Months after libraries were re-opened to students, library staff remain unsure about whether the University will restore opening hours and staff numbers to pre-COVID levels.
USyd library staff were told at a meeting last Friday that the University lacks a strategic plan for the future of USyd’s libraries.
“Staff have been happy to support the community in beating the pandemic,” says Jen Harrison, USyd NTEU Vice President (General Staff). “But it now seems like management is taking advantage of the flexibility shown by staff.”
Consultation on opening hours shelved
Normally, significant changes to staff arrangements at the University, such as changes to working hours, must undergo a formal consultation process.
But when COVID-19 forced opening hours to change to 9am-5pm, those plans were shelved.
Staff did not receive an assurance at the start of the pandemic that opening hours would return to pre-COVID levels when Public Health Orders were lifted, and have not been assured to this day.
The continued uncertainty has affected staff morale. According to Harrison, for many staff, returning to pre-COVID hours would be “the difference between a liveable wage and struggling to survive.”
While a University spokesperson said that “key safe library spaces” have resumed 24/7 access, including the Fisher and Law Libraries, staffed hours – including at library information desks – have not been restored.
The University has instead focused on virtual support, including their Chat Now service.
A library staff member, who did not wish to be named, told Honi that their working hours “have been reduced in an ongoing way post-COVID without consultation or even any reasons being given.”
Staffing cuts and paper cuts
Earlier this year, 22 library staff members took voluntary redundancies across the Site Services and Academic Services divisions.
The University will hire 7 new positions including 3 Student Experience Advisers. Other new roles will support digital learning initiatives.
“Not only are long-time friends and colleagues saying goodbye, and a huge load of vital institutional knowledge marching out the door, but the phantom of increased workload is leading to much uncertainty and anxiety,” said Grant Wheeler, President of the CPSU.
With approximately 22% of roles becoming redundant, staff assume there will need to be a substantial reshuffle to compensate for the losses.
University management told staff they have no strategic planning nor minimum staffing level for the libraries.
“If this is true, then students and staff should be very worried – our library is in the most incompetent hands ever. If this isn’t true, then library management is denying staff and students essential information,” said Harrison.
“We don’t know how the Library can cut staff when it has not developed an understanding of the minimum resources required to keep it operating at a fundamental level,” said Grant Wheeler, USyd Branch President of the Community and Public Sector Union.
Library staff said they were not adequately consulted about how the library will operate going forward.
“The paucity of mitigation measures indicated as part of that process fill us with confidence that the Library will not function in a manner that services students well, or avoid placing unhealthy pressure on remaining staff,” said Wheeler.
A University spokesperson told Honi that it is in the consultation phase of a Final Change Plan for the library. The University’s Central Project Office is developing detailed project plans, timelines and communication plans to ensure an orderly and smooth rollout.