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Career Strategies for Librarians
Benefiting From Your Academic Library Job
by Amy Burchfield

It’s rare to encounter an applicant who hasn’t researched salary. But what about benefits? Employment
benefits like health care, retirement, or tuition reimbursements can be just as important as salary when
considering a prospective library job.  

I’ve spent my library career in academic law libraries, working for both public and private universities.
While you won’t become a millionaire working for an academic library, universities are generally known
for their good benefits.  You can expect to find some benefits – like retirement plans and health care
coverage – at any institute of higher education, from the tiniest community college to the largest state
university. Other benefits may vary from place to place. No matter what package your academic library
employer might offer, benefits are likely to make a significant impact on your quality of life and continuing
job satisfaction. It’s even possible for benefits considerations to be the deal-breaker when applying for
two equally appealing library positions.  

So what benefits are generally available at academic libraries? The following list touches on many
benefits and offers some questions for consideration.  

Health Care

With health care being such a major concern, it’s fortunate that colleges and universities generally have
several options for reliable coverage. You’ll want to get all the details on questions such as:

What choices do I have in terms of care providers under my employer’s medical plan? What will the cost
be per paycheck for the various plans?
Is there a separate dental plan? Vision plan?
What about health care coverage for my dependents, spouse, or same sex domestic partner?
Are prescription drugs covered?
What if I want to make changes to my health care selections? When is the open enrollment period?
Retirement

Retirement is probably one of the most important benefits your employer offers. You will likely be
automatically covered by one of your employer’s retirement plans and have a certain amount of
retirement money invested each month by your employer. But there are further considerations, such as:

Will I get matching funds from my employer?
Am I vested immediately or only after I work for my employer for a certain amount of time?
What options do I have for alternative retirement plans?
Does the university offer retirement planning sessions or do representatives from the various investment
companies visit campus?
If I elect to make additional contributions to my retirement on a monthly basis, how do I go about
changing that amount?
Can I check up on my retirement investments online?
Time Off

All employers are required to offer their employees a certain number of paid days off. This amount of
time can vary by employer and by job position. Some of the things you’ll want to find out include:

How much vacation and sick time will I accrue annually? Per pay period?
Do sick leave and vacation leave come out of the same “pot” or are these two separate amounts?
Is there a “use it or lose it” policy with vacation time? Or a maximum number of accruable vacation
hours?
What if I’ve already booked a two-week Caribbean cruise that coincides with the first few weeks of my
new employment? What kind of accommodations can be made for this?
Does the employer offer bereavement pay, or would I have to take sick time to attend the funeral of a
family member?
Would I be eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time if I needed it?
Are research sabbaticals an option for librarians? After how many years of service are these available?
Insurance

Insurance plan options can be used as your primary coverage or to supplement plans you already have
in place. Some insurance coverage may be offered at no cost to employees. Academic institutions may
offer any combination of these plans:

Life insurance
Short and long term disability insurance
Accidental death and dismemberment insurance
Auto and home insurance
Travel and repatriation insurance
Flexible Spending Accounts

Many colleges and universities offer health care and dependent care reimbursement accounts. These
accounts allow to you to make pre-tax contributions to a spending account that you can use for expenses
not covered by your normal medical, vision, or dental plans or child care coverage. To have a clear
picture of how these accounts work, you’ll need to find out:

What are the maximum or minimum account deposits?
What advice can I get as to how much money I should put in one of these accounts?
Do I lose the money in the account if I don’t spend it by the end of the year?
What allowable expenses can be covered by the flexible spending account?
What is the process for filing for reimbursement from my account? Do I need to keep receipts? Can I fax
in the materials? How long will it take to post to the account?
Educational Benefits

This benefit usually involves tuition coverage for university-level classes. Questions to consider include:

How long do I have to work before I can receive this benefit for myself?
Would educational benefits apply to my children? To my spouse? To my same sex domestic partner?
What are the limitations?
Does this benefit only apply to class work that would directly relate to my job, or can I take any class I
want?
Could I earn an entire degree this way? What about another BA, MA, or PhD?
Can I just audit a class or do I need to be a degree-seeking student?
Is it possible to use this benefit to cover tuition at another educational institution, or only where I am
employed?
What are the tax implications of using this benefit? Will I have to report this benefit as additional income?
Counseling and Wellness Services

Along with tending to the physical and emotional needs of their students, most colleges and universities
offer counseling and wellness services to their employees as well. Services to consider include:

Marriage and family counseling
Counseling services for alcohol and drug problems
Mental health and depression screenings
Financial wellness classes and debt counseling
Discount or free membership to campus fitness center
Weight Watchers at work or other similar programs
Stress management classes, yoga, massage, etc.
Miscellaneous Benefits

There’s a whole host of benefits that can vary from institution to institution. Sometimes these benefits
aren’t promoted to employees as well as they should be, so it pays to ask around. Occasionally
universities host “benefits fairs” with booths and information on every possible benefit associated with
the university. Besides asking long-time employees, these types of events can be great sources of
information on the more elusive benefits. Some interesting miscellaneous benefits I’ve encountered
include:

On-site child care centers (be sure to ask how long the waiting list is!)
Mortgage assistance and homeownership loans
Pre-tax coverage of public transportation costs
Employee credit unions
Savings bonds
Deals on laptops and ISP services
Bookstore discounts
Discounts on community events such as professional sports, movies, and concerts
Getting Oriented

With so many options to consider, it’s not surprising that many new librarians feel confused and
overwhelmed when it comes to benefits. I certainly did when I started my career. Before you even initiate
contact with a potential college or university employer, you can find a wealth of benefits information on
the institution’s human resources website. It’s definitely worth checking out the HR site before going in
for an interview.  

You’ll likely find that the high points of the major benefit areas – like health care and retirement – will be
at least touched upon during your job interview. While the job interview certainly isn’t the place to ferret
out the details of bookstore discounts or deals on laptops, it is appropriate to ask for a general overview
of health care and retirement benefits if this is not covered in the interview. Often there will be a session
during the interview just to cover these issues.  

Once you’ve landed the job, you can really get down to the details. Most colleges and universities provide
benefits orientation programs that can last from an hour to a half day. Co-workers are often more than
happy to share their experiences – good and bad – with the organization’s benefits. Annual benefits fairs
can be the place to ask about some of the more “hidden” benefits of university employment.  

Tackling the Paperwork

Nothing can prepare you for the mountain of paperwork you’ll face. It’s enough to make you want to
reconsider trying to use your benefits. Who needs health care or a retirement plan anyway? Don’t let the
amount of paperwork shock you into inaction – there are deadlines to meet to sign up for most benefits.
Your choices won’t be set in stone, but you’ll have to take care of all the initial paperwork in a timely
fashion. When you do want to make a change to a major benefit package, you’ll have to wait until open
enrollment – the HR equivalent of drop and add – so it’s a good idea to make careful decisions the first
time around.  

Navigating the sea of benefits offered at colleges and universities can be a challenge. But the more you
know, the better you’ll be able to take advantage of the benefits your employer has to offer.

About the Author:

Amy Burchfield works as the Access and Faculty Services Librarian at the Cleveland-Marshall College of
Law. Her previous library positions were at the Georgetown University Law Center and The Ohio State
University Moritz College of Law.

Article published Mar 2008

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