Last updated 20 July 2022.

Salaries and wages in the non-profit libraries/archives/museums field are — no secret — chronically low. Many staff in the field struggle to cover basic necessities like rent amidst a rising cost of living plus financial obligations like student loan debt and retirement savings — if that’s even something they can think about putting money aside for. (And that’s all without the context of a global pandemic.) Salary transparency is one way to hold employers in our sector accountable. During the annual Society of American Archivists meeting in Austin, Texas last year (2019) an impromptu Archivists Salary Transparency Open Survey was created that, as of this writing, has over 500 entries (if you work in the archives field and feel safe sharing some of your own salary details, please consider adding your job to the list!).

I’ve been writing about aspects of our family’s finances for a number of years now. I’ve shared our household income and taxes, how much we pay in rent, our student loan debt, and the fact that we have financial support from my parents to offset student loan repayments.*** But despite the fact that a worker’s right to speak about their own compensation is legally protected in Massachusetts, I’ve always found it difficult to speak about my specific salary. It feels awkward, socially taboo, and politically charged. However, I’ve come to believe that maintaining an air of secrecy around compensation both shames workers and discourages concrete, fact-based discussion about what we get paid and why.  When workers are encouraged through cultural conditioning not to speak about money matters, we might worry that we’re paid embarrassingly little — is that our fault for not being good negotiators? — or disproportionately more than our colleagues — would they be mad at us if they knew? I have worried about both of these things. In the absence of data — that clears the air and helps us understand the macro and micro conditions that have led to our salaries — shame and intimidation flourish.

So I have decided to practice my values and be transparent about what I make, and the history of what I have made in the library field. The more I practice saying the words, the more normal I hope it will become.


When I transitioned from part-time retail and office work to the library field in 2007, I was newly arrived in Boston from the Midwest. The Massachusetts Historical Society hired me as a part-time Library Assistant for the hourly wages of $14.00/hour. At the time, that was the highest hourly wage I had ever earned.

During most of my graduate school career (October 2007 to December 2010) I worked as a part-time employee in various part-time and stipended positions in Boston-area institutions; the hourly work was paid at $10-15/hour. On January 1, 2011 I was promoted to a full-time salaried position of Assistant Reference Librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society. This was my first professional (MLS required) position in the library field. My starting salary was $34,000/year.

The MHS operates on a fiscal year schedule so our annual raises typically kick in July 1st. Below are the salaries quoted to me in each of my annual salary and benefits statements as well as raises that came with promotions to new positions and salary adjustments that have come in the past two years in thanks to a salary study done by the MHS.

2011: $34,000 (promotion to Assistant Reference Librarian, 1 January 2011)
2011 (b): $35,020 (3% cost of living raise)
2012: $37,120 (6% cost of living raise)
2012 (b): $44,000 (promotion to Reference Librarian, 1 September 2012)
2013: $47,900 (2% cost of living raise + $2k deferred promotional increase)
2014: $48,860 (2% cost of living raise)
2015: $50,080 (2.5% cost of living raise)
2016: $51,080 (2% cost of living raise)
2017: $52,072 (2% cost of living raise) 
2018: $53,665 (3% cost of living raise)
2019: $57,453 (4% salary study adjustment; 3% cost of living raise)*
2020: $59,796 (3.6% salary study adjustment; no cost of living raise)
2021: $62,785 (5% salary study adjustment; no cost of living raise)
2021 (b): $65,775 (promotion to Senior Reference Librarian, 1 July 2021)**
2022: $73,438 (11.65% salary study and cost of living adjustment combined)

In addition to my salary, I currently receive:

  • A 4% match to my 403(b) retirement fund
  • Healthcare coverage, including dental and vision benefits
  • Short- and long-term disability insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Pre-tax monthly transit passes
  • Unlimited paid sick time
  • Twenty days paid vacation time annually
  • Sixteen paid holidays annually

*In 2019 the MHS hired a consultant to do an in-depth industry salary study. Following the salary study, each staff member was told the midpoint “market value” for their position and put on a five year trajectory to bring their salary up to that level (in addition to any promotions and cost-of-living raises). The 2019 midpoint market value for my position was determined to be $65,900. The 2020 midpoint market value for my position was determined to be $67,416. The 2021 midpoint market value for my position was determined to be $68,764. The 2022 midpoint market value for my position was determined to be $81,100. Raises in 2019-2022 were calculated to accelerate me toward that target. 

**On 1 July 2021 I received a promotion to Senior Reference Librarian. This adjusted the midpoint market value for my salary upwards to $76,800 and a salary raise was made accordingly.

***After 120 income-based repayment plan payments, January 2011 through December 2022, my remaining $84,421.35 in student loan debt became eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and was cancelled.