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US AFL-CIO Library Professionals: Facts & Figures 2020 FACT SHEET

Library Professionals: Facts & Figures


“Librarians and other library professionals provide essential services for schools, universities, and communities. Americans go to libraries for free, reliable, and well-organized access to books, the Internet, and other sources of information and entertainment; assistance finding work; research and reference assistance; and programs for children, immigrants, seniors and other groups with specific needs, just to name a few.

This fact sheet explores the role of library staff in the workforce, the demographics, educational attainment and wages of librarians, as well as the benefits of union membership for librarians and other issues faced by library staff.

Library Occupations and Library Usage: By the Numbers

Library Employment

·       In 2019, there were approximately 184,500 librarians, 36,250 library technicians, and 87,000 library assistants employed in public libraries, primary and secondary schools, institutions of higher education, museums and archives, as well as in libraries operated by private corporations, government agencies, religious groups and other organizations.[1]

·       Cumulative employment among librarians, library technicians, and library assistants has declined over time from a peak of 394,900 in 2006 to 308,000 in 2019, although total employment is currently higher than the low of 288,600 in 2015.[2]

·       However, the employment of librarians and other library professionals in elementary and secondary schools has declined even as overall library professional employment has rebounded. In 2019, there were 66,400 library professionals working in elementary and

Source: Current Population Survey, Basic microdata annual averages, 2004 – 2019. Accessed in DataFerrett secondary schools, down from 94,000 in 2010.[3]

Library Programs

·       In 2017, more than 17,000 U.S. public libraries circulated 2.2 billion print and electronic materials and offered 5.4 million programs, attended by 118.4 million members of the public. Children’s programs accounted for 56 percent of all programs offered, serving 79.9 million children and parents.[4]

·       Electronic media, computer use and internet access are an increasing component of library materials and services, and e-books now comprise 29.7 percent of all collection materials. In addition, library patrons accessed 300,199 public computers 258 million times during 2017.[5]

·       Libraries provide important training and educational programs for the public. Eighty-four percent of public libraries offer technology training programs, 73 percent provide programs to assist patrons with job applications and resume creation, and 59 percent offer assistance with finding and applying for health insurance.[6]

·       In a 2016 Pew Research survey, 77 percent of Americans aged 16 and older believed libraries provided necessary resources. Among young people (aged 16 to 29), 84 percent believed libraries provided them with necessary resources.[7]

·       In 2016, 46 percent of adults said they used a public library or bookmobile in the previous 12 months. Millennials (ages 18-35) had the highest usage rate of any generation, at 53 percent.[8]

Duties and Roles of Library Professionals

·      While specific roles and responsibilities may change depending on the size and setting of libraries, librarians and other library professionals’ main role is to help people find information and conduct research on a variety of personal, professional, and academic subjects. Library professionals also teach classes, organize library collections, and tailor programs to a variety of audiences, including young children, students, professionals, and the elderly.[9]

·      Librarians are also often responsible for multiple aspects of management, including ordering books and other materials, purchasing new technology, supervising library technicians, assistants and volunteers, and managing library budgets.[10]

·      Library technicians assist librarians in the operation of libraries, and their tasks include assisting visitors, organizing library materials and performing administrative and clerical functions. Library assistants have similar roles as library technicians, but may have fewer independent responsibilities. [11]

Where Library Professionals Work

·       Librarian employment is split between elementary and secondary schools (28.1 percent), public libraries (35.4 percent), colleges, universities and professional schools (18.6 percent), federal agencies (2 percent), and other libraries and archives, including those at businesses, law firms, nonprofit organizations and scientific organizations (17.9 percent).[12]

·       Among library technicians and assistants, 53.9 percent are employed by public libraries, while fewer (17.7 percent) work at colleges and universities, in elementary and secondary schools (11.8 percent) and in other private and nonprofit libraries (16.6 percent).[13]

·       In 2018, 34 percent of librarians, 64 percent of library technicians, and 67 percent of library assistants worked part-time.[14]

Diversity and Demographics of Library Professionals

The librarian profession suffers from a persistent lack of racial and ethnic diversity that shows few signs of abating.

