Staff at the University of Sydney’s Badham Library are uncertain of their future after they discovered an apparent future plan for the library without any collection or staff. The architectural diagram was left in the library and photocopied by employees who had not previously been told of any plans to restructure the space.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) have demanded that the University Librarian, Anne Bell, consult staff before any restructure takes place.
Bell declined to comment, saying it would be inappropriate to talk about restructuring within the Library “unless and until a formal change programme has been launched and made available to library staff.”
The discovery has contributed to growing fear among library staff that the University Library, the system encompassing all of the University’s libraries, will soon undergo major changes. Staff claim a lack of information about management’s plans has led to low morale and general confusion.
Bell assumed the role of University Librarian in December 2011. She suggested from early on that change was on the cards, saying she was interested in restructuring in a presentation to staff before her appointment.
In the clearest indication so far, a Library discussion paper released recently expresses an intention to move to a formal Library change process “in the first part of 2014”.
The University appeared to confirm that a restructure of the library system is imminent in an email to Honi. Acting Vice-Chancellor Stephen Garton expressed concern about the current state of affairs. “All the evidence shows that our Library is not keeping pace with the needs of current library users,” he said, especially in relation to its opening hours, which are shorter than most other Group of Eight university libraries in the country.
“Twenty years ago we had the best ranked library for facilitating access for staff and students to journal literature, but this is no longer the case,” he added.
Budgetary pressures also suggest that a restructure is imminent. There has been a staff freeze in place in the University Library for the past three and a half years, leading to employees taking on higher duties on six-month contracts, often finding out whether or not it will be extended a few weeks before it ends.
The staff freeze has meant that the proportion of the library workforce that are casual employees has increased. The number of permanent shelvers has been reduced from about fifty in 2010 to about twenty, with student casuals supplementing the team. Garton says that once an agreed restructuring plan for the Library is in place “this temporary increase in casuals will begin to wind down”.
According to Garton, Bell is currently engaged in “detailed discussions” with Library staff about strategies for improvement.
However, the unions claim that staff have not been consulted on or informed about details concerning any planned restructure. “Journalists are getting more information from Scott Morrison at the moment than we are from Anne Bell about what our future involves,” said Grant Wheeler, president of the University of Sydney branch of the CPSU. “We contend that there is an absolute need for consultation outside of purely formal change processes.”
The NTEU’s Michael Rafferty echoes Wheeler’s concerns. “The Manager has advised us that she will meet concerning any specific disputes, but prefers to do her consultation in her own way. This has meant basically a range of small meetings in which she listens but does not say very much at all about planning.”
“[Bell] has been saying that planning is still occurring, but we have had lots of rumours from senior people in the Library who do not share her top down and secret style that plans are very advanced. The Badham Library plans support that assessment.”
“The lack of communication means morale is at its lowest in the past five years,” said one staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Union members have suggested they may escalate their complaints.
“I think we have been very patient with the Manager,” said Rafferty. “But our patience is running out. The rather offhand approach from the Library Manager is not acceptable to staff.”
If communications from Bell did not improve, Rafferty suggested it would mean “we have to approach this less collaboratively.”
Wheeler said a similar approach might be necessary if discussions with other University management bodies were unsatisfactory. “We may well become active on the ground this time if we need to,” he said.
Edit: this piece has been updated to include comment from Acting Vice-Chancellor Stephen Garton, who did not respond in time for our original publication.