UWO Labour Situation – taking stock of what librarians do

Reading the recent news that the University of Western Ontario‘s professional librarians are very, very close to being in a legal strike position with the school has got me thinking about what would happen to an academic library on the first day of such a strike.  How would the user community’s experience be different on Strike Day-One as opposed to the previous day?

This is an interesting way to take stock of the things an academic librarian does – visible and invisible – that affect the community on a near-daily basis.  Just thinking about how my workplace, a small-to-mid-size university library, would be affected by labour situation brings to mind:

  • The Reference Desk. Although we allow library technicians with undergraduate degrees and research experience to sit at the desk, well more than half of the reference desk shifts would not be attended.  Admin might ask the lib.tech who are trained for the desk to help cover these shifts, but then their own important work in Cataloguing and Tech Services (which are vital to the library’s day-to-day operations) would fall behind.
  • Reference-by-appointment. There would not be anyone in the library who could offer its individualized research sessions.  Our library extends one-on-one help to pretty much any student who asks, and we get a lot of takers, especially at honours-level Commerce, the MBA, and the M.Finance.
  • In-Class Sessions.  Every single instructional session offered by the library, be it on plagiarism, study skills, or how to use SPSS would be lost.
  • Info.Lit grading would be lost as well.  Many faculty members at the University demand that their first-year classes take part in library workbook exercises that are typically worth 5-10% of the students’ final grade.  The workbooks would sit on our desks, untouched, waiting for our return.
  • Promotional Services. Gone. This is not the largest of our departments, to be sure, but it does maintain a blog, provide outreach to the community, and most importantly, is responsible for web-site maintenance.  The library’s web presence – which should be “always on,” is tied to the work of the professional librarians who would be on strike or be locked out.
  • Database management.  While everyday cataloguing is in the hands of the library technicians, policy decisions and methods lie elsewhere.
  • Systems.  You show me an ILS without a Systems Librarian close at hand and I’ll show you a crippled ILS.  I’m being facetious to a certain degree, especially since my workplace is part of a consortia for book lending, but serious problems could ensue on the electronic-serials side.

So if a strike were to happen tomorrow, I think it’s safe to say that for the vast majority of students the first thing they’d lose – the first thing they’d see disappear – is ready help at the reference desk.  And within a day or two, between missed IL classes and grading, DBMS, research interviews and the like, many people would see how tightly woven library operations are to this group that helps administer it.

Anyway.  Read the article about the potential strike.  Join the facebook group, if you like.  And think about what might happen at your own library if you neither you nor your colleagues could walk in tomorrow – help get the word out that MLIS-holders play a valuable role in libraries if not provide an essential service to the entire academic community.

n.b. just to clarify to the irregular readers – i am neither employed by nor affiliated with UWO.

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