Logo of jmlaJournal informationSubscribeSubmissions on the Publisher web siteCurrent issue of JMLA in PMCAlso see BMLA journal in PMC
J Med Libr Assoc. 2004 Oct; 92(4): 465–472.
PMCID: PMC521518

Findings from the most recent Medical Library Association salary survey

Marc Wallace, Consultant,1 Thomas D. McMullen, Senior Consultant,1 and Kate Corcoran, Director of Research and Information Systems2


Objective: The objective is to provide information on basic issues in library management identified by the Medical Library Association's (MLA's) seventh triennial salary survey.

Methods: The survey was a Web-based questionnaire. A nonrandom sample of persons was obtained by posting messages to MLA's membership and to the MEDLIB-L email discussion list. Employed MLA members and nonmembers employed in medical library settings filled out a Web-based form designed using common gateway interface (CGI) programming.

Results: Six hundred forty-five usable responses were analyzed by the Hay Group and presented in the MLA publication, Hay Group/MLA 2001 Compensation and Benefits Survey. Results from the 2001 survey in this article focus on pay and job satisfaction. Salary survey results since 1983 were analyzed to review trends in seniority, diversity, and pay equity.

Conclusions: Given the age progression of respondents from 1983 to 2001, it is clear that succession planning is a core issue for medical libraries. Although efforts to create more diversity in medical libraries in member organizations have started to yield results, pay for white respondents has increased at a higher rate than for other racial categories. The authors found that the pay-for-performance system in the organizations of approximately two-thirds of the respondents is suboptimized and that most of the reasons medical librarians cite for leaving their organization can be addressed and potentially changed by management. Results from the eighth salary survey, slated to be conducted in the fall of 2004, will further track these trends and issues.


A key objective of the Medical Library Association (MLA) is to support the important work accomplished every year by medical librarians in North America and around the world. An important part of this objective is providing the membership with information about issues facing today's medical libraries. This article presents highlights from MLA's 2001 salary survey, identifying potential issues in library management as well as trends seen when comparing 2001 data to data from past surveys.

At the end of 2001, MLA conducted its seventh triennial salary survey. Usable responses were collected from 645 participants, and the data were analyzed by the Hay Group. Results of the survey were published as the Hay Group/MLA 2001 Compensation and Benefits Survey. Questions were added in the 2001 survey to better understand not only the demographics and market trends of the profession, but the reasons why these changes are occurring. The 2001 survey results featured responses to questions regarding pay and job satisfaction, as well as reasons for leaving positions.*


The authors have found that medical libraries continue to be faced with issues commonly identified by library management. However, most libraries report some progress.

  • One of the primary demographic issues facing medical libraries is the seniority of medical librarians. A clear trend shows that in the next ten to fifteen years, there will be a serious shortage of experienced professionals. It is critical for library management to focus now on recruiting entry-level librarians to develop in the coming years. This recruitment will require a clear understanding of the labor market and ways to make the profession attractive to potential recruits. Pay- and job-satisfaction information in this article become even more critical given the scope of this problem.
  • Diversity remains an issue, with the large majority of incumbents being white. Recent results indicate a nascent trend toward greater diversity. Efforts to create more diversity are likely beginning to yield results.
  • Pay for men and women continues to be unequal. This gap has been constant over the last twenty years. In addition, pay for white respondents has increased at a higher rate than for other racial categories. Some of these gaps are offset when reviewing these positions by job size (i.e., the relative scope of the position). This analysis uses “full time equivalents (FTEs) that report to respondents” as a proxy for job size.
  • Institutions where medical libraries are “closest to the core of what they do” pay the highest. Academic medical centers (AMCs) pay more than teaching hospitals, which pay more than nonteaching hospitals. The gap between the three has remained relatively equal and constant since 1986.


By reviewing the results of the MLA salary surveys over the last twenty years, it is possible to better understand how demographic attributes of MLA's membership and the profession itself have evolved over this time period. The demographic data over time show that the seniority of the population of medical librarians may affect other efforts to increase diversity and to decrease inequity between races and sexes. Efforts to address diversity and inequity are having some effect; effective recruiting, however, will likely prove a determining factor in the long run.


