Reflections on Relocation: Insight From Personal Experience

Hello, ArLiSNAP blog readers! It has been a really interesting year in my personal career life, and I thought some of you may appreciate reflections on my journey to art librarianship.

Just about two weeks ago, I began working as the Art & Design Librarian at The Ohio State University Libraries. My family and I relocated to Columbus, OH after a short stint in Charleston, SC. As I mentioned in the interview fellow Feature Post Writer Sarah Bilotta and I conducted a few months ago, I’ve worked in libraries for about five years, as a staff member and then as a librarian. I also mentioned that I felt relocation is a privilege that many do not have access to. I have now relocated for academic library positions twice in basically the same calendar year, and I still feel that way, but I do feel it has been worth it (FOR ME). However, relocating for a job requires some knowledge of the way things work. I’m going to outline some of those in this post.

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash.

First Stop: The On-Campus Interview

Many institutions will pay for travel expenses if you are offered an on-campus interview. This is not a rule, and smaller universities, colleges, and community colleges often just do not have the money to offer this. This obviously limits diversity in applicant pools who are actually interviewing and presenting at on-campus interviews, which is a big problem and harms the chances of real racial and socio-economic inclusion in our profession. Hopefully, when you get your on-campus interview, it will be somewhere that can (and will) pay for the costs of travel associated with it. I have had to turn down an on-campus interview because the school couldn’t pay for any expenses. And it is a huge bummer–you go through the Skype interview and get really excited for the opportunity, but then can’t make it on-campus because a) you don’t have much money in your bank account or b) you don’t have a credit card or c) you simply don’t want to put a ton of money on your credit card for a position you don’t know you’ll be offered.

Once you’re there, really use your time during the on-campus interview to ask questions about where you may relocate. Try to get to know your potential-new-place-of-work and what the city/town might be like to live in. This is your chance to take LESS of a gamble by digging into how people feel about the institution and locale. It can be difficult to read between the lines because people generally do not say bad things about their employer bluntly, but you can generally get a feeling about whether a place is going to be toxic or supportive. Basically, try to figure out IS the stress of relocation WORTH IT?

Research Research Research

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash.

I also used this cost of living calculator to research what my current salary would feel like in the new city, which helped me understand how a bump or decrease would feel based on my constant costs (rent, phone bill, car payment, student loans, etc.). To get a feel for what might be an appropriate amount to ask for in terms of salary, I looked into public records (many state institutions publish at least some of their faculty salaries) for similar librarian positions to make sure I was being offered enough and that if I asked for more, I wasn’t asking for an undue amount more. The Library Salaries Inequity Resource List is a good source for anonymized information regarding librarian salaries across the country. It is a living document, and changes as people add their salaries to it, and it is a great resource for comparison.

On to…Negotiation

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

The first time I relocated, I was offered a small sum for relocation. About $1,000. This was fine with me, because I had never relocated for a job, and I thought that $1,000 was better than $0. This is true; however, that $1,000 is taxed, which makes it look closer to $800 or less. Thanks to the new tax plan passed last year by Congress, that cost is no longer deductible when you file your taxes. Therefore, instead of using that money to actually pay off the debt on my credit card, I had to use it to get by, because, well, moving is expensive.

When it came time to negotiate for my next position, I was better informed. I did actual research into moving costs (see above). For instance, I knew I would need a moving company, because we were moving for the second time in a year, with a toddler, and uHaul just wasn’t gonna cut it this time. When I received my offer, I was able to negotiate based on my research findings, and we settled on an amount that was not exorbitant but actually covered the costs I needed it to. Don’t be afraid to hold off on accepting a position you really want so that you can do the research on the costs of moving to a new place. They expect that. It is ok.

All of this hinges on the idea that your potential-new-place-of-work is able to offer relocation. You may not receive an offer for relocation, but you should always ask. You never know, and if they want you badly enough they will find out what they can do.

So…when do I get paid? 

The answer to this question, unfortunately, is that it depends. Reimbursement culture in academic jobs is a real pain. Especially as a newbie starting out, it can be difficult to front costs for things like conferences and travel, not to mention relocating for the actual job, when there’s a good chance you won’t get paid right away. Depending on where you are going and how quickly things operate there, it can take a LONG TIME to be reimbursed. If you can avoid putting things on a credit card that will accrue a lot of interest, it will be better in the end. Again, this reflects financial privilege, no matter which way you slice it.

Some colleges and universities offer several types of relocation allocation. Direct pay, cash advance, and reimbursement were all options at my current institution, for example. Finding out information on each type of payment is crucial, since ALL of this income is taxable and could affect your first paycheck. For instance, if you hire movers that are directly paid from the university, the taxable portion of that paid amount will come out of your paycheck. That could be a major hit to many people.  It is good to know your options and how they play out in reality.

Conclusions

These are only a few things related to relocating for a job, but I hope that they can offer some insight for you in your own job search. When I was getting my M.S.I.S., people said I would have less of a  problem finding a job in an academic library as long as I was willing to move for it. I feel like this reality puts an undue strain on new professionals (and librarians from less privileged backgrounds in general) who may not be able or want to move to a new place. However, if you are willing to do so, you really should know what it is within your rights to negotiate for, and then what relocation reimbursement can look like. Feel free to leave questions in the comments! Since I am fresh off the relocation train, I’m sure I can help answer some. Good luck on your job hunt!

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