The librarians and support staff at Peter J. Shields Library continue to spar with the administration over workload and funding.
Leaders of the librarians‘ union, UC-AFT Local 2023, point to the decline in the numbers of both librarians and support staff over the last 15 years as evidence of strain. The decline, they note, correlates with UC Davis‘ drop in the Association of Research Libraries rankings, from 35 in 1993-1994 to 58 in 2006-2007.
The budget decline has left staff overworked and underpaid, according to some librarians and support staff.
Michelle Brackett, a bindery assistant and lead book processor, said the budget cuts have forced staff into positions without adequate training.
“We keep losing people and work is being added to our full plates and we are not being given anything in return,” Brackett said in an e-mail interview. “My boss is over-worked and stressed out, as she was put in a position with the re-organization that she was not hired for nor wanted and didn’t know how to do.“
Brackett has reported to the administration that she has had to work outside of her job classification, but her complaints have been ignored, she said.
“I honestly feel that the administration has no clue what is going on here in technical services and doesn’t care,” Brackett said. “We have to clean up their messes and make sure everything gets out to the stacks and the patron as normal.“
Mike Winter, a social sciences librarian, said he now has to select materials from nine subject areas, whereas 20 years ago he was selecting from four.
“My knowledge of those fields and ability to keep up with those fields are compromised,” he said.
The UC Davis library has cut its staffing levels since the early 1990s, from 344 total full-time staff in 1991-1992 to 273 in 2006-2007. UC San Diego’s library saw a more nominal decline in staff, from 357 to 344. UC Irvine’s library has actually increased its staffing levels, from 231 to 253.
Neither UCSD nor UCI have experienced such a drop in the ARL rankings, designed to measure the quality of research libraries, as has UC Davis; UCSD was ranked 40 in 1993-1994 and 44 in 2006-2007, while UCI climbed from 84 to 66 during that time period.
The UC Davis Academic Senate, a governing body of faculty members, appointed a task force to investigate the library’s funding. It released a report in the fall concluding that the library’s lack of staff and funding “threaten the ability of the library to serve its primary research function.“
According to the task force report, the UC San Diego library spends $966 per full-time enrollee; UC Irvine, $692; and UC Davis, $630. Without more funding, the library “cannot serve the diverse needs of this campus,” the report states.
The union’s complaints have prompted a defensive response from the library’s administration. Helen Henry, associate university librarian, accused the union of “cherry-picking” statistics and using divisive language. She agrees that the library “could use more money“, but urged the union to work collaboratively with the administration, rather than in opposition to it.
“Everyone agrees that the library should be richly supported,” Henry said. “I don’t think that name-calling and blaming people is the best way to do it.“
Gail Yokote, associate university librarian, said that “throwing money and staff at the problem” is not a strategic option given limited campus resources. She suggested that some library staff have not adapted to the changing nature of their jobs in the electronic age.
“Some people adapt to change a lot faster and easier. Everyone reacts differently,” Yokote said. The library has offered training sessions to help staff adjust to their shifting roles, she added.
In a prepared statement to The California Aggie, Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef noted that the computer has changed the role of the library. While the prevalence of electronic materials has not diminished the library’s importance, the IT revolution may make drawing conclusions from the ARL statistics more difficult, he said.
“Virtually everything is available on computer. This doesn’t mean the library is less important; it continues to provide very important services. It may mean, though, that the reasons for the importance of the library have changed,” Vanderhoef wrote.
Still, the reports from the faculty task force and union have prompted the chancellor to look into the vitality of the library himself. He will soon appoint a task force to determine if there is, in fact, a problem with the library.
However, Winter disagreed with the argument that the IT revolution allows for fewer library staff. Librarians still have to set up and maintain the electronic journals and databases, he said.
“It assumes that the work behind computer technology is not more intensive than dealing with users,” Winter said. “In many ways, it’s more so; we don’t just deal with printed books and magazines anymore.“
Andrew Waldron, chair of the faculty task force, echoed Winter’s claims.
“Many people do not need the physical library anymore, but without realizing the costs … of the electronic resources [online].“
Waldron said faculty plan to be more proactive when campus budget decisions are being made. The faculty is partly to blame for the library’s lack of funding, since they have not been advocating for the library as best as they could, he said.
“In general, our hope is we’ve created better access to the library budget,” Waldron said.
Meanwhile, Henry said the library administration will be developing strategic plans with the Office of Resource Management and Planning and ASUCD to support the library.
“We’re asking everybody in the library to move us forward,” Henry said. “Come to the table with us.“
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.