Navigating a Career in Law Librarianship


Janeen Williams

Early-career law librarians should always negotiate initial salary offers to ensure financial security and future job satisfaction. New librarians have barriers in salary negotiation, but that should not deter them from asking for what they need and deserve. This chapter will present a review of literature on salary negotiation behavior and include suggestions for new law librarians on how to approach salary negotiation. The chapter begins with an overview of salary negotiation behavior differences between men and women. It continues with an overview of salary negotiation practices of librarians. The chapter concludes with best practices for salary negotiation for early-career law librarians.

Key Concepts
  • You should always negotiate starting offers.
  • Identify your target salary range before you negotiate.
  • Consider all compensation in addition to salary.

Salary NeGotiation

A modest increase in starting salary can have a substantial impact on the earnings of a worker throughout her career. This starting salary serves as the basis for future merit increases and promotions. By negotiating the starting salary, early-career librarians can attempt to raise their final offers by a few thousand dollars and can impact their financial security. Although studies differ in the amount that negotiation can raise the starting salary, studies support the proposition that the process of negotiation increases final salary offers.i

There are two types of factors that determine whether a worker is likely to negotiate: individual factors and structural factors.ii Individual factors are factors specific to the individual applicant. Extraversion, gender, age, and race are all individual factors. Personality is an individual factor that may be an indicator of the likelihood that an applicant will negotiate salary successfully.iii One study found that risk-averse personalities are less likely to be successful in salary negotiations because they are not willing to use one of the two negotiation strategies that consistently lead to increases in the final salary offer: collaborating and competing negotiation strategies.iv

In contrast, structural factors are contextual. Structural factors are not tied to a specific applicant but are instead more situational. These factors are related to power dynamics. They include the amount of the initial job offer and the number of other offers that the applicant has to leverage in the negotiations.v In general, the party with the most power has an advantage in the The party that is more dependent on the job offer may be more reluctant to negotiate. For this reason, applicants who have multiple job offers are more likely to negotiate because they are less dependent on the one job offer.vii

Furthermore, studies have attempted to identify the reasons why applicants chose not to negotiate a salary offer. An applicant may choose not to negotiate if she believes the initial job offer is fair.viii  Applicants who thought that employers did not offer salaries that were commensurate with their worth were more likely to negotiate.  Often applicants decided to negotiate because “they thought they were ‘worth more’ than the initial offer, and those who chose not to negotiate,  frequently did so because they thought the initial offer was fair. Such comments indicate that the subjectively perceived fairness of the initial offer may drive the decision to negotiate to a higher degree than the actual objective size of the offer.”ix

As mentioned previously, applicants’ individual factors can influence negotiation behavior; employer behavior can also shape the negotiation. Applicants are more likely to negotiate when employers allow the applicants to discuss salary. One study found that “forty-five percent of the applicants who were given the option to present their salary needs negotiated, while only eight percent of those who were not negotiated.”x

Salary negotiation and gender

There is a common misperception that women are less likely to negotiate salary than men. Study results do not uniformly support the widespread belief that women negotiation less often than men; there is variance in the results of the studies. Social scientists have studied the salary negotiation behavior of people in both laboratory and real-life settings. One study of negotiation behavior in MBA graduates found there was no significant difference in the rate of salary negotiation between men and women.xi However, other studies have found that men negotiate at a higher rate than women.xii

Study results also differ on the outcome of salary negotiation for men and women. In one study, applicants who negotiated salary saw an average increase between the initial offer and the final offer of average $1500, and women were able to raise their salary at least as much as the men.xiii Other researchers found that women and men negotiated salaries at similar rates, but the outcome of the negotiation differed with the average final offers for women being lower than the average final offers for men.xiv

Researchers have obstacles in identifying the reason for the lower final offer for women. There are often compounding variables of age, race, experience, and job title that make it difficult to isolate one variable’s impact on salary negotiation outcome.xv In an attempt to study the impact of one variable among many variables, researchers used statistics to estimate the relationship between the different variables and pay. “Multiple regression analyses that control for experience, work hours, training, education, and personal characteristics such as race, ethnicity, region of residence, having children, etc. however, produced an unexplained pay gap of 5 percent among workers one year after graduation and 12 percent among workers ten years after graduating from college, likely due to gender discrimination.”xvi

Compensation and female-dominated professions

Female-dominated professions share some commonalities in terms of compensation. Law librarianship is a majority female profession. According to the AALL membership report, 74% of AALL members are female.xvii Salaries for female-dominated careers, like teaching, nursing, childcare, and food service, are lower than salaries in male-dominated careers. Caregiving and service professions pay less than other professions.xviii This recognition has led some to suggest that women who desire higher salaries should seek jobs in higher-paying professions. However, career change is not a remedy for pay disparity. Evidence suggests that when women move into high-paying professions, the salaries drop. Conversely, when a female-dominated profession has an influx of males, the wages trend upward.xix Further, men make higher salaries than women when they perform substantially similar tasks but have different titles.xx

All the evidence suggests that employers do not pay women less because they are in a certain profession or performing specific tasks; women receive lower pay because employers value work done by women less than work done by men.