·       Over 83 percent of librarians were white, non-Hispanic in 2019. Library technicians and assistants were slightly more diverse. Among library technicians and assistants, 68.9 percent identified as white, non-Hispanic in 2019.[15]

·       In 2019, just 5.3 percent of librarians identified as Black or African American, 7.1 percent as Hispanic or Latino, and 3.5 percent as Asian-American or Pacific Islander.[16]

·       Librarians are less diverse than the total workforce of people in education, training, and library occupations. Black and African American professionals made up 10.2 percent of the education workforce, while Hispanic and Asian professionals represented 11 percent and 5.3 percent of the education workforce, respectively.[17]

·       Librarians and other library professionals are also older than the general workforce. While Americans over 55 account for 19.6 percent of the total workforce, 31.5 percent of the library workforce is over the age of 55.[18]

Education Attainment

In many settings, librarians are required to hold at least a master’s degree in library science or meet state teaching license standards for being a school librarian.[19] Many other library workers, including lower-paid library technicians and library assistants have high educational attainment as well.

·      In 2018, 53.5 percent of librarians held a master’s degree or higher. 22.4 percent held a bachelor’s degree and 22.8 percent had an associate’s degree or completed some college coursework.[20]

·      In the same year, 14.3 percent of library technicians and assistants had a high school diploma or equivalent, 36.9 percent had an associate’s degree or completed some college coursework, 37.8 percent had a bachelor’s degree and 8.3 percent had a master’s, professional or doctoral degree.[21]

Women and Library Professions

·       In 2019, women accounted for 81 percent of all librarians, and 82.1 percent of all library technicians and assistants, which was above the average of 73.6 percent for women employed in all education and library professions.[22] This represents a slightly more balanced workforce than in the past. In 1995, women were 83.9 percent of librarians, and in 2003, women were 84.4 percent of librarians.[23]

·       Women represented 71 percent of graduates in Master of Library Science (MLS) programs in 2017-2018. However, Black women only accounted for 7.4 percent of all MLS graduates, while Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander women made up 12.5 and 3.5 percent of the 2018 class, respectively.[24]

Library Worker Earnings and the Wage Gap

In 2019, the mean annual salary for librarians working full-time was $61,920. The mean hourly wage was $17.76 for library technicians and $14.34 for library assistants.[25]

Regional Variance in Salaries

Librarian earnings vary significantly from state to state. The state with the highest mean annual earnings for full-time librarians in 2019 was the District of Columbia, with mean annual earnings of $87,250, followed by California, Maryland, Washington, and Connecticut. The five lowest paying states were West Virginia, where the mean annual salary was $41,540, followed by South Dakota, Mississippi, Utah and Kansas.[26] These salaries were not adjusted for differences in cost of living across states.

Institutional Variance in Compensation

Library staff compensation also varied based on the type of library employer. On average, librarians working full-time at colleges, universities, and professional schools earned $68,480 in 2019, elementary and secondary school librarians earned $63,390 and librarians employed by local governments (excluding education) made $56,060.[27]

Gender Inequality

Pay inequity remains a persistent and pervasive problem in society. In 2019, median weekly earnings for women in all occupations were 81.5 percent of men’s earnings.[28] For most women of color, the earnings gap is even larger:  African American women earned just 69.9 cents for every dollar earned by men of all races in 2019 and Hispanic and Latina women earned just 63.8 cents on the dollar.[29] Asian women were the only racial group to earn more than men of all races, but they still earned only 76.7 cents to the dollar reported by Asian men.[30]

Though library occupations are predominantly held by women, a wage gap still exists in the profession. In 2018, women working as full-time librarians (35 hours or more per week) reported median annual earnings that were only 92 percent of the median annual earnings reported by men.[31]

