Academic Librarians on the Front Lines - ACADEMIC LIBRARIANSHIP – A CRISIS OR AN OPPORTUNITY?
Yesterday I had the privilege to speak on a panel with Kristin Hoffman of University of Western Ontario and Marc Richard of McGill University entitled, "Academic Librarians on the Front LInes", at the "Academic Librarianship - A Crisis or an Opportunity?" symposium at the University of Toronto. We were each given 15 minutes to address the following questions: What are some of the first hand experiences of academic librarians working at institutions where academic librarianship is under threat? What lessons can be learned?
Given the tumultuous nature of labour relations at McMaster, I prepared a statement that was read. The majority of that statement is information that is already available publicly on our union's website. The following is the statement that I read.
What I plan on briefly talking about is, who and what we are, what we have done and what we have dealt with thus far.
Who and what we are
We are McMaster University Academic Librarians Association, a union that currently represents 18 academic librarians. The unit is split between two library systems: McMaster University Library with 11, the Faculty of Health Sciences Library with 7. These 18 librarians serve a University population of 21,173 full-time undergraduate students and 3,025 full-time graduate students (2009-2010), as well as 894 full-time instructional faculty members—1,434 including clinical faculty.
The bargaining unit does not include Associate University Librarians, the University Librarian, the Health Sciences Library Director, or any librarians not funded by McMaster University.
Four associate university librarians and the university librarian manage the 11 librarians in the University Library, and the Faculty of Health Science Library Director manages the 7 Health Sciences librarians.
At the time of certification, March 16, 2010, MUALA represented 27 librarians.
We ratified our first collective agreement in March of this year. The agreement is for a 5 year term ending July 31, 2015. As this is a first agreement, it is an attempt to enshrine past practices from when the librarians were part of MUFA, provide transparency, and codify other practices not previously in place.
Representation from both campus library systems and from CAUT was present on the bargaining team.
Throughout the preparations for, and during the process of negotiation, all members were quick to attend meetings, prepare documentation and provide input as required.
During negotiations in February, cuts to the librarians’ salary budget were announced, which I will touch on shortly.
At present, MUALA is still awaiting the opportunity to officially sign and distribute the collective agreement.
Most recent layoffs
In February of this year, in the midst of bargaining for our first collective agreement, MUALA was informed by the University that it had “experienced a significant change in its financial circumstances, which now necessitates certain cost reductions within the bargaining unit.” MUALA reluctantly signed a “Voluntary Departure Program” agreement in which members who have attained the ‘Rule of 80’ (age + years of service = 80 or more) were offered an early retirement package. As of May 1, five librarians accepted the package and have retired.
The agreement also stated that if “the Program results in insufficient cost reductions the Parties agree that they will meet to negotiate the terms of further reduction initiatives.” We were advised by the University administration on May 4 that the “cost reductions” had fallen short of the target by over $80,000. Shortly thereafter, one of our members announced her resignation in order to accept a position at another institution. Her departure means that the University’s target has been sufficiently met, so no further reductions are necessary.
These developments mark the second time in his short tenure at McMaster University that University Librarian Jeffrey Trzeciak has overseen the reduction of librarian positions as a means of dealing with budget problems. Just two years ago, the University Librarian announced a voluntary separation package that resulted in the departure of two librarians, as well as other library staff. Shortly thereafter, he announced that two other librarian positions were declared ‘redundant’. To our knowledge, these 2009 separations marked the first time in recent years that a University Library in Ontario implemented librarian dismissals as a means of dealing with budget problems.
Meanwhile, the Faculty of Health Sciences Library here at McMaster—which does not report to the University Librarian—has had balanced budgets without layoffs during the same period.”
Interestingly, during this same time period, the Faculty of Health Sciences library was able to add another full-time continuing appointment position.
Low morale is a major issue at McMaster. More so in the University Library. We could arguably have the lowest morale of all university libraries in Canada.
The morale issue runs deep, and cannot be pinpointed to a specific event. But, over two years ago, prior to unionization, the McMaster Librarians (MUFA) held a vote of no confidence for University Librarian Jeffrey Trzeciak. That vote was unanimous. To this day, that unanimous vote of no confidence has yet to be addressed.
This vote was brought up at our most recent Labour Management Committee meeting, with an overall agenda item of morale. In that meeting we stressed that the low morale has been caused by, but not limited to, the events leading up to unionization, the departure of talent from the University Library, poor communication in general from University Library administration, the physical and emotional demeanor of University Library MUALA members, the lack of recognition of the role of its members, and the damage to McMaster’s reputation.
The best the library administration could suggest/offer was for the University Librarian, Jeffrey Trzeciak, to meet with us individually. This was brought to the MUALA members at the next members meeting. Given complete lack of trust, and cultural of fear and intimidation, it was no surprise that the members put forward and passed the following motion:
“MUALA members state that given that we have a long standing motion of non-confidence in the University Librarian, and given that we've undertaken a review of the University Librarian that we have submitted to the President and Provost, and given that the President and Provost have established a review of the University Library, we would prefer to defer any meetings with the subject of morale until the University Library Review is completed, after which we anticipate meeting with the University Librarian in a structured and mediated format.”