Salary negotiation for librarians

An overview of salary trends in librarianship can advance the discussion on salary negotiation for librarians.  Employers construct salary based on several factors, including market rate, or what other similarly situated institutions pay, and the value that the applicant can bring to the institution.xxi Non-profits do not judge applicants based on the money they can bring to the institution, but instead, employers perform a valuation based on the estimated future output of the applicant.xxii

Employers who hire librarians may make a value determination by balancing the expected output of the librarian, based on the training and experience of the librarian against the amount of additional training the new hire will require.xxiii Using this equation, experienced librarians with dual degrees, JD and MLS, would warrant a higher salary because they would be able to increase the output of the library on day one and would require little training from the supervisor.

In contrast, a new librarian would require more training and mentorship and may not substantially contribute to overall output until perhaps month six. The supervisor would need to devote substantial time to training the new librarian as well. Using the output equation, new librarians warrant a lower salary because they need more training and at first may not contribute to library services output.

Salary surveys provide data on current wages for librarians. According to the Occupation Outlook Handbook, the median salary for librarians in 2018 was $59,000, and the entry-degree is a Master’s degree.xxiv According to the AALL Biennial Salary Survey & Organizational Characteristics (AALL Salary Survey 2019), the mean salary for academic reference/research librarians with less than two years of experience was $64,511. The mean salary for firm librarians with less than two years of experience was $70,561.xxv

A few researchers have studied librarian salary negotiation behavior. One study that surveyed academic librarians found that about half of the survey respondents negotiated their job offers.xxvi Researchers “confirmed that many academic librarians negotiate, and discovered that they are negotiating at higher rates than librarians in other settings.”xxvii Ultimately, most negotiators were successful in this study and applicants were able to raise their final salary offers.xxviii

Another study of librarian salary negotiation behavior provides insight into why librarians chose not to negotiate their salary offers. In a survey of librarians across different library types, half of the respondents reported that they negotiated their first professional librarian job offer.xxixOf the librarians who did not negotiate a job offer, the respondents most often gave one of two rationales: they were satisfied with the initial salary offer, or they did not perceive an opportunity to negotiate. About 80% of respondents who:1) did not negotiate, and 2) were happy with the initial offer had no regrets about their decisions to forgo negotiations. Some of the librarians who were satisfied with the initial job offer later regretted choosing not to negotiate. Further, most of the of respondents who did not negotiate because they did not perceive an opening to do so, later regretted their decision not to

Best practices for early-career law librarians


Librarian applicants should consider what compensation is most important to them and what will have the most impact on their quality of life before they begin negotiating. Based on the review of negotiation strategies and salary trends for librarians, the following recommendations can help early career librarians negotiate compensation packages. As previously mentioned, applicants chose not to negotiate in part because they perceived the initial offer to be fair. Early career law librarians should negotiate because they could underestimate their value and what they perceive to be a fair offer may not be fair in actuality. Also, in a study of librarian salary negotiation, 20% of respondents who choose not to negotiate because they perceived the initial offer to be fair later regretted their decision not to negotiate.xxxi If budgets are frozen and cost of living increases are not awarded, an initially fair offer can fall below market rate after a few years. For these reasons, law librarians should negotiate initial offers.

Although the early career law librarians do not have the bargaining power of someone who has previous experience, the employer has an open position that they wish to fill. The early career librarian does have some power because the employer is short staffed.  Further, because subsequent raises and increases are based on this starting salary, having a starting salary that is as high as possible helps to ensure financial security in the future. Finally, when employees feel their salary is less than they deserve, there is a negative impact on job satisfaction. Employees who accept an offer that they always felt was unfair are in an even worse position. “Pay dissatisfaction has been linked with undesirable employee outcomes and behaviors, such as performance decrements, lateness, and job seeking.”xxxii To ensure job satisfaction and financial security, negotiation, even on the first job, is crucial.

Before negotiating the salary offer, applicants must familiarize themselves with salary standards in their field. The AALL salary survey is a vital tool for all applicants who are engaged in the job search process. The salary survey includes mean and median salaries for law librarians across different legal environments and in different geographic locations. The salary survey compilers classify salaries by the level of experience, so even new law librarians can ensure they are equitably compensated.

Public university salaries and government salaries are public, and applicants can find these salaries by searching the state flagship newspapers for government and public academic salaries. Government librarians are hired at a certain grade or within a pay band. Search the government’s human resources or personnel website for publication of the salary for the designated pay band.

Private firm salaries and private university salaries can be more challenging to find. The AALL salary survey does include mean salaries for private institutions. Applicants can also ask mentors, instructors, and supervisors at internships if a starting salary seems fair based on their experience.

Once librarian applicants have researched industry standards, they can establish their own desired salary and walk away salary. The desired salary is your ideal salary; the walk away salary is the salary that is too low for you to accept. Do not share the desired and walk away salary with the other party during negotiations.  They are to help the applicants determine their own target and bottom lines. Especially for geographic locations with high rent and high home prices, carefully consider the cost of living. Bottom lines are intended to ensure that librarians do not accept salaries that will not cover their basic living expenses.