The American Library Association-Allied Professional Association published the 6th edition of their Advocating for Better Salaries Toolkit in April 2017. The toolkit includes sections on how to determine fair compensation for librarians, advocating for raises, identifying pay inequities and salary negotiation tips. Importantly, the toolkit identifies union organizing and collective bargaining as an effective means to increase librarian pay and increase equity in the workplace.[32]

Health Benefits

In 2018, 73 percent of librarians had health insurance through a current or former employer or union, and librarians working 35 hours per week or more had a much higher coverage rate of 93.4 percent. 3.1 percent of librarians were uninsured in 2018.[33]

·      Among library technicians in 2018, just 62 percent received health insurance through a current or former employer or union. Though 86.7 percent of library technicians working full-time received health insurance through their employer or union, a total of 6.3% of library technicians were uninsured in 2018.[34]

·       Library assistants had coverage similar to that of library technicians. Just 62 percent had employer-provided health insurance in 2018, though the rate was higher for full-time library assistants at 84 percent, leaving 6.2 percent of library assistants uninsured in 2018.[35]

The Union Difference

Unions are an important way for library professionals to negotiate collectively for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Unions work to elevate library professions and secure working conditions that make it possible to provide professional service.

·       In 2019, professionals working in education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rate for any professional occupation group, 33.1 percent.[36]

·       In 2019, 20.8 percent of librarians were union members, however, the sample size for this statistic is very small and this should not be interpreted as a significant decline from the 26.2 percent membership rate in 2017.[37]

Wages and Benefits

Librarians and library worker union members have leveraged their collective voices to earn fair wages and stronger benefits. Wages and benefits earned by union librarians and library workers are more commensurate with the skilled and professional nature of library work.

In 2018, librarians who were union members earned 38 percent ($284) more per week than their non-union counterparts.[38] While this statistic is also subject to volatility due to the sample size, trends in the data show that it pays to be a union librarian.

·       In 2018, union library assistants earned 48 percent higher hourly wages ($18.67) than their non-union counterparts ($12.62).[39]

·       Due to the small sample size, 2018 union wage data is not available for library technicians. In 2009, the last year comparative data was available, union library technicians earned 49 percent more than their non-union counterparts.[40]

Union members are more likely than their non-union counterparts to be covered by a retirement plan, health insurance, and paid sick leave. In 2019, 94 percent of union members in the civilian workforce had access to a retirement plan, compared with only 67 percent of non-union workers. Similarly, 94 percent of union members had access to employer provided health insurance, compared to 68 percent of non-union workers 91 percent of union members in the civilian workforce had access to paid sick leave compared to 73 percent of non-union workers.[41]

Union Success Stories

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the United States, many public services and institutions shut down indefinitely. In Pittsburgh, librarians and other professionals at the Carnegie Library worked with their recently-organized union, affiliated with the United Steelworkers, to successfully demand that library employees should not be required to report to library facilities and should be paid regardless of their ability to work from home.[42]

In April 2019, librarians represented by the American Federation of Teachers in the University of California system successfully ratified a new collective bargaining agreement for 2019-2024. The contract includes historic raises, totaling between 22.4 percent and 25.9 percent over a five year period. It also includes protections for librarians’ academic freedom, the right to use accrued sick time for parental leave, as well as advance notice of new job responsibilities.[43]

In January 2019, 30,000 teachers, librarians, counselors and other educational professionals went on strike in Los Angeles for six days. Prior to the strike, many schools only had part-time librarians. But as part of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, they negotiated for a historic collective bargaining agreement that included a six percent pay increase over the length of the contract, as well as an increase in the number of nurses, counselors, mental health professionals and librarians in schools, guaranteeing that at least one full-time librarian will be in every LA secondary school.[44]

Libraries and Library Professionals during the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 virus spread across the country in March 2020, public life began to shut down, including most, if not all, public libraries. In response to the crisis, many library systems have adapted to provide virtual programs for children and highlight the many e-books and other digital downloads available in their collections. Other libraries deployed their 3D printers to produce face shields and other personal protective equipment and extended the availability of free wi-fi so visitors could access the internet from library parking lots.[45]

