums, and countless extracurriculars has finally paid off. We are going to be librarians!

…But wait, AwesomeTown Library is offering a bit – ahem – less than you expected. Sounds like you need to negotiate that salary!

My inspiration for this post sprang from a discussion in one of my classes about a woman who attempted to negotiate her salary and had her job offer rescinded. My classmates and I panicked: will we also lose a job offer if we negotiate? Should we just keep quiet and accept whatever offer comes our way? The answer is NO. The woman in this scenario made all sorts of outlandish requests, including asking for a salary significantly higher than had been offered, a sabbatical before reaching tenure, and a start date a full year later than what the search committee advertised. Most importantly, the candidate’s interests appeared to be more in line with a research institution, while this was a small liberal arts college. We can all learn from this woman’s mistakes to avoid a similar catastrophe. Since we’re all going to be in this position before we know it, I decided to do some research to share with you all.

My cat, Ralph, made sure to negotiate his salary before we signed the adoption papers. Included in his contract: catnip once a week and unlimited belly rubs upon request.

My cat, Ralph, made sure to negotiate his salary before we signed the adoption papers. Included in his contract: catnip once a week and unlimited belly rubs upon request.

First of all, most of us feel guilty asking for more money. Don’t. Keep in mind that employers both want and expect candidates to negotiate their salary. Your prowess for negotiation proves your ability to speak up and arrange compromises, a valuable business skill. Furthermore, few employers anticipate that you will accept the first package offered. They may even be offering less than they are willing to pay on the assumption that you will ask for more.

Next, do your research. Find out what the average salary is for someone with your position, in your geographic area, and with your level of experience. Start with ALA’s salary information page and also check out Glassdoor.

Most library schools have a career advisor who can provide guidance on salary negotiation. You may also have a trusted professor or mentor who can offer advice. Reach out to this person because they will have knowledge of the appropriate salary for your position and rank. They can also review your request so that you do not make unreasonable demands like the woman mentioned above.

After gathering all the relevant information like the diligent librarian you are, choose a reasonable figure. Generally, an increase of up to a few thousand dollars is an adequate request – never ask for more than $10,000.

The next step is to ask away! The key is to keep things tactful. A few tips:

  • Don’t mention salary first and never bring it up during the interview. Let them make the first move.
  • Give it time. Ask them for a couple of days to think about the offer and allow them to do the same.
  • Word your request appropriately. Use common sense and be respectful.
  • Ask over the phone. Emailing is not completely unacceptable, but a phone call shows you are serious and unafraid of confrontation.

If the library is dead set against raising the salary, there may be other ways to compensate. An improved benefits and/or vacation package could be possible. Perhaps they would be willing to offer a certain amount increase after a specific period of time on the job, such as a $1,000 bonus after six months. They might even agree to a relocation bonus or to pay in full for your attendance at conferences.

Keep in mind that the library is working under constraints unknown to you and their budget simply may not allow them to offer a higher salary. In this case, it’s up to you to decide if lowering your expectations is in your best interest. Though it seems absurd to walk away from an offer in a difficult job market, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

For more tips, see American Libraries’ Salary Negotiation 101 article.

Do you have experience negotiating your salary? What other advice do you have for job seekers?



3 replies

  1. Has anyone successfully negotiated a higher salary from a public library? Because the public payscale at my municipal library system was very clear (and the union’s MOU included specific circumstances where the next-higher step might be assigned upon hiring, which I didn’t think I fully met), I left salary alone and negotiated my start date and a few unpaid vacation days shortly after hire (I had vacation already planned). I felt good about the results, but I wonder if I left money on the table by not trying for a higher pay step. In my previous positions in the private sector, I negotiated salary at hire or at promotion.


  2. Great tips! Another suggestion for academic librarians at public universities – is much of that info is available by FOIA and newspapers have done the hard work for you. A google for “_insert state_ salary database” will often lead you to some helpful resources. Then you can see salaries by rank and position at the library you’re applying to and negotiating with.


  3. New Librarian-
    I have heard of some public libraries that have a set, non-negotiable salary. I have personally worked in a library under a civil service system with a set pay rate (at the paraprofessional level). In any case, it never hurts to ask! Worst case scenario they just tell you no. It sounds like you were still able to get something out of the negotiation, so that’s great!


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