By Erin Handley.
First published Monday, 25 July 2011 in Farrago.
The University of Melbourne intends to cut 13 staff from the Baillieu and ERC libraries, according to a draft proposal obtained by Farrago.
It is feared that the staff cuts will result in reduced opening hours, an increasingly disorderly collection, and more difficulties for students in locating the books they need.
The 13 positions to be cut involve shelving, lending, and handling enquiries. These “front of house” employees are to be replaced with 4.5 new positions at a higher level of responsibility and pay rate.
The 13 staff were informed of the proposed redundancies on 23 May at a confidential meeting, the doors to the meeting room guarded by security guards.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) denounced these pre-emptive tactics and the secretive method in which the information was conveyed to staff.
“The manner has been atrocious, heavy-handed and disrespectful,” said Ms Melanie Lazarow, Secretary for the NTEU Melbourne branch.
Deputy Librarian Jenny Ellis cited many reasons for the proposed changes, including the need for a more highly-skilled workforce, cost containment, and the automation of services, such as self-checkout machines, booksorters and online resources. “We are living in a digital world,” Ms Ellis said, “and that means that library usage has changed a lot, and staffing requirement has changed as well.”
“We’re aiming to have staff who have the professional knowledge and are equipped to deal with whichever complex queries come along. So we hope that we are going to be providing an enhanced service,” Ms Ellis said.
As a result of the Baillieu redevelopment, there will be only one loans desk plus areas dedicated to extended hours access. This means fewer staff will be required.
One library employee, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that the “last minute announcement” seemed to target staff who had expressed “vocal opposition to various aspects of the Baillieu redevelopment”.
Ms Ellis has since rejected this allegation. “The proposed changes relate to roles and not to individuals,” she said.
The proposal heightens widespread concerns about a general trend towards reducing services in the libraries, as well as fears that the libraries, as a whole, are understaffed. “Things like collections, reshelving, that all is very understaffed,” said Corey Rabaut, Industrial Organiser for the NTEU, said. “That’s in quite poor form right now, and the university’s acknowledged that.”
During the most recent exam period, books in the Baillieu library were overflowing in every single area for the first time ever. Normally only books in the 300s section overflow at this time of year. Library staff members believe that this is due to staffing shortages.
“If all 13 positions were made redundant, I think that it would lead to a decrease in service towards the staff and students,” Mr Rabaut said.
“When you go in, there’s not going to be that face-to-face service where you can ask specific enquiries and you can ask about certain things or assistance finding that book.”
The outcome may be not only structural, but personal.
“I’ve just been told I may be out of a job at the same time I’m going to have my first child,” confided Morgan Saletta, one of the affected library staff.
Since June, library management has widened the scope of who is considered “affected staff” and have extended the pre-consultation time. Mr. Rabaut approved of this decision. “It’s important for staff and for the university to consult with the wider university community, and that does include students,” he said.
The NTEU plans to hold a protest on Tuesday 2 August between 12:30 and 1:30pm. Members of the university community are invited to bring a book to the ERC library foyer for a read-in. The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) has pledged its support.