I will be very interested to see the results of the CAUT Academic Librarians Stress Survey. Specifically, the numbers from McMaster.
There isn’t much I can really say here, other than just stating the facts to my understanding.
McMaster University Library currently has 6 post docs employed -- by far, the most of any Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) affiliated institution -- and one outstanding post doc job posting. Two of which are affiliated with the Centre for Leadership in Learning, and it is not clear if the post docs are directly involved with the library or not. But, here are some brief summaries for a few of the positions, and a segment from the potential 7th postdoc job posting.
1. Will be researching and designing a professionalization and teaching program for graduate students involving the collaborative efforts of the library, the School of Graduate Studies, and the Centre for Leadership in Learning.
2. Will be investigating best practices in teaching and learning in the field of psychology that relate specifically to models of online-instruction and assessment, evaluation of library resources, and instructional resources.
3. The candidate will be expected to work with the library to:
- Identify the current and future library needs of Engineering faculty and students;
- Assess current state of library resources, services and facilities in support of Engineering;
- Make recommendations to the library administration for improvement;
- Promote greater awareness of library resources, services and facilities within Engineering;
- Promote greater awareness within the library of the faculty’s teaching and research priorities ; and
- Provide support as needed to students and faculty within Engineering.
All of this is very intriguing given that McMaster University Library effectively disbanded our liaison program this past summer via another round of separations. At face value, this appears to be an attempt at systematically replacing librarians with postdocs.
I also want to be very clear here.
Systematically replacing librarians with post-docs is *not* cool.
University Librarian Review
Jeffrey Trzeciak’s appointment as McMaster University Librarian reached the 5 year mark this year. MUALA believes that directors of libraries should be subject to comprehensive 5-year reviews. Accordingly, we undertook a representative opinion survey of our membership in October, 2010, using a survey instrument published by the Association of Research Libraries. The survey consisted of 52 questions addressing five key aspects: vision, leadership, administration, communication and effectiveness, and was completed by 22 of the 25 MUALA members. The University Librarian received an overall performance rating of ‘poor’ from 16 of 22 respondents, and a rating of ‘fair’ from the remaining 6 respondents; he did not receive any overall ratings of ‘excellent’ or ‘good’.
The Meeting with the President and Provost regarding the review
The MUALA executive requested a meeting with McMaster University President Patrick Deane and Provost Ilene Busch-Visniac in order to present them with copies of the resulting report. Our request was granted, and the meeting was held on March 22. The executive summary of the report we presented to them is available on our website.
At the meeting, we requested that: (1) the University implement a formal review of the University Librarian’s first 5 years at McMaster; (2) our report be included as part of this review; and (3) regardless of 1 and 2, we receive a formal written response from the President and Provost on the concerns raised in our report. We were informed by the Provost that the University Librarian had already been re-appointed, and that a review had been conducted by the Provost last autumn. We expressed disappointment that MUALA had not been invited to participate in the review.
The President and Provost thanked us for our report and promised to reply by the end of April. I would like to emphasize that the tone of the meeting was open and cordial.
The Written Response of the President and Provost regarding the review
The MUALA executive received a written reply from the President and Provost on April 11 (the memorandum was dated April 6). They stated their agreement with us that the renewal of a University Librarian appointment “ought to follow a process similar to that for Deans” and “incorporate a review by a duly appointed committee.” The implementation of such a process “should certainly be in place prior to the next opportunity for renewal of the contract for the University Librarian.”
Regarding our overall concerns, they went on to say: “we have made recommendations to Jeff that we hope will address some of the issues raised in the report. We are optimistic that actions Jeff has agreed to take will enable the Librarians to work more effectively with him as a team.”
University Library Review
In June, then president Rick Stapleton received a letter stemming from from the MUALA University Librarian review communication thread, announcing a review of the University Library.
The letter states that the President and Provost are "convening a review of the University Library." While they "have not typically conducted ... reviews of the Library ... this is an oversight that needs to be corrected." They will establish a "review committee" that will "be consulting widely". They will "meet with librarians (and other library staff) when they are on campus." Their report "will be made public and shared through our governance system in a manner identical to that used for academic program reviews." In addition, the President and Provost will solicit from MUALA "suggestions for external reviewers". They go on to say: "While we do not normally seek approval by interested parties of the members of a review committee, it is our intention to strike a committee that is acceptable to MUALA, to the management team of the Library, and to the broader campus community. It is our sincere hope that the review team will then be able to advise us unencumbered by any concerns of bias."
At this time I have no more public information available regarding the University Library review, other than that it is still in the very beginning stages and slowly moving forward with some difficulties.
In closing, I want to stress that MUALA wants normalized labour relations. We have remained fair and reasonable this entire time, and we will continue to do so.