Given the age progression of respondents from 1983 to 2001, succession planning will clearly become a core issue for medical libraries in the next 5 to 7 years. In 1983, more than half (52%) of respondents were less than 40 years of age. By 2001, nearly half (48%) of respondents were over the age of 50. Figure 1 shows a consistent trend of age progression, indicating that most respondents are career-long medical librarians. The diminishing number of entry-level medical librarians may be due either to a lack of available positions or difficulties in making entry-level positions attractive to the job market. (This question will be addressed in analyzing Figure 3.) In either case, the demographics clearly show an aging population, although figures for 20 to 29 year olds in 2001 show a slight increase over the 1998 figures. Ensuring a pool of competent employees, capable of replacing middle managers who replace those who will soon retire, will be a critical issue in the near term.

Figure 1
Medical Library Association (MLA) membership age over time
Figure 3
Experience and salary

Ethnic backgrounds

Survey data collected since 1983 show that MLA members have remained predominantly white. However, efforts to create more diversity in medical libraries in member organizations have started to yield results. From 1983 to 1998, white respondents constituted 93% to 94% of respondents, with very little variation from survey to survey. Between 1998 and 2001, the number of minority respondents began to increase, and the proportion of white respondents has dropped to 89%. This increase may be the beginning of a trend toward more diversity. The next survey, slated for 2004, will help confirm the existence of a trend toward a more diverse workforce.

Survey data over this same period also show that differences in pay continue between different racial groups. In 1983, white respondents' pay slightly trailed the pay of other ethnic groups. Between 1983 and 2001, pay for white respondents increased 119% (the consumer price index [CPI] increased by 83.5%), which far outpaced other ethnic groups, who averaged 68% to 104% increases. As a result, by 2001, whites were the highest paid ethnic group. Asian/Pacific Islanders earned 96% of salaries that white respondents earned, followed by African Americans at 86% and Hispanics at 78%. For African Americans and Hispanics, these gaps are smaller than those present in the broader workforce.

It is worth noting that the driving force behind this difference may have less to do with ethnic background than it does with job size. One method in determining job size is to analyze the number of FTEs that report to respondents. For 2001, this analysis correlated the most with salary (R-squared§ of 36%, versus other variables such as experience, which had an R-squared of 19%). In 2001, a higher percentage of whites had one or more FTEs reporting to them (58% of whites versus 28% for the next highest ethnic group, Asian/Pacific Islander). The data imply that job size plays a strong role in determining pay. Furthermore, the pay differences tend to disappear or become muted when controlling for number of supervised FTEs. For example, in 2001, among those who manage no FTEs, Asian/ Pacific Islanders are the highest paid, but, among those who supervise 3 to 5 FTEs, North American Indians were the most highly paid. This variation underscores that when analyzing racial pay demographics, controlling for the type or size of position is more reliable than analyzing only from the vantage point of salary. These statistics should also be interpreted with care given the relatively small sample size of minority cases.

Overall, medical libraries are keeping their focus to improve diversity, and results in terms of demographics and pay show improvement. It is likely medical library management will need to focus on recruitment of minorities as a long-term solution.

Gender differences

Reviewing the survey data from 1983 to 2001 shows that the proportion of female to male respondents has remained largely consistent during this time. Over the past two decades, the percentage of female respondents ranged from a high of 88% to a low of 81%. In 1983, this percentage was 85% and in 2001 was 83%, indicating that the gender composition of MLA members has remained stable over the last twenty years.

The wage gap between men and women has also remained the same between 1983 and 2001. During this time, pay for female and male respondents increased 118% and 116%, respectively (CPI for this period being 83.5%). As a result of this similar rate of increase, the pay gap stayed consistent during this timeframe. In 1983, women on average made 85% of what men made and, in 2001, made 86% of what men made.

As with salary and ethnic groups, when analyzing pay and gender, it is important to consider job size. In this case, when controlling for job size again using FTEs, the wage gap between men and women stays relatively consistent, as demonstrated in Figure 2. The lack of change in the proportion of men to women and the gap in pay over time indicate that this inequity is less of a priority to medical library management than increasing diversity.

Figure 2
Full-time direct reports by salary and gender


As Figure 3 shows, pay tracks consistently with years of experience. The difference between the maximum and minimum across categories averages 75% for each year. This difference fell to 55% in 2001, due to a strong job market raising salaries for entry-level positions. The results for the 2004 data will also help determine whether this salary difference is a trend.

