By Alyssa Jarrett
City on a Hill Press Reporter

There are many things that people might not know about UC librarians. For one thing, a master’s degree is a requirment. They’re also as tech-savvy as they are book-smart. And they make about $10,000 to $19,000 less per year than librarians at CSUs, said reference librarian Ken Lyons.

Lyons is shop steward for Unit 17 of the University Council, American Federation of Teachers (UCAFT). UCAFT represents all librarians on each UC campus. The union is currently involved in an ongoing struggle to negotiate their salaries to equal their colleagues’ at CSUs and community colleges.

“Our contract was due to expire in March of last year,” Lyons said. “We negotiated with the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) in December 2007, and that went really well.”

But in early April 2008, when UCAFT knew there would be budget cuts, they agreed to suspend negotiating economic issues until the state budget passed.

“In December 2008, after the budget passed, we went back to the table and that’s when the trouble started,” Lyons said.

The UC system has about $6.5 billion in unrestricted assets that can be used at their discretion, Lyons said. UCAFT wants UCOP to use those funds to give librarians pay increases, but UCOP will only use state money to raise salaries.

Lyons said that because the state support of the UC has not been adequate, the UC administration can displace any blame when employees want higher wages, even if the UC can easily provide them with unrestricted funds.

Librarians stress that their demands are miniscule compared to the UC’s assets.

“We want to be brought up to parity to our colleagues in other institutions,” Lyons said, “which would cost over $5 million, less than a hundredth of what their unrestricted assets are.”

Kate McGirr, assistant university librarian for administration services and one of UCOP’s managing negotiators, asserts that nothing is set in stone. “We’re still negotiating the contracts, and we’re hoping to settle the issue,” she said.

McGirr said that UCOP and UCAFT are at an impasse and will assign a mediator in March or early April.

For some librarians, this issue is as much personal as it is financial.

Reference librarian Deborah Murphy said that her passion for Santa Cruz keeps her from leaving UCSC for a higher-paying institution.

“There are so many groups on and off campus that we reach out to,” Murphy said. “We help anyone who walks in the building.”

Her job entails more than reference, and includes Web design and development, Murphy said. She added that librarians are undervalued because “people wonder, ‘What’s the point of a having a library when [information] is all online?’ But because of that, it’s far more challenging to do research than it’s ever been.”

Despite the advanced job descriptions of UC librarians, Lyons said that his paycheck is not much higher than that of lesser-skilled jobs.

“I was a letter carrier for the post office for 20 years, and if I were carrying mail right now, I would be making $51,000 a year,” Lyons said. “I’ve been a librarian for eight years, and I make $52,000 — only $1,000 more than a top mail carrier.”

Lyons added that CSU librarians start at $56,000, so it is even more difficult for UCs to recruit and retain librarians when they can receive more money in less time elsewhere.

In this battle over money, the indirect impacts on the very students for whom libraries were made are often forgotten.

Graduate student John Seales, 38, came to sign his name at a UC librarians’ petition drive on Feb. 26.

“I use the library a lot, and having knowledgeable librarians is very critical,” said Seales, who studies music. “Libraries are being underfunded, and in both the short and long term, we’re suffering because of it.”

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