Reviewing salary surveys and open conversations about compensation with colleagues can help applicants objectively judge salary offers to ensure they are adequately compensated.  Librarian applicants can use market research and cost of living calculators to set a salary range. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) workbook recommends setting a desired salary near the salary median for the applicant’s position title.xxxiii


There are different negotiation strategies, and certain strategies are better for use in salary negotiations. The collaborative negotiation strategy and the competitive negotiation strategy are both associated with increases in final salary offers.xxxiv However, the competitive negotiation strategy involves threat and intimidation and is not the best strategy to use when negotiating with a party an applicant could work with long term.xxxv

The collaborative negotiation strategy has many benefits. In negotiation, the collaborative negotiation strategy is associated with both an increase in the final salary offer and a positive reaction to the salary negotiation process.xxxvi This strategy includes an assertive presentation of the applicant’s salary needs while also seeking a resolution that is beneficial for all parties involved. The goal of a collaborative negotiation is a win for both parties.

Salary is the essential factor in salary negotiation. However, librarians should also be aware that they can negotiate for nonmonetary benefits that will enhance their work-life and support a positive work/life balance. Compensation other than salary can improve librarians’ quality of life. Benefits like a housing subsidy or university housing can lower the out-of-pocket expenses in high cost of living areas. Student loan repayment assistance is another benefit that can improve quality of life and decrease out-of-pocket expenses. Moving expenses can be a part of a compensation package. Other compensation includes professional development payments, like professional organization membership fees and conference travel expenses, and additional personal leave days. You may also be able to negotiate work hour flexibility and remote work options. Applicants should carefully consider what is most important to them before they negotiate compensation. Compensation and benefits that will be most impactful for the librarian depend on family makeup, personal finances, and the cost of living.

Additionally, before a job interview, when the law librarian applicant reviews their accomplishments, they should think of a few examples of ways that they have added value to an organization and ways that they would add value to the organization they hope to join.xxxvii


Dear Ms. [           ],

Thank you for the offer of employment with a starting salary of 60,000. I am excited about the prospect of working for your institution. I have reviewed salary averages for this region, and in accordance with the regional averages and the high cost of living, I am looking for something closer to mid-60,000. Is there any wiggle room with the salary? In addition, I would also like the option to work from home one day a week. I am also interested in financial support for professional development (i.e., professional organization membership, and conference travel).

As my references can attest, I have taught a research workshop, created tutorials, and staffed the reference desk. Although I am early in my career, I have the requisite experience to be successful in this position. I am excited about the opportunity to work with you, and I look forward to hearing from you.


As mentioned previously, negotiators using the collaborative strategy seek a win-win outcome; they present their own interests but also seek to understand the other party’s interests. Since the collaborative strategy encourages negotiators to consider the other party’s stance, a crucial part of the negotiation is determining whether the employer can negotiate. They may be offering the highest salary that they can, or they may have reached a salary cap. To try and discern if the salary is negotiable, applicants can ask, “is there wiggle room in the salary?” If the employer has reached the limit of what they can offer in terms of salary or if the initial salary happens to exceed the applicant’s expectations, librarian applicants should then negotiate other desired components of the compensation package. At this point, they can negotiate moving expenses, annual leave, professional development support, and flexible work hours and work location.

While negotiating, applicants can counteroffer around a 5-10% increase of the initial offer.xxxviii Applicants should express their continued interest and enthusiasm for the position. The counteroffer should include the applicant’s rationale for asking for an increase, and applicants should use the market rate and the cost of living for the geographic region to determine the amount of the increase. The counteroffer should also include a statement about the value that the applicant will bring to the organization. AALL annual meeting frequently has sessions on salary negotiations that can prove helpful as you review your job offers.xxxix

Applicants may encounter difficulties in negotiation. External environmental forces may limit the salary amount that the employer can offer. Further, the applicant may negotiate with human resources instead of the library supervisor. Also, individual salary negotiation may not be possible if a union bargains librarian benefits collectively.

Applicants are not solely responsible for salary equity. As Aliqae Geraci and Shannon L. Farrell highlight in their call to “normalize negotiation”, all people in the information profession play a role in salary equity.xl Salary secrecy is one of the contributors to salary inequity. Experienced librarians should be open about their compensation to support newer librarians in their negotiation process, and the author also encourages employers to be open about salary ranges in job postings. All information professionals, through transparency and open communication about compensation, can do their part to help eliminate salary disparities in the profession.

  • AAUW, Work Smart & Start Smart: Salary Negotiation,
  • Marks, Michelle and Harold, Crystal. “Who asks and who receives in salary negotiation,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 24 (March 2011): 386.
  • O’Shea, Patrick & Bush, David, “Negotiation for Starting Salary: Antecedents and Outcomes Among Recent College Graduates,” Journal of Business and Psychology 16, no. 3 (2002): 376-377.


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Introduction to Law Librarianship Copyright © 2021 by Janeen Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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