It is interesting to note that in 2001, those with less than two years of experience actually earned more than those with two to three years of experience. This result is likely due to the relatively tight labor market conditions from 1999 to early 2001. As noted earlier, the number of entry-level librarians has increased slightly, perhaps attributable to the higher salaries. One objective of the 2004 survey will be to determine whether this trend is increasing.

Type of institution

Over the last twenty years, 33% to 40% of respondents have been affiliated with 1 of 3 types of institutions:

  • AMCs
  • teaching hospitals
  • nonteaching hospitals

Among these three types, teaching hospitals are the only group that has grown in terms of number of respondents as a percentage of total respondents. Respondents from both AMCs and nonteaching hospitals have become less prevalent in the survey since 1983.

AMCs generally have paid more than either teaching and nonteaching hospitals. With the exception of the 1983 survey, AMCs were ahead of the other two types of institutions (Figure 4). Nonteaching hospitals, since 1983, have generally paid the lowest salaries. AMCs also increased pay at the fastest rate (127% since 1983 versus the CPI of 83.5%). This increase easily outpaced increases for positions in teaching and nonteaching hospitals (103% and 108%, respectively).

Figure 4
Salary growth by type of institution


If the data mentioned above point out the critical need for adequate succession planning—both in institutions and in the profession of medical librarianship—one new feature of the 2001 MLA salary survey instrument points to a critical need for effective compensation management of current and future employees. In the 2001 MLA salary survey, several questions were asked regarding the link between medical librarian satisfaction and their institutions' compensation programs. Such insights will help medical librarians understand the drivers of pay satisfaction. In particular, we were interested in assessing how satisfaction in pay varies by:

  • salary level
  • job level
  • performance-management processes

Table 1 summarizes responses to the question, “For the position I hold, I feel the compensation I receive is …” Most responses center between “average” and “good.” Only 14% of respondents categorize their pay levels as “poor” or “very poor.” One might argue that this distribution is very reasonable: a skew toward “very poor” would clearly suggest that pay levels are not where they should be in the minds of professional librarians, while a skew toward “very good” would suggest premiums being paid in the marketplace that might not be warranted.

Table thumbnail
Table 1 Participants' opinions about their compensation

In the Hay Group's experience consulting with clients, most organizations wish to pay the right people the right amounts for doing the right things. This wish implies that organizations strive to “optimize” pay, that is, they desire to pay the right amount. Underpaying runs the risk of unwanted turnover from incumbents seeking better employment deals elsewhere. Overpaying runs the risk of the health care institution misallocating its scarce financial resources. In assessing these aggregate data, the distribution above may indeed represent an optimized pay strategy by organizations.

Satisfaction by salary level

We examined the data more closely to see if other conclusions could be formed in this area of incumbent satisfaction with compensation levels. Figure 5 shows the relationship between satisfaction with compensation for a position and participants' satisfaction with compensation based on the cost of living in their geographic location.

Figure 5
Relationship between satisfaction with compensation and satisfaction with compensation based on cost of living

Figure 5 shows a distinct correlation between level of satisfaction and amount of pay. Librarians who earn higher base salaries are more satisfied with their base salary compensation. This correlation is seen at two levels: when examining pay satisfaction relative to pay levels for the position being performed and pay satisfaction relative to pay levels when considering cost of living in the geographic area.

While this connection may seem completely intuitive, Hay Group client-satisfaction studies** have found that pay levels, in and of themselves, are not necessarily correlated with employee satisfaction. Dimensions such as the intrinsic value of the work performed, organizational work culture or climate, and effective relationships with immediate supervisors usually have a strong bearing on employee satisfaction.

Satisfaction by job level

While we did not survey participants in the job satisfaction drivers noted previously, we did compare pay-level satisfaction by job level, as shown in Table 2. Satisfaction with compensation levels are skewed more toward “good” and “very good” for medical library assistant directors and directors versus all other library staff respondents. Approximately 60% of the assistant directors and directors believe that current levels of pay are “very good” or “good,” compared to 50% of all other staff.

Table thumbnail
Table 2 Compensation satisfaction by job level

In many Hay Group client surveys of employee satisfaction, we find that job or position level (perhaps a proxy for pay level) is typically correlated with employee satisfaction. Higher-level positions typically provide greater influence, control, and impact. These conditions likely result in a higher level of intrinsic value in the work performed and in higher levels of pay satisfaction.

