With the recent completion of the Library Addition and Renovation project, it seems like a good moment to reflect on those areas still in need of attention. While the $76 million project has addressed some major needs of the campus and the library itself, there are still critical problems facing the staff who work in the building every day.

A recent study by the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute found that 98.6 percent of UCSB clerical support staff do not make enough to support themselves and a child on their salary in the Santa Barbara area. The situation in the library is even worse. The library assistants who directly serve the campus community are hurt twice—first, by being forced to stay in an outdated job classification that does not reflect the high level of their professional library work, and then again as UCSB salaries are among the lowest of all UC campuses.

In 2014 the library employed 82 library assistants who made, on average, $34,596.63. To put that in perspective, the median family income for Santa Barbara is $75,400. The EPI study calculated that you need $59,268 to meet your basic needs, and none of the library assistants received that kind of salary. Worse yet, 61 of these staff members meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of low income.

Art by Austin Bernales // Daily Nexus

Art by Austin Bernales // Daily Nexus

Obviously, this discrepancy in pay has a deleterious effect on the staff. Despite the fact that I have earned two master’s degrees from UCSB and that I am expected to resolve complex, research-related queries, during the first three years I worked in the library I was forced to rely on my retired mother for help each month with groceries. As I near 40 years old, it is deeply humiliating to be unable to support myself on the wages I earn.
I am humiliated to be in such a penurious state, but I am grateful that I have the family support structure to help me stay afloat. The stories I hear from my fellow co-workers who are in situations much worse than mine are humbling. One woman has her ex-husband and her grown children helping her meet her rent each month. Another colleague is in a situation like mine, receiving help from her retired parents, but had the added horror of needing to go on disability due to surgery. And of course there is the army of UCSB employees who live nowhere near Santa Barbara and commute more than an hour each way in order to make ends meet on their salary.

These stories are legion amongst the library staff at UCSB, but they don’t describe what we do every day in service to the campus community. We are the public face of the library, helping you, our patrons, with everything from checking out materials and managing course reserves to opening the library every day and assuring that the information resources that our campus needs are accessible. We process new materials as they arrive and have the critical job of making sure that you can find them in the library catalog and on the shelves. We provide research and reference help throughout the various collections and we facilitate the complicated transfer of research materials from our off-campus annexes and other libraries around the world. We are the vital link between the collection, the librarians and you. We are a diverse and largely female workforce and we deserve a wage that we can live on independently.

The University of California is the third largest employer in the state and the largest in Santa Barbara. With the recent increases in funding from state coffers and the resources to undertake major building projects like the Library Addition and Renovation, UCSB should be a force for economic growth, not a catalyst for the continuing evaporation of the middle class.

Laurence Young has lived in Santa Barbara for 10 years and has earned two masters degrees from the UCSB Music Department. He has been employed as a full-time library assistant since 2012 and he is the UCSB Chapter Coordinator for the clerical workers union, Teamsters Local 2010.