Libraries are about more than books, but so are librarians

17 Sep

UPDATE: A member of the Trinity community has clarified the situation there in the comments. It seems the library staff members who are being asked to leave are not librarians. The article itself was unclear, so I do appreciate being set straight!

I just read a troubling news story from the San Antonio News-Express, via ALA JobList on Facebook. Called “New chapter for libraries”, the article identifies a trend in academic libraries toward downsizing staff (at least in the San Antonio area). Apparently Trinity University is offering buyout packages to several of its library employees to leave, and several other area institutions are letting positions go unfilled when staff leave or retire. Trinity’s president, Dennis Ahlburg, links the reduction in staff to a reduced need for librarians with the increase in availability of digitized resources.

“The library is not just a place for books anymore, it is a place for information,” Ahlburg said.

Okay, so far so good.

“In terms of running the university, we want to use students’ money and donors’ money responsibly … rather than have people sit around with nothing to do.”

Wait, what?

It’s great that university administrators are recognizing that libraries are about more than just books, but it’s not so great that some of them persist in seeing librarians as glorified shelvers. The rest of the article seems to take Ahlberg’s equation of fewer books = less need for librarians at face value, and describes the increase in use of electronic vs. print resources at other institutions, including UT San Antonio. I get the impression that the librarians quoted in the article tried to explain that librarians are still needed to help students find appropriate resources, but very little of this made it into the article.

With the ever-increasing world of digital information, librarians are as strongly needed as ever. Just because there is a lot of information online does not mean that students will be able to find, locate, evaluate, and use the information appropriately for their research. Judging from recent conversations on the ACRL Instruction Section’s  ili-l listserv, academic librarians across the country are still very busy teaching students how to navigate the wide array of information resources available, choose appropriate search strategies, evaluate information, and know why and when they need to cite the work of others in their assignments. While it may be true that the nature of the work may be changing with the new formats being used, it certainly is not the case that there is no work to be done.

Trinity University, please don’t lose your librarians! At a time when students have a world of information at their fingertips, it is vitally important that they learn to become information literate, and librarians are necessary to make that happen.

5 Responses to “Libraries are about more than books, but so are librarians”

  1. Someone September 17, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    As a member of the Trinity community who is not a librarian, I was very unhappy to learn that seven long-time employees were “let go” (a.k.a. sacked) in the name of efficiency. It was an uncharacteristically poor decision in an institution that has traditionally honored its commitment to all of its employees. In the past, the university made efforts to find other positions for employees whose jobs were being eliminated for reasons unrelated to their performance.

    However, it’s important to stress that Trinity’s library has many tenure-track “faculty librarians” who engage in the sort of scholarly activity described in this blog posting. There are also many contract staff in the library who continue to engage in these sorts of scholarly activities.

    The library staff who were fired were some of the least well paid employees in the library. But the library has many staff librarians and faculty librarians who receive better compensation and more recognition from faculty members.

    There are many reasons to be sad about the fact that seven people were sacked, but this should not be interpreted as a lack of support for librarians on the part of the university. We still have an incredible library, with many excellent faculty and staff librarians. Unfortunately, we have lost seven of our colleagues were engaged in the less glamorous aspects of the profession. Some of those people had been with the university for more than 25 years.

    It was very sad news, but Trinity University continues to have a first-rate library with a skilled team of forward thinking librarians.

    • amandag September 18, 2010 at 9:20 am #

      Thanks for clarifying. The article was unclear about whether it was librarian faculty or other staff who were being let ago. I agree with you that it is still sad to see people’s jobs get cut, but I’m glad that it doesn’t signal a lack of commitment to library services for Trinity’s students and faculty.

  2. Anna September 18, 2010 at 5:40 am #

    Ugh, things like this make me so angry. Many of my students have no idea how to navigate or evaluate the information they find. Just because students are becoming more tech-savvy doesn’t mean they’re becoming more information savvy. In fact, I’d say the opposite – they’re bombarded with so much information that they don’t really know how to separate the good from the bad.

  3. Israel September 18, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    At Sacramento State we had layoffs (classified staff) this year for the first time. Luckily, none were at the expense of the Library. However, it’s been at least several years since a librarian was hired (I can think of 4 faculty vacancies that have not been filled, as well as the recent departure of our Director of Systems). It’s difficult to know whether this has any significance beyond a very dire budget situation.

    • amandag September 18, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

      It seems like the situation you’re in is a very common one – positions are being lost though attrition rather than layoffs for the most part. It’s still disappointing.

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