There is no doubt that the services library professionals provide are essential for members of their communities, especially those who are the most vulnerable. However, as many states and localities have begun to lift stay-at-home orders and resume in-person services, many library professionals are being forced to risk their health without sufficient personal protective equipment and lackluster health and safety plans. In many localities, library budgets are on the chopping block as tax revenues have declined during the pandemic. This has left many library professionals’ positions in question, even as more Americans are forecasted to require access to the many essential services that libraries provide, including internet access, job search assistance, and educational programs for children.[46]

To continue providing these and other important services, the federal government must provide additional aid to local and state governments. And as the COVID-19 virus continues to be a health hazard in our communities, library administrators need to include library professionals and their unions in decision-making about the short-term and long-term future of libraries and library services.

If you are a library professional looking for more information about organizing a union to secure your rights in the workplace, please get in touch with DPE at

 Related reading:

The Union Difference for Working Professionals

August 2020

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett. Current Population Survey. 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Institute of Museum and Library Services. (2020). Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal year 2017, Volume I Accessed at

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bertot, John Carlo, Brian Real, Jean Lee, Abigail J. McDermott & Paul T. Jaeger. “2014 Digital Inclusion Survey: Survey Findings and Results.” Inforation Policy and Access Center. University of Maryland College Park. October 1, 2015. Accessed at

[7] Horrigan, John B. “Libraries 2016” Pew Research Center, September 2016.

[8] Geiger, Abigail. “Millennials are the most likely generation of Americans to use public libraries.” FactTank. Pew Research Center. June 21, 2017. Accessed at

[9] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Librarians.” 2019. Available at:

[10] Ibid.

[11] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook, Library Technicians and Library Assistants.” 2019.

[12] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett. Current Population Survey. 2019.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Hirsch, Barry T. and David A. MacPherson, Union Membership and Earnings Data Book, Unpublished Manuscript, 2019.

[15] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett. Current Population Survey. 2019.

[16] Ibid.

[17] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 11: Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, Annual Averages, 2019. Accessed at

[18] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett. Current Population Survey. 2018.

[19] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Librarians.” 2019. Available at:

[20] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett. Current Population Survey. 2018.

[21] Ibid.

[22] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Annual Averages, 2019, Table 11, op. cit.

[23] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Annual Averages, 1995, and 2003, Table 11, op. cit.

[24] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics. Tables 323.40 and 323.50. 2017-2018. Available at

[25] Occupational Employment Statistics. Bureau of Labor Statistics. May 2019. Available at

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Table 37, “Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by selected characteristics.” 2019. Available at:

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, Public Use Microdata, 2018. Accessed at

[32] Bartholomew, Amy, Jennifer Dorning, Julia Eisenstein, & Shannon Farrell. “Advocating for Better Salaries Toolkit.” ALA Allied Professional Association. April 2017. Accessed at

[33] U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, Public Use Microdata, 2018. Accessed at

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 42. Union affiliation of employed wage and salary workers by occupation and industry.” 2018. Available at

[37] Hirsch, Barry T., 2019, op. cit.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] H Hirsch, Barry T., 2019, op. cit.

[41] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. National Compensation Suvey: Employee Benefits in the United States, March 2019. Available at

[42] “Protect and Pay Carnegie Library Workers.” March 2020. Available at

[43] See elements from the agreement between UC-AFT and the University of California available at:

[44] United Teachers of Los Angeles. “Tentative Agreement 2019.” January 22, 2019. Available at

[45] Fallows, Deborah. “Public Libraries’ Novel Response to a Novel Virus.” The Atlantic. March 31, 2020. Available at

[46] Poon, Linda. “Coronavirus Tests the Limits of America’s Public Libraries.” Bloomberg CityLab. June 24, 2020. Available at


Posted on: September 13, 2020, 6:50 am Category: Uncategorized

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