Satisfaction by performance-management processes

Another dimension to understanding pay satisfaction is librarians' perceptions of the “motivational value” of the compensation program. In the most recent survey, we asked, “Do better performers receive higher pay than average performers?” Figure 6 summarizes the responses to this question.

Figure 6
Respondents' opinions regarding higher pay for better performance

Thirty-four percent of the respondents agree or strongly agree that better performers receive higher pay than average performers. Conversely, this result means that the pay-for-performance system in the organizations of approximately 67% of the respondents is suboptimized. It should be noted that approximately 25% of the surveyed organizations report a step-rate or flat-increase-rate system, which does not take employee performance into account when delivering base salary increases.

In our work with clients in general industry, the Hay Group has found that compensation programs that provide meaningful differentiation in compensation between average and superior performers are viewed as more motivational and effective than programs that do not. Lack of meaningful differentiation in compensation often leads to internal equity and fairness concerns on the part of better performing employees. The data above suggest an opportunity—an important opportunity—for 67% of the surveyed organizations to upgrade their pay-for-performance program, a key component of their compensation system.

Reasons for termination

One might suggest that another measure of success of a compensation program is the rate of and reasons for voluntary terminations by medical librarians. We asked respondents to identify up to three of the most frequently reported reasons that employees have cited for leaving an organization for positions elsewhere. Reasons for termination, in descending order, are noted in Figure 7.

Figure 7
Reasons for voluntary termination of employment

While better pay elsewhere is the most frequently reported reason why medical librarians leave an organization, and thus a reason why designing and maintaining an effective compensation program is critical, it is not the only reason. The data above suggest that while employees leave for many reasons, including incumbent-driven reasons (e.g., life changes, career changes, work scheduling), most of the critical factors can be addressed and potentially changed by management (e.g., poor management, career development, work climate).

These findings are fairly consistent with findings from the Hay Group's general industry survey of retention practices, conducted with hundreds of clients every two years. Table 3 shows the top six reasons for employee voluntary termination (in sequence). Rankings for better pay elsewhere and poor management have a fair amount of consistency. Medical librarians are more likely to leave the organization due to life changes than individuals in general industry. Medical librarians are less likely to leave the organization than individuals in general industry due to lack of career development and career changes.

Table thumbnail
Table 3 Reasons for voluntary employee termination: general industry ver sus medical librarians

The data and observations presented above underscore the importance of effective management of compensation for medical library professionals. While compensation is never the sole solution to employee satisfaction, it is a critical factor in ensuring that medical librarians are treated fairly and in ensuring that they are motivated and engaged in their work.


While the primary pay and work issues facing medical libraries are consistent with the broader workforce, the coming retirement of likely half of medical librarians in the next fifteen years places special emphasis on recruitment and retention. The results of the 2001 survey show that medical libraries remain competitive and are becoming increasingly diverse; however, the aging of the workforce remains a critical issue. In the next decade, it will become important to focus on who will be the senior custodians of medical knowledge, particularly given the broad changes in information management created by technology. It is incumbent on management to focus on developing mid- to entry-level librarians to ensure that they are ready to fill the void as more senior librarians reach retirement age.

Overall, the results of the 2001 survey, and comparisons to past surveys, show that medical librarians will need to be strategic in recruiting and pay, with an eye on present needs and constraints as well as what the future will require in terms of skills, pay, and diversity.


* For details regarding this and past surveys, please contact MLA headquarters, 312.419.9094.

† Options for race or ethnic identity on the 2001 survey were “Asian/Pacific Islander,” “Black/African-American,” “Hispanic/ Latino,” “North American Indian/Alaska Native,” “White,” “Multiracial or other,” and “I do not wish to provide this information.”

‡ Bureau of Labor Statistics data effective July 2003 show that African Americans earn 80% of what Caucasians earn and Hispanics earn 68% of what Caucasians earn. Asian/Pacific Islanders earn 107%.

§ R-squared is defined as the percent variance explained by the given variable, based on regression of pay and the given variable.

** The Hay Group maintains a normative survey database of client climate surveys.

Articles from Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association
PubReader format: click here to try


Save items

Related citations in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Cited by other articles in PMC

See all...


  • PubMed
    PubMed citations for